“JESUS! GOD! DA BIBLE!”
Whenever we start question time during family devotions, our middle daughter, Hannah, immediately starts shouting these answers while wearing the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. She’s just thrilled to offer up what must be the right answer (she’s paid enough attention to know that if she answers with “Jesus” she’s going to be right at least 30-50 percent of the time).
While it’s super-cute and warms my heart, it also makes me a little nervous.
Emily and I are first generation Christians. We came to faith as adults and, as parents, we are raising our kids in a home where Jesus is worshipped and the Bible is read and taught. While we understand that we can’t parent our kids into being Christians, we desperately want to see them “own” their faith (should they ever profess faith).
Daniel Darling’s been there—not as a first generation Christian, but as the child of. As such, he understands an important truth: that faith isn’t automatic—if the second generation is going to continue a legacy of faith, they can’t be satisfied with second-hand experiences. And that’s what I so appreciate about his new book, Real: Owning Your Christian Faith. In this book, Darling addresses the unique challenges the second generation faces and offers great encouragement and occasionally some necessary correction to those seeking to raise their kids in the faith.
Second Generation Christians Are Sinners Still
Reading the book, right away a couple of common themes popped out. First, it seems that there’s an assumption that second generation kids don’t struggle with sin—as though, because their parents were saved and are super passionate about their faith, they’re somehow immune to original sin. But, Darling writes, “Good Christian kids who grow up with good Christian parents in good gospel-preaching churches still struggle with sin.” There’s no “get-out-of-being-a-sinner” card for these kids. While this should not be a shocking revelation, it seems that many kids raised in the faith are burdened with this idea that they shouldn’t have any struggles with sin. Darling writes:
…many second generation believers live under the weight of an unrealistic expectation of holiness. Because they “know better,” each sin is magnified, as if they are not allowed to be human. All the while, they engage in a hidden struggle, wondering, did I miss something?
As a parent, this is something that I’ve even found myself struggling to remember at times. I want my kids to “get” it—and even though I know they struggle with sin—they, like me, were born sinners—I sometimes feel like they shouldn’t. This is where the doctrine of original sin is so essential to parenting. Dan writes, “The doctrine of original sin seems like an outdated relic from an intolerant era, but it is instead a liberating force, breathing hope into the soul. Because where there is sin, there is the entrance of the grand gospel message.”
Because our kids are sinners just like us, they have the same need to come to a true, personal understanding of the gospel, just like us. And so rather than assuming what they should or should not do, we’re encouraged to take a step back and use as many corrective and teaching moments as we can to share the gospel with them. To show them why it really matters so they’re not just mimicking Mom & Dad.
Own Your Faith — Don’t Ride Spiritual Coattails
And that’s the second problem that really stands out: the tendency to ride on the spiritual coattails of the previous generation. In the book, Dan shares his own experiences as a second-generation believer, contrasting his parents’ zeal with his own tendencies to become apathetic. But each generation, regardless of their experiences, must embrace the faith as his or her own. Not saying the right things to win the approval of parents or spiritual leaders, but really owning it—doing the hard work of working out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
As a parent, this is something that we’re striving to encourage in our kids. We don’t wan Abigail, Hannah, and Hudson to just take our word about what Christianity is or is not. We want them to wrestle with it. We want them to learn, to read, to pray, and ultimately to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. We’re praying for “boring” testimonies for our kids, but whether “boring” or “dramatic,” we just want them to be genuine testimonies of the goodness and grace of God in our kids’ lives.
Whether you’re a first, second, or tenth generation Christian, there’s much to be encouraged by in Real. Dan Darling’s done us a great service in writing the book. I trust that as you read it, it will challenge a few assumptions you may have, correct some of your approaches and lead you to repent of the sins you’ve committed as a parent and a child of believers.
Title: Real: Owning Your Christian Faith
Author: Daniel Darling
Publisher: New Hope Publishers (2012)