Growing Pains:
Learning to Love My Father's Faith

Randall Balmer
Brazos Press, 144 pages, $15.99

Evangelicalism has always had two kinds of children, and they tell different stories. Its adopted children find their way into the family through conversion, whether from another faith or from none. Its biological children, on the other hand, grow up in the embrace of Sunday school, family devotions, Bible camps, and Christian colleges. In the terms of Jesus' famous parable, they are the elder son—yet as they try to make sense of the faith they have inherited, they often trade places with the prodigal.

When a young Columbia University historian named Randall Balmer published Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Travels Through the Evangelical Subculture in 1989, it wasn't hard to see that he was coming to terms with his own story. The book's most affecting chapter, describing the experiences of teenagers "rededicating their lives" to Christ at a summer camp in upstate New York, fairly shone with emotion. Loosing the bonds of academic observation in his imagined account of a late-night meeting around the campfire, Balmer rendered the unforgettable essence of youth-group retreats.

Now Balmer (a CT editor at large) has collected a series of essays that describe, often with wrenching vividness, the struggles of a pastor's son to embrace his father's faith.

Clarence Balmer was a minister, and later a district superintendent, in the Evangelical Free Church of America, a hard-working, devout leader with great dreams for Randall, his oldest child. His son is a master of the telling detail—the three-foot-high pulpit he received as a Christmas present when he was 5, the encouraging words of his father's letters during college and seminary, the ...

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