>Thoughts on a Post-modern Testimony

Posted: 08/12/2009 in apologetics, emergent church

>The power of the personal testimony is valued in all ways and in all places by Evangelicalism and fundamentalism. How we answer the question “What has God done for you?” is a shillobeth for membership in either of these circles. Dramatic stories told in high school youth groups, recovery ministries, and missionary pulpits are ever flowing and ever dramatic. Good Christians, like family, are always ready to open their ears to them and give people a place to speak, share, and be understood.

At least as long as the speakers tow the party line.

It is no defective fault that Evangelicalism desires to listen to Evangelicalism. That is to say: there is nothing wrong with the fact that evangelicals are eager to hear about how other people have come to experience God through evangelicalism. Yet, I think Christian charity calls us to more than that. Can evangelicals truly listen and understand those who depart from evangelicalism for some “other” Christianity?

One such testimony comes from the Emergent Podcast. Here, the speaker A.J. stitch confesses that Emergent is the only way that he can remain a Christian after leaving a conservative, charismatic, Christian college at Asbury. This phenomen is far more common than many people realize (or admit).

For the record, I do not consider myself a member of or an advocate of the Emergent Village, but neither do I count myself as one of their detractors. What I hope though, is that everyone reading this blog will listen to this blog and give the speaker as fair of shake as they give anyone else giving an evangelical testimony. After that, here are some questions that I would love to hear you all answer on this blog.*

Questions to Ponder
Cultural and Philosophical Challenges
The story begins with a reading of “Life of Pi” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Both of these books provided a cultural and philosophical challenge to Christianity he was raised in. Does evangelicalism adequately understand how weird the crucifixion look to outsiders? How does one answer the apparent contradiction of God condemning Murder and then later calling for it?
Josh Harris and “Christian Courtship.”
The author described himself as “all out evangelist” for Josh Harris/Christian courtship, but later he said that this failed to address the issues of depression. How might “Christian Courtship” overcome this problem? If it is unable to, what must be done with it?
Experience versus Scripture
The speaker, at one point, mention that reading in the Bible “God will not tempt you with more than you can bear” did not quite fit with his experience and observations during a depressive period of his life. He also criticizes his own literalistic, modernist, interpretation of scripture. What was wrong in this situation? The Bible? His interpretation of it? Or his understanding of experience?

*For my Facebook friends, I’m glad you’re reading this here. There will be a lot of room for a great discussion if everyone consolidates their comments in the blog itself. If you like what’s said here, please go ahead and repost it or email it.

  1. Q says:

    >One of the dangers in making critical judgments is that we can assume that our experience is universal. Another is making turning our negative experiences into an "us-vs.-them" scenario. It sounds like A.J. has lumped his experience into the entire conservative, evangelical movement, and that anything that is not emergent is the Church he doesn't want to have a part of. That is disappointing and ultimately unhealthy. Especially being in a tradition that isn't necessarily conservative, evangelical, or emergent, he is risking the rejection of a lot of the Church simply because it's not "emergent."Ultimately, his experience sounds like an average college student's experience. He thought he knew everything going into college (particularly about Christianity), found out that his pool of knowledge is quite a bit smaller than he originally thought, throwing him into disarray and disorientation, and when the initial shock was over, he was able to come back to the subject with new ears and ultimately keep his faith. The fact that he ended up in the emergent church makes sense because it is most appealing to young adults. Honestly, Josh Harris and "Christian Courtship" is completely irrelevant to his depression. Josh Harris isn't trying to address Christian depression in his understanding of dating. Trying to find that in Josh Harris' writing is probably more a sign of A.J.'s immaturity than Harris' failing to address the issue adequately.I'm not really sure I'd want to take anything from this as insightful or special other than the fact that he represents the typical young adult Christian. That can be useful, but he also demonstrates that he is not well acquainted with church history, doesn't have a great grasp on the importance of doctrine (because regardless of whether you want to have doctrine or not, you do), and – let's face it – he doesn't have a ton of experience interacting with other cultures and traditions. I get the sense that in a few years, when he has more conversations, his opinions will change pretty radically again. Or they'll temper out a little bit.And, this may be a little harsh, but his "audio essay" was a little bit cheesy. But hey, what can you do?BTW, concerning the "cultural and philosophical challenges," I feel like part of what you're raising in an issue of semantics. What is the substantive difference between "murder" and "sacrifice"? Is what Jesus did suicide because he chose to die willingly? Was God forcing Jesus to die; and, if Jesus was God, can God forcing Godself to do something be called coercion? There's a reason why theologians argue about stuff endlessly. 😉 So it's good that those particular books revealed to A.J. that theology and scripture can be much more complicated than we're often taught to believe.

  2. Jin-roh says:

    >I never got through all of Harris' book when I was younger. I actually have intention finish more for academic interests now (it, in a way, coincides with that "Jesus Made in America" book you lended me), but I do remember it being sold as The Answer when it came to romance. I think your right that he was wrong to search for a "solution" there, but perhaps the zeitgeist of evangelicalism was also wrong to push that book as, shall we say, comprehensive?

  3. Q says:

    >I guess my experience was different. I really hadn't been introduced to Josh Harris until college, and it really only seemed like a book about dating. My church approached dating more moderately. The question was always, "Is making out too far or should we stop at kissing?" Everything before that pretty much remained unquestioned. So, from my perspective (and I'd say my church as well) the questions and points he brought up were an interesting consideration, but just one conservative viewpoint focused only on dating (and a pretty weak argument at that). So I probably don't fit the typical evangelical upbringing, since the Presbyterian church really isn't that evangelical.

  4. alexan says:

    >I've actually had two very recent experiences sharing my 'testimony' with Evangelicals. Perhaps it's helpful that I speak the Evangelical and Charismatic dialects of Christianese as fluently as I speak the Liturgical dialect. Maybe I struck the right balance between being honest and saying what I knew was expected of me. Both times, despite saying more or less "I've walked away from what you hold fast to," I've been received well. I really believe it's possible, by emphasizing common ground instead of differences, to communicate both honestly and charitably, and to be met with charity.And in fact, I believe the reverse is important too. It's all too easy for us postmodern types to get hung up on our differences and write off Evangelicals because of beliefs that lie far exterior to the crux of our common faith.It's all too easy to pay lipservice to ecumenism, yet spend more energy formulating arguments than building relationships. This is a temptation I'm making an effort to resist in my own life.

  5. Jin-roh says:

    >My commitment to Mosaic is part of my commitment to ecumenicalism. Thank you for pointing that out.

  6. Stephanie says:

    >It's funny, because the whole time I was listening, I was thinking, "This guys is just really bitter," and at the end he sais, "I know I probably sound bitter…" I laughed. Honestly, the end, after his audio essay thing, was my favorite part. I could connect to him in that part. As for your questions, I think one must really take things is context. Even today we make a distinction between murder and killing in battle, which is what I understood AJ as referencing. As for Josh Harris, I never liked the whole "Kissed Dating Goodbye" thing. To me, it was an attempt to control, to say, "hey lots of people mess this up, but if you follow THESE EXACT STEPS everything will work out fine." This completely eliminates the need to rely on the Holy Spirit and to feel uncomfortable and out of control, which in my opinion are all very important aspects in finding a mate. In other words, it's an attempt to eliminate risk. As for Josh Harris dealing with dpression, I don't understand why AJ expected him to as depression is a completely different topic from dating. It was a little bit of a disconect for me. AJ says that he doesn't understand (or believe) the part of the Bible where it says that the Lord will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear and brings up suicide. Now, having undergone any number of traumas and seriously contemplated suicide at one point in my life, I have to say that the Bible is true on this matter. I look at it like this. If you are in a burning building with your eyes squeezed shut, you can't see the window. Many times when people are in situations of desperation, the way out is there– but you have to look for it. You have to choose it. The way out is not always pleasant and sometimes downright painful. I guess the question is "a way out of what?" Out of temptation–certainly. Out of pain and consequences–not necesesarily.

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