Pastor/author Brian Zahnd’s newest book, When Everything’s on Fire: Faith Forged from the Ashes, joins a growing list of books aimed at those who find themselves in the process of “deconstruction” of their Christian faith, a list that includes such titles as Faith Unraveled and Searching for Sunday, by the late Rachel Held Evans, The Great Spiritual Migration and Faith After Doubt, by Brian McLaren, and many others. Pastor Zahnd doesn’t particularly care for the term deconstruction itself, but knows from first-hand experience that for some, theological deconstruction is a necessary journey that some Christ-followers must take in order to correct bad theology, or to revive a faith that has been damaged for any of a variety of reasons. (Zahnd’s own books, Water to Wine and Farewell to Mars document a bit of his own faith journey.)
Zahnd writes thoughtfully and sympathetically on this subject, having been through some “remodeling” of his spiritual/theological house, so to speak (a metaphor he develops in chapter 4), and he notes that it was a process in which some “rooms” had to be completely re-done, others needed minor touch-ups, and some were fine the way they were. Specifically, Zahnd mentions atonement theory, eschatology, and the theology of final judgment as areas that required a lot of revision, along with religious nationalism, Western individualism, and sectarian certitude.
Zahnd is compassionate toward those who have experienced crises of faith because of bad theology, or incorrect (but pervasive, in some quarters of the Church) ideas about hell, science or how the Bible should be used and understood. Stepping away from long-held assumptions and presuppositions can be difficult, and Zahnd gives helpful advice to those who are in the thick of this process, part of which consists in focusing on Jesus’ self-revelation as the foundation for faith, not the Bible. For many who were raised and discipled in the evangelical church (at least as it has been since the mid-20th century), this perspective can be a bit of a hard pill to swallow, which is one of the reasons that deconstruction can be so scary for Christians who were raised and discipled in the fundamentalist or conservative evangelical streams of the Christian faith.
Zahnd is smart, very well-read, and clearly conversant in both theology and philosophy, and has a keen eye for how these two worlds of thought intertwine–some of the concepts he discusses are weighty, but the book is accessible and engaging. Pastor Zahnd draws heavily on rich illustrations and compelling stories from literature and real life.
When Everything’s on Fire stands on its own, but it might be helpful for the reader to read some of Zahnd’s earlier books to a bit more context for his thoughts, such as the aforementioned Water to Wine and Farewell to Mars, and the more recent (and also highly recommended) Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.
Zahnd writes with both understanding and pastoral concern for those who have entered the murky waters of deconstruction, with the hope that the reader will lose neither heart nor faith, and will find hope, and faith revived, on the other side. He invites the reader to to believe that in spite of how much it may seem that things are coming apart at the seams, the journey is worth it. It’s going to be okay.