Cover Image: Testimony


Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I think I came into this more wanting an expression of the movement, and less of an actual testimony.
Was this review helpful?
DNF.. I read the beginning and skimmed the rest. If I had realized how far left and woke the author was, I would not have requested the ARC from NetGalley. The pages that I did read were so saturated with Trump bashing that the book could have been entitled “Trump Shmump: How Conservative Christians are Complete Idiots.” The author certainly has a chip on his shoulder, and he is quick to share his opinions. I wanted to make myself read it so I could give a full and detailed review. Maybe if it was written more objectively and not so emotionally subjective then I could have done it. However, there are so many good, reasonable books out there that I couldn’t justify wasting my time.
Was this review helpful?
Jon Ward was a church kid growing up. His parents were part of the Jesus People movement of the 70s, and by the time he came along a few years later they were heavily invested in their church. Ward grew up going to Christian school and church and spending all his time in the evangelical bubble. (I can relate--that was my childhood also.) 

Like the hippies around them, the Jesus People had moved on to caring more about materialism and political power, and Ward traces that movement. His life so exactly mirrors the movement of broad swathes of American evangelicalism over the last 40 years that his memoir feels like something more than just one man's story. And yet it is his own story. He writes of uncomfortable accountability groups at Starbucks, and of watching his father bend to social norms. When he breaks out and becomes a journalist, his friends and family aren't sure what to do with him at first. He watches in dismay as they all, one after the other, fall into line to vote for Trump, a man who is so diametrically opposed to all that Ward was taught to revere as a child that watching his family members follow him caused some mental anguish (again, can relate) and familial breaks. 

Testimony is more than one man's story, but what makes it so powerful is how personal it is. This is an exceptional book, and very valuable as we struggle to understand the times we live in. For me, it provided the perfect counterpart to Kristin Kobes de Mez's book Jesus and John Wayne. Kobes de Mez writes as a historian, tracing the bigger movements. Ward shows us what it was like as lived experience. An important book. Oh, and did I mention it's also compulsively readable and well written? Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
"To struggle toward truth, to refuse easy answers, and to remain in a place where uncertainty and complexity present ongoing challenges—that seems closer to what Jesus would want."

Testimony presents the faith journey of journalist Jon Ward from growing up Evangelical in the 1980s and 1990s to separating from that culture through his work as a political journalist in the 2000s to the reformation of his faith from 2013 to now. Jon rubbed shoulders with C.J. Mahaney, Lou Engle, and even Joshua Harris as he describes his experiences as a homeschooled, conservative child to his coverage of the Trump campaign and election.

Although Jon is about a decade older than me, I could relate to some of his experiences and perspectives. I really appreciated him sharing how hard the political divide has been even in his own family of origin. I often feel left out living in the conservative Christian South and it's good to know I'm not alone in the struggle. I also appreciated his intellectual approach to truth. Jon felt like his religious tradition undervalued loving God with your mind (I felt like mine undervalued the body) so he strives to apply critical thinking, complexity, and nuance.

Beyond being an engaging and relatable story, I didn't find the book to provide many answers or even suggestions for direction. I like more than a personal story when I read a book--I want to know, so what? And, what now? It didn't feel like the book provided a solution or addressed any pain points for me--beyond making me feel less alone.

I recommend the book to anyone who feels isolated politically and theologically and embraces intellectualism in their search for truth.
Was this review helpful?
The author relates his story as the child of Jesus People and witness to what they were about, how they were politicized, and how that all ended up.

We discover the author's father was part of the Jesus People movement prevalent among Boomers and was in close association with C. J. Mahaney for quite some time.  We read of how the author grew up in a sheltered church environment and how he would eventually break out of the constrictions in college and beyond.  

The author does not renounce his faith; he eventually goes into journalism and ends up working at first for conservative newspapers and then as the guy who understands conservatives and gets sent to political conservative events.  Thus he is a witness to the shifts and changes in the ideology and approach of political conservatism in the 21st century.

The author still maintains faith but has profoundly shifted in many respects from the instruction and perspective in his raising; those who would remain in such a perspective would say he has "gone liberal."  

While the author's story is of significantly higher profile than that of many others, it yet remains representative of how younger Xers and millennials were raised in conservative Christian environments and why so many have resisted and rejected the ways of their forefathers.  A good read to consider how this all went down.
Was this review helpful?
When Jon Ward refers to himself as "a mearcstapa, or a border-stalker," that is, quoting from Makoto Fujimura, "'uncomfortable in homogenous groups' and yet are still present in them," I suspected I was holding a book that I would readily identify with and an author that has wrestled with the same questions that I have wrestled with and continue to wrestle with. Ward writes that his book is "more than an essay or an argument. It is my testimony." His wise choice of utilizing this testimony 'genre,' for a lack of a better word, familiar to the evangelical church, and subverting it in a way that is far more vulnerable and critical than the evangelical church might be comfortable with is both powerful and effective.

However, Ward's testimony also ironically suffers from something he himself identifies as something he is uncomfortable with, being "animated by being against something." Four chapters into Ward's testimony and I was exhausted. I agreed with many of his observations, I will note that his observations about Keith Green are perhaps a bit off, but Ward's unrelenting negativity wore me out. Additionally, while I strongly agree with Ward's emphasis that critical thinking is valuable, important, and part of God's design for humanity, Ward's emphasis comes at the expense of devaluing the emotional, the spiritual, and the supernatural. It also comes at the expense of devaluing the experience of others as possibly positive. For example, Ward reduces the charasmatic experiences of the Toronto Blessing and Brownsville revival to "great human pathos at play," instead of recognizing the potential that perhaps God was at work, even as human pathos was simultaneously at play making a mess of things. Ward claims to be "well-versed in the Bible," but ironically Ward is only "well-versed" in one interpretation of the Bible, the interpretation of his upbringing in the "soulless aesthetic of nondenominational Christianity," and, for Ward, the correct response for any rational believer is being against that interpretation.

Ultimately, Ward's testimony is justifiably critical and, perhaps, Ward is justified in seeing himself as "a mearcstapa," his uncomfortableness with evangelicalism certainly comes forth strongly but, Ward doesn't seem to be present enough or have enough grace to bring the change and transformation that evangelicalism desperately needs.
Was this review helpful?
Testimony by Jon Ward is a personal account as well as a well-researched retelling of how the evangelical movement shaped the political landscape -- and how politics greatly impacted the evangelical movement -- across several decades. Based on the description, I anticipated that this would be more of a memoir... however, it was still an interesting read, though perhaps more journalistic/academic than story-driven.
Was this review helpful?
Jon Ward's father was one of the founding ministers in a church where more ambitious preachers later pushed him out of the pulpit. Ward grew up watching his parents, not very "groupy" individuals, cope with the group dynamics as "their" church grew into a megachurch--at some cost to its original spiritual inspiration. Among other things, his parents' original "start-up," "store-front," nondenominational Protestant vision had been at least somewhat influenced by socialist ideals of sharing, which somehow got lost behind the evangelical movement's hard pro-life position. As Ward declined to be a preacher or teacher and became a journalist instead, he found ways to reconcile his Christian faith with his co-workers' left-wing politics. Meanwhile, the greed and ambition of the men who built the "megachurch" was challenged by scandalous exposures.

Anyone who lived through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, or 2010s as a Christian (of any political persuasion) will be interested in this book as celebrity gossip alone. If we spent part of that time in Maryland or Washington, even more of Ward's "testimony" will tap into our memories. Masses of people will want this book as a souvenir.

I found Ward's "conversion" back to leftist politics shallow and annoying (he was influenced by the overpublicized news stories, while ignoring a lot of stories he ought to have reported, such as the oppression of especially-but-not-exclusively-minority poor people by his own employer). I think he's lucky to be still so young, with so much thinking left to do. Meanwhile, he's certainly learned how to tell a story.
Was this review helpful?
Testimony is one man's story of faith paired with history to explain the history of the Evangelical Church and it's changes during the author's lifetime.
I enjoyed reading about his experience in the Church and why he believed what he did. I learned a lot about why people did bad things and good things in the name of their Evangelical God. Teh author's journey is changed by the world and he even points this out. 
The book ends abruptly and it is about a hallway filled with acknowledgments and citations (I read the ebook version).  It took me by surprise. The only other negative is he never discusses how he took up caring about his wife's needs more than he was taught and how they worked through that as a couple. He had made a point throughout the book that was a big thing from the church he grew up with, putting the wife needs second.
Overall, it's well thought out and well-researched look at the state of Evangelical power.
Was this review helpful?
The author of Testimony, Jon Ward, is an individual who has made his life work of reporting news and asking hard questions. This is a book that many will cheer about and many will demean, depending on where they are in the spectrum of Christianity (or maybe not even reading from a Christian perspective).. Ward describes his religious upbringing in what many consider to be a right-wing evangelicalism. As he watches the world around him unfolding and scandals hitting the church, he is not afraid to ask some of the hard questions. His career leads him to ask the questions, while seeking truth. His journey of faith has him asking questions about issues such as social justice and racial reconciliation, and evaluating his conclusions on these issues. 

While I feel he addresses many of the concerns that today's Christians have, I felt like the book took a turn when discussing Donald Trump. While I am in agreement with many of his issues with Trump, the later part of the book seemed to turn into more of a vendetta against Trump, than a part of his journey in the faith. I feel that he digressed from the main point of his book when he jumped into his personal relationships with his family. While I understand he was trying to make a point of how narrow minded "Trumpers" are, he strayed from the real purpose of the book, which is to show his journey from a white-evangelical-stereotype male to someone who has a faith that is based more on the words and actions of Jesus.

The book is thought-provoking and if you are willing to read it with an open mind, there are opportunities to learn about many of the issues that plague evangelicalism today.
Was this review helpful?
In some ways, Jon Ward's story is my story. Like him, in recent years I've had to reassess a lot of things I believed about the evangelical movement and its convictions, as I watched too many people I'd looked up to trade integrity for power. Like him, I've battled disillusionment and experienced profound grief over it all.

In a way, though, Ward has had it much worse, as he grew up in C. J. Mahaney's church: training ground for Josh Harris of "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" fame, and ground zero of an explosive sex abuse scandal. Ward soft-pedals that subject a little, but there's no doubt that what happened there was catastrophic for him (even though he personally wasn't a victim of abuse) as well as for others. He eventually realizes, "C. J.'s empire had been a canary in a coal mine, an early indicator of a male-dominated culture that suppressed the suffering of victims and denied accountability for abusers."

Ward handles these painful topics with honesty, sensitivity, and nuance. He still appreciates the gifts his upbringing gave him, even as he laments that "the seeds of harm were planted with good intentions." He expresses his abiding love for family and friends even as feels ongoing pain and frustration over everything that divides them now. His faith has matured and deepened in the face of everything that might have destroyed it.

In short, there's a great deal to admire and appreciate here, and a lot to learn. Ward connects dots for me about the evangelical mindset (particularly about New Calvinism) and about evangelical entanglement with politics that I had not quite connected on my own before, and thus helped me understand my own experience better. He's especially good on the subject of how evangelicalism trained us to focus relentlessly on ourselves while shutting out others (she said sheepishly, having just made things all about herself earlier in this very paragraph!). "So many religious people ... are trained to chase their tails for years -- talking and thinking about faith and writing Scripture verses and ethereal thoughts -- all the while avoiding reality and failing to be of much use in the world."

I would have liked to see Ward come down a bit harder on John Piper's views on gender and abuse, but as he admits, it's hard to disentangle himself from some of Piper's other views that guided him at a critical moment. And this book is about nothing if not the difficulty of getting disentangled from the powerful and often damaging forces that have shaped us. (He does give a grateful mention to Chuck Colson's program that helped him learn to think critically, and as someone who knew, liked, and worked for Colson after his conversion to Christianity, I appreciated that. At least not all evangelical thought leaders were phonies.)

One of the great strengths of Ward's book is that he holds forth a positive vision for how things could be for Christians and for those whose lives we affect, rather than just mourning the way things have been for too long. That alone would make the book worth reading, even if there weren't so much else to recommend it. One last quote to sum up: "To struggle toward truth, to refuse easy answers, and to remain in a place where uncertainty and complexity present ongoing challenges -- that seems closer to what Jesus would want."

(A note to readers of the e-book -- don't be intimidated by the apparent length. Something like half of it is endnotes!)

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
Found Testimony interesting as Jon Ward gives a first hand account about growing up in evangelical Christian culture. From being raised in a Christian family, highly involved in church and different movements of the time. It becomes evident to Ward as he moves into a career of journalism that a lot of the causes and maxims he grew up with in church are lies. Especially as these people of Christian influence start supporting Donald Trump for president. Various arguments made in this book highlighted the downfall of the Republican Party and Christians ability to stand behind the party no matter who they elect. There was a lot of political talking points that I viewed as regurgitated statements that a lot of media have stated and repeated taking the focus at times away from the books main point. I enjoyed the first couple of chapters where Ward describes his upbringing and how it impacted his worldview. Especially his father and mother’s impact on his life.
Was this review helpful?
Testimony captures Ward's upbringing but also captures a moment for many of us who grew up in White evangelical spaces. Ward is insightful while managing to remain sympathetic to those he sees as flawed, just as he realizes he is also flawed. Testimony helps shine a light on where the White evangelical church has been and paints a picture for where we could go.
Was this review helpful?
Pairs well with Charles Marsh's Evangelical Anxiety, only focusing on different eras - one on the evangelicalism of the deep South in the 1960s-1980s, the other the northern evangelicalism after the Jesus Movement. Both writers discuss how shame, fear, and an aversion to nuance defined the Christianity they grew up with, and how they took a long road to becoming something more balanced. Ward's story is particularly sad as he speaks about being a journalist and realizing what has been lost as disdain for facts mutated how people perceived his industry.
Was this review helpful?
Testimony is a memoir following Jon Ward's upbringing in a reformed charismatic context, his career in political journalism, his wrestling with his upbringing, and the ways all of that impacted his relationships with his family. Though primarily personal, his story also explores evangelical engagement in politics particularly surrounding the Trump years. 

At the beginning of the book, Ward explores the idea of a "boarder stalker", an idea from Makoto Fujimura's book Culture Care. Through his writing style, he models this framework so well. He shares his story, but does not assume the reader understands christian lingo. He often defines or describes words and experiences in ways that bring the reader in without being pejorative. I think this allows an outsider to put on Ward's coat for a bit and walk around in it. He inhabits what it feels like to be shaped in an  evangelical setting but to find oneself in a world where there is much common goodness and generosity to be had. It is difficult to navigate thoughts, doubt, anger, and confusion that come with recognizing what you were taught implicitly and explicitly are not only not true of the world but also not found in the Bible.  Ward embodies learning new ways of relating to and learning from people who are different than him.

I've heard Jon Ward speak about this book on a few podcasts recently and before mentioning his church, I knew it had to be a S.G. setting and I knew I wanted to read this book. My story is a bit the inverse of Ward's (I did not grow up in a church, but spent 15 years in a S.G. church with a similar playbook) but his story helped me to understand my own a little more. I'm not sure I'd recommend this book for everyone but I do think that those who identify as "deconstructing" or "questioning" the things they were taught will find a humble travel companion in Ward's story.

In many ways it's a living example of the dutiful older brother in the parable of the prodigal son - a heart shaped toward duty, wresting with desires and gifting and personality, and a settling into the Father's presence and the Christian Faith. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Brazos Press for the DRC - I really enjoyed reading it!
Was this review helpful?
Testimony is a well written critique of religion and fundamentalism but unlike a book such as Educated, Jon Ward does not stick with you with his overall story or writing. 

While I found Ward’s story interesting, it felt like many other stories I had heard about religious upbringing and fundamentalism. 

Overall I enjoyed Testimony but did not fall in love with it.
Was this review helpful?
Ward takes on a journey from a cultish background to his overcoming that to see things from a broader perspective. I think he too-frequently paints the Church at large as being the same as the narrow views of his early years, but I agree with his assessment that Christians should be caring people toward those in need. Where I think he erred is in his conclusion that the government should be doing the caring, with all of us supporting that. That attitude has led to a more than $30 trillion U.S. debt, with interest payments being the 4th highest item in our budget. Jesus never, ever directed people to rely on the government to take care of these things. Rather, He called on the Church to do so. That's why there are so many Christian organizations providing loving care for people in need. Could we be doing more? Sure! But relying on the government to do the Church's job is folly. We don't need people telling us how to vote, we need people calling the church to action.
Was this review helpful?
Testimony was an interesting book that focused on Ward's upbringing and thoughts about politics. He examines the different thoughts he was raised with and puts them against what he believes a Christian's role in politics should be. I agree that Christians do need to think through who and what they're voting for; and its often not simply a single issue. We flatten it a lot. 
This book also focuses a lot on the rise of Sovereign Grace. I found his reflections and insights interesting. Some may want to read the book due to that.
Was this review helpful?
In this spiritual autobiography, Jon Ward describes his journey from a Pentecostal evangelical church to a new and more nuanced understanding of the Christian faith.  As a child, he accepts his faith and the leaders of his church unquestioningly, but he gradually begins to see the flaws in a belief system based primarily on feelings and experiences.  When he becomes a journalist, dealing with the political scene, he decides that evangelical leaders have been wrong to tie the church to one issue (abortion) and one party (republican).  His position is that this attitude has contributed to creating the situation we are now faced with, an environment that has become polarized -- with each side treating people who disagree as evil enemies.  Instead, he advocates listening carefully to those with opposing views so that we can come to understand one another.  Leaders should be chosen not by their party affiliation, but for their character.

If you are a Trump supporter, you probably won't like this book, as the author is extremely critical of the former president.  Although I think he goes too far, I agree with most of what he has to say.
Was this review helpful?
You can feel the heartbreak, hurt, and hope in Jon Ward's "Testimony" book. As a journalist, he has asked the hard questions and wrestled with the evangelical movement. Many readers will find his faith background familiar. If you have questioned the actions of your evangelical leaders in America, you'll find you are not alone. Jon's church and religious history equips him to critically comment on the evangelical and conservative world today. He offers expert insight with humility and wisdom.
Was this review helpful?