Testimony – Jon Ward

Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation by Jon Ward
Published by Brazos Press on April 18, 2023
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Memoir
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Jon Ward's life is divided in half: two decades inside the evangelical Christian bubble and two decades outside of it.
In Testimony, Wardtells the engaging story of his upbringing in, and eventual break from, an influential evangelical church in the 1980s and 1990s. Ward sheds light on the evangelical movement's troubling political and cultural dimensions, tracing the ways in which the Jesus People movement was seduced by materialism and other factors to become politically captive rather than prophetic.
A respected journalist, Ward asks uncomfortable but necessary questions, calling those inside and outside conservative Christian circles to embrace truth, complexity, and nuance. Ultimately, he longs for a return to the way, the truth, and the life of Christ.
Ward's experience and reflections will resonate with many readers who grew up in the evangelical movement as well as all those who have an interest in the health of the church and its impact on American life.

Jon Ward was a child of the Evangelical movement, particularly of the Southern Baptist brand and even more particularly the strain surrounding Sovereign Grace Ministries and Covenant Life Church. As such, his memoir, Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Failed a Generation is an insider’s look at growing up within the construct of a what was really more of a modern fundamentalism. It’s broad enough to speak to and about the evangelical movement in general but really has its personal focus within that subset of evangelicalism. As Ward grows up, enters journalism, and begins covering evangelicalism professionally, the story widens into a crescendo that culminates in the Trump presidency and Ward trying to rebuild a faith deconstructed from the religious toxicity he came from.

Testimony is, at its heart, a memoir. It’s Jon’s story. But while his story is bit closer to major figures, the theme of his story is one that currently resonates with thousands of Gen-X and Millennial Christians. Raised in an Evangelical bubble, had that bubble pop with the Trump presidency, have your faith deconstruct as the religious leaders you admired are revealed as abusive, and try to figure out how to find Jesus and build a new faith outside of that control—all while grappling with friends and family who remain firmly within the camp. For that reason alone, to just be told that you’re not alone, Testimony is a needed story that gives readers hope and solidarity amid the struggle.

I wish that the book had focused a little more on Sovereign Grace Ministries, Covenant Life Church, CJ Mahaney, the Harrises, and others who comprised the core of that particular movement. Tightening the focus from a general “evangelical movement” to a specific organization within evangelicalism would have offered Testimony a little more depth and uniqueness.

Besides that, Testimony is one of those books that you hesitate to say that you loved it because this is really a story nobody wants to be true. I applaud Jon’s journey and empathize with him, but really this is a tragic story despite where it ends. It is truly the story of the capitulation of evangelicalism to power, wealth, and politics. And while we can praise one person’s extrication from that, the system still stands. The recurring thought that I had throughout this book is that I know of so many people whose lives and theologies are still entrapped within that system of toxicity—or who have left altogether and now find their faith life unmoored from anything. Testimony is a compelling work. Jon’s story offers hope that escape and renewal can be found. It’s bittersweet, tragic, and triumphant.