Monthly Archives: May 2012

Reasons for the Popularity of Testimonies

Why, then, are personal testimonies so popular? One reason could be that many people see personal experience as the chief determinant of spiritual beliefs. I cannot count all the times I’ve heard people defend a particular practice, belief or interpretation of Scripture by referring to personal experience and nothing else, as if what they have seen, felt, heard and thought constituted the final word on the matter. Many a time I have heard people actually ignore a pertinent biblical text and fall back on their personal experience to support their view. Instead of establishing what is true based on something impersonal and objective—the biblical text—truth is often determined by what is personal and subjective. Unfortunately, this mind-set has been carried over into the use of personal testimonies in evangelism. Just listen to my testimony, so the thinking goes, and my personal experience will convince you of the gospel.

The root cause of this could lie in our natural, fallen nature, which predisposes us to shape our religion based upon the dictates of our own hearts rather than divine revelation. That is recorded in Romans 1: God has revealed Himself to all of humanity, but humanity has responded by rejecting that revelation and worshiping gods of their own making. This tendency to reject revelation in favor of our own thoughts and desires is as dangerous as it is sinful, and we as fallen human beings must always watch out for it. Could it be that the heavy reliance on personal testimonies today is the result of this tendency? If so, are we not drifting away from the Word of God?

Another reason for their popularity could be that they are easy. It is much easier to tell one’s own story than it is to become well-versed in the truths of the gospel. Although this was mentioned in Part 1, it is worth repeating here: The best training for evangelism is theological study. This does not have to be lengthy, expensive seminary training but a basic—and solid—grounding in the truths that comprise the gospel message, such as what God is like, who Jesus is, the resurrection, the virgin birth, what faith is, what repentance is, how sin is atoned for, and so on. This takes some work, but what child of God would not take delight in learning them and sharing them with others? If we value personal testimonies because they are easier than studying the theological content of the gospel message, are we not drifting away from the Word of God?

Personal testimonies are also easy because they are risk-free to a great extent. They are safe. My own personal story is far less likely to draw antagonism and hostility than the story about Christ. Why? because my personal story will come across as just one more personal account out of countless others, no better than anyone else’s. It is purely subjective. Why should the unbeliever regard my subjective experience as superior to that of a non-Christian? Another reason is that there is nothing about my personal testimony that commands people to believe in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins. It simply conveys that I have believed in Christ and repented, and it implies that the hearer would benefit by doing the same. It is more like a television commercial trying to get someone to “buy” the gospel, with the testimony-bearer saying something like, “I used to be unhappy, lonely and depressed, but since I accepted Jesus, my life is so much better. So give Jesus a try—you won’t be sorry.” That is easy and safe because it presents no terrible consequence if one does not believe and repent. It simply offers something positive that will satisfy our natural desires.

The story of Christ, on the other hand, can be greatly offensive precisely because it has supreme authority: Because God the Son took on flesh, bore the sin of the world and rose from the dead, all of mankind has a duty to respond to that ultimate sacrifice in faith and repentance. The gospel is not a slick commercial that tries to appeal to a person’s desires and lusts; it is the authoritative command to repent of sin and believe in Christ because of what God did at Calvary. It is the story that tells people that there is only one way of salvation that God has given mankind, and woe to us if we neglect so great a salvation. The gospel presents a somber ultimatum to the world: Repent or perish! Now that is a story that can definitely draw hostility. If our reason for relying on personal testimonies is to avoid the hostility that can and will result from sharing the gospel, are we not drifting away from the Word of God?

Problems with Testimonies

In addition to the problems already mentioned, there are others to be concerned about. For one thing, a personal testimony is not divine revelation, but divine revelation is the only way a person can know anything about God. Had God not revealed Himself to us through creation, Jesus Christ and Scripture, we would have no way of knowing a single truth about Him. We are unable to arrive at a single bit of knowledge of God apart from God condescending to us, making Himself known to us on our level. We cannot rise up to God to learn about Him on our own. If God did not stoop down to our level, we would have never learned a single thing about him. The gospel is part of God’s revelation and therefore absolutely indispensable for anyone to come to a saving knowledge of Christ. Do you see, then, the extreme importance of divine revelation for the unbeliever? If we give priority to something that is not divine revelation, however, while putting the revelation of the gospel on the back burner, are we not drifting away from the Word of God?

Another problem is that personal testimony is subject to human error, such as forgetting details over time, or unintentional (or intentional) embellishment. The more time has elapsed since an event, the more unclear its memory becomes, and consequently the easier it is to inadvertently embellish it or leave out details. Even worse, there is also the risk of deliberately embellishing one’s testimony to make it more dramatic. One might feel that one’s conversion experience lacks the excitement of such dramatic conversions as Paul’s, who was rescued from a background of heinous sin, and consequently might spice up his testimony to make it more interesting.

Finally, people of other religions also can come up with positive, uplifting personal testimonies of their own. They can easily describe how their particular religion enhanced their lives, making them happy and content. They can extol their religion by recounting, for example, how they had been on a long and dark search for the truth, but when they discovered their religion, it seemed to them that all their darkness and confusion vanished.

As with friendship evangelism and the sinner’s prayer, the massive popularity of the use of personal testimonies in evangelism is inversely proportional to the amount of biblical support for it. In other words, the use of testimonies for evangelistic purposes is enormous, but biblical support for that purpose is minuscule.

Of course, sharing the circumstances of how you came to Christ is not wrong. In some cases there may be a place for it, such as in a small group gathering of other Christians or at church before the congregation. Even then, however, their use should be limited because the gospel message is what the church needs to hear over and over again. Even those who have been followers of Christ for many years must still hear the gospel preached, not to be saved over and over again but to continue in faithful service to Christ and ongoing repentance. Ultimately we must always remember that God’s testimony is greater than our own, and the story that matters most is the story about Christ, the gospel message. We should be eager to point people away from ourselves and toward Christ, just as John the Baptist always did.

About the Author



The author of this blog, Jeremy (Jehanne), is a Catholic who strives to think God's thoughts after Him and obey Christ's exhortation to take up the cross daily and follow Him on the way to Golgotha. He likes reading theology, evangelizing, and, of course, writing.