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The Bondage of Having a Testimony or How Josh Hamilton Can Be Free Again

October 10, 2012

The Four Spiritual Laws presents a picture something like this:

Though unintentional, the message being portrayed is that the significance of the cross is only initiatory: i.e. it get’s you to God, but once there you are no longer in need of it, or to be consistent with the metaphor, it is a bridge you only cross once. This image is a graphic (chuckle) portrayal of a tragic reality of most people’s Christian life, the gospel is the message that gets me in the faith but not on in the faith. Paul rebuked the Galatians for this sentiment, “you foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? Having begun in the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh?” This faulty notion of how we get in the faith and how we get on in the faith being two separate movements operating on two separate principles is deadly to faith, and yields a sort of spiritual bondage. Having been freed from the law do we surrender to its yoke again?

The way this tends to work out is seen in how we develop what evangelicals like to call our “testimony.” This narrative is a recounting of how we came to faith and it usually moves in three acts: act 1) crisis seeking spiritual/religious resolution, act 2) resolution found in Jesus as Savior, act 3) life change emerging from resolution. It is a compelling way to tell our story and it is not untrue, but the danger is that is locks the significance of Jesus into a discreet moment in the past (i.e. act 2) and the life change that supposedly follows must be maintained at all costs to validate act 2 as somehow real or of any enduring significance. Sometimes what happens is the dynamic of the Christian life is understood as some sort of constant rehearsal of this story whereby my identity gets crystallized in my conversion instead of as an ongoing maturation emerging from my conversion. This dynamic was wonderfully illustrated in a recent article about Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton on Grantland.

 

Bryan Curtis writes:

By now, you and I could recite the outlines of The Story: Hamilton, baseball’s no. 1 overall draft pick in 1999, falls under the sway of crack and cocaine; abandons his wife and daughters; gets clean; gets acquainted with God; and in a semi-damaged, heavily tattooed state, leads Texas to the franchise’s first two World Series appearances…  I want to be clear that I’m not making fun of Hamilton’s religion. I’m not questioning the events of The Story. What I’m suggesting is that Hamilton has become a prisoner of it….The Story was mesmerizing because it had no gray areas. Old Josh: selfish, unholy, crack house. New Josh: devoted, godly, home run. Even though Hamilton was quick to admit he was still an addict who couldn’t even carry around lunch money, there was no question about which Josh we should root for… [and] Josh Hamilton was willing to tell The Story again and again and again… the problem with The Story wasn’t that Hamilton was telling it too much. The problem was that The Story was too perfect. Its happy ending left no room for a fourth act. Which is to say, the improbable, occasionally strange life that Hamilton was continuing to live… It’s not defending Josh Hamilton to say that he became despised this year for many of the things that, in the confines of a redemption narrative, once made him beloved. The Story swallowed the man.

The Apostle Paul said, “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” I take him to mean that the gospel is the only thing that gets us all the way (hence the word unto) home. If we crystallize the gospel, or our own story of responding to it as sealed off from the rest of our life, as if its only significance is that it happened in the past, we will ultimately minimize the power that got us on the road home in the first place, and become like Josh Hamilton a prisoner of our own story. Instead of having to squeeze water from the rock of our own testimony, we can go on living into act 4, which neither hollywood nor ESPN has much interest in and much like romantic comedies which never tell the story of what happens after people get together. Josh Hamilton’s story isn’t contained in the three acts and neither is ours, God is far too great a storyteller for something so banal.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ron permalink
    January 14, 2013 11:01 am

    This is a great post although I had to read it a few times, slowly, before understanding it: “as an ongoing maturation emerging from my conversion” was one of the points that helped me in reading this post. “[A]nd much like romantic comedies which never tell the story of what happens after people get together” helped in understanding this post, too. In regards to the latter, I guess, finally, that is why I never cared much for romantic comedies since in the end, the story seems to fizzle out once the credits start rolling: because in the back of my mind I know that the actors all go home and live their real lives and that the movie is fake, non-reality, unlike that when we live on in our faith in Jesus and his work on the cross for us.

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