Every person inherits a system of beliefs. Maybe yours came from community, or church, or society, or your parents. But one day you reach a breaking point. You look at the rituals and traditions and worship and theology and it...
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Every person inherits a system of beliefs. Maybe yours came from community, or church, or society, or your parents. But one day you reach a breaking point. You look at the rituals and traditions and worship and theology and it all seems foggy. Foreign. Strange. You wonder why you believe what you believe. If you even believe anymore...
Brothers Ryan and Josh Shook reached that breaking point. Their book, Firsthand, is a smart, honest and deeply felt journey that invites you to leave behind handed-down beliefs and find authentic faith. A faith that lets go of how things are supposed to be. A faith that refuses to be defined by expectations or subcultures.
“Our goal is to help you replace secondhand religion with a meaningful relationship,” write the Shooks. “We want to help you get from a religion that you wear on the outside to a faith of your own—one that’s authentically yours all the way through.”
Young people are leaving the church in record numbers, but Ryan and Josh know now that it doesn’t have to be that way. They spent the past several years gathering research, trying to figure out the issues that make the most difference in whether a young person’s Christian faith sticks or not. They surveyed over three hundred respondents on the really hard questions. Questions like:
• If God is real, then why do I feel so empty on the inside? (Chapter 2)
• Why should I even try to follow God when I often feel like such a failure? (Chapter 3)
• How do I experience real connection with Christ that’s more than just surface level? (Chapter 4)
• How can I get past checklist Christianity and enjoy an every-day relationship with God? (Chapter 5)
• Is it possible to have a strong relationship with God even when I’m filled with doubts and questions? (Chapter 6)
• Can I really discover the meaning of my life through a relationship with Christ? (Chapter 7)
• How can I find a community of real people who take firsthand faith seriously? (Chapter 8)
In these pages, you’ll hear from the Shooks about their own struggles with these questions, along with the life-changing answers they’ve discovered from the Bible and personal experience. You’ll hear from other Christ followers, too, about their search for firsthand faith. And each chapter is designed to be shared—to spark a discussion with your friends—and comes complete with personal inventories, small group discussion questions, and links to creative video.
“Firsthand faith is the only kind that lasts because it’s centered deep in your own mind and heart,” write Ryan and Josh. “Sure, it’s still a work in progress, but it’s yours. It’s you. In fact, firsthand faith is so real and personal that when hard times hit, it just gets stronger."
RYAN SHOOK is a filmmaker and blogger. A graduate of Baylor University, he is married to Sarah, and they live in Los Angeles, California.
JOSH SHOOK is a musician, a song writer, and a graduate of Belmont University. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Why Firsthand Matters
A Faith Straight from the Source
There comes a time when you can no
longer cling to your parents’ coattails
and you have to choose to make it
—Robert Griffin III
I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
now I have it all firsthand.
—Job 42:5 (msg)
Hi, we’re Ryan and Josh Shook, two brothers in our twenties.
We’ve met before, actually. You see, even though you’ve probably never met us personally, you know people just like us. You’ve known them at every church you’ve attended. We’ve been on your football team, gone to the same parties, been in your group of friends.
You took one look at us and thought, They’re such good Christians. But you saw us when we were at our best. We were the leaders of the youth group, and you thought we probably had it all together.
So how could we possibly relate to you?
The truth is, we’ve both come back from the brink of spiritual death. Really. Only a short time ago we were so done with the whole Christian thing. Whatever we looked like on the outside, inside we were desperate for something more. Nothing at church satisfied the inner hunger gnawing at us. Being a Christian seemed to be only about going through the motions, following rules, keeping up appearances.
So we tried something else. We lived as if God didn’t exist. That worked for a while. And then it eventually stopped working. Actually, we ended up feeling even more desperate and unfulfilled than before.
Maybe you know what we’re talking about. Maybe you’ve given up on church and its promise of contentment. Maybe
you’ve not only given up on church but given up on God as well. Or maybe you’re just now starting to suspect that something is wrong but you can’t put your finger on it.
If any of these scenarios apply to you, you’re not alone. The truth is, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six,
most young people experience a crisis of faith. Suddenly the beliefs that made sense yesterday are no longer relevant today. Our faith feels flimsy and fake.
For us it felt something like this: We had traveled halfway across a bridge and couldn’t get any further. The bridge just
ended. On the riverbank behind us, we could see the Christianity that worked when we were younger. Ahead of us, on the opposite bank, we could see, well, not much really. Mostly fog.
That didn’t feel good.
As it turns out, our experience is common for kids who grew up in church. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, a research and resource organization, investigated our generation’s dissatisfaction with traditional Christianity for his book You Lost Me. “The problem,” Kinnaman tells us, “is not that this generation has been less churched than children and teens before them; the problem is that much spiritual energy fades away during a crucial decade of life—the twenties.”1
We had traveled halfway across a bridge and couldn’t get any further. The bridge just ended.
Spiritual energy fades away. That description resonates deeply with us. After years of going to church, following the rules, and trying to replicate the faith of our parents, we had to admit that something was fading fast in our souls.
But there’s good news.
Right in the middle of our personal crises, we made a discovery that changed everything.
No Point Pretending
What we discovered was that what we thought was our faith wasn’t ours after all. Not completely. Mostly it belonged to our parents. Some of it belonged to the youth pastor or our friends. Sure, some of it was real for us too. But a lot of it wasn’t. If you had closely inspected our personal beliefs, you might have noticed some flimsy plastic labels hanging on them.
On them would have been scribbled “Secondhand.”
Or maybe “Belongs to Dad.”
Or “Just trying to fit in.”
Our faith was something we had inherited, and it felt like it was not originally intended for us. That wasn’t our parents’ fault. Or the youth pastor’s. Or the church’s.
Our parents taught us that Christianity wasn’t about religion and rules but about a relationship with the God who made
us. Yes, they made mistakes. But we saw them live out a genuine faith in front of us—two imperfect parents seeking to trust a perfect God. 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. They become a source of shame and guilt, a bar set too high that reminds you of your failures. Or they just seem outdated and irrelevant.
Hand-me-down faith may work when things are going well, but when pressures and problems hit, what you thought you believed will crumble.
“I hate to say this, but so many of the so-called Christian kids on this campus really turn me off,” Taylor, a university
sophomore on the West Coast, told us. “The guys from church party just like the rest. At the frat parties they just want to get the girls drunk so that they can get their clothes off. They say they’re Christians—but come on!” That kind of faith is more like a shirt you wear when you’re with a certain group of friends. In reality, that kind of faith is not faith at all! It’s secondhand religion, and it doesn’t get inside your life or change anything about you.
Mike, a university senior we read about, was at least more honest than those frat guys. He told an interviewer he had grown up going to church and learning about God, but in college he wasn’t so sure anymore that God even existed. Mike was looking for solid evidence that God is real. He said that during his search he felt like he was an “adopted child wanting to know the truth about [my] birth parents.”2
We think Mike is right not to rely completely on the faith of his parents just because they are his parents. If you don’t believe in God because of your own convictions, there is no point in pretending that you believe at all.