I finished Dan Darling's book Real: Owning Your Christian Faith (© 2012 by New Hope Publishers) this week. I don't remember why or how I got it, (it may have been free on kindle at some point) but I'm glad I did. This is a great book for believers to read. It's intended audience is second generation believers, but it has practical applications for a much wider audience. Darling does a great job weaving this book together. His four main themes aren't just in one chapter each, but throughout. He starts out the book with a simple yet profound statement in the introduction, there is great joy in learning (or doing) something new. Unfortunately, that joy fades (quickly in most cases). He spends the next 12 chapters dealing with that premise as it relates to: knowledge, heart, gospel, and leaders.
What I've seen in the students I minister to who grow up in the church, as well as my own kids who are growing up in the church is what Darling addresses throughout the book; the fact that there is a difference between having biblical knowledge and applying it in a sin soaked world. Because of this reality, Darling suggests that these types of kids need an environment where they can ask honest, intellectual questions about faith, where they are struggling, and where they doubt. This is not the typical experience of these students. Usually they are either shut down or get an answer that is unsatisfactory. In that kind of environment they may conform outwardly, but inwardly be experiencing emptiness. This is why the author suggests that a curious faith is a healthy faith.
Therefore, we have to move beyond just filling these students with knowledge. The aim of our teaching must be the heart. Darling says what others have been saying for a long time, knowledge alone doesn't save, that we must get to the heart. The message we teach must be responded to on an individualistic basis. We have a tendency to assume that if the knowledge is there, that faith is there also. When trying to pass faith from one generation to another we can't assume it is going to be automatic. Believers can't be mass-produced, they must be hand crafted. This means that we treat each student as an individual, not a project. Each of them has unique weaknesses and challenges.
The only thing that can affect the heart for change is the message of the gospel. Real change doesn't happen apart from the gospel. It's a message for all, believers and unbelievers. God's plan was never to steer us away from this message, only deeper into it. Students need to see their own brokenness and need for a Savior; so that they can learn from their failures (or ours as leaders who often times seem to be overprotective).
These same students need to see that the gospel is a rebellion against their rebellion. It's an all out assault on the disobedience of a world caught in sin. They aren't just being saved from something but the gospel message calls us to something.
The gospel is both a finished work in Christ, and an ongoing work empowering the new life within. This gospel helps us view discipline as a grace, that points us to deeper intimacy with Jesus.
By this term the author means those who have influence on these students: parents, pastors, and leaders of students (children's / youth ministry). Their job is pass on a spiritual heritage. We need to do the hard work of "passing the baton" to the next generation. This is done in several ways according to Darling. We need to be growing in gospel grace as well. We need to realize that our words and affirmations carry significant weight. We also need to stop acting like we have it all figured out. We need to acknowledge our own sin (especially when it's against those we lead). We do this by humbly walking day by day in dependence on the Savior for strength and wisdom.
Conclusion & Recommendation
As a parent and pastor, I needed the message of this book to remind me to keep my eye on the ball. I need to keep the main thing (the gospel message) the main thing. I need to focus on the heart of my kids as well as those I teach, not their behavior.
I would recommend this book to parents. Your children will face different challenges than you did growing up in the faith. Help them individually. Help them see Jesus. This book can help avoid some of the common pitfalls.
I would also recommend this book to pastors, lead pastors, youth pastors, children's pastors, all pastors. This book is a helpful reminder for them when you are crafting your sermons or lessons. Keep the ultimate thing in that spot, and add the good things to it, not the other way around.