My good friend Daniel Darling released his fourth book, REAL: Owning Your Christian Faith this month. As an added bonus, it’s available in July on the Kindle for just $2.99. I’ve known Dan for a few years, have spent time with him and his family, and have even driven him around Dallas — an event that we seem to have differing memories of. Dan’s one of the good guys out there, and I’m blessed to have him as a friend.
Here’s a quick interview with Dan about REAL.
I define a “2nd Generation” Christian as any follower of Christ who grew up in the evangelical faith. They may have a heritage of faith that stretches back one generation or several generations.
1st Generation Christians are those who were converted as adults and who did not enjoy a childhood immersed in the faith.
Lots of people are talking about the exodus of young people from the church. Some blame the church. Many blame parents. Some blame the culture. But you say that the reason could be a built-in set of faith struggles. Can you explain?
Yes, there is a lot of angst today in the church about the exodus of kids leaving after high-school. There is a ton of research that says this is a problem, though Bradley Wright’s analysis of the research shows that perhaps some of this is alarmism.
Either way, there is a concern. And all kinds of prescriptions have been given, from all sides, on ways to stem the tide. Less entertainment, more entertainment. Less politics, more politics. Less depth. More depth.
There is truth in all of these solutions. But I think the problem goes deeper. I think there is a natural tendency to rebel among those who grow up in the church. It reflects the heart’s desire to push off against what we know to be right and true.
Part of our frustration is that we’ve adopted a humanistic, “assembly line” approach, where we honestly think that if we just tweak the child-training and discipleship systems, we’ll eliminate the natural tendency for kids to rebel. But it’s a flawed premise.
You say that Christians who grow up in church need to reacquaint themselves with the “dusty doctrine” of original sin. Why is this so important, especially for 2nd Generation Christians?
No evangelical worth his salt would deny the doctrine of original sin. It’s in all of our creedal statements. And yet, when you grow up in the church and find that you struggle, wrestle with temptation, you are surprised. And your parents are surprised. And your teachers are surprised. You hear things like, “After all you’ve learned, how could you do this?”
The answer to that questions is, of course, simple. “I’m a sinner.” The truth is that even kids who grow up in good, Christian homes and are surrounded by healthy Christian community will still wrestle with sin.
What words would you say to the young Christian who is turned off by his church experience and considering abandoning God altogether?
I would tell him to strip away all the “stuff” that seems to be holding you back and explore the truth claims of Jesus for yourself. Study the Bible without the filter of your experience. And, be careful not to push off so strongly against your heritage that you lose what was good and wholesome and true.
Honestly, there are few Christians who grew up in what we would call healthy spiritual environments. And for sure, none are perfect. What we are dealing with, at best, are flawed parents, flawed educators, flawed spiritual leaders. Some are more helpful than others. Some are toxic. But in all of this, we have to believe that God was sovereign in where he placed us.
And, at the end of your days, you will stand naked before a righteous God. You will give account and you won’t be allowed to blame your childhood.
What advice would you give parents, educators, teachers, pastors to help stem the tide of kids leaving the church?
I would say two things. First, disabuse yourself of the unhealthy pressure to “produce” perfect kids. Proverbs 22:6 is a proverb, not a command or a promise. It is the Holy Spirit who produces fruit in the life of children. Your job is to simply be faithful and to be as real as you can be.
Secondly, I would ask yourself what exactly is it that we want to pass down? And my answer would be simply this: the faith. No more, no less. Sometimes we make good, but not great things ultimate. We don’t celebrate the gospel, we celebrate preference and music style and denomination and in doing so, we lose the gospel.
I’m fairly certain my kids will worship differently than I worship today. Their churches may look and sound differently. I need to be okay with that, as long as they have the faith, the powerful set of orthodox truths that frame the good news of the gospel.