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Interview with Author Dan Darling

Here is an interview with Dan Darling about his book, “Real, Owning Your Christian Faith.” Don’t miss the interview or the book!

Daniel Darling Real Owning Your Christian Faith
Jonathon Howe Interview Blog Tour
You talk extensively in your book about “2nd Generation” Christians. What
exactly is a “2nd Generation Christian?

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.

Trevon Wax Interview for Real.com
What are the particular idolatrous temptations for those who grow up in the
church?

I would say that the first temptation is the desire to live up to the standards set by
the church community. For those in stricter churches that place a high value on
obedience and morality and separation from the world, the Christian life often gets
reduced down to a few things, such as how we look, who we associate with, etc.

Christianity should affect life change, but we can wind up creating a sort of
subculture where everyone pats everyone else on the back for living up to standards
derived more from the community than from Scripture itself.

Doesn’t this feed the tendency toward self-righteousness?

Yes, and it can eliminate the need for repentance, because you are “doing everything
right.” I battled this as a missionary in Romania. Christians have this right impulse
tomake a difference in someone’s life. They want to see people’s lives look radically
different because of Jesus. But how this would play out was that the new convert no
longer smokes or drinks or wears makeup or jewelry, however, they may keep their
affinity toward gossip or mean-spiritedness.

Legalism makes repentance easy, because people are willing to sacrifice: to look
different, to behave differently. But list-keeping is actually an easier version of
Christianity than what is found in the Bible. Law is easier than the Gospel.

What advice would you give to the person who has grown up in the church to
help them move away from the legalistic, self-righteous, checklist mindset?

Before you can be motivated or driven by grace, you have to get to a place of
brokenness. You have to see your sin for what it is, the heinousness and horror of
your sin. And in that reality, seeing you’re total inability to change yourself. Before
you get grace, you have to get broken. There is no checklist or stepping stone to get
to brokenness. It’s something God gives. We should pray, “Break my heart, Lord.
Break my heart, afresh then so I can see your grace.”

Then exalt in the grace so it can become transformative. There is no twelve-step
process to go from legalism to grace. It has to happen in the heart.

It’s amazing to me that for those of us who have grown up in contexts where
tradition is important, it is difficult for us to see ourselves as the role of Pharisees,
rather than Jesus. We tend to look at ourselves as like we’re like Jesus or like the
prodigal, instead of seeing ourselves as the Pharisees. A glimpse of Jesus helps us
see our own brokenness.

How would you counsel someone who has grown up in a context where
methodology or preference has been placed on the same level as orthodox
truth?

I’ve had numerous conversations with folks who grew up in those environments.
You’re basically told that the Bible is true, Jesus is God and women shouldn’t wear
pants or something. The emphasis is on those three equally as if they were of the
same nature.

Two things typically happen when someone leaves this environment. They see
a vibrant spiritual walk with God by someone from another, less restrictive
background and adjust their thinking and begin to separate what is true from what
is merely preference.

Or they react in the opposite way. They think to themselves, I was lied to. Then they
question everything. Is Jesus really God? Is the Bible really true? They basically feel as
if they’ve been sold a bill of goods and have no capability to discern major Christian
truth from a particular community’s standards.

The people able to separate the two usually come to appreciate the wider breadth of
Christian expression within orthodoxy and they end up in a different church context.
They are able to passionately serve the Lord and can move right along.

Those who have been offended by their background usually end up chucking their
faith all together because they don’t trust anyone in religion at all, because their
background doesn’t, to them, merit this trust.

What would you say to those in that second group, progressive evangelicals
who emerge from a legalistic framework and now question everyone,
including the orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith? What would you say to
them to help bring them back to orthodoxy?

First I would say that questioning everything so you own can be a good thing.
Wrestling is a good thing. But sometimes it can lead to endless questioning, even the
idea of taking a firm stance, of knowing something with certainty.

Sometimes the reaction among 2nd Generation Christians is just that avoid standing
for anything, because we’ve seen people stand up for silly things. I think the better
model is not that we stand on the Word of God, but that we kneel under the Word of
God. We always bow to God’s authority as exercised in His Word. It is supreme and
sufficient.

Interview Dale Hudson
Sample Interview Questions
Real, Owning Your Christian Faith
New Hope Publishers, 2012

What was the driving force behind writing this book?

My primary motivation was to encourage and challenge 2nd Generation Christians—
believers like me who have grown up in the faith. I wanted to present a fresh look at
the unique struggles of those who have always known Jesus.

What is the primary message of the book?

That every generation of believers, regardless of their heritage, need to discover
the gospel for themselves. Even though you grew up in the church and have known
the Scriptures for your entire life, you are still a sinner desperately in need of God’s
sanctifying grace.

How can this book help parents?

I hope it helps parents resent their expectations for their kids. We often import into
our Christian parenting a man-centered philosophy that relies so much on methods
and tactics. We measure our “results” as if God tasks us with the spiritual life of our
kids.

I hope to both relieve parents of an unnecessary pressure to “produce” good kids.
I also hope to challenge parents to create healthy, authentic environments where
faith can grow.

How can this book help Children, Student, and Family Ministry leaders?

I think it will help leaders understand that the good kids, the kids who grow up in
church—they need grace just like the troubled kids who come in “from the world.”
I think it will also help them get into the mindset of a 2nd Generation Christian.
Further, hopefully it will inform the way they conduct their ministry. I hope to
encourage all of us to emphasize the gospel, to celebrate the gospel, and to pass
down the “pure” faith, not one cluttered with our preferences or methods.

You talk extensively in your book about “2nd Generation” Christians. What
exactly is a “2nd Generation Christian?

A 2nd Generation Christians is anyone who grew up in an evangelical home and
church environment and came to faith at a young age. So, it could be you come from
a long line Christians. Or it could be that your folks, like mine, were the first in their
family to come to faith and you are 2nd Generation.

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?

There is so much angst these days about kids leaving the faith. And it’s
amazing how almost everyone has glommed on to these statistics to advance
their pet idea. So you have folks saying we need no more youth groups,
because that’s what has ushered kids out the door. Others are saying we are
too political and that’s why kids are leaving. Some say we need to be more
vocal about the origin of the earth, others say we need to be less vocal.

But I think these are all just factors. And I’m not quite sure there is the
epidemic that some claim. I’ve read the work of Bradley Wright who has
debuked some of the alarmism.

But the bottom line, for me, is that kids struggle to keep their faith, not
necessarily because of a flaw in the system, but because of an old, dusty
doctrine called “original sin.” Even Christian kids in good, Christian
community wrestled with doubt, fear, and sin.

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?

This doctrine is so central to everything. For the parent, it dispels the
surprise when their kids suddenly engage in behaviors antithetical to their
family values. For kids who grow up in church, it relieves the pressure they
feel that they are to be perfect and forces them to fall in desperation on
Christ.

I remember growing up in church and being told, “After all you have been
taught, how could you do this?” I thought I was weird for having temptation.
But, the truth is that “all I’ve been taught” doesn’t eliminate my fleshly, sin
nature. Even Paul, years after he became a believer, admitted the struggle
with sin (Romans 7).

What words would you say to the young Christian who is turned off by his
church experience and considering abandoning God altogether?

I would first acknowledge the abuse they received and remind them that it’s not
right what happened to them. I would also caution them against painting the entire
church with the brush of their one experience. But furthermore, I would encourage
them with the truth that their experiences were not random acts, but God allowed

them to happen for a specific purpose. In other words, it was no accident they were
place in the family in which they were placed and the church they were placed. God
wants to use this pain and this experience to drive them to Himself. And, God may
use their experience as a catalyst for others who’ve been similarly hurt.

Lastly, I would challenge them with this: at the end of their lives, they will face
God. What will they say when giving account of their lives? That they could have
lived in relationship with God and lived for His glory, but they couldn’t get over the
hypocrisy and sin of the church of their youth? Don’t let someone’s sin keep you in
that prison.

What advice would you give parents, educators, teachers, pastors to help stem
the tide of kids leaving the church?

I would simply say this: keep the main thing the main thing. Celebrate the gospel
afresh. D.A. Carson said something like this, “What we emphasize and what we
celebrate is what we believe.” So there are many church environments where
the gospel is affirmed in creedal statements. And yet what is most important is
something other than Christ. It’s loyalty to the church or a political agenda or purity
before marriage. Those may be important things, but not as important as the gospel.

When kids get a glimpse of the beauty and the majesty and the all-encompassing
power of the gospel, they get excited. This is why Timothy “caught” the faith of his
mother and grandmother. They had “not insincere faith” (2 Timothy 2:5). The faith
that is contagious is faith that is real. So don’t clutter it up with your preferences,
your music styles, your denominational distinctives. Those are important, but not
primary.

I have certain preferences when it comes to church. But I have no doubt my children
will worship differently in their generation than I do. I have to be okay with that as
long as they have “the faith” (Jude 1:3).

Many young people who grow up in church sort of “push off” everything they
learn. But you counsel young Christians to avoid this trap. Why?

It’s sort of a feature of youth to reject everything your parents taught you. It’s part
of your finding your independence. Some of this is good. But, be careful to live a life
against your heritage. Because when you do this, you reject good things, wholesome
things, godly things. When you are forming your theological beliefs, don’t form them
in a reactionary mode. Dig into the Word of God and allow His spirit to form your
beliefs.

I see a lot of folks in my generation ride the pendulum. So, for instance, if their
parents were perhaps too involved in right-wing politics, they spring to the other
side the aisle and become just as partisan, only for left-wing causes. Or they do
this in parenting or in church philosophy or in theology. This is dangerous and

What about those like yourself who never “left” the faith, but experience
seasons of dryness and seeming spiritual lethargy? Are there practices and
steps they can take to revive their spiritual lives?

Yes, I was one of those guys. I never “left” but I my heart I left during many seasons.
I got really good at pretending I was good, dressing up, carrying my Bible (KJV!) a
certain way, and smiling in just a way so that people knew I was a serious Christian.

But underneath I was in a dry spiritual season. This happens with longtime
Christians. So what do we do? I think we first need to get back to the spiritual
disciplines. Pray and ask God’s Spirit to revive you’re Spirit.

You might also seek a less comfortable environment. So if you are attending the
church where you grew up, you may consider committing and joining a church
where nobody knows you and where your faith is not assumed. A place where you
might be challenged with new contexts.

You might also sign up for some radical service opportunity at your church or in the
community or overseas. Something that completely takes you from your comfort
zone and forces you to depend on the grace of God for any fruit.

I’d also encourage you to read widely. Read books from a variety of authors, folks
not in your denominational circle. Read biographies, histories, novels. Love God
with your mind.

You write that the church needs to “have grace for the churched” as well as
the unchurched. Why does it seem so hard for those who “know better” to find
grace?

Well we dump buckloads of grace on the unchurched. This is good. We want those
who are far from God to be objects of our love and come to faith in Christ. But quite
often we stop dispensing this grace. We expect a level of perfection, because “they
know better.” We are harsher with them than with new believers.

But Paul writes in Galatians 6:10 that we should reserve our greatest love for those
in the “household of faith.” The pastor’s kids, the elder’s kids, the deacon’s kids. The
Christian school kids or homeschool kids. The kids in the youth group. Give them
grace. Let them grow. Be patient with their slow process of sanctification. Encourage
them.

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