October 13, 2008
Personal Testimony of Faith
Every believer has a personal testimony of faith – a story of how he came to Christ and how the Lord has since been working to change him into a mature child of God. Dr. Craig describes how a well-crafted personal testimony of faith can penetrate people’s hearts and here provides both his testimony and some guidelines, so you may craft your own personal testimony of faith.
Dear Dr. Craig-
I was recently listening to your Defenders Podcast and in it you strongly encouraged your class to come up with a personal testimony as an apologetic tool when witnessing to unbelievers.
In my 10 years as a follower of Jesus Christ it has been my observation that many of these "personal testimonies", that are such a cherished pasttime by Evangelicals, are counterproductive to the spreading of the Gospel.
These almost become a free-for-all discussion about anything and everything.
I hear all kinds of disturbing things in these testimonies such as "God told me this or God told me that." Other times I hear "I was such a messed up person until God told me to do such and such and now my life is great. He has a wonderful plan for you too. Recite this sinners prayer and you will be saved."
Often these testimonies are the beginning and end of most Christian witness to unbelievers, without any mention of the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I know I'm exaggerating a bit, but in my opinion there is a lot of foolishness in the majority of "personal testimonies", which is rampant in the Word of Faith, and other so-called Christian movements.
So here are some questions that I have:
- According to the Scriptures, are we obligated to have a personal testimony?
- What purpose then does it serve?
- What model should it follow?
- Do you share a common frustration with me by modern Evangelicals who participate in these aforementioned counterproductive testimonies?
Thank you for considering my question.
Your ministry and work has been a tremendous asset in my walk as an Ambassador of Christ.
Personal testimony of faith
I guess I just haven’t had the negative experiences with people’s personal testimonies that you have, Eric. Maybe that’s because I’ve mainly heard them in the context of activities sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, which provides guidance on how to prepare a personal testimony of faith. In our Defenders class we similarly gave people some guidelines to follow in preparing their accounts of how they came to know Christ and then offered feedback to folks who shared them in class. I must say that hearing people’s personal stories of how they came to faith in Christ has been just fascinating. The diversity of the ways in which people come to faith is mind-boggling. I’m frequently amazed at how people who appear to have it all together have incredible backgrounds and experiences which have led them to Christ. It makes my heart rejoice to see the variety in the body of Christ and all the wonderful ways in which the Lord works to draw people to Himself.
I don’t know that the Scriptures command us to prepare a personal testimony of faith. But we do see Paul, for example, sharing his testimony repeatedly of how he came to faith on the road to Damascus. Even years later he was recounting that experience to people.
As for the purpose of sharing your testimony, we’re to be as salt and light in a dark world, and one of the most interesting ways you can do that is by sharing your personal life with people. I find that folks connect more with one’s personal story than they do with arguments. They want to know how what you believe has affected your life, what difference it makes to you. One of the advantages of sharing your personal story is that you will often find people who identify with some element of your life, which draws them into your narrative. So I see sharing your personal testimony as a key element in evangelism. It helps people to connect personally with the Gospel message.
So here’s a model to follow: Write out an account of how you came to Christ that you can give aloud in about three minutes. Your account should include three broad parts: First, what your life was like before you came to faith in Christ. Of course, if you came to Christ as a small child, this part of your story will be less significant than if you came to the Lord later. But many people who were raised in Christian homes may identify with your effort to make your faith your own and not just that of your parents. Second, tell how you became a Christian. Be specific. What did you actually do? A person hearing your testimony should know afterwards what he should do if he wants to commit his life to Christ. In sharing this part of my story, I usually try to include the content of the Gospel message that was shared with me and to which I responded. So the message of Christ’s death and resurrection can actually be included in your testimony. Finally, describe a bit how your life has changed since becoming a Christian. What does Christ mean to you today? What difference does it make being a Christian compared to the way you were before? After you’ve written out your testimony, memorize it so that you can tell someone your story at the drop of a hat if you should be asked.
Personal testimony of faith – How to craft your testimony
To give you an example of what I’m talking about, let me share with you now my own story of how I came to faith in Christ:
I wasn’t raised in a church-going family, much less a Christian family—though it was a good and loving home. But when I became a teenager, I began to ask the big questions of life: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” In the search for answers I began to attend on my own a large church in our community. But instead of answers, all I found was a social country club where the dues were a dollar a week in the offering plate. The other high school students who were involved in the youth group and claimed to be Christians on Sunday lived for their real God the rest of the week, which was popularity. They seemed willing to do whatever it took to be popular.
This really bothered me. “They claim to be Christians, but I’m leading a better life than they are!” I thought. “Yet I feel so empty inside. They must be just as empty as I am, but they’re just pretending to be something they’re not. They’re all just a pack of hypocrites.” So I began to grow very bitter toward the institutional church and the people in it.
In time this attitude spread toward other people. “Nobody is really genuine,” I thought. “They’re all just a bunch of phonies, holding up a plastic mask to the world, while the real person is cowering down inside, afraid to come out and be real.” So my anger and resentment spread toward people in general. I grew to despise people, I wanted nothing to do with them. “I don’t need people,” I thought, and I threw myself into my studies. Frankly, I was on my way toward becoming a very alienated young man.
And yet—in moments of introspection and honesty, I knew deep down inside that I really did want to love and be loved by others. I realized in that moment that I was just as much a phony as they were. For here I was, pretending not to need people, when deep down I knew that I really did. So that anger and hatred turned in upon myself for my own hypocrisy and phoniness.
I don’t know if you understand what this is like, but this kind of inner anger and despair just eats away at your insides, making every day miserable, another day to get through. I couldn’t see any purpose to life; nothing really mattered.
One day when I was feeling particularly crummy, I walked into my high school German class and sat down behind a girl who was one of those types that is always so happy it just makes you sick! I tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned around, and I growled, “Sandy, what are you always so happy about anyway?”
“Well, Bill,” she said, “It’s because I’m saved!”
I was in utter shock. I had never heard language like this before.
“You’re what?” I demanded.
“I know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior,” she explained.
“I go to church,” I said lamely.
“That’s not enough, Bill,” she said. “You’ve got to have him really living in your heart.”
That was the limit! “What would he want to do a thing like that for?” I demanded.
“Because he loves you, Bill.”
That hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I was, so filled with anger and hate, and she said there was someone who really loved me. And who was it but the God of the universe! That thought just staggered me. To think that the God of the universe should love me, Bill Craig, that worm down there on that speck of dust called planet Earth! I just couldn’t take it in.
That began for me the most agonizing period of soul-searching that I’ve ever been through. I got a New Testament and read it from cover to cover. And as I did, I was absolutely captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There was a wisdom about his teaching I had never encountered before and an authenticity in his life that wasn’t characteristic of those people who claimed to be his followers in the local church I was attending. I know that I couldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Through reading the New Testament, I discovered what my problem was. My own moral failures—in thought, word, and deed—had made me morally guilty before God and so spiritually separated from Him. That’s why God seemed so unreal to me. But the Good News was that God had sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to pay the death penalty for my sin, thereby freeing up God’s love and forgiveness to pardon and cleanse me and restore me to the relationship with God that I was meant to have.
Meanwhile, Sandy introduced me to other Christian students in the high school. I had never met people like this! Whatever they said about Jesus, what was undeniable was that they were living life on a plane of reality that I didn’t even dream existed, and it imparted a deep meaning and joy to their lives, which I craved.
To make a long story short, my spiritual search went on for the next six months. I attended Christian meetings; I read Christian books; I sought God in prayer. Finally, one night I just came to the end of my rope and cried out to God. I cried out all the anger and bitterness that had built up inside me, and at the same time I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst! I remember I rushed outdoors—it was a clear, mid-western, summer night, and you could see the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. As I looked up at the stars, I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!”
That moment changed my whole life. I had thought enough about this message during those six months to realize that if it were really the truth—really the truth—, then I could do nothing less than spend my entire life spreading this wonderful message among mankind.
For many Christians, the main difference they find in coming to know Christ is the love or the joy or the peace it brings. All of those things were thrilling for me, too. But if you were to ask me what is the main difference Christ has made in my life, without hesitation I would say, “Meaning!” I knew the blackness, the despair, of a life lived apart from God. Knowing God suddenly brought eternal significance to my life. Now the things I do are charged with eternal meaning. Now life matters. Now every day I wake up to another day of walking with Him.
Personal testimony of faith – The impact of one’s testimony
The impact of sharing this testimony has been remarkable. A year or so ago we were at a philosophy conference at Fudan University in Shanghai along with several other Christian philosophers. On the last day of the conference, the moderator unexpectedly asked me to share how I had become a Christian. It was a wide-open door! So I immediately shared my personal testimony of faith. When I finished, you could tell that the students had been quite moved. Just a few months ago I received the following email:
Greetings from Shanghai! We met last year when you are here speaking at Fudan University. Some amazing stories happened here after the symposium last year. We were able to follow up some of the interested students from the lectures. Several people who went to your final lecture came to faith afterward. I hope God will use you and your fellows in great ways to empower his work here in China.
Sharing your testimony counter-productive? Not on your life! Certainly there can be counter-productive testimonies, testimonies that are rambling and long-winded, vague or incomplete, or just plain kooky (the Body of Christ really does contain all kinds!). But don’t let those abuses put you off from doing the right thing well: sharing the story of how God acted to draw you to faith in Him. A good testimony gives glory to God and points the listener to Christ, whom it lifts up instead of self. I find that sharing my personal testimony of faith with others, along with sharing the message of the Gospel and evidence for its truth, is a powerful witness to Christ’s reality and makes the Gospel very attractive for people who are searching today.