In his hilarious book Stuff Christians Like, Jonathan Acuff has a section titled Telling Testimonies That Are Exciting Right Up Until The Moment You Became A Christian. The idea is that the way testimonies are often recounted, life is wild and exciting until meeting the living God.
I had this really hot girlfriend who was named after a city, and we were living in this cool loft downtown and every night, not just on the weekends, every night, we were going out. Her uncle owned a bunch of nightclubs and a fleet of yachts, so we would just party and then get on one of the yachts and have the craziest times and catch fresh crabs in the Florida Keys and then watch the sun pierce the morning sky with streaks of red and orange and yellow. And then I became a Christian. The end. (pp. 125-6)
The hair-raising excitement is all pre-conversion, and kids growing up in the faith, listening to this account at a church function, have the distinct sense they are missing all the fun. “Why can’t I wreck my life and have a thrilling testimony?”, they want to know. Churches that tend to emphasize conversion run into a real problem this way, but it really only surfaces because of another problem.
To the extent that pre-conversion life is truly interesting and exciting, it is so because God gives rain to the just and the unjust. The world is an interesting place and everyone with life and breath can go enjoy it. It’s the job of Christian parents to school their kids in the art of enjoying it, living full, grateful, generous lives in fellowship with the Giver of all of it. The scope of this discipleship has to be total. If it’s not, people will think the grass is greener on the other side, and that is exactly what the world is telling them. It’s not whether they will encounter this lie, but simply when.
Since sex, for instance, is one of God’s gifts to us, if you let your kids learn about it from pop culture, they’re going to buy the lies that result in broken hearts and bodies. These details often get left out of the testimony given to a large crowd. “She was hot, but also had an advanced case of genital herpes.” That isn’t appropriate in every setting, but rebellion always has its underbelly, one that you ought to know from fearing and enjoying the Lord. You don’t need to try heroin to know it must come with intense, short-lived pleasure, and long-term utter misery. You don’t need to learn your lessons on covetousness by going bankrupt.
The hard balance is to keep the testimonies, showing trophies of grace, and making life in the covenant what’s it’s supposed to be–an abundant one. Conversion is exciting and if we’re faithful to proclaim the gospel, it will continue to be. But so is life with Christ, ever deepening over a lifetime. These stories too must be told in the church.