Review of "Growing Up Christian" by DAVE ARMSTRONG

A Fascinating Journey

Stan Williams takes readers on a fascinating journey through the multi-faceted stages of his life, in his memoir, Growing Up Christian. Written in a delightfully whimsical, frequently humorous or somewhat tongue-in-cheek style -- always very readable -- , it provides a wonderful account of precisely what the title conveys.

 

As is the case with many adult converts to Catholicism (I am one, myself), Stan exhibits a deep appreciation and gratefulness for the knowledge and wisdom that he attained during his Protestant (Evangelical) years. The Catholic convert usually feels that Catholicism builds upon what was formerly learned, rather than being a rejection of it.

 

This affection and respect for all that is true and good in Protestantism, and the spiritual riches available in it, is evident throughout the book, even when Stan critiques and disagrees with various elements in that belief-system. The following paragraph is a notable example of the style of his analyses of the anti-Catholic strain of 1950s Evangelicalism: specifically, that of his mother. Note also how it also contains a (quite justified!) critical remark about dissenting Catholics:

 

Some Protestants (like my mother) were afraid that Catholicism would take over America -- not by killing people (like the Communists had threatened) but by having babies who would eventually allow Catholics to dominate the democratic process. She had not yet heard of the contraceptive pill, which would be made widely available to the public in a few years. Nor did she know that Catholic women would swarm to use the pill against the Church's prohibition. Mom might have been delighted had she known what the future held.

 

One experience he recounts was eerily similar to my own, in the same fundamentalist Baptist bookstore, about eight years after his incident. It was called the Inter-City Christian Bookstore, in Allen Park, Michigan (where I now live). It closed in the last year or so.

 

In 1973, Stan visited this bookstore and purchased a nice, leatherbound New American Standard Bible. When he went to buy it, the cashier grimaced, opining in no uncertain terms that it wasn't a "real Bible." He tells the story of what she then said:

 

"The King James Bible [first published in 1611] is the only authorized version because it is the Bible that Jesus used."

 

At this point there was a long period of silence as I repeated her words to myself. Finally, I burst out, "WHO TOLD YOU THAT?"

 

Unruffled, she narrowed her eyes, stepped into my space, and pointed across the street to the large Inter-City Baptist Church. "Our pastor!"

 

The question immediately arose in my mind, while reading, "why in the world did the bookstore sell it in the first place, then, or hire a worker who had such a low opinion of it?" Stan was gracious enough to omit that observation. The "King James Only" viewpoint is, it should be noted, believed only by a very tiny fringe group of exclusivist fundamentalists, but it does still exist, and is a prime example of the ludicrous anti-intellectualism that prevails in these circles. Stan made further (typically a bit pointed but dead-on) observations about the absurdities inherent in this view:

 

[I]n some sectors of Christianity there are Christians who believe that before His ascension, Jesus supervised the writing of the KJV (in Elizabethan prose), oversaw its printing on imported India paper, and approved the first edition leather bindings, before letting the Apostles organize a book signing.

 

I particularly appreciated this story, because the first "major" Bible purchase I made was in this same store, in 1980, when I, too, bought a leatherbound New American Standard Bible, that I cherish to this day. I read most of the Bible using this volume, and made many notes in its margins. It still has the same glorious smell, too, after 35 years.

 

I purchased mine without incident, but in the following year I made a visit back to Inter-City Christian Bookstore, with a brochure advertising a "counter-cult" ministry that I was involved in. I figured that a good Christian store like this would be happy to put it out, in the worthwhile effort to oppose the errors of non-trinitarian groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses, who denied that Jesus was God. No problem, right? Wrong!

 

To my astonishment, I was told by the lady at the counter (possibly the same one Stan encountered, for all I know), that the bookstore couldn't put out the pamphlet because the three people pictured on the cover had beards (!!!). I couldn't believe it! Didn't Jesus Himself have a beard? I thought I was back in the late 60s again, watching my dad kick my brother out of the house simply because he had long hair. I thought all that sort of silliness was long gone by 1981. But alas, it was not.

 

The latter chapters of the book tell the story of how Stan became convinced that the fullness of the Christian faith was to be found in the Catholic Church, via "intermediate" positions like Lutheranism. He describes exactly how he became ultimately disenchanted in the end with every form of Protestantism that he tried. The tone is more serious, yet not without a good deal of self-deprecating humor. It is also a story of the conflict between Stan and his wife Pam, who was a little slower to reach the same conclusion. She contributes significant portions to the book as well, with her own articulate and insightful writing style.

 

The conversion story of the last part of the book would be very helpful to anyone going through the same process: especially regarding the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, or transubstantiation: an aspect of Catholic theology quite difficult for many Protestants to grasp (and widely misunderstood).

 

Very highly recommended!

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