Firsthand Faith: a book review

Josh and Ryan Shook are brothers and the sons of Kerry and Chris Shook (pastors, authors and conference speakers). Josh is a musician based in Nashville. Ryan a filmmaker living in L.A. They grew up in church and struggled to navigate expectations, rules and ‘the way things are supposed to be.’ At some point they realized they could not rely on the faith of their parents; they each had to have a faith of their own. Faith was a ‘firsthand’ experience. It didn’t matter that their parents knew God or that their church believed the good news. Josh and Ryan learned that they needed to know God for themselves.

Firsthand: Ditching Second Hand Religion for a Faith of One’s Own by Ryan & Josh Shook

There is a lot of books written which tells us that when many people graduate from high school or college they graduate from church and from Christianity as well. Some find their way back to faith later in life, but not all. I’m a Gen X-er. Many of  my church friends growing up, are no longer people of faith. Spiritual-but-not-religious millennials have also exited enmass out the church back door.  In Firsthand, the Shook bros. share a piece of their own journey and the things that helped them in their personal pursuit of God. They talked about their spiritual thirst, how confession enabled them to live in freedom, how their faith transformed them as they learned to live it out, how they cultivated their relationship with God,  their ongoing struggle with doubt, how they learned to listen to the Holy Spirit’s ‘disruptive’ leadings, and the importance of community for growing in their faith.

But Ryan and Josh  don’t just talk about themselves. They also share snippets of other stories of those who have stumbled towards God, pursuing a ‘firsthand faith.’  Some of these are friends of the Shook brothers. They also conducted research and invited a number of people to share their own story of what having a ‘firsthand’ faith has meant for them. In one such survey they talked to a James from Blaine, WA (yours truly).  I commented in their survey about the importance of other people for my faith development. The Shook bros. included this paragraph of mine in their book:

In college I had friends I could tell my darkest thoughts and deeds to, and they would uphold me in prayer and keep me accountable. But they weren’t just accountability partners. I think the greatest gift I got from other people was when they shared where they saw God’s work in my heart and His hand on my life. I am who I am because people spoke life into me. (186)

Each of the chapters of this book closes with suggestions which help readers think deeper about and put into practice the theme.  These activities are integrated with the firsthandbook.com website.  Ryan Shook also has several short films which explore the books content and there is an accompanying student and church small group curriculum.

This is a book written by two Christian men in their twenties about having a faith of your own.  It is a helpful resource for encouraging young millennials to pursue a personal faith. I would recommend this book for high school students or young college students.  Older Christians may also benefit from some of the content of this book (we all need a faith of our own) but the tone of the book seems to aim at a younger crowd.  I give it four stars as a youth resource, though I would be reticent about recommending it to some of my jaded–thirty-years-old and above–friends.  They might need something a little harder to take the edge off.

While the tone and message of this book emphasizes the necessity of personal, experiential knowing God for oneself, the Shooks also have benefited from the way their parents invested in their spiritual formation. They had to own their faith, but their parents and church leaders also provided places for them to take transformational risks in following Jesus.  They know God firsthand, but they also have the experience of a ‘faith handed down’ to them. This is obscured by some of the rhetoric of the book which focuses on a personal pursuit of God.  I do wish there was more emphases on the mentoring, nurture and intentionality of their church family. The data I’ve read says that young persons that maintain a meaningful faith as they transition to adulthood,  have developed significant intergenerational friendships. There is more to this than the Shook’s are telling. Personal responsibility is important, but it is not the whole story.   Perhaps a follow up project?   Graceful Hand-Me-Downs? 

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for a review.  Thanks to Ryan and Josh for including me in their project.

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