Restoring Apologetics to Evangelism, Part 3

Problem: The use of personal testimony turns the Christian life into a spectacle and encourages legalistic behavior.

If, as we have said in prior points, personal testimony allows non-believers to argue against the truth of Christianity based on my nasty Aunt Sally’s kicking her cat, then it only follows that we will be under a microscope (as indeed we are), and those of us with a keen awareness of this will end up falling prey to a sort of legalism.

This is not merely an idle threat. Professed former Christians, such as John Loftus, have made remarks like these many times:

As a Christian I remember wanting people to see Christ in me. I wanted to be like Christ as an advertisement like a billboard for Christ. I was conscious that people were watching me. Of course as a preacher I did live in a so-called glass house.

Such sentiments are misguided. When Jesus spoke of Christians as examples, the metaphor he used was that of a city on a hill. A city on a hill does not strive for attention; it passively draws attention, with no concern for who is watching. It is not a “moving target” but a static one.

Obviously, I am not making this point as a license for bad behavior. There are plenty of other reasons for not breaking God’s moral code without having this one in the mix. However, in allowing personal testimony to become the critical tool for conversion, we have put ourselves under a sort of legalistic pressure that turns us from cities on a hill into elephants on the run. Moreover, we thereby invite judgmentalism by non-believers, especially dishonest ones like Loftus who will try to twist anything we do into some sort of sin – even if it is not – in order to gain what they think is an argument against the truth of Christianity.

The result: A misplaced concern arises for “hurting our testimony” rather than defending the actual basis for Christianity – the historic Resurrection of Jesus. If this seems too far-fetched, we can find examples of this easily, such as from one website (which I will not link to) by a fundamentalist Baptist church:

The way you dress can hurt your testimony. I have sadly learned that often when the hems go up on unsaved women, they also go up on women in the church. Saved people should not dress like the unsaved, when the dress of the unsaved is immodest or unbecoming. You should try to be a Christian in the way you dress. I know that some of you will say, "Joe used to be a Holy Roller, and still has some of that in him"; but I will tell you that I hate to see women church members made up like the chorus line in a Las Vegas floor show. You should dress modestly and properly as to your clothes, your jewelry, and your make-up. You can hurt your testimony by the way you dress. I used to wonder how anyone could ever even imagine that Tammy Baker [sic] was a good Christian woman. Ladies, don't make up like a clown when you go to church.

We ought to note, of course, that this represents a misuse of the admonitions of the NT concerning modest dress (the main concern was seeking of honor, not sexiness), but it remains that such thinking is absurd. By what sort of reckless epistemology could it be decided that Christianity is less true because Aunt Gertie has her eyeliner on an inch too thick?

Mind you: I’m no fan of women using makeup of any sort; my beloved Mrs H first attracted me in part because of her distinct lack in that regard. But the reasoning remains reckless and absurd, as even this pastor was forced to admit in the end:

The unsaved man may use my poor testimony of a Christian he knows as his excuse for not being saved. Now, the Christian should be very careful that he does not give the unsaved man any real reason for doing this; but I want the unsaved to know that this is only a "copout". This is not the real reason any man remains unsaved. It is his cover up. It is his excuse; but the real reason is that he is in love with his sins and does not want to be saved.

Well, if it is a “copout,” then what is the logic behind the argument to begin with? There is none: This unfortunate pastor was caught in his own epistemic trainwreck and didn’t bother to resolve the contradiction – assuming he even saw it, which I doubt!

Again, none of this is license to do as we please. But by making personal testimony the plumb line for Christian truth, we have unwittingly placed ourselves at an unnecessary disadvantage in evangelism and turned ourselves into victims.


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