Simon Jenkins: Christian pulp testimony
One of the first books I read after I became a teenage Christian was Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz, a gang leader from the streets of New York in the 1960s. It had sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll, plus lashings of testosterone-fuelled stabbings and shootings. The thing that turned this salacious stuff into righteous and edifying reading for a young Christian was the steady drip-feed of fearless preaching and tearful conversions to the Lord amidst all the sinful goings-on.
Run Baby Run made me feel like I’d just missed out on a terrifically wild party, only to end up staying the night instead at my maiden aunt’s with just a Bible for company. It’s like the preacher who summed up one of Jesus’ parables by asking: “Where would you rather be, in the light with the wise virgins, or in the dark with the foolish virgins?”
Come to think of it, I encountered Christian pulp testimony the night I was converted, at a “crusade” meeting in Cardiff in the 1970s. Doreen Irvine, whose book From Witchcraft to Christ detailed her conversion from a life of sex and Satanism, hobbled onto the stage to tell us the devil had pushed her downstairs before the meeting to stop her from testifying. But the Old Nick was going to have to try a lot harder than a sprained ankle to stop Doreen.
Christian pulp testimony is in love with its own success. The cover of The Cross and the Switchblade, also about New York gangs and the most famous book in the field, splashes with: “The bestselling inspirational adventure of all time!” It’s said to have shifted 15 million copies – a reminder that these books create serious money and launch serious businesses in “Christian ministry”.
In 2004, a new contender hit the market. It wasn’t exactly the greatest conversion story since St Paul fell off his ass outside Damascus, but it had car chases, organised crime, Chinese punishment beatings and prison violence – all the things Christians apparently want to read about, shame on us. The book was Taming the Tiger and the convert was a man calling himself Tony Anthony (pictured).
Anthony, according to the book, was taken to China at the age of four by his grandfather, a kung fu grand master. Once there, the grandfather set about training him in the martial arts, using brutal methods: “He raised me with a bamboo cane. He used to beat me all the time.”
Anthony grew up to win kung fu world championships and went on to become a professional bodyguard to diplomats and wealthy businessmen, skilled in high-speed car handling and bomb detection as well as kung fu fighting. But his career degenerated into violent crime, which landed him in a Cyprus prison – and that’s where God finally caught up with him.
Tony Anthony built an international ministry on the back of Taming the Tiger, speaking in schools, churches and prisons around the world. But his story has been found to have so many holes, plagiarisms and contradictions that the Evangelical Alliance and Anthony’s own charity recently concluded that his “true story” simply isn’t.
Some 1.5 million sales later, the book has finally been withdrawn and the charity has shut up shop. Anthony himself protests his innocence.
Doreen Irvine’s witchcraft book has been questioned for years about its truthfulness, and I know of two other high-profile testimony books which were withdrawn from sale for their fabrications. Christian pulp testimony is a tarnished brand.
When the non-religious book A Million Little Pieces was discovered a few years ago to be a false memoir, the publisher offered a refund to anyone who felt they had been defrauded. Maybe Authentic Media (no laughing, please), the publishers of Taming the Tiger, would like to follow that excellent example.
This article was published in the September 2013 edition of Reform
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