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Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own

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  • Posted April 9, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I'm having a very difficult time knowing just what to say about

    I'm having a very difficult time knowing just what to say about this book. There are points I agree with.
    I realize many, within a church, are disillusioned with their church. In the words of the authors, they are living a second-hand faith. Also, not every Christian is living a dynamic, radically driven, purpose-filled life, thus further disillusionment. True, there are many who read their Bibles and seem to get very little out of it.
    I appreciate the brothers Shook in their efforts to stress the relational side of God. Christianity is not a philosophy. It is not a mere mental exercise, otherwise it would be just like Buddhism. There is a real God and He longs for us to know Him. Chapter Five focused upon this a great deal. It requires 'trashing the checklist' of our faith in order to zero in upon the relationship of our faith.
    And yet there's just something about this book that troubles me. I can't quite lay a finger upon it, however. In the above mentioned chapter, these two brothers encourage those stuck in a 'second-hand faith' existence to throw out their checklists. The 'checklists' are those things which drive us, demand complete loyalty and obedience from us and yet do not feed the relationship. One example, Ryan speaks of going to a Bible camp and returning home all fired up by his experience there. He promised to read his Bible, pray and witness more. Before he said another word, I knew where this was going to end up: the experience waned, his commitments flagged and before long, he wasn't doing any of it. Here's what he says, 
    'After camp my intentions were good. What I didn't have was a solid relationship that could serve as a foundation for my spiritual discipline. The checklist on its own made things worse, not better. What a mess!'
    Ryan goes on to counsel those who make such checklists the driving energy of their faith to toss them out. Stop reading your Bible slavishly. And yet, because of this statement, it seems like they stumble over their advice just a few pages further on in telling you the one way to know God, to enhance your 'firsthand' faith experience is to…read your Bible. Absolutely. It is the only way you get to know anything at all about God. We don't know God through dreams. We don't learn of God through creation alone (despite the way in which the authors stress the worship they have when out in creation; wonderful, but unless you have the Word and the Gospel, you'll still come up short of God's ultimate glory; just read Romans 1).
    Jesus said, in John 8.31–32: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Where must we go if we want to abide in Jesus? To the truth. Where will we find the truth? In His Word. Granted, the Jews who hated Jesus had the Word, but they stopped believing it.
    And I wonder if this isn't where the problem begins. Both Shook brothers seem reticent to ever say that these who are stuck in a 'second-hand' faith simply are not truly believers. Their faith is not really second-hand; it's non-existent. What they have is not faith in God or Christ or the Word. It is in themselves and some experience they've been told to have or maintain. Yes, they need a 'firsthand' faith. One that trusts Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone. They need to be saved. From there, they need to be taught what it means to 'abide in Christ.' Jesus Himself says, 'Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.' That's first-hand faith.
    I want to like this book. I want to understand it better. However, I think, in the effort to be encouraging to those of the 'second-hand faith' category, the brothers Shook come off just a bit too accommodating for me. I, along with them, long to see those living a 'second-hand faith' come to a true saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. When I was thirteen years old, I was made greatly aware of my attempts to live off my parents faith, the faith of my church and Sunday School teachers, the merits of my Bible memorization awards and perfect Sunday School attendance for twelve years. What made be aware of the need of firsthand faith was not an encouragement to ditch all that, but a call to come to saving faith in Christ; to look to the cross alone and not myself or my experience. So, I had to confess my sin, repent of my sins and trust Christ for everything. That's what firsthand faith is all about.

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