Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation


Jon Ward


Brazos Press

Publication Date:

April 18, 2023




256 pages


Journalist Jon Ward didn’t leave the evangelical label in the typical way. He wasn’t just a pastor’s son—he was a pastor’s son with credentials. Born in 1977, he was the first child dedicated at Gathering of Believers, a church plant co-founded by C.J. Mahaney and others that evolved into Covenant of Life Church. Mahaney had been his father’s best friend in high school, and like Mahaney, his parents became Christians through the Jesus Movement in the 1970s. Through the Take and Give prayer meeting that created the seedbed for the church and Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries, Ward would also meet noted charismatic ministry leaders like Lou Engle.

Ward details the personalities he met during the twenty years he spent in the church—including Joshua Harris, who pastored Covenant of Life Church in the 2000s. He explains how his interest in journalism—a profession built on looking for the facts and refusing to take sides—led him to reject the black-and-white culture wars that his church valued. He then combines his experiences covering the recent presidential elections—seeing how even before Trump, personality and attacking the opponent became more important than issues—with a discussion of how the Reagan period changed how evangelicals view politics.

Ward’s overview of how evangelicalism has evolved in the last 40 years covers some ground that others have discussed. Like Daniel Silliman in Reading Evangelicals, he argues that the dispensational end times movement created a Gnostic view of the spiritual life that kept evangelicals from developing a holistic vision for following Christ (in politics, environmental causes, and elsewhere). Like various writers who have covered the aftereffects of Harris’ book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, he talks about experiencing Christian discipleship groups that tried to help young people navigate romance and dating, but ultimately left a flesh-hating view where anything sexual was dangerous. However, even in those moments, Ward uses his personal experiences to add something new—such as his weird experiences at a men’s accountability group that talked about their sexual struggles while meeting at a coffee shop.

His biggest contributions are insights on how evangelicals bought into a political vision that left no room for nuance, and how the pro-life movement became more weapon than cause. He argues that what got lost when evangelicals joined the 1980s culture wars was a holistic vision of being pro-life. They could have built a vision where being pro-life meant reaching out to single mothers, building bridges with communities (and even people with different politics) to eliminate factors that motivate many mothers to get abortions. Instead, the culture wars created a too-easy binary vision: being pro-life means voting for one political party, treating its policies as Christianity’s only hope, and treating all other political parties as baby killers. Forty years later, he argues this binary vision is key to what made Trump acceptable to evangelicals: not voting for him would mean admitting the Republican party didn’t have Christians’ best interests at heart… which means rethinking the last four decades.

The saddest sections are Ward’s discussion of what it’s been like to be a journalist in recent years. He describes the pain of watching fellow Christians treat anything that doesn’t fit their views as propaganda while supporting conspiracy theories and politicians who cry “fake news” at anything that doesn’t fit their agendas. Ward makes a compelling case that Christians need to consider how they’ve lost credibility by not caring enough about truth no matter its complexity. However, he never comes across as pessimistic. He describes himself as more grateful today than he’s ever been—grateful for the small moments of support, grateful for God’s help in difficult times.

A bittersweet but fascinating look at recent evangelical history that makes a compelling case for understanding the past to avoid making past mistakes.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

5 stars

Suggested Audience:

Christians seeking to understand how the Jesus Movement laid the groundwork for modern-day evangelicalism, how the Reagan era culture wars created a new political vision that still informs evangelicalism today, and how those factors and others created our current political climate.

Christian Impact:

Ward draws on Makoto Fujimura’s writings about “border-stalkers,” to describe the value of being a Christian who seeks truth and love over fit
ting people’s preferred labels. He also pushes Christians to reconsider what it means to live out Jesus’ values for peace-making and refusing power to focus on helping the unwanted, in a culture where Christians are tempted to crave political power.

Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation




  1. Charles Williams’ Tainted Love: Discussing the Oddest Inkling in a #ChurchToo World | The Oddest Inkling - October 28, 2023

    […] narratives. Many evangelical leaders have a similar educational lack. As Jon Ward notes in his memoir about leaving Covenant Life Church, founder C.J. Mahaney never went beyond a high school […]

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