My friend James Warner Wallace wrote an article in 2015 called “Is Your Transformational Religious Experience Evidence Enough?”
In it, he says “I just finished a wonderful weekend at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. This is a large, active church with an innovative and visionary leadership team. They invited me to speak to their members because they understand the growing skepticism in our culture; they’re eager to prepare younger members to defend what they believe and to equip older members to better share the truth. Our sessions were well attended and energetic. After one talk, a frustrated sister in Christ (I’ll call her Jan) told me about a recent exchange she had with a friend who believed in God but rejected Jesus. In past efforts to share her faith, Jan relied on her own relationship with Jesus and her testimony of transformation. But when she took this approach with her friend, she discovered she wasn’t the only person who had a transformational experience. Jan’s friend shared her own relational experience with God and her own testimony of transformation. Jan found herself at a stand-off: personal testimony vs. personal testimony. She discovered her transformational experience simply wasn’t evidence enough.”
In all honestly, I would say from my experience, many youth groups and even some college ministries teach people to give their testimony. Of course, they even have people give their testimony during a service. I have talked to plenty of Muslims, Mormons, and people from other spiritual backgrounds. They can be kind, moral and loving. They can do good works. They can testify about how their faith has changed their life. What’s my point?
Disciples of Jesus are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2). However, people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Thus, people have contradictory religious experiences that seem quite real. For example, Mormons claim that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as true by a “burning in the bosom”—this is something they consider to be a confirmatory personal experience. While religious experience is important, all experience must be grounded by truth and knowledge. In my view, personal religious experience doesn’t negate the need for having other good reasons for one’s faith.
Also, our culture is built on pragmatism. If something doesn’t work, you try something else that gets results. Thus, the idea that “if theological ideas prove to have a value for concrete life, they will be true” are seen in the writings of William James (1842–1910) and recently by neopragmatist Richard Rorty (1931–2007). People want to know if beliefs can be tried and tested out in the reality of life. This does have some merit. After all, if one’s faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. However, what would you say if a person of another religious background said the following: “I follow Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, or another faith because it makes a difference in my life.” Would you consider committing to a different belief system just because it has led to moral and personal transformation?
Some have scorned the need for apologetics because they think the most effective testimony is how we live our lives. I am not opposed to using a testimony and trying to showing people the truth by how we live. But in today’s culture, one’s testimony, and life witness should be one aspect of our overall cumulative case for what we believe. When it comes to discipleship, it isn’t enough to have new people in the faith learn to give a personal testimony. Those days are long over!
Perhaps we can conclude with the words of J.P. Moreland:
“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus,”– J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1997, pg 30