What Genre is my Testimony: Rom-Com or Epic?

If you spend much time in evangelical circles, eventually someone will ask you to share your testimony. The word ‘testimony’, like ‘witness’, is one of those legal loanwords that we Christians love using in our own dialect. What we mean is more like an autobiography, the teller’s story of how they became a Christian. Some people are very shy, thinking their testimony is too boring to share (‘My parents are both Christian, and I don’t really know when I became one, maybe I always was?’), and some people get a lot of people asking them to share theirs because their so exciting (‘I had just been expelled from the Real IRA for my heroin addiction, and I was at a real low point…’). But altogether, it’s a good practice, it invites us to reflect, recognise the work of God, and give thanks.

But here’s my question: what’s the genre of your testimony? If you were to find a director, who would be a good fit? My observation is that most people tell their testimony as a rom-com. Perhaps Richard Curtis would be your director. There is the initial introductory setting (Christian household/the Real IRA/meet-cute in a Manhattan coffee shop, happy first few months), usually followed by a bit of tension (not sure if I personally believed/kicked out of IRA for drug use/argument over some misunderstanding about his ex or whatever), then resolution and happily ever after (I became a Christian on summer camp/a guy gave me a tract in prison/standing in the rain with a boombox). The key thing is this, rom-coms and testimonies both tend to conclude at the beginning of the story. 

Perhaps a better model for our personal storytelling would be Peter Jackson or Francis Ford Coppola. The Godfather trilogy doesn’t end when Michael Corleone takes over the family business — that’s the beginning of his story. If you asked Frodo how he met Gandalf, that wouldn’t be half as interesting as what happened after he met Gandalf. And so it is when any of us come to Christ. If you sat down with the Apostle Peter and asked him how he became a follower of Jesus, you’d be asking him about one of the less interesting parts of his life. Almost everything that happened in his life knowing the Christ over the next few years and decades was more interesting than the start (as interesting as that was). Paul’s Damascus Road experience was only the start of his story. The problem with romcoms is that they roll the credits when the story is only just beginning (that is to say, the marriage, not the courtship, is the real love story), and perhaps a weak spot with a lot of testimonies is that we do the same. The most interesting part of your story is what happened after you met Jesus. Your life is not a neat story of how you met Jesus, it is an epic of continual struggle, progress, mystery, discovery, and adventure with him.

Or as Eugene Peterson put it, ‘in the life of faith each person discovers all the elements of a unique and original adventure.’ So tell me the beginning of it, but tell me the rest as well.

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