Brian Zahnd is a pastor of a large church that helped to start more than 20 years ago. I first read his book Beauty will Save the World (about the beauty and mystery of Christianity) about four years ago. Then two years ago I read A Farewell to Mars (about his movement toward peace, he does not like the term pacifism because of its political connotations).
Earlier this year Zahnd published Water to Wine, a very autobiographical look at how he found a fuller understanding of Christianity when he embraced the historic and sacramental nature of the Christian church. Zahnd is about 10 years older than I am and a pastor. But he is putting to words what I, and I think many others, are feeling. The evangelical or charismatic church that has lost its connection to the historic church and the church’s historic practices of the sacraments is a church that has lost its grounding.
Zahnd is careful in his book. He is not minimizing his history or how the church has helped many come to faith. But he is saying that for him, his faith needed something else in order to move to a more mature faith. Part of the difficulty here is talking about Christian maturity in a way that does not minimize people’s faith that are on their way to maturity but not there yet.
In many ways I think that Zahnd is more successful in Water to Wine than Richard Rohr is in Falling Upward. Rohr in Falling Upward seems to fall into cliché and overly simplistic language to describe what maturity in faith is like. Zahnd is more grounded because he uses his own story. There still can be a misreading of this type of book as too prescriptive. Zahnd, I don’t believe is telling the reader that in order to be mature, the reader should do what Zahnd has done. Instead he is pointing toward a goal (Christian Maturity) and showing how Zahnd is himself working on that goal.
There are real struggles here. Because Zahnd is a pastor, he has real restrictions in how he can publicly struggle in faith and spiritual growth. He can move theologically and in Christian maturity but he has to do it while leading a church that is not necessarily moving at the same rate of change as he is. This quote, which is toward the end of the book and in context of a discussion about this church I think is both true and a great takeaway from the book.
“As long as our churches are led by those who view being a Christian primarily as a kind of conferred status instead of a lifelong journey, and view faith as a form of static certitude instead of an ongoing orientation of the soul toward God, I see little hope that we can build the kind of churches that can produce mature believers in any significant numbers.”