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When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,964 ratings  ·  298 reviews
In the strange, us-versus-them Christian subculture of the 1990s, a person’s faith was measured by how many WWJD bracelets she wore and whether he had kissed dating goodbye.
Evangelical poster child Addie Zierman wore three bracelets asking what Jesus would do. She also led two Bible studies and listened exclusively to Christian music. She was on fire for God and unaware t
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by Convergent Books (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  1,964 ratings  ·  298 reviews

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Start your review of When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over
I want to start out by saying two very important things.

First, the book was well written. It was an easy read (you can read it in a day). She is an eloquent writer with good voice and paints a real picture about life in evangelical circles. The Christianese definitions for each chapter is a really nice touch.

Second, I don't want to discount anyone's story (but I think I might with this review). Everyone has a story and I want to respect that. I also don't want to undermine the seriousness of de
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was a revelation. And I say that in the true sense of the word. Where do I begin? First of all, it was scary. The similarities were so freaky, I could barely stop myself from yelling out loud while I was reading it. And I kind of want to read it again, to take notes or something.

I'm glad that Addie and her husband were able to work things out, but in the middle when things were uncertain and he was still churchy and she wasn't I kept thinking to myself, she's going to have to leave hi
Anne Bogel
Aug 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I might come back and give this one 5 stars, but I want to sit with it for a little longer before I do that. I only give 5 stars to excellent books that are life-changing, and this just might be one of them.

What I loved: I know the author through her blog, but this is not a blogger's book. It is a true memoir, not a collection of essays, and certainly not a padded, glammed-up collection of blog posts. And like the author, I grew up in the evangelical church and have a lot of baggage there--espec
Mar 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Well, here's the thing. I didn't really love this book. But then again, I read it in a span of less than 10 hours (and that included going to Chick-fil-a and Wednesday night prayer meeting in between; how's that for irony?)...

First of all, let me get out of the way the things I didn't like:

1. the language (sorry, I just still can't get behind an f-bomb, no matter how edgy I'm feeling)
2. her constant shifting between "you" and first person
3. the self-centeredness of it all. Lots of people have go
Memoirs of faith and doubt are of special interest to me (I wrote my Victorian Literature MA dissertation on women’s loss of faith narratives), so I had high hopes – and Zierman didn’t disappoint with this terrific debut about her disillusionment with evangelical Christianity and the process of moving from cynicism to a new kind of sustainable faith.

So much of Zierman’s story resonated with me. Like her, I was brought up in a strong Christian family (“born again” at the age of five) and spent my
Leigh Kramer
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
When We Were On Fire is stunningly crafted and full of grace. Our stories aren't exactly the same but my friend Addie and I both grew up in the evangelical subculture and we've both struggled to find our place in the church since then. You could take the same subculture and string together words that wound. Yet there are no bad guys here. This is real life and it's reflected throughout the memoir. It's gritty and sometimes the language is salty. By naming and honoring the dark parts, we let the ...more
L.K. Simonds
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Addie Zierman's memoir piqued my curiosity because lately I've heard people talk about a "Millennial migration" away from church-going. Millennials aren't the first generation to stumble over church culture. I know plenty of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who consider themselves spiritual but want nothing to do with "organized religion." I have my own experience too. Many years ago, when I first gave serious thought to following Christ, one of the challenges I had to work through was having to hang o ...more
Sep 09, 2018 rated it did not like it
I don’t want to be mean, because this is an earnest book from a real place about a thing I have gone through and so have many others in my life. So I will keep it to the very basics.

What I wanted: an earnest account of bizarro US teen evangelism in the 90s, with some meat. What drove the movements? How were they funded? How did they end or have they ended? Some bigger picture, with a narrative structure to support it.

Instead, this is a hyper personal account, from someone who had a relatively pr
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
At some moments as I read Zierman's words, I felt myself go rigid - YES, YES, that's exactly how I felt, I thought. As someone who is recovering from many of the wounds of her evangelical upbringing, this book gave me hope and perspective and a reminder that grace is extended to all. . . A great read.
May 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Remember WWJD bracelets? True Love Waits pledges? See You at the Pole events? If so, you may have grown up in the 90's.

While I didn't grow up in an Evangelical household I did grow up in those circles. I had a bracelet, signed a pledge, and probably would have seen you at the pole, had I not been homeschooled. I knew everything that Addie spoke of in the beginning of her book.

What I don't know is...what was the point? I either missed it entirely or there truly isn't one to the book. Don't get m
Michelle Weeks
Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography-memoir
I know memoirs are obviously about one's life, but this author was so self-absorbed, it was hard to get past that. And while she had legitimate complaints about the evangelical culture she was raised in, I believe she was better off being raised as she was than being raised without any faith. It just seems like blaming her religious culture was the easy way out rather than taking ownership of her decisions and choices. Still, it was a fairly well-written book and it kept my interest.
Sep 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2013
This is the story of an entire generation of people who were raised in the church and then found we had nothing of substance to hold on to when it didn’t work like we were told it was supposed to.

Full review here:
Ansley Gerhard
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I know I’m later to the Addie Zierman party but this book was excellent. I saw a bit of myself in the book, a young girl “on fire for Christ” only to find herself burnt out by her faith. May we keep creating beautiful things out of the rubble.
“Take the word saved as it is used in the evangelical vernacular. It’s true, you are saved by grace, by love, by light … but it’s only half the story. The truth is that there is so much that you’re not saved from. You are not saved from pain or loneliness
Emily Vander Ark
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Remember the 90s? Remember the tidal wave of cool that was flooding our churches, our youth groups, our prayers? Most of us do, in a vague, foggy kind of way. In this beautiful memoir, Addie Zierman writes about this era of Christianity with a candidness and a clarity that not only reminds us of what was going on, but puts into words the questions many have had, in hindsight, about what was really going on.

Starting off each chapter with a piece of “Christianese” (words Christians use that need t
Jan 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Our stories may not be the same, but I grew up in a wonderful Christian home in the very midst of the whole super-evangelical era too, so I can understand the joy and pain of it all. And eerily, the latter half of that phrase I just shared with you feels almost like a sobbing confession, rather than a proud admission. Don't get me wrong. I cling to my faith, not bound by title or tradition, tightly. I love Jesus, and His people. But I have definitely been hurt by my fair share of overly zealous ...more
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was a young mother at the time of which this book writes. In England, but we still had Psalty the singing song book and an ACE church school. By the time I feebly tried it on with 'I Kissed Dating Goodbye' my daughters laughed in my face. Phew.
I believe that there is an important spiritual dimension to humanity mostly denied by the public institutions and media of the northern hemisphere. I believe that the words of the bible are true and Jesus' evaluation of the condition of man is true. Bec
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christian, memoir
An outstanding memoir from Addie Zierman. Her experiences growing up in the evangelical church are on one hand very typical, and on the other hand completely unique to her. This mix of the very familiar with the personal made When We Were on Fire an engrossing and compelling read.

Addie's honesty in sharing her story removed any possibility of sugar coating her experiences and reactions to those experiences, but I found her story to be a mix of vulnerability, challenge, and inspiration. It caused
Oct 28, 2013 rated it liked it
This book spoke to me because I have an evangelical background. The story is quite similar to mine, minus a few things here and there. I thought the prose was unnecessarily flattering in some spots; it felt a bit too lyrical for some scenarios. I found myself thinking the author should have written a little more concisely and less poetic. However, the story felt believable and provoked empathy but as it wraps up there seems to be some back pedaling esoteric speak that confused me and had me wond ...more
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
Started strong, with the author painting an uncannily familiar portrait of being an evangelical teen in the 90s. I too had a boyfriend break up with me For The Lord! I too used the words "my walk with God" in a sentence unironically! But somewhere along the way, the writing got really flowery and dramatic & I just stopped finding her struggle all that sympathetic. The author dwells a LOT on her kind of semi-rebellion (she drinks and flirts!) but I would have much preferred to hear about how she ...more
Christie Purifoy
Oct 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written. She describes the religious landscape of my own childhood and adolescence, but I think this one will appeal to anyone interested in the vicissitudes of faith and doubt.
I especially appreciate Zierman's attention to the language of faith. Words have such power, especially religious words, but we can use them so unthinkingly, so reflexively. Her stories breathe nuance and complexity into old words and cliches.
Aug 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
This is probably going to be a dnf for me. I love religious memoirs; I don't mind mental illness memoirs. But this woman is utterly exhausting. For someone who complains about how isolating, judgmental and uncaring the Evangelical culture is, she spends a hell of a lot of time looking down her nose at everyone, including people who do nothing but try to be nice to her. Every little thing is a perceived slight or a reason for a passive-aggressive comment. Being depressed never brings out the best ...more
Justin Daniel
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
I think we've all been there: you spent too much time reading a book that you had so much hope for but didn't really care for in the end. Well, while I was browsing Facebook one afternoon, I stumbled upon a blog written by Mrs. Zierman called, "How to Talk to an Evangelical" (  This led me to her book, "When We Were on Fire" with that crazy long subtitle. It was only 7 dollars on Amazon, so I thought why not?

The book is just as it says: a memoir of this lady's life. It s
Rose Peterson
Sep 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Much of this book resonated with my childhood in the church, from events like SYATP and Awana to terminology like "walk" and "I'm feeling led..." I appreciated someone else making visible their grappling with an Evangelical upbringing, something that is often only written about with accolades, not examination.

I felt Zierman was a bit glib in her insights in the second half of the book, though. She consistently directed her angst at the people of the church without acknowledging that those people
S.T. Gibson
Aug 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
This is a visceral, bang-up memoir that shines light on the experience of growing up female in the evangelical 90s/aughts boom. I waited to read it until I felt like I had enough distance from my own childhood and young adulthood caught up in the throes of a socio-political movement that so deftly leveraged the earnestness of young people. I'm glad I did, because I was able to re-examine all these cultural phenomena and shared traumas a little bit more objectively. The book might feel a little d ...more
Elise Burger
May 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“your life after christ is not static or an end result. you are not suspended in grace above the fray of life. you are looking at god through a kaleidoscope. your life moves, and the beads shift, and something new emerges. you are defining. redefining. figuring it out all over again.

you are in motion, in transit, in flux. you will be sad. you will be happy. you will love and doubt and cry and rage, and all of it matters.

you are human, and you are beloved, and this is what it means to be alive.”
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Though Zierman is a few years my senior, I related to this on so many levels. At times funny and even at times emotional to the point of being a bit triggering, I gleaned so much from this reading (or in my case listening) experience. Ultimately, I was just comforted to know that I’m not the only one to have gone through these same experiences. And even more so, I’m happy to know that there’s a bit of hope on the other end of it.
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
A lyrical, immersive, and eminently relatable journey through the loneliest parts of early life. I thought I'd find this book interesting. I didn't expect to find it instructive in the craft of memoir writing. It was. As a writer, Zierman has a command of place and time that makes each wound--and moment of grace--feel immediate and fresh.
Derrick Harris
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed learning the author's story. She has had a unique experience but one that unfortunately mimics many others. I find myself constantly trying to navigate the mediocrity of "church people," just as she does. I wish her well and truly enjoyed learning her story!
Katie Allen
Apr 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this memoir! I grew up in the church around the same time period. And although my experiences were different, I could relate to a lot of things she went through.
Feb 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Having grown up in the evangelical world, gone through youth groups, rallies and missions trips - and with my personal faith journey changing and evolving still to this day - I was eager to dive into this memoir of an "evangelical survivor." After the first couple chapters, I was worried this would just be overtly critical and cynical without offering any real critique. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find it much more on the "show" side than "tell," taking the reader through the author's ...more
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Addie Zierman is a writer, blogger and fledgling speaker.

She has an MFA from Hamline University and is the author of WHEN WE WERE ON FIRE: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over, due out through Convergent Books on October 15, 2013 (and available for pre-order now!).

Addie is a Diet Coke enthusiast with terrible taste in TV and an endless pile of Books-To-Read. She lives in Min

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