Owning Your Christian Faith
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - What does authentic faith look like for someone who has grown up in the church from a very early age? Does it simply mean showing up every Sunday, tithing your ten percent, and looking out for the needy? Or, could it be something more?
Author Daniel Darling believes that many young people struggle to develop an authentic faith due to parenting, the church environment they grew up in, or simply doing what society prescribes.
In his latest book, Real: Owning Your Christian Faith, Darling explores what the Bible has to say about people who are “born” into their faith, why there is still a desire to sin, and what the secret is to lasting intimacy with God.
I recently sat down with Darling to discuss what it means to be a second-generation Christian, why the Church is clumsy and misguided at times, and practical advice for young believers battling with their belief system.
What was your motivation for writing this book?
Growing up in the church and realizing that there are unique, inherent struggles for those who grow up in the church that are different than I think those who get converted as an adult, per say, also, realizing that faith is not automatic. We have this idea, this assembly line mentality that if we just tweak the system, if we just have the right style of discipline or the right mode or model of discipleship or church, that we’ll actually produce kids that don’t struggle. It’s just not true. So, I wanted to write to those who have grown up in the church and kind of write to the struggles and kind of point a way forward to have an intimate faith, and find a way back to God if they’re far from him.
You call yourself a “confessed churchaholic.” Why do you call yourself that?
I guess I wanted to let people know that I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who’s grown up in church and someone who loves the church. This is not a book, an angst written memoir saying the church is terrible, and let’s just all go to Starbucks and hug each other, and that’ll be church. I don’t write about abuses that I’ve gone through in the church necessarily, but basically saying I am a child of the church, and I love the church, and have been in church a lot. I mean, my parents took us every time the doors were open, and many times when the doors were not open.
You use the term “second generation Christian” throughout in your book. For the sake of our discussion, can you give me a bit of a definition what it means?
A second generation Christian is simply someone who’s grown up in the faith. So, you may be third, fourth, or a sixth generation. But someone who has always known the faith, meaning, you’ve been born into the evangelical church, you got converted at an early age, and that’s all you’ve known. As opposed to say a first generation Christian, like my parents. They got saved in their high school and college years. To be saved as an adult is a different experience. When you get saved out of the world, so to speak, and you’ve had a life of sin or a life of just not knowing the Lord, it’s a vivid contrast. You come in with your clothes still singed, if you will. When you grow up in the faith, you don’t have that experience. It’s vastly different. And so, you have to find—and God has to—you have to have a fresh experience with God yourself.
Do you think a person who grows up in the faith has a more difficult time being passionate about their beliefs than someone who converts to Christianity, say, in college or in their early twenties?
I think so. There’s good and bad. I think first generation Christians are very passionate. Sometimes they like discernment. Sometimes they can be legalistic, because they want to overcompensate for what they came from. A second generation Christian has a little bit more balance, but it is difficult to find that intimacy with God and that passion. You learn quickly how to play church, how to look good, how to carry your Bible a certain way, and have your hair a certain way, and smile just right. And that’s where you really just have to have your own, unique encounter with God.
You write in your book that Christians who grow up in the church need to get back in touch with what you call the “dusty doctor of original sin.” What do you mean by that?
We’ve had a lot of books published, seminars conducted, research done, “Why are kids leaving the faith?” It’s funny that people use the same research to promote opposite things. “We’re too political.” “We’re not political enough.” We need more Sunday school, less Sunday school, more pop culture, less pop culture. What I say is the reason kids leave the faith is the doctrine of original sin. The fact that even though you grow up in the church, and you grow up with the right environment, and you grow up with the right parents and the right parenting model, you still have a sin nature that wars against your soul. You still have a desire. I think we have to understand that, not just as parents who are raising our kids to give them grace, but also those of us growing up in the church, to realize that, even though we grew up this way, we still are grave sinners that need the Gospel. In fact, I think that’s the path forward to intimacy, as a second generation Christian, is to dive back into the Gospel. When I was growing up and heard a Gospel presentation, I would just kind of roll my eyes and say, “Okay, this is for those heathens. I can sit this one out.” What I didn’t realize is that I need the Gospel just as much as that guy, the drunk that comes in off the street. And when you go back to the doctrine of original sin, you realize that, even though I haven’t done this and haven’t done that, I still am as in need of God’s mercy as that person. I think it really gives you an appreciation of what He’s done for you, and I think it drives your way forward. I think it really frames your parenting as well.
You write that the church is clumsy and misguided at times. What do you mean by that?
I say that in the context of saying, at times the church is clumsy, at times it’s misguided, at times we’re wrong. And yet, it is God’s vehicle for proclaiming Himself to the world. There’s a lot of temptation to just chuck the church, and say, “Oh, they’ve got it wrong here,” and “They’ve got it wrong there.” Or, “My church does this,” or, “My church does that.” And yet, Christ says, “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” I believe in the Church, and the clumsiness and the messiness and the wrongness of the church, actually proves the power and sovereignty of God. To say, “I’m going to trust these fallen people who are going to get it wrong a lot, to send my message to the world. That’s what I’m going to do.” The Church is the bride of Christ. Christ loves His Church. And so, I’m one who says don’t abandon the Church. Don’t disparage the Church. That’s his bride. Let’s be the Church, and love it.
What advice could you give to a young Christian who is turned off by church? What can you do to get them interested again?
First of all, I would say strip away all of your experiences and all of the baggage that has come with your view of God. Study Him for Himself. Just read the Bible, read the Gospel of John. Read 1st Peter, read Philippians. Read the Scriptures for yourself. Study for yourself. Just filter out everything you know. The second thing I would say is if there is a God, your experiences and your life, and all you’ve gone through, was not an accident. Maybe your parents made a lot of mistakes. They probably did. The church you grew up in was probably clumsy and irrelevant sometimes, because it’s filled with humans, right? But God used that to form you, and shape you. When you stand before God, up and give an account of your life, you’re going to be there by yourself. You’re going to be named. And you can’t say, “Well, if my parents would have done this, I would have done this.” You have one life to live. Do you want to say when you’re seventy or eighty, “I could have lived a life of purpose, but I was upset with my parents?” Be upset with your parents, fine. But work through that, and find your mission.
What is your greatest hope for Real: Owning Your Christian Faith?
I hope people who have grown up in the church, and are still going to church probably, still active, but kind of going through the motions, find a way, a path toward passion for God, and intimacy with God. Or the rebel that is walking away, or having doubts. That he might listen to some of my arguments and say, “Yeah, I don’t like everything that my church did, or my parents did. But I’m going to study the Bible for myself, because I’ve got nothing to lose.” I challenge them and say, “Okay, maybe your parents were this, but what if it’s true? You better make sure that they believed was not—you better make sure of that.” And I also want to help parents and pastors create authentic environments for their faith, the faith that the kids can thrive.
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