In the last 6 months or so, with the election of Pope Francis, Catholicism has been on the radar perhaps a little more than usual. In these past months Francis has been the catalyst for a lot of good conversations about Christianity, Catholicism, and the like – I know it’s helped me to think more about it. I’ve just read a book which gives insight into the experiences of former Catholics and their exposure to the gospel, and it was an eye-opening read.
This book, called Stepping Out in Faith – Former Catholics Tell Their Stories, is a collection of 11 testimonies from born-and-raised Catholics. They are all from very different backgrounds and have some pretty crazy stories, but they all have two things in common: they have peace with God through the gospel, and they are no longer a part of the Roman Catholic church.
This book was written by former-Catholics primarily for Catholics, especially those who might be questioning their faith. I don’t know if any Catholics read this blog (comment below if I’m wrong!), but even if you’re not Catholic, this is an important read.
If you’re not Catholic, this book will give you a window into Catholicism. By reading these short testimonies we get to see some of the major similarities and differences between the Catholic and Protestant church from a very human perspective. It will also give you fresh eyes to see the gospel in a new way, as each of these 11 people recount their discovery of it for the first time through varying means.
Among the many ways that people came from Catholicism into a Protestant faith, there was one major commonality: the hearing, reading, and teaching of the Bible. Whether it was through being invited to a small group, an Alpha course, a church service, or even in one case hearing a street preacher, the thing that made the difference for these people was hearing the Bible taught and applied to their own lives.
So if you’re not Catholic, don’t pass over this little book, especially if you do have some Catholic friends. Not only will it give you a fresh perspective, it will help you have some good conversations with them in a loving way.
If you are a Catholic, I don’t know what level of exposure you’ve had to other Christians, but I know that dialogue isn’t always smooth and easy. Often Protestants and Catholics have a difficult time fully understanding each other, which is why this book is so beautiful.
Each of the 11 people in this book understand deeply what it is to grow up in the Catholic church. Many of them had great experiences in it, too. And many still have dearly loved family who are Catholic. So there is no bashing of the Catholic church going on in this book – couldn’t be further from it.
Each testimony in this book is a compassionate, honest, and eye-opening account of a person’s discovery of the gospel of Jesus and the way it changed the life.
A recurring phenomenon is that people hadn’t read Bibles for themselves throughout their Catholic upbringing – one man in particular grew up “under the impression that it was a sin to read the Bible” because only the priest had the proper understanding to interpret it, and others were discouraged from reading the Bible for similar reasons.
For almost every person in this book, their conversion coincided with them really starting to read and study the Bible for themselves. For this reason, quite a few of the testimonies include a heartfelt plea to anyone reading to take the Bible seriously and open it for themselves.
It is striking to see what a difference it made for these people’s lives when they had their eyes opened to what the Bible really taught. That in itself was a powerful reminder to me of the importance of teaching and studying the Bible, and not to take it for granted.
But even more than that, it was the content of what was taught that was life-changing for these people. It was the message of grace – the gospel – that freed them from the sense of guilt that had followed them for their whole lives. Overwhelmingly, the one thing that seemed to be missing in the Catholic upbringings of all of these people was the gospel.
The good news that Jesus died on the cross to bear the punishment of us guilty sinners so that we could be given peace with God apart from our own good works – this takes centre stage in the lives of these 11 people. Many had lived a life riddled with guilt, but were set free by the news that they could never earn their own salvation, but instead simply had to trust in Jesus and his once-for-all sacrifice.
Stepping Out in Faith does a great job presenting the gospel in a way that is crystal clear. It’s a real easy read, too – barely over a hundred pages, and since it’s all real human testimony, it’s gripping all the way through. Mark Gilbert, one of the contributors, does a great job as editor, and the whole books hangs together beautifully and clearly.
Whether you’re a Catholic or not, I highly recommend this book. You can check it out here at Matthias Media’s online store. I know it’s one that I’ll be sharing with Roman Catholic friends in future.