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OUT OF THE EMBERS:
FAITH AFTER THE GREAT DECONSTRUCTION
by Bradley Jersak
foreword by Brian Zahnd
Deconstruction: Trendy brand name for falling away from belief in God? Or a process essential to authentic faith?
Liberation or trauma? Prison break or exile?
It’s complicated. Just like you.
Christian history records a Great Reformation and a Great Awakening. But today’s “Great Deconstruction” will surely leave an equally profound impact.
In Out of the Embers, Bradley Jersak explores the necessity, perils, and possibilities of the Great Deconstruction—how it has the potential to either sabotage our communion with God or infuse it with the breath of life, the light and life of Christ himself.
In this collection of vulnerable memoirs, philosophical memos, and candid provocations, Jersak resists both the hand-wringing urge to corral stray sheep and the exultant desire to play the happy-clappy Ex-vangelical cheerleader. He employs the wisdom and expertise of the great deconstructionists—Christianity’s ancient influences (Moses, Plato, Paul, and the Patristics), “beloved frenemies” (from Voltaire to Nietzsche), and the masters of deconstruction (Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, and Weil)—to double down and deconstruct deconstruction itself.
Where is faith after deconstruction? The author’s heart is to engage and empathize with the bereft and disoriented, stoking the brittle ashes for live embers. In this quest for the resilient gospel of the martyrs, the marginal, and those outside the threshold…inexplicably, in this liminal space, life stirs. A Light shines through the ashes. We find, often for the first time, that living connection Jersak calls “presence in communion.”
There is a sea change occurring across the Western church and civilization. Whether we’re watching a radical course correction or a complete collapse remains to be seen, and how it pans out will likely depend on how we see what’s happening, who we are becoming, how we live in response—and, most important, where we find Christ situated in this storm.
In a day when the answer seems to be: “Burn it all down,” Bradley Jersak calls to us from the ashes of ruin with the attentiveness and compassion of the Good Samaritan, tending to and providing for a stranger in need. Out of the Embers reassures that deconstruction is not merely for the purpose of destruction, but unlike many Christian texts of old, it does not attempt to fill in all the blanks or flood us with certitude.
In this seminal work, Brad comes to us as a fellow wayfarer, a sojourner who is questioning, seeking, and anchored. And from that deeply rooted place, with the voices of sages from eras past, Out of the Embers is written as a companion for fellow seekers, a guide for the questioners and calls us in to turn once again to the One who loves, to the One who leads, the One who makes all things new. What will we be after the coal of the refiner’s fire has touched our lips? Out of the Embers leaves us hopeful.
Author, Truth Encounters
This is a wise and creative book. And despite the fact that Brad’s wisdom was clearly hard-won, he has not been hardened by the gaining of it. Tender, personal, he is nonetheless also often fierce, never shying away into shibboleths or truisms or abstractions. His is a faith of fever and tears, a faith in a God with wounds. So, he writes with consummate “touch” about the pains of believing and doubting, finding and losing the way. Just so, he fulfills his calling and helps us answer our own, renewing our confidence in old wisdoms, proven true over time, and reminding us that the Spirit is creating a fresh wisdom in and for us here-and-now—a wisdom, believe it or not, formed in our wrestlings with God.
Dr. Chris Green
Professor of Public Theology at Southeastern University (Lakeland, FL)
Director for St Anthony Institute of Theology, Philosophy, and Liturgics
Revelation is Deconstruction, not the revelation of that which lacks but that which is True. Like the burning bush, the deadwood is being destroyed allowing for the emergence of that which has always been present, only hidden but now visible and attractive by its nature. This is the journey that Brad Jersak escorts us through, where the intent of love is never wonton havoc but the tender Doula’s work, the Holy Spirit overseeing the birthing of true life. Afterall, only the ashes make it through the flames and from the ashes, beauty.
Wm. Paul Young
Author, The Shack and Lies We Believe About God
Finally, someone has written what I think will be the textbook on the deconstruction of belief, and it’s Brad Jersak. I appreciate Jersak’s thorough and caring contribution to this important discussion and urgent reality.
Author, Questions Are the Answer and Til Doubts Do Us Part
When we experience the inevitable widening of our understanding of and identity in God, of the Scriptures, and of our way of being in God’s beloved, broken world, sometimes it feels more like an exploding grenade rather than an expansive invitation. Yet we need love’s widening, especially when we religious folks think we don’t. (Note who disliked Jesus and his message enough to make sure he died instead of their old beliefs.) We also need wise, pastoral, knowledgeable, hope-oriented guides, who can help clear the smoke, remove the rubble, bind the wounds, and redirect our gaze on Jesus who hides our lives with his own in God amidst the shakeup. With this book and the historical companions chosen to help us, Bradley Jersak is that transparent, trustworthy guide (who also brings experience in compassionate triage) to help us examine the unexamined “knowledge” to which we cling so that it might be released and surpassed by God’s love.
Dr. Cherith Fee Nordling
Faculty, Masters in Leadership, Theology and Society
Regent College, Vancouver
“The Great Deconstruction is not just a two-year lockdown or four-year election cycle,” writes Jersak, “it’s a great historic tradition.” However, the author insists we are neither bereft of reliable guides nor real agency. From Moses, through Jesus, to modern profits like Simone veil, Out of the Embers mercifully recollects for us the sages and seers who have “charted the way… and left memos of their work.”
Out of the Embers is a most wise, kind, and timely gift for those of us whose very faith has been traumatized by the tumult of our age.
Juno Award-winning Singer-Songwriter-Musician
If there is still a way forward into faith and mystery, then there have been many who have passed through cultural moments like our own and have lived to tell the tale. Linking arms with Voltaire, Weil, Tolstoy, Nietzsche, and John of the Cross, Brad opens a way to faith after having passed through the purifying fires of modernity. There can indeed be a second naivete, a return to childlike wonder after disillusionment. Deconstruction does not have to be an end, but can be a gracious iconoclasm that returns us to God, ourselves, and even God’s scandalous GPS on earth: the church.
Dr. Julie Canlis
Author of A Theology of the Ordinary
Too much of what passes for contemporary Christianity deserves to be burnt to the ground (then steamrolled). Amid the fiery embers, scorched treasures remain, ablaze with the authentic experience of the life of God in human flesh. Here Bradley Jersak is our wise guide to the ever-salvageable way of Jesus. As the fire of deconstruction burnt through Bradley, he found a company who had been through the fire in ages and centuries past—(hint: deconstruction isn’t new)—and bonded with present-day companions who continue to walk through the flames with him. What they have seen, and heard, and what their hands have touched in the midst of the furnace of existence is the human God, whose co-suffering love never fails.
Fr. Kenneth Tanner
Church of the Holy Redeemer
Rochester Hills, MI
With a theologian’s keen insight and a pastor’s heart of compassion, Dr. Bradley Jersak provides us with a pathway through the maze of deconstruction. Anyone in the midst of a painful deconstruction of their faith will appreciate Bradley’s overflowing and merciful empathy. In Out of the Embers, he leads us through honest questions and genuine pain, taking us safely to the arms of Jesus on the other side.
I love how Bradley gently and lovingly shows us that the ultimate answer isn’t found in a move away from Christ or the Holy Scriptures or even the community of faith known as the church. Rather, he humbly asks us to consider a healthy deconstruction—the appropriate abandonment of counterfeits and obstacles, and a holy pursuit of the real thing. In that sense, he wonders if we shouldn’t instead embark on more of a restoration project: the restoration of the masterpiece which is Jesus Christ and the good news of God’s love in and through him.
Amazing Grace Church, Denver
Bradley Jersak offers an encyclopedic tome that engages the mind and heart with timely urgency. He deftly interweaves spiritual theology, philosophy, and history, with self-disclosure, and ecclesial and cultural commentary. What emerges Out of the Embers is an unconventional guidebook in faith formation—what I term continuous Christian conversion—that shows us how to surrender our defective and toxic God constructs, attachments, and ecclesiologies to truly follow, obey, and trust the crucified and resurrected King Jesus. Bradley’s goal is to help us navigate the unsettling pathway of deconstruction to experience God’s living love and light—his presence in communion.
Dr. Roger Helland
Pastor, Professor, and Prayer Leader
Author, The Kavod of God, The Devout Life, Missional Spirituality, and Magnificent Surrender
This is a very deep, thought-provoking book, but at that same time, not a difficult read. It asks profound questions about our walk with God. I felt as if I was in conversation with the prophets, helping me focus on Christ my Savior, healer, and forgiver of my sin. In fact, it almost felt like a Socratic-learning opportunity with Christ himself. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to read Out of the Embers. Praise be to God!
Fr. Leonard Herrem
Therapist and Parish Priest
Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, Saskatoon
What I love about Brad’s book Out of the Embers, is not only its timely message of reconstruction, shaped so significantly by his own personal crisis and journey, but I also love Brad’s passion; his relentless desire for others to come to know this God who walks every step of the journey in and with us. Thank you Brad.
Open Table / Northwest School of Theology
With his uniquely engaging style––jarring honesty, wit, insight and compassion––Brad has written a book that challenges the way we look outwardly at deconstruction in the church and society, and leads us into an inward journey of the heart. While the deconstruction debate seems so current, Brad shows that from Moses until our day, it has always been with us. Both individually and corporately, like it or not, we are on a journey of death and resurrection because this is how God moves. Out of the Embers calls to step beyond our fear and insecurity to embrace the cruciform life of the Jesus Way. An outstanding book of vital importance for our time.
Faith deconstruction (or renovation, the term I prefer) requires a pastoral sensitivity, empathetic ear, and breadth of experience and wisdom to ensure that we don’t succumb to the extreme pendulum swings and idolatrous ideologies with which such a disillusioning process can tempt us. Bradley Jersak is, for my money, by far the most trusted voice on this subject, having lived through the traumas and stepped into the hopeful vistas of a genuine renovation of his faith that can often feel as frightening and exhilarating as building an airplane when it’s already in the sky.
Scholarly without being stuffy, Out of the Embers should be on the bookshelves of anyone who feels despairingly lodged in the darkness and pressure of the birth canal of deconstruction, clamoring towards the “bright darkness” of divinity. The book is especially those who’ve eventually found themselves disillusioned with disillusionment and suspicious of social media influencers who’ve repackaged deconstruction as another consumer product—who, instead, want to avoid the allure of new fundamentalisms, restricting -isms, and the worship of their own unanchored egos.
Dr. Andrew Klager
Founder and Director
Institute for Religion, Peace & Justice
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” So wrote Yeats, filled with dread and uncertainty after the First Great War and the devastating flu pandemic that had almost claimed his pregnant wife. In a similar liminal space today, Bradley Jersak invites us to dare to trust that this present time of greatest uncertainty can also be a threshold to wonderful opportunity. You cannot read these pages without dread giving way to a settling hope!
Author of Naturally Supernatural and Where Joy Is Found