The Prodigal Cynics

A recent Christian Post article featured a new author and her forthcoming book, When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over, by Addie Zierman.

The author is 30 years old, a mother of two, and a self-described former church “cynic”. She was raised in an evangelical church, participated strongly throughout her childhood, and it appears that in college she ran into some problems personally, and with the church. The article didn’t give much more information, other than to say after a long journey, she came back “home” (began going to church again), so I went to her blog.

Mrs. Zierman and I have a lot in common. We come from the same generation, are in fact the same age, have children, and have struggled with church. She writes much about the lack of true community and transparency in many churches, an issue close to my own heart. Still, I have some serious concerns about this Christian author.

For starters, I wish she wouldn’t use the term “we” when describing her faith journey. She and I don’t have everything in common, after all, and I am perfectly able to speak for myself. One of her underlying assumptions (that maybe she doesn’t even realize) seems to be that only true Christians go to church. This is a manipulative and frustrating assumption that I have dealt with elsewhere in Back to Church?

“Southern comfort” by Loura Lawrence, Developing Focus Photography

Me, Myself, and I

Another insinuation that pops up again and again in her writing, is that while faith journeys are messy (because learning is messy) and this is a good thing, at some point you must be honest and recognize that you are hard, sharp, selfish, and angry (I could add “rebellious”) and need to be healed (1). In other words, if you don’t like going to church it is because there is something wrong with you. In one post, she describes our “Generation Me” as “narcissistic and entitled and easily bored” (2). Those are human traits, not generational ones. I also don’t like the phrase, “we’ll find our way home” (3). Perhaps she sees herself as a prodigal, but I do not feel likewise.

I have not “fallen away”, despite my lack of church attendance. Those who know me call me a “Bible thumper”. I know what I am looking for in a church, and it isn’t someone to fight for me, neither is it a new spin on the Bible, or new programs, opportunities, self-help, sound and light shows, or phenomenal leadership. I’m not looking to be impressed, or for someone to assuage my boredom. I’m just looking for real friendship among those who embrace Scripture.

Mrs. Zierman writes that she wanted “healing” to be able to “feel” and hear God again. My spouse has regaled me with many a story about the charismatic churches he was raised in, which espoused the belief that if you “can’t feel God”, there “must” be something wrong with you, like sin. I suspect that Mrs. Zierman doesn’t even see that this is not a Biblical concept, it is so ingrained in those who attend charismatic churches. Rather than trying to “feel His presence”, all you have to do to hear Him and understand Him, is open up a Bible and read.

She has a definite mystic bent in her words, saying she heard “the heart of God” at the same time she heard her son’s heartbeat in the womb (1). In another post she writes,

“The ground spreads wide and uneven beneath me, and all of it is holy. The dew drop is suspended at the edge of the railing. Wonder is the choice to look closer and closer. To stay until the dew becomes a universe, and your heart lurches when you recognize the holy center: the wild love of God.” (2)

That’s poetic, but not Biblical. I really want to like this book, but ultimately all I see is another Ann Voscamp piece, full of adjectives and relatable anecdotes and not much else. “Suds glisten”, writes Voscamp.


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