A Father's Day Conversation with Stuart and Cameron McAllister
This father-son duo discuss key lessons learned from fatherhood.
What does it mean to be a father? What does the gospel have to say to dads who are fearful, anxious, scared, or overwhelmed? Stuart and Cameron McAllister talk through being fathers, key memories from their father-son relationship, and some of the most important lessons they've learned along the way.
Stuart and Cameron address this topic more in their forthcoming book, Faith that Lasts: A Father and Son on Cultivating Lifelong Belief, available in January 2021. In Faith that Lasts, the McAllisters reflect on their own experiences of coming to Christian faith—Stuart from a life of crime on the streets of Glasgow, and Cameron in the context of a loving Christian home.
- Happy father's day
- Happy father's day, dad.
- Who would imagine, we'd ever be here doing, or having a conversation like this?
- It is kind of odd. I think that there were a few years there, where it was pretty clear in my mind, at least I was gonna be doing something very different from you. Certainly not ministry side-by-side.
- It takes me back to the whole thing of what does it mean to be a father or becoming one, and certainly as a Christian father one of the challenges I always had in my mind was when I became a Christian and I realized that, I was now a father and I had responsibilities. I struggled so much with the idea of all the heritage that I brought with me. 'Cause in my home growing up, as you know, in Scotland with my parents and my particular background, there was always a fear that anger and violence that I had experienced would somehow come into my home and I would use that. How would I as a father then raise children and instruct them in Christianity. I realized that the heart of the whole thing, was really the question of how do you win someone? How could I win my children specifically, you and Katherine, but you as my son, to the faith so that you would become a true believer. Someone who loved God, but not someone who just had a religious orientation. That was a real fear in my life.
- It's interesting you used the word fear. So I would say that as you and I have been on the road we've spoken and we've met many dads, overwhelmingly my experience has been that I meet a lot of dads who are sad, scared, and overwhelmed when it comes to their children. This is really one of the big reasons why I think you and I first had the idea of working on a book together in the first place, that talked about what a Christian household actually looks like or what a household shaped by Christ and his story looks like. But I think pushing past fear and anxiety and having that dominate kind of your approach. I think that was sort of the beginning seeds of thinking about it for me. And of course, so in the beginning of the book, we look at three dangerous myths that are pretty prevalent in a lot of Christian households, that fear protects, information saves, and finally spiritual education belongs to experts.
- Yeah and that was a very important thing for me because I remember, and you and I talked through this, that the question like the scripture tells us that "With the heart man believes resulting in righteousness." And then I was always drawn to the fact that in Proverbs "Guard your heart with all diligence "For from it flow the issues of life." One of the questions I wasn't really sure was, how could I become a father to you? And how could raise the kids in a sense where I would guard your heart. So in other words, as we were going into that, I was looking for models of being a father. How can I be a parent? How can I raise? We were living in Vienna, Austria. We were missionaries working behind the iron curtain at that point, and then we moved into the wider European scene. But the question was also the cultural challenges of raising kids, how to form you. And the models I got was that fear was a controlling factor. It should somehow not deliberately scare you into but to control you and then find lots of facts and information and give you all this, data. And then if not, then hand you over to Youth for Christ or someone else who would, raise you the way you're supposed to be raised.
- You notice how, fear protects, information saves spiritual education belongs to experts. All three of these revolve around the notion of controlling your kids. So fear protects, seeks to protect your certain control behavior. Information saves, wants to control thought in the mind. I think by the way, in apologetic circles, that one can be a particular temptation.
- And I think so.
- And then finally, if you encounter as a mom or a dad, insurmountable problems stuff that you just think you can't fix, then hand it over to the experts.
- There's a key issue to me, and I think that's a good thing for us to talk about was the big challenge I really wanted us to get was how to communicate. Because I think so much, not just as fathers, generically, but fathers and sons, and particularly in a Christian family, there's levels of superficiality. We hide from each other. How do you handle the authority issue? So I'm in charge and I'm giving you instructions. But on the other hand, I also know that you could learn to masquerade and hide from me. So I think one of the central questions came when we moved to the United States. One of my big fears began to be realized because mom and I had worked hard to try to teach the scriptures, to open us up to culture and cultural realities, to take any questions and so forth. But then the seduction of life was there where you could have the appearance of being a Christian, but not one in heart. And then when it came to now talking about things, if I was challenging you, initially there was like, when especially you became a teen, there were those couple there's one incident in particular, I remember where, you were pushing back at me in a team. And I really got hot. I remember getting so angry that I got up pointing your face saying, "Don't ever talk to her like that again," went downstairs and mom was all,
- Our mom was
- Yes, I thought you might remember that.
- Yes, the referee.
- You know what's very true of the United States where the influence of Christianity, even regardless of the state of culture, the influence of Christianity in North America is still quite strong, and many people still go to church on Sundays, but that comes with some disadvantages as well. And one of them is that it is perfectly possible to master the discourse of Christianity. You could score, you'd get an A on a theology exam. You could know your doctrine, but of course you can do all those things and have a heart that doesn't belong to Christ. And that's what you were picking up. So I may have had great teaching available to me, but what you do with what you know is often a very interesting question.
- That's what brought me to An incident that we actually mentioned in the book, it becomes a pivotal point because I had tried communicating it with you. And we had talked and I thought we generally had a fairly good relationship. Sometimes when we couldn't talk, I would write you letters and slip them under the door, then you would often come right down the stairs and say, "dad" and we'd find it was a way to deescalate and get as a chance to talk. But there was a particular season you were in your dark going to be the heavy metal screaming against the world howling against the darkness thing. Mom and I had been talking about the music and all this kind of stuff that you were interested in. But you had been going at that thing with mom a little bit and I was gonna build it up, how could I talk to you? So you come down the stairs one morning, I'm sitting at the table. And the question I was trying to get to you was I said, "So Cameron, can I ask you a question?" And you go, "What is it dad?"
- It was six in the morning.
- All right well 6:30 I had been thinking about this. And I said, "What makes you think you're a Christian?" And it wasn't a question about cognitive, that wasn't what I was trying.
- But you, how did you receive that? Cause that was quite, an interesting--
- It was the last question I wanted at that point. In fact, and I realized subsequently that that was the question that I was trying to push away as much as possible, because what you were doing was basically forcing me to confront the fact that I was living as a hypocrite. Because I was doing the typically, American spin on the gospel. Where I would give lip service to the gospel, I would say I believed in God. I would say I was surrendered to Christ, but then I did whatever I wanted. And, we talk about this in the book, but, we talk about Craig M. Gay's really helpful phrase, practical atheism. Where basically, you say you're a Christian and you go to church, you maybe go to a conference or two and listen to a riveting sermon. But then you go back to the real world and you live as though God doesn't exist because you live-
- Sort of dualism, it's a split personality a bit.
- It's the kinda split personality thing. And that was me. And I knew it but I was able to fill my life with so many distractions that I didn't have to confront it. But you asked a question that went right to the heart of the matter. Because, you weren't interested in the information in my head at that point, you were interested in whether my heart was actually surrendered.
- The challenge I think, for being a father and you're now a father yourself.
- That's right.
- With a little one. Was not just building a, kind of a Christian teaching zone where it was like an information household with books and inferred facts and we're constantly trying. But we really need to think about having a culture in which love truth, honesty, and communication were at the heart.
- But that God was not incidental to the Lordship of Christ applied to the fathers and to the kids. We had to be accountable, we had to be honest, we had to be open and we had to be real searching for, true spirituality within the home. And I mean, I'll just say this, if there is one thing that people will take away from this book, which is called "Faith That Lasts: A Father and Son on Cultivating Lifelong Belief." If there's one thing to take away, it would be this. If you as a mom and a dad, and you as a dad in particular, 'cause we're talking about Father's Day. If you are living a life, completely surrendered to Christ, you love Him with all your heart, your mind, your soul, and your strength, then that will shape everything that you do. That will characterize the whole shape of your life. And your kids can't miss it. Even if they want to. And you can take it from me, I really wanted to miss it. Especially in those years when you asked me that question, but here's the thing. You know this, you weren't a perfect dad, but you truly belonged to Christ. And I didn't miss it. I saw that in everything that you did. You didn't do me the courtesy of being a hypocrite. Or being inconsistent, that would have been easy. I saw that you actually believed what you believed and I tell you what? It made all the difference.
- Well I think, as we're thinking of other fathers that may be watching and listening, I kept thinking, what is this often missing? In the conversations we had. I love Dallas Willard's thing, when he talks about, the pathway to change and he uses that VIM vision, intention and means, and I think this is so important 'Cause I think there's a lot of dads checkout. The moms maybe the spiritual one, maybe the mother or the grandmother, someone in the family and the guy fits in. But I'm the provider, I make the money, I do the job. I'm the rule keeper, If you like, I'm the sheriff, those types of models rather than I am the spiritual head. And I don't mean that in some kind of a mystical kind of sense, but if I... God has given me kids and given me a family, I'm a father, I have a responsibility. I have a stewardship under God, and I need to have a vision for what being a father means, but I need to have an intentionality. This is my responsibility. I need to step up to the plate in this. And I think I'd love to see that as you've done that in your home now, but also the means, how do we go about that? how do we bring prayer? How do we bring truth? How do we bring honesty and love and security into the home, keep it there, and nurture it. And the father takes responsibility for that. I love seeing that now you're with your kids and hope that some way we're able to pass some of that along.
- I think so, it's wonderful and intensely challenging and frightening when the tables turn. And so I'm seeing so much of our past conversations in a whole new light at this point. But I think as we kind of reflect on this Father's Day, it's helpful for me to remember that being a dad is a calling from the Lord and we have the children that we have not on accident, but they are gifts from our Lord. And I learned so much about the stewardship of our children, but also to see them from the standpoint of really thinking about their hearts, rather than just purely their heads and their behavior. And I learned that from you. So I'm intensely grateful and humbled to be your friend, working with you and ministering alongside you.
- As I began I said, "Who would have imagined "That we'd be sitting here "In the United States in the same ministry "Doing the same thing, both fathers with kids." It's been an honor son and I'm really grateful to serve Christ together with you and just to say again to you, Happy Father's Day.
- Happy Father's Day.