by Richard L. Akins
Reviewed by Mike Poglitsch Acclaim Media Productions, Inc.
Recently I listened to the author of Challenged to Grow, present the material in his new book to a group of about fifty parishioners at a local parish. As I looked around, I saw a lot of nodding heads. Like the others, I am often approached with certain questions about my Catholic faith and need practical answers. That seems to be the main goal and benefit of Richard Akins’ book.
The entire style of the book avoids confrontation and seeks understanding and a systematic explanation of the faith, specifically addressing challenges from other Christians. The author spent over a decade part-time within an evangelical church which certainly brought new challenges to his faith. He had to wrestle with the idea of exposing his three children to that new expression of the faith in a respectful manner, while still explaining to them the importance of the Catholic faith.
He begins the book by discussing the two major misconceptions Christians have against one another – the place of faith and works’ in the life of a Christian in terms of justification. What I really enjoyed was that the author often uses analogies from well-known movies to show both the stereotypes and how we can understand one another’s practical real-life beliefs. In other places, he uses a chocolate chip cookie to explain the view of a ‘fundamentalist’ Christian. He also makes many issues of the faith very clear by using well-known historical events as analogies.
I thought to go into the book that its ecumenical themes would lead to a watered-down view of the Catholic faith. Instead, I found a strong support of the Catholic faith, supported by well-thought-out answers to challenges many Catholics have never thought about. For example, there is a section discussing Mary, and in it, he relates how it is natural for Evangelicals to believe Catholics worship Mary because they have been taught to think of prayer differently than Catholics. At another point, Mr. Akins discusses the Eucharist in a way that is very supportive of the Catholic view of the Real Presence, but from the perspective of having to answer the challenges of someone not brought up in the faith.
Overall, the book is an easy read, laying out things most Catholics are never taught as we learn our own faith by others who agree with us. He’s said that Catholics end their official training in many cases at confirmation and therefore have mostly 8th-grade answers to 8th-grade questions. This spells trouble when later confronted by Evangelicals and others as adults with adult challenges. This book also allows you to formulate your own opinions on challenges to the faith.
Hopefully, Challenged to Grow can begin to train us as adult Catholics with adult answers of our own.