Addie Zierman’s memoir about growing up in evangelical culture, When We were on Fire, is extremely difficult for me to review because it hits so close to home. My own experience, growing up in an evangelical church and then serving as a youth pastor and senior pastor bears striking similarities to the stories she tells. I am a little more than a decade ahead of her. Much of what she experienced as a student in church youth groups I went through as a wet-behind-the-ears youth pastor. I remember “Acquire the Fire,” “True Love Waits,” and “See you at the Pole.” I did not get involved in all these things, but in some of them, I was taking youth groups through the programs the year they came out. I get where Addie is coming from.
I feel a deep sadness for her. Being an evangelical Christian can be so wonderful. It should be. I grew up as the virgin waiting for marriage. I was, the kid who may have laughed at the dirty jokes, but secretly blushed knowing God saw me laughing. I was the one in youth group who took “true love waits” seriously only to discover my friends in youth group were sleeping with each other.
Yet, I look back on it and my memories are extremely fond. Unlike the author, I became more evangelical as I grew up. I may have gone through seasons of sadness, but most of the time, I reacted by running to God, not from God. So I find the sections of the book disillusion and rebellion exceedingly sad. Her final section, redemption, left me feeling empty and disappointed.
The book also gave rise to a fear in me. I worry that some of the kids in youth groups I led from 1993-1999 may have fallen away as Addie Zierman did. She was always a believer, a Christian. But, she went through a painful, lost season. She came out of it thinking differently about Christianity. I fear that in my inexperience as a young pastor in the early ‘90’s, I may have led teens in a way that hurt them as much as she was hurt. I fear that I may have driven them away from God when I was trying to help them find Him.
Other readers will not the experiences I did that led me to be affected by When We were on Fire as I was. It is extremely well written. Her ability as a write empowers to make compelling experiences that are not particularly remarkable. Even though she is writing about stuff that is pretty normal for evangelicals, her ability to tell it makes it really good reading.
I don’t know how to recommend it. I don’t know how many stars to give it. She did some things that made me really mad. However, her writing about it is good, and for that reason, I’d recommend the book. But I recommend it warning you that if you are like me, you might not feel favorable toward the author. The pastor in me wants to care for and protect the author. The evangelical Christian in me who went through high school as an evangelical Christian is mad at the author because I was disillusioned by my Christian peers in high school, and it did not lead me where it led her. I conclude by saying I would read more of her stuff because she is a skilled communicator.
Disclaimer - I received this book for free from WaterBrookMultnomah Publishing Group for this review.