When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over, Addie Zierman

I think we’ve all been there: you spent too much time reading a book that you had so much hope for but didn’t really care for in the end. Well, while I was browsing Facebook one afternoon, I stumbled upon a blog written by Mrs. Zierman called, “How to Talk to an Evangelical” (http://addiezierman.com).  This led me to her book, “When We Were on Fire” with that crazy long subtitle. It was only 7 dollars on Amazon, so I thought why not?

The book is just as it says: a memoir of this lady’s life. It starts out as a person reminiscing about a typical 1990’s evangelical childhood, one that I can fully sympathize with: See You at the Pole Rally, Awana, Psalty that big blue Bible that sang songs, etc. She makes a few good points early on: how commercial Evangelicalism has become (or was), how you could order everything out of a Bible book store catalog among other things. But there was always a sense of cynicism towards Christianity in her thoughts: for example, at the beginning of each chapter there is a definition of an Evangelical term that is brutally misrepresented, like “born again” which traces itself back to John 3, and is not typically Evangelical but Biblical.

As her life moves on, she talks about a love affair with a “missionary” boy, a boy (notice: not man) who wants her to be spiritual as “spiritual” as he is. She deals with again, some good points: the fact that sometimes people want to be seen as hyper-spiritual, even legalistic, when they are not authentic. After getting married to a man in college, she begins a downward slide into alcoholism and depression but returns to a “normal” life after months of therapy and begins to attend Church again after a long departure.

Somethings I disagree with:

1) The consistent erroneous ecclesiology. Throughout the book, the Church is displayed in a negative light, most often from the hypocritical people inside the Church. She displays modern Evangelicals as consuming, hyper-spiritual, cliche Bible-thumpers who don’t care about people (in certain circles at least). Her view of the Church seems to have an emphasis on receiving. In one section, she says,

“When the pastor begins his sermon, I page through the church bulletin, trying to get a sense of the church’s ministries. The flow of its resources and attention. I am looking, specifically, for what they have to offer us: Married, in our early twenties, without kids. I am looking for a kind of instant community. A kind of magic. I am looking for Our People- the ones who will become our dearest friends. The ones who will get us immediately the second we meet.”

Obviously, this is the wrong motive of pursuing Church. Yes, community is essential to the Christian life. Yes, the Church does offer people all those things and more. But don’t for a second think that the primary purpose of the Church is to serve you. Equally as important is that you serve the Church. Notice there was no emphasis on the teaching, just what programs and ministries can serve you. Does that seem inconsistent?

2) The Church is two-fold. Firstly, it is the universal body of believers, those who are in Christ, who are brought into the kingdom of God and who live like brothers and sisters in that body. Secondly, the Church is the local body of believers that engage in community and fellowship. True, the Church doesn’t always have to be in a “building” per say, but the idea that the body of Christ is more important than the Church is not accurate: they are both important. The idea one gets when reading through some of the things Mr. Zierman thinks about the Church displays, again, a false eccelisiology:

“‘But we are the Church,’ Andrew said. This is one of his favorite biblical truths, this idea of church as a moveable feast, an ever-present community-church not as a place you go to, with walls and crosses and long rows of pews, but as something that happens spontaneously when two or three Christians are gathered together in one location.”

If that was true, then why go to Church at all when you can just meet with believers outside of the institution? Jesus said “Love your wife as I have loved the Church,” therefore it is important and we should note the distinction of the two.

3) At the end, she finds a Church to her liking. She describes it:

“At Grace Community Church, they are raising money to start a counseling center, so they can help those who cannot afford therapy get to the bottom of their bottomless darkness… They are building wells so that clean water flows from the dry, cracked earth. They are providing oil changes to single mothers, free of charge. They are looking at the world that is shifting, these people in this church. They are clunking along the best they can, trying their damnedest to shift alongside it.”

This description is void of things that should be more primary: how is the teaching? What small groups are available? What doctrinal positions do they hold to? This brings me to my next point: While I think books like Amos detail the horrors of when Israel failed to be socially minded, on the flip-side, when the Church is only socially minded, it will never represent the true Gospel. The social Gospel is noble: feeding the homeless, being active in the community, all things that I am 100% for. But when we bypass doctrine and theology for love, we miss an essential part of the Gospel. Dr. John MacArthur said,

“We all know how young people are interested in social justice, and how Christianity…even evangelical Christianity non-Charismatic has turned away from the gospel. Why has it turned away from the gospel? If you go to a place that’s been through a difficult time, you go to New Orleans after a hurricane, or whatever, and you start reaching out to people, if you go and sit them down and say, “Let me tell you why you need to come to Jesus Christ because you’re a sinner,” and you go through the gospel. What kind of reception are you going to get? You’ll probably going to run out of the house, it’s going to be very difficult, people aren’t going to buy in. But show up with food, show up with clothes, they will love you. They will embrace you and say you’re doing this in the name of Jesus. That kind of stuff is easy.”

I could say more but I think that is enough. Most disappointing for me, was the book went through this long process to describe how heartbreaking the Church was for this woman and in the end, it didn’t seem like anything was better. It seemed like there was still bitterness for past hurts and not enough emphasis on what is truly important in the Church.

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