Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Boring Testimonies

For some reason I'm not entirely sure of, I've been seeing a lot of mentions of Ergun Caner lately. Caner, as you may recall, was the president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, a renowned conference speaker, the inventor of Double-Stuf Oreos, once ate a whole wheel of cheese, played Donatello in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie, didn't surrender after the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, climbed Mount Everest solo in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, fought alongside Lewis and Clark at the Alamo, is the Lindbergh baby, and circumnavigated the globe thrice by riding a dolphin wearing pantaloons.

OK, maybe I didn't get every last syllable. But it's basically right. Basically.

The details of his biography don't seem to matter much to Caner. As Tom Chantry summed it up, "A kid from Ohio went around right after 9-11 telling churches that he was trained as a Jihadist/terrorist while he was growing up in Turkey." A little misstatement here, a tiny bald-faced lie endlessly repeated there, and we have a new 'evangelical' superstar.

I don't really remember this guy much, but the last generation's big testimonial liar was Mike Warnke. Dude rose to prominence by claiming to have been a converted Satanist high priest, only it turns out he was lying. Just lied to people, for God's glory, of course.

Now it's easy to see why these guys would lie - they acquired significant fame and wealth and power on the basis of their amazing testimonies. But even among people who are not aspiring to Christianoid celebrityhood, a similar spirit is alive and kicking. Most often it's well-intentioned (but sorely misguided), but the push to embellish our testimonies is all around us.

We loathe the boring testimony. Raised by Christian parents, never went all prodigal, came to faith at an early age? Boring. Who's going to be impressed by that? If you're at a Bible college and have a testimony-writing project, and that's your story, you will probably get a bad grade (not hypothetical, btw). Might want to throw in some rebellion - maybe a little drunkenness or something - so people will know how much you've repented. How will people know how awesome the life-transforming power of Christ is if they don't know what a hellion you used to be?

Have you ever heard someone tell his story, how he came to faith in Christ and was rescued from [drugs, illicit sex, a cult, liberalism, whatever vile thing you can name and many you shouldn't], and heard someone with a 'boring' testimony say something like "I wish I had done some of that so I'd have an awesome story, too"? Have you ever thought it yourself?

Why do we do that? Why do we even entertain the thought that we wish we had sinned more (so that our testimony to grace would be increased), or worse, that we should lie and claim we did? For one thing, we tend to forget just how horrifying sin is, that sin from which we've been completely forgiven can still have residual effects the rest of our lives. Instead of wishing we had sinned that way for a better conversion story, it would be a good opportunity to thank God for the grace that restrained your wicked, unregenerate heart from heading down that particular evil, self-destructive path.

But the bigger reason, I think, is that we're all Pelagian by (sinful) nature, and we struggle against remnants of it as long as we struggle with the flesh. That is, we can sometimes slip into thinking that the determining power in faith is not God's power, but the will of the listener. They will surely believe, if only our presentation is good enough to convince them. We think that conversion is merely changing sides in a debate rather than divinely-wrought regeneration. And so we fall into thinking that we can cut through their unbelief if only we have a more compelling story, and that would have been the case if only we had been worse sinners before we were saved.

So let's look at the least-dramatic conversion story imaginable, such as the person raised by Christian parents who came to faith early and never had a major period of rebellion. What kind of testimony does he have? Well, like all people, he was a rebel against the sovereign creator of all, and he gladly followed the ways of Satan. God has appointed a day when He will judge the world and punish His enemies, and he was an object of God's wrath. But God sent Jesus Christ to be a propitiatory sacrifice for our sin and raised him to life for our justification - he became sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him - and now all who are united to Christ in faith are forgiven of their sin, counted righteous in Christ, and reconciled to God. By God's grace alone he has been made alive, completely forgiven of all sin, and rather than bearing God's wrath eternally in hell, in the ages to come he will be lavished with the immeasurable riches of God's grace. And so God will save all those - and only those - who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, who repent and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin, everyone whom God calls to himself.

You know, I'm not sure how that testimony needs embellishing. So I guess maybe what we should do is worry less about ourselves and proclaim Jesus more.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Questions for the Purpose-Driven Vision-Casting Blackabeans

"Now these in Blackabea thought themselves with their God-experiences more noble than those in mere Christendom; they received the extra-Biblical revelation with all eagerness, examining their circumstances, subjective impressions, and liver shivers daily to see if these things were right in their own eyes." (Not-Acts 17:11)

One of the big trends in what we still call evangelicalism over the last couple of decades has been the development of 'vision'. It goes by many names and takes many forms, but it all amounts to roughly the same thing - discovering extra-Biblical revelation of God's specific will, for you individually or for your church/ministry. You need to discover your purpose, and become purpose-driven, completely oriented towards fulfilling that purpose. You need to discern where God is working and how He is inviting you to join Him in that work. You need to identify God's vision for you and cast it to others.

Do this well, and your life will be meaningful and blessed. Your ministry will be more powerful that you can possibly imagine. You will experience God as you drive towards your purpose and fulfill your special calling and probably earn a trophy or something.

Fail to do this, and... oh man. I shudder to think of how horrible and purposeless and worthless your existence is. You'll be sentenced to the worst curse imaginable - being ordinary. Yikes. Just consider the horror of the man who loves his neighbor as himself, but never figures out where exactly he's supposed to be doing this or which particular neighbor he's supposed to particularly love, so he just loves them all indiscriminately. What a pathetic waste of protoplasm!

Clearly nobody would want to be like that, just being sanctified and obeying scripture all willy-nilly wherever he happens to be. No, we need something more. Obviously, we all must find our purposeful vision of God-experience. Like, duh.

But still, I have a few questions for the experts in this field. For instance:

How close to God's vision for my life is close enough? If God is calling me to be a missionary in France, and I get things a little messed up, and serve as a missionary in Belgium, is that OK? Or is my life and ministry doomed to endless frustration and worthlessness because I missed God's specific calling for me? What if it's not that close, like instead of going to France, I go to Pakistan or North Korea? Or maybe I'm not a foreign missionary at all, but instead just pastor a church at home for a couple decades. Is there any good that can come from that, or is it so far off my calling that it's a fate worse than death?

What if I love/evangelize the wrong people? You know - like what if God is working on my coworker Steve and inviting me to join, but I misinterpret the impression I got while praying my vision prayers, and accidentally told Brian about Jesus instead? Is it a sin for me to have proclaimed the gospel to the wrong person?

What if someone doesn't get on board with my vision? Can I make him another dead body in the pile behind my bus, or giving him a catapult ride out of the county? Isn't that more appropriate for, I dunno, prosperity-gospel spewing Sabellian false teachers than for actual Christians who just don't agree with my extra-biblical ideas? But wait - if my vision is from God, for them to disobey or even question it is sin. So even if they don't disobey anything actually in the Bible, I can still excommunicate them for the sin of disagreeing with me, right?

Isn't all the stuff that's actually in the Bible enough? I mean, Jesus gives a decent enough mission statement for his church, and there's a bunch of other stuff about what kind of people we will become and what we should be doing. Isn't that enough for equipping us for every good work, without the need for additional specific revelation? Where in scripture are we told to be looking for this kind of thing, anyway?

Remember when Gnosticism with its secret knowledge only available to a select few mega-apostles was such a threat to the early church? Why, exactly, do we need to re-introduce it and try to mainstream it?

Finally, did I really make it through an entire post about finding your special purpose without making a Navin R Johnson joke?