The new theatrical release “Downton Abbey” is the cinematic finale to six seasons of the British TV series of the same name. If you enjoyed the show, by all means, see the movie. This big screen chapter has all the same thematic strengths as the television series (and weaknesses… you’ll be disappointed if you had your fingers crossed Thomas Barrow’s journey was going to have a God-honoring conclusion).
I’m late to the Downton party, or I suppose, Downton ball. I binge-watched all six seasons over 29 days to prep for the movie, and it blew me away how the show could take the tiniest conflict – one that probably should have been resolved in three minutes – and stretched it across multiple years. Even though the show dealt with the relatively low stakes of a British aristocratic family in the 1910s and 1920s, writer Julian Fellowes was addicted to drama. He turned a quiet, subdued period piece into a fancy pants soap opera with a Yorkshire accent, complete with cartoonish scheming footman, forgotten heirs seemingly returning from the grave and multiple (alleged) murders. In the movie, the main conflict is which set of servants will get to serve the King and Queen. Seriously.
As much as I hate to admit it, the sudsiness sucked me in. But hey, we’re all attracted to the dramatic stories in life. That goes for The Pathway as well. We all know the nightly news thrives on the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality, and it’s the dramatic stories that grab headlines and stick in our minds. We’re often drawn to the testimony of someone who made that sensational 180-degree turn toward Jesus. Some of my favorite articles I’ve written have come from interviews with people like this. In the Bible the Apostle Paul is the ultimate example of a capital-D Dramatic Testimony.
But while a good “spiritual rags” to “spiritual riches” testimony may merit the front page, it does not mean the more “ordinary” stories of God at work aren’t dramatic or life changing. I’m reading a book on the life of the Apostle Paul called Journeys to Significance by Neil Cole. He has this to say about what he calls “testimony envy”:
“If you accepted the offer of salvation as a small child and repented of the sin of throwing sand in the sandbox, there is absolutely no reason to suffer from ‘testimony envy’ when you hear a dramatic story of the ex-convict who is now preaching the gospel. Your salvation is as profound as anyone else’s and was purchased at the same extreme cost. God is the same to you as He is to the former alcoholic who now serves Christ.”
No matter how “boring” you may think your salvation story is, it is indeed profound, and it is in reality a rags-to-riches story. The notion of ranking testimonies by dramatic impact is a purely human construct, and discounting my own testimony as “not worth telling” is a temptation to which I’ve fallen prey. Cole is correct when he says that “all followers of Christ are radically saved. There is no other kind of salvation.” Even the most “best” among Missouri Baptists were once dead in our trespasses and sins and needed that radical salvation.
For me, that profound salvation came to a nine-year-old boy who thought he was good to go because of his family. I was a sinner guilty of more than simply throwing sand in the sandbox, but not by much. I was very well-behaved by the world’s standards. But that’s just it: the world’s standards, not God’s. Through the biblical preaching of my pastor (who happened to be my father), prayer and the grace of God, I came to realize I needed forgiveness from the sins I’d committed against the creator of the Universe. I accepted that gift and began my journey as a believer. It is hardly a newsworthy story, yet it overflows with eternal impact.
The story of how you came to know Christ may not make it into the pages of The Pathway for all to read, and Hollywood certainly isn’t going to put it up on the big screen. But the good news is that you don’t need that stamp of approval to know just how newsworthy it is that God radically saved you. It most likely won’t be worthy of a dramatic Downton Abbey plotline, but that’s probably a good thing. Your testimony can be just as effective in sharing the good news of Jesus.