Sharing Our Story Is Not Enough to Produce Faith

Sharing Our Story Is Not Enough to Produce Faith December 11, 2012

What do you think about this article, “Why Sharing Your Story Is Not the Best Way to Share the Gospel“?

story book

Essentially, the author summarizes the argument of Tori Allen that we cannot and should not rely so much on “telling our story” or giving a testimony.

The article adds, “Toni Allen writes that women, especially, ‘tend to depend on their experience and emotional connection with God as the primary justification for the beliefs they hold.'” The idea is not that giving a testimony is bad. More simply, it is not enough. In the end, people need reasons to believe something other that your personal feelings or experience.

This seems pretty relevant for missions. How many missionaries have little or no theological education or training? How equipped are they to talk about various theological, historical, cultural, and/or apologetic related issues? Not only long-term missionaries, but what about short-term workers? When push comes to shove, people will fall back on their experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen short-term workers labor to explain the gospel. Even long-term workers often struggle to elaborate on anything past a presentation that comes from a gospel-tract.

There is a subtle shift that can also happen—rather than appealing to their own experience, people reiterate the opinion or testimony of someone else, like a pastor. Especially if someone lacks theological training, they assert what their pastor preached back in the States. They themselves are unable to defend or explain their ideas. Yet, the local unbeliever is supposed to accept this “Jesus” person?


Must We Choose Head or Heart?

On the other hand, we know well enough that everyone can’t be proficient in apologetics and the like. No one can know everything. The article wouldn’t assert (I think) that there is no place for one’s story. We can’t simply pit one against the other. So, it seems, neither extreme is all that attractive or defensible. Yet, simply saying “both are important” is not too satisfying an answer either.

Just tonight, I was studying Romans 5:1-11 with a group. In verse 5, notice that Paul explains the reason for his hope. Paul writes, “. . . hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly,” (Romans 5:5, 6 ESV).

Subjectively, God had put in our hearts a love for him via the Holy Spirit, who was promised in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27). This is more than just feelings. From the context, this has to do with character–a new set of desires such that we are able to obey from the heart (as in Rom 6:17). Then, in verses 6ff, Christ’s death is an objective expression of God’s love. If God loved us in this way, while we were weak, sinners, and even his enemies, then we can expect that he will save us in the end (cf 5:9-11).

Let’s also notice that back in Rom 4, the last verse recalls Christ’s resurrection, which was for our justification. Consider the line of argument Paul is making. He is not merely using subjective testimony nor simply objective proofs. There is a combination of arguments, but that is not my precise point.


The Reason for Faith

I want to highlight something else—the reason for faith in God is his character. Because of what God has already done in the past, therefore we can trust him for the future. Faith is future oriented. (See John Piper’s Future Grace on this idea.) Notice how Paul summarizes the faith of Abraham, the quintessential man of faith. Romans 4:20-21 says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

Why should we believe? How do we urge people to believe? Tell people what God has done in history, particularly in Christ. The gospel is “according to the Scriptures,” which implies a story. In this gospel story, the righteousness of God is revealed. He keeps his word. He loves us. He will establish justice in the world. He will save his people by destroying their enemies. Since God raised Jesus, overcoming the shame of death, we can be confident he is able to raise up on the last day. We will not be put to shame (cf. Rom 5:5; 9:33; 10:11).

We do not put out hope merely in feelings nor facts, but rather in a person who has acted in history. Gospel presentations focus on God’s character. What we urge them to believe in says something about the way we think of faith. The nature of faith is neither all subjective nor all objective. There is always some degree of Kierkegaardian risk. Belief in certain facts must have corresponding feelings if they are to be authentic. Feelings are the fruit of knowledge. Much better than Kierkegaard on this point is Jonathan Edwards, in his book The Religious Affections.

What do you think? Any other passages that come to mind?

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  • glee

    I think that sharing your testimony is definite pattern in Scripture as seen in Paul’s example in Acts 20 and 26. The author of the article pegs all people who share their testimony as people who are not concerned about other issues like apologetics, and I think that is silly disposition. I think those who share are going to be the first ones that will look at how to confront issues that are raised in a gospel presentation. I also don’t think that you don’t win people to Christ through apologetics, but rather apologetics is used to defend our faith as more than reasonable. We “win” people to the Lord as they hear the truth and the Spirit acts before hand in convicting them of their need for a Savior. This is done in an organic way. Paul mixed in Scripture and personal testimony quite often and the title seems to suggest that sense it is not the best way to share the gospel then don’t do it. I feel in a Chinese context, sharing the gospel in a story format is not only appropriate but suggest to people that they can be in the “in” group too since they are in the “in” group themselves.

    • I agree with all your main points.

      You may read too much into either the article’s (or my) title. The article’s tone is pretty strong but the article did clearly say “not the best way.” I said “not enough.” To say something is not the “best” not “not enough” in no way suggest not doing it. The push back I give (and I think the article’s author) is that we must not limit our evangelism to testimony. For all practical purposes, it’s no uncommon for people to stress another’s personal experience as a reason to follow Jesus such that biblical thinking and clear reasoning are not developed sufficiently for a person to have genuine faith. More simply put, true faith has its reasons, which do not mainly come from another person’s experience. With that qualification, I think we completely agree that both testimony and apologetics are important.

      I try to push the point further that the article’s author. I argue for “theological” evangelism or apologetics (depending on your perspective of each concept). The emphasis is on the character of God, not simply facts or experience.

      As far as testimonies go, not excluding the one’s you mention in Scripture, I suggest our testimonies, if done rightly, should essentially present God’s “testimony.” That is, my testimony explains what GOD HAS DONE in the world and thus my life. This necessarily entails and requires sharing the gospel and the reasons I (and they) should believe it. After all, our testimony should clarify what it is we responded to and so now believe.

      Last thing––I suggest the passages you mention in Acts cannot necessarily be understood as the primary paradigms for doing evangelism. Please don’t hear me essay that these are bad. Keep in mind that Paul in on trial in Acts 26 and context. Naturally, he will share his story since he must explain who he is and why he is being accused. Yet, even here, notice Paul gets to the main idea of his gospel message: Christ must suffer and rise from the dead, according to the Scripture, thus becoming a light to the Jews and Gentiles (cf. 26:23).

      • glee

        Agree with all your points. I was actually not referring to your title but the article’s title. My points were more of a reaction to what he wrote. He was very strong like you mention. You raise the question what we think about the article. Honestly, I think the article is too critical of people who would be intentional of sharing their faith with those who otherwise wouldn’t hear anything about Christ. I actually like what you wrote :)

  • glee

    When sharing testimonies, I often talk about the process of sharing it. I say you need to listen first to a non-believer’s story. That clues you in what personal story you can tell so that you can share Christ’s story. Their story, your story, His story is a framework for sharing testimonies
    that I think you and I can agree on.

  • David Haslam

    Two things I learned while I was a young disciple during my student days at Cambridge: (if I recall aright, this was from Derek Kidner).

    1. History governs experience.
    2. Doctrine governs behaviour.

    The first is to say in effect, that whatever kinds of feelings were engendered by your first response to the Gospel, any religious experience purporting to be of and from Jesus Christ depends for its validity on the historical fact that Jesus rose from the dead. If he is not risen, then all your claimed experiences relating to your Christianity would not be worth a pinch of salt.

    The second is to say in effect, that how you behave is primarily related to what teachings you have understood, and whether you have understood and applied them correctly. It’s a pithy paraphrase which sums up this verse:

    But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. (Romans 6:17 [AV])

    • Good analysis my friend. Thanks for sharing. More people need to think through the implications.