Friday, May 21, 2010

R. Scott Clark on Caner and the Legacy of Revivalism

R. Scott Clark has some excellent insights in reaction to the apparent Ergun Caner scandal at Liberty University. Apparently Caner, Liberty's president, is being accused of embellishing his "conversion story" from Islam.

Scott Clark points out why a person might do such a thing in a way that sheds light on a bit of American Evangelicalism's revivalistic (arminian) roots. Here's a snippet from Clark-

Why would anyone do such a thing?

For anyone who knows anything about the religious world in which Caner lives the answer is simple: drama. In the conversionist, revivalist, aisle-walking, just-as-I-am-singing piety in which Caner moves it is essential to have a good, colorful, compelling conversion story. The essence of both drama and comedy is tension. In comedy the tension is created and resolved in an unexpected and delightful way. In drama the tension is created and resolved in a compelling, affective way, i.e., in a way that moves the emotions to sadness or pity. The greater the contrast between “before” and “after,” the greater the tension and the more powerful the resolution.

In revivalist-conversionist circles, there is a great, unspoken pressure to heighten the tension by exaggerating one’s pre-conversion biography. In truth few of us have dramatic conversion stories. Certainly they exist but most of our pre-Christian lives are quite mundane. Sure, our families and lives were full of the dysfunction that sin brings but most sins are hidden from public and have relatively little entertainment value. It is, however, a lot easier to get a crowd worked up and sweaty and ready to walk the aisle during the invitation if the testimony includes some juicy details. Hence the embellishment.

Read Dr. Clark's entire post here.


William Perry Guilkey said...

I'd gladly give up the drama of my past. I have no desire to make it some big "tension-filled" story for "effect." The reality is that it continues to "hamstring" me in my walk because I still struggle with believing that God is willing to forgive such a willful, high-handed sinner. I have no desire to sensationalize it for effect. I'd like it to be gone for good. In fact, my favorite Scripture is in relation to the Gadarene demonic and the verse that talks about when they came to see Jesus and the delivered man, that he was found "clothed and in his right mind." I would love that to be my story. It's an old adage but true: "The best testimony is not 'sensational' but rather the one who walked with Christ from his/her youth." The only value of the past in my mind is to be able to use it to warn other and not sensationalize it. My message to young men (women) is "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth."

jeff said...

Actually, I think the "best" testimony is one that gives the glory to God for working in the life of any sinner, whether they be a drug addict, criminal, murderer, or just a plain ol' sinner. Sin is sin any way you slice it, and none of us are able to be free from it, regardless of how big or small the sin, without the grace of God.

Woody Woodward said...

I have heard Caner speak on several radio broadcasts and he certainly has a powerful and most convincing testimony. But as I reflect on the real power of a convincing testimony, to me there is nothing more moving, encouraging with tear convincing compassion, than to hear a quiet testimony of one sharing from their heart simple words of sincerity that speak repentance louder than any names or claims. When I hear a “City Union Mission” real life testimony, spoken forth from one who has lost all dignity, one who was homeless, living a hard life on the streets and then having found forgiveness, hope and a new life in Jesus, now that is a reason for grace! The life living legacy, true Revivalism spoken by a such a simple man, whose name we know as only “Johnny,” now there is a testimony of all testimonies! As I write, tears flow, for such a man can truly testify to what Christ’s redeeming grace has done for him and such a man can offer nothing more than to give the same hope to others.

Boyd said...

Hi Tony,

There is a very recent White Horse Inn (WHI) discussion (live, from May 9, 2010) on the content of our evangelism called "Contending for the Faith, Part 2". Your readers can check it out here (subscribing in iTunes is the easiest way to get these, btw):

Kim Riddlebarger, around 18:00: "My testimony is that I'm a sinner ... "

Mike Horton, 19:50: "The gospel is not about YOU at all, it is FOR you (or the person you're talking to) and that's why it is good news. Our experience varies. The gospel (not the experience) is the faith once delivered ... "

It's great to see you linking to the Heidelblog!

Rick Calohan said...

That's why I never buy into anyone's conversion story. Don't get me wrong I am not saying that those who have a story are not Christians, but if God chose you before you could choose Him, don't you think it was His will and not your own?