When Everything’s on Fire: A Conversation with Brian Zahnd

I don’t know if you’ve looked out the window recently but…it’s been quite the wild ride these past few years. Not just the pandemic, but a whole host of things has Christianity splitting apart at the seams as the culture wars claim their casualties and the terms “deconstruction” and “exvangelical” trend on Twitter. What are we to do when everything’s on fire? How do we deconstruct in a way that doesn’t demolish? How do we make the flames a refining fire and not a burning inferno? Those were the questions I had for Brian Zahnd, author of When Everything’s on Fire: Faith Forged from the Ashes, and his answers are nothing less than expected. Listen in.

The Conversation | Brian Zahnd

This transcript excerpt may be lightly edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full interview at the player above or wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Olds: In summary, what you’re saying is that deconstruction of a vapid, cultural form of Christianity is a good thing. It deserves to be deconstructed. The question is…what do you have left to reconstruct?

Brian Zahnd: I went through a very critical, important, deep reevaluation of my faith, beginning really in 2000, and then maybe picked up speed in 2004. So that I arrived with a very different way of thinking about Christian faith and practicing Christian faith than I had begun with—and I did it very publicly as the pastor of a large church, which made it interesting if nothing else. Deconstruction, especially if you’re not really familiar with it, can just sound an awful lot like destruction. As if we should approach our Christian faith with sticks of dynamite and a sledgehammer. And I would suggest that faith in Jesus Christ is far too precious, far too sacred to approach with that kind of high handed recklessness.

There are ways to jettison a whole bunch of toxic theology, but still hold on to Jesus. – Brian Zahnd

I would say, Look, we’re dealing with something very precious, you’ve got to be careful. Deconstruction is certainly not an end in itself. It’s a method. But it’s not a telos. It’s not a goal. It’s not where we want to end. I would prefer to talk about it like renovation, that we need to maybe renovate our theological house. And in the book, I talk about how your theological house is not a one room bungalow. It’s a sprawling mansion of many, many dozens of rooms. And so, in my own experience, there were some theological rooms that needed massive renovation, some that really didn’t need much at all, and maybe a few, like my eschatology—maybe the word deconstruction is pretty appropriate there.

And this is one of the problems with certain forms of fundamentalism, is that tends to tie everything together so tightly, that to rethink or even reject one aspect of Christian theology sometimes imperils the entire faith, as if, you know, if you can disprove one little aspect, the whole thing has to be rejected. And I would counsel against that kind of rashness. I think there are ways to jettison a whole bunch of toxic theology, but still hold on to Jesus. And that’s really what I’m trying to accomplish in this book.

 The Book | When Everything’s on Fire

When Everythings on FireIs it possible to hold on to faith in an age of unbelief?

Intellectual certainty has long been a cornerstone of the Christian faith. But in an age of secularism, skepticism, and cynicism, our worldviews have been shaken. Various solutions exist―some double down on certainty, while others deconstruct their faith until there is nothing left at all. But Brian Zahnd offers a third way: what is needed is not a demolition but instead a renovation of faith.

Written with personal and pastoral experience, Zahnd extends an invitation to move beyond the crisis of faith toward the journey of reconstruction. As the world rapidly changes in ways that feel incompatible with Christianity, When Everything’s on Fire provides much-needed hope. A stronger, more confident faith is possible when it is grounded in the beauty and truth of Christ. Zahnd permits us to risk the journey of deconstruction so that God can forge something more beautiful in its place.

The Author | Brian Zahnd

Brian ZahndBrian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. Brian is a passionate reader of theology and philosophy, an avid hiker and mountain climber, and authority on all things Bob Dylan. He and his wife, Peri, have three adult sons and five grandchildren.