[Update! My video endorsement of Firsthand by Ryan & Josh Shook can be viewed at my YouTube channel.]
©2013 WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs
Brothers Ryan and Josh Shook grew up in church. In fact their parents planted a vibrant, exciting church in Houston. Now they are actively seeking careers far away from Houston. Ryan is a filmmaker living on the west coast, while Josh is a musician living in Nashville. And though they seem to be far removed from their roots in Texas, they write a book about how their faith roots are stronger than ever.
In a day when more and more people in the younger generation (in this case an age range of 16-26) are growing disillusioned with the faith of their parents, the Shook brothers have found the secret to faith that is lasting and real: stop playing at religion that is at best a hand-me-down from your parents and replace it with a firsthand, no-holds-barred relationship with Jesus Christ.
This book is less of a “how-to” book and more of a “what could happen” vision. Starting with their own wandering away from their parents’ faith and building on that with interviews and candid remarks from a number of people who had discovered the difference between plastic religion and real relationship, the authors weave a story that is at both challenging and a bit unnerving. There is no sugar coating here, just real admission of attempts and failures followed by struggle and success. Bottom-line advice from these two young men who have “been there” is to stop trying to be a Christian (based on what was handed down to you from your parents), and just build a relationship with Jesus.
This short 8-chapter book deals with all the things that church-goers try to do to get in good with God, and gives testimony and example of how one might stop going through motions and let their relationship grow. Their term, as the title suggests, for this authentic experience is “firsthand faith.”
This book is a good starting point when someone has grown disappointed in the church experience of their roots. While believers are encouraged to do the things that our church society has done as a sign of their relationship with Christ, the motivation is moved from marking your checklist of being a good Christian, to letting the actions flow from who you are.
Even so, because the book is focused on the generation of younger adults, those who are approaching or have even passed middle age who are dealing with the same questions about faith are neglected. This is not necessarily a fault of the authors or the publisher but a drawback built into focusing on a particular audience, limiting further (with age) an already limited audience (Christians or Christ-seekers). That said the book has value when someone (of any age) is struggling with whether what they’ve always believed is really real—especially when it is believed because that’s what they (or their family) has always believed.
Each chapter includes a sampling of quotes from a handful of the people interviewed in the researching of the book, some questions for deeper thought, and some practical application suggestions to put what the preceding chapter has discussed into action.
I would suggest that pastors and youth pastors, as well as collegiate ministry workers, would want to have a copy or two of this book handy to help young people who are dealing with questions of whether the faith they espoused at the age of 8 or 9 is real or not. The struggle of authentic faith is one that has been around for ages and will continue to haunt the church. In Firsthand the church has a resource to address this struggle head-on. I give the book 4 out of 5 reading glasses.
—Benjamin Potter April 19, 2013
[Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]