Talking about God

Florence tells Lakes & Prairies school about ‘Presbyterian style’ testimony

July 26, 2011

Headshot of Anna Carter Florence

Anna Carter Florence is convocation speaker for the Synod of Lakes & Prairies Synod School. —Photo by Mike Ferguson


Anna Carter Florence, who teaches preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, said she’s very interested in one topic: how the people of God talk about God.

That includes everyday people giving their testimony, Florence said, which makes Presbyterians “hyperventilate, because a lot of us have seen it done badly, where people talk about themselves, not about God.”

Florence is adult convocation speaker at the 58th Synod of Lakes and Prairies Synod School, being held this week at Buena Vista College. More than 625 people are attending what is the last synod school remaining in the PC(USA).

Owing to her former colleague, Walter Brueggemann, Florence said two types of testimony come from churches: core testimony, which she described as “God is great and God is good and that’s about it,” and counter testimony, which asks, “God may be great and good, but where is God? Why did God sit back when planes flew through skyscrapers?”

Many pastors wondered how they could talk about God  to their parishioners after the 9/11 attacks. “The only way to keep leading worship,” she said, “is to think of God weeping in the midst of Ground Zero.”

When all they hear is core testimony, people start leaving the church looking for something more. Too much counter testimony causes nihilism and depression, even among the faithful.

Do them both, she advised, “and let them push against each other.”

Florence offered a “Presbyterian style” definition of testimony: It's “standing in the biblical text and in your own life and saying what you see and believe about God.”

That’s what the women who first saw the risen Lord told Jesus’ male disciples. The men labeled their story an “idle tale,” but Florence translated the Greek word “lerios” as something closer to “garbage, bull or nonsense.”

“It seemed to those men a lot of crap,” she said. “Dead stuff stays dead. The women went first to the people who loved them best, but they cut them off at the pass.”

Peter himself went to the tomb and found it just the way the women said, Florence continued.

Like those first female disciples, not to have people believe our testimony frees us. “If people tell us what we’re telling them is a lot of crap, they’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” she said.

Mike Ferguson is a member of the United Presbyterian Church in Lone Tree, Iowa, and a reporter for the “Muscatine Journal,” the newspaper where Mark Twain got his start. He is a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.

  1. Another way of testimony is to tell your journey, especially if you can make it brief. My journey from my father's fundamentalism which kept me from having a relationship to God goes this way. I learned that Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so; now I know that God loves me, because Jesus tells me so. So now God is my constant companion and comfort.

    by Claralice Hanna Wolf

    July 30, 2011

  2. This is so on target that I wish that ears had been trained to hear earlier!

    by Martha Schull Gilliss

    July 26, 2011