Reading a book is a logical process. The book starts with a premise developed by each chapter and each chapter starts with a premise developed by the paragraphs in the chapter. The reader adds each new section to the whole in hopes that the big picture will become clearer and clearer.
Sometimes you finish reading a book and step back to look at the big picture only to find that pieces are missing. If the picture is recognizable than maybe the missing parts weren't all that critical. However, if the picture is unrecognizable than then we know the missing pieces were critical to understanding the whole.
The book firsthand by Ryan and Josh Shook starts with a great premise; ditching secondhand religion for a faith of your own. The audience is anyone who grew up in the church, or a Christian family, but realized at some point that they didn't really believe in Jesus and had only been mimicking their parent's faith. That means the audience for this book has an advantage; they know what the final picture ought to look like.
As you read through this book, depending on where you are at in your journey of faith, you'll either be taking pieces out of the picture and replacing them, or taking pieces out and not replacing them, or trying to figure out where the new pieces fit. The real test of this book is how well define those pieces are so that the reader can identify their place in the picture.
Unfortunately, the pieces aren't defined well and the reader is left confused by the round-a-bout explanations.
We're told that Jesus died to save us from our sins because he's crazy about us and wants a relationship with us, but you won't find "six easy steps to happiness" because life is way to complex. This seems odd to me. Is the Creator of the Universe not smart enough to understand the complexities of life? The ironic part is that each chapter ends with a "Might try this" section which amounts to steps toward a firsthand faith. Maybe they're not easy steps.
In chapter 5 we're told to trash the checklist and then they give us four steps on how to trash the checklist. A checklist to get rid of a checklist?
One of the items on the list is reading the Bible. They say that, "reading and studying God's Word are essential for growing your firsthand relationship with Him. And it's true, I agree. They recommend developing a daily discipline of reading the Bible, but not to complete some reading plan, but rather to know God better. A reading plan can cause stress if you miss a day, or two, or three. But here's where things get confusing.
The authors say that "God loves you the same whether you spend time with him, or not." That's an odd thing to say given that the entire book is about growing closer to God. Why grow closer if He's going to love me the same anyway? It doesn't end there, though. If you miss a day, "just ask for forgiveness, and get back with Him the next day."
Ask for forgiveness? I thought the God loved me the same whether I spend time with him, or not, and now you're telling me it's a sin to miss a day?
This is not to say that there aren't some good lessons in the book. They remind us that faith occurs on the inside, that God forgives us when we sin, that if we love God we will pursue Him, and furthermore we'll extend that love to others. These are all good things. It's just unfortunate that the pieces don't make a discernible picture.
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. I was not required to write a favorable review.
Firsthand by Ryan and Josh Shook is a must read. If you are in ministry, lead a small group, a youth pastor or even a parent - this book is a great one to read. Ryan and Josh, brothers, talk about how as Pastor's kids they grew up having a faith but when they went to college and crisis of their own happened, they realized that their faith wasn't firm. How do you have firsthand faith? Faith that is not your parents, teachers, or someone else's but your own.
"It doesn't matter how real your parents' faith is, or anyone else's for that matter, if you don't develop a faith of your own. A handed-down faith that you've never owned for yourself doesn't give meaning to your life...Hand-me-down faith may work when things are going well, but when pressures and problems hit, what you thought you believed will crumble." pg. 5
8 chapters, including: Why Firsthand Matters, Sick of Secrets, Real Faith, Real Change, and First Hand Community, bring you through the process of having "hand-me-down" faith and turning it into "firsthand" faith. Each chapter has some letters and responses from real people, a Think About It, and a Might Try This section to help you apply what has been taught to your own life and pass it on to others.
As a pastor and a mom, I want my children to have a strong belief in Jesus Christ but I don't want it just to be something they put on because of me. I want them to have a firsthand faith, a faith that withstand the test of time, trials and anything that this world gives to them.
Brent and Josh Shook are two preacher's sons who knew all the right thing to do and say, but Christianity was their parent's religion--not theirs. When they reached their late teen years and early twenties, they started questioning their faith and sharing their innermost feeling with a few good friends. Through that process they found that the Bible is real and relevant. Their book is a practical encouragement to seek God through the Bible, good friends, and community.
I liked the "Making it Real" section at the end of each chapter. There are testimonials, searching questions, and tips to help a person find the true answers. Ryan made short films on the web to remind himself and others that there is more to the Christian life. Go to FirsthandBook.cm/Empty to watch one of them.
I am more conservative in my worship and lifestyle than was talked about in the book, but I appreciate Brent and Josh's desire to serve the Lord wholeheartedly with the talents God has given to them. Many young people "lose" their faith in their twenties because it was never theirs. This is a good book to help Christian young people discover their relationship with God. (reviewed by M.Reynolds)
DISCLOSURE: A complimentary copy was provided by Blogging for Books on behalf of the publisher and authors in exchange for our honest review. Opinions expressed are solely those of the reviewer.
"Firsthand" by Ryan and Josh Shook has a subtitle giving a great description: "Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own." Don't misread that- they aren't encouraging kids to walk away from the eternal truths that their parents have so diligently taught them. No, these young men are addressing what I believe is one of the biggest risks of growing up in the church: the risk of having a "second hand" (or think hand-me-down) faith. Ask a Christian teen why they believe Jesus rose from the dead, God created the world and heaven and hell are real places. I'm pretty sure they'll tell you "because the Bible says so." After all, we start singing "Jesus loves me this I know" before they can talk. It doesn't take long for our children to grow and sing the words along with us: "for the Bible tells me so!"
Better yet, ask a teen or an even younger child, "Are you a Christian?" and you would be surprised how many times the response will be in the plural form: "Yes, we are Christians." Some of this stems from a strong sense of the family unit in the younger years, but in the case of teens, it may stem from the fact that they see Christianity as something their family does. They might say, "Yeah, we go to church," or "We read the Bible." This perspective could be an indicator that a child doesn't have an individual, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Shook brothers describe a second-hand faith in their opening chapter (page 5):
"Our parents taught us that Christianity wasn't about religion and rules but about a relationship with the God who made us. [...] We truly feel blessed to have parents who have a real and authentic faith. But it's theirs.
It doesn't matter how real your parents faith is, or anyone else's for that matter, if you don't develop a faith of your own. A handed-down faith that you've never owned for yourself doesn't give meaning to your life. You might sort of wear it, but it doesn't say much about who you are. In fact, hand-me-down beliefs can start to weigh on you. [...] a bar set too high that reminds you of your failures. Or they just seem outdated and irrelevant."
What's the big deal if our (or our kids') faith is handed-down? Aren't we supposed to learn from previous generations? Yes, we should learn from older believers and of course we should "hand down" our faith to our children, but the goal of teaching young ones about God is that they should develop a thirst, passion, and commitment to learning Who He is for themselves and drawing nearer to Him on an intimate level.
Ryan & Josh share their own personal experiences with doubt about Biblical Truths, frustration with the church community and other issues they wrestled with as they reached adulthood and began examining how they lived their lives and why. Unsure at first if they even wanted to continue in their faith, they started a journey to discover what they believed. They gained a lot of insight into the plague of hand-me-down faith which seems to have a grip on masses of young Christians and they share gems of wisdom, practical application, and candid quotations from others facing similar challenges.
They tackle some heartfelt concerns in such an easy going manner that I had to actually go back and make sure each of these questions had been addressed. Yes, indeed, they were! Their casual writing style is so easy going that some of the points they make do not "jump out" at you while reading, but in reflection you will realize the real depth and meaning of what they've conveyed. Here is a list from inside the dust jacket:
If God is real, then why do I feel empty?
Why should I even try to follow God when I fail so often?
How do I experience a connection with Christ that's more than surface level?
Can I ever get past a "checklist Christianity" of dos and don'ts?
Is it possible to have authentic faith when I'm full of doubts and questions?
Can I really discover my purpose in life through a relationship with Christ?
How can I find a community of other people who take firsthand faith seriously?
I was not raised in a Christian home, so while I had a hard time relating to some of the sentiments described by the authors, I immediately recognized that some of the concerns and complaints they voiced were word-for-word things that have come out of our 12 year old's mouth. If you have a firsthand faith already, and you have kids or are an influential figure (aunt, uncle, teacher, daycare provider, etc) in young people's lives, then you are likely surrounded with some second-hand religious followers. Reading this book (or having it around for them to read if they're old enough) is going to be worthwhile!
Some portions, however, were very easy to relate to and did resonate with me. Topics addressed include:
feeling burnt out (Chapter titled "Trashing the Checklist")
what happens when we don't respond to God's prompting in our lives; becoming a judgmental Christian (Chapter titled "Divine Disturbance)
being critical and dissatisfied with the church due to a false definition of what the church is and/or an unrealistic expectation/consumer mentality (Chapter titled "Firsthand Community")
I plan on having our daughter read this at some point, so I read it with a very critical eye. The only concern I had was on page 12, where they write, "We have no problem encouraging you to question the Lord. Why? Because He invites us to do that. 'Taste and see that the Lord is good,' He says (Psalm 34:8) Also, we truly believe in a God who is active and alive in our lives. So if there is any truth to what we believe, a loving God will reveal Himself to those who search for answers."
To me, the Scripture choice wasn't ideal. I understand that verse not as an invitation to doubt the Lord, but as an invitation to learn of His character- to draw near to Him to see for ourselves that He is good. It does not say: Come to see that the Lord is real. This made me hesitant, but I found nothing else that raised any red flags as far as having someone immature in their faith (and perhaps in general, lol) read the book.
****In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book courtesy of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the purpose of reviewing. I didn't have to give a positive review, the opinions are mine.