The other day I was listening to a recording of a gentleman giving a personal testimony of his Christian conversion. Just prior to the conversion he observed, “According to the world I had it all: money, fame, drugs, and sex.”
I’ve heard a thousand testimonies over the years that used similar language. But this time this familiar line of Christianese struck me. What is this “world” of which the testifier speaks, the one that says “having it all” means having “money, fame, drugs, and sex”?
To be sure, there is a common narrative in the wider secular culture (one that the church has by and large bought into by the way) which equates success with visible, material success. (Just think about two churches: Church A is in an old building and can barely meet its meager budget with an aging congregation of the elderly and poor street people; Church B has 1000 people, 15 pastors, two campuses, dozens of programs, smoke and laser shows, and a vast asphalt parking lot filled with luxury SUVS; which church would most pastors envy?).
But this testifier didn’t simply describe the familiar narrative of material success which has corrupted many within the church. Rather, he refers to a narrative that equates success with pure and unadulterated hedonism. And it is this pure, hedonistic gospel which is then attributed to “the world”.
The simple fact is that I know many, many non-Christians, i.e. those who are resident member of “the world”. And not one of them considers success to consist of “money, fame, drugs, and sex.”
As I said, this individual wasn’t anomalous. I reflected that over the years I have often heard Christians describe “the world” in these kinds of baldly uncharitable tones. Unfortunately, this description commits the Strawman fallacy, for this kind of grossly reductionist and self-destructive pure hedonism is relatively rare among those outside the Christian community.
So what’s the lesson here? Simply this: testimonies can be great things, but they shouldn’t be embellished with stock Christianese that caricatures and strawmans the views of others. Truth cannot be built on falsehood.