Personal redemption stories are so unique and beautiful in their own distinct way. The various emotions that I feel stirring up inside of me when I get the chance to hear or read about someone describe how God radically redeemed them from the slave block of sin is almost beyond words. Furthermore, it is even more touching to me, personally, whenever a person’s redemption story mirrors my own story. I spent 19 years in the Catholic Church before the Spirit of God did a work of true regeneration in my heart. The Gospel was presented in such a clear and authoritative way at the Baptist Church I was visiting at as a 19 year old college student that I was literally taken aback by its power. I honestly had no clue that the Bible that sat in front of me (mostly unopened) all those years in the Catholic Church could be so powerful and radically life-changing. Sure, I believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and died on the Cross for humanity’s sins and was raised on the 3rd day, but I had never personally repented of my sins and fully trusted in the God who “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5) . However, that all changed on a beautiful morning in June 2002 when the Spirit of God totally interrupted my life and convicted me of my sin in such a way that I didn’t think was possible, and thus began the slow process of my exit from the Catholic Church. Up until that point in time, I was still going to Catholic services on Sunday mornings with my family and then visiting a Baptist church with my then girlfriend (who is now my wife) on Sunday and Wednesday nights. However, those visits to the Catholic Church became less and less frequent following my salvation experience. Therefore, I can relate to some aspects of each personal story of liberation from the Catholic Church contained within Mark Gilbert’s wonderful book, Stepping Out in Faith.
Stepping Out in Faith covers 11 intimate stories of people who were reared in the Catholic Church, but who later left the church due to a variety of different reasons (mostly over doctrinal differences). For example, Omar Anheluk has this to say in Chapter 6: “I really don’t like labels, but I must say what is on my heart. I want to be as honest and helpful as I can. I want to talk openly about real differences that really matter-eternally. When I was growing up in the Catholic Church, no-one helped me to find the God who is there and who is real. No-one pointed me in the right direction. No-one showed me just how good God is, and no-one showed me that faith in God is all about trusting Jesus and handing over control of your life to Jesus.” (pg. 72) I would personally have to echo those same sentiments that Omar just shared based on my experiences with the Catholic Church, and the fact that what I was taught in the church did not measure up with what I read in God’s Word after my conversion. Furthermore, you see semblances of that very same progression born out in the other 10 stories in Stepping Out in Faith. There is a point in which each author begins to study the Word of God on their own, and we read about a “light-bulb” of realization that God turns on in their heads and hearts that leads them to an understanding that the doctrine of the Catholic Church has some serious flaws. Once that light bulb is turned on, it is impossible to turn it off even though it took some of the authors a little while longer to leave the Catholic Church than it did others.
The personal testimonies contained in this book are definitely unique, but they each share a common theme: The power of God’s Word to change lives. For example, there is the story of Ngaira Smith (Chapter 4) who turned her back on the Catholic Church at the age of 16 after a serious car accident only to see God, in His uniquely providential way, draw her to Himself by various other serious tragedies (serious relationship split, benign tumor in breast, cheating boyfriend, dad diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and another serious car wreck). Smith experienced even more heartache when she tried to move to a couple of Catholic Communities only to see the cover-up of sexual abuse within the Order. Finally, she learned and experienced the truth of God’s Word while visiting an Anglican Church in central London, and, in her own words, “As a Catholic, I had major reservations about attending an Anglican church. It took me several years to feel comfortable and part of the congregation. I still identified myself as Catholic, but here at this other church my knowledge of God was growing, my love for God was growing, and the power of sin in my life was weakening.” Personally, it didn’t take me years to leave the Catholic Church, but it definitely was a tough transition because the Catholic Church was pretty much all I knew. Acclimating to an Independent Baptist Church took some time, but I was daily growing in the Word of God just like Ngaira so that made the transition much easier. Again, the stories might be different, but the power of the Word of God effecting change is a common theme throughout the book and has been throughout history as well.
Stepping Out in Faith is by no means a deep theological presentation of the differences between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Faith, but there is a pretty clear picture presented in each of the 11 stories of just some of the many differences between the two religions. The overarching themes of the book, to me, are: (1) God’s glory in the redemption of lost sinners; (2) There is power in the Word of God, and that power brings change and growth.
I received this book for free from Matthias Media via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”