Excerpt from Ryan & Josh Shook’s new book, Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own. Visit FirsthandBook.com.
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. 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 Or they just seem outdated and irrelevant.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.
Firsthand faith is not something you wear on the outside. Firsthand faith, in our experience, is centered deep in your own mind and heart. Sure, it’s still a work in progress, but it’s yours. It’s you. When hard times hit, you have a lot to draw on to weather the storm. In fact, firsthand faith is so real and personal that it just gets stronger when it is challenged. Who wouldn’t want that kind of living, breathing faith? That is why our goal in writing this book is to help you replace secondhand religion with a faith—and most important, a relationship—that is meaningful. We want to help you get from a religion you wear on the outside when it’s convenient to a faith of your own—one that’s authentically yours all the way through.