Cotton Candy or Wine? A Review of Water to Wine

By on Jan 28, 2016

Austin Share On GoogleShare On FacebookShare On Twitter

Every year the same book comes out. It tells us to be radical, to get serious about Christianity, to be followers and not fans. It is usually written by a famous evangelical pastor. It usually sells well.


There was a time when I devoured these books. I couldn’t get enough of them. I still think there is some kernel of truth in these books, but I’ve come to realize that I could not get enough of them because they were cotton-candy. They hit the tongue and make grand promises but evaporate before you even have time to chew. So you take bite after bite, book after book, hoping the next bite will finally satisfy, will finally change things. But it won’t. Long term, it produces indigestion.


So if you’re tired of cotton-candy indigestion, tired of sporadic spasms of passion that perpetually and predictably flame out, heed the invitation:


“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;

And you who have no money come, buy and eat.

Come, buy wine and milk

Without money and without cost.

Why do you spend money for what is not bread,

And your wages for what does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me and eat what is good,

And delight yourself in abundance.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)


Water to Wine is a splendid book about this—Brian Zahnd’s journey from cotton-candy and watered down grape juice to wine. He took his church with him and it was painful (I’m sure it still is at times), but once you’ve tasted the good stuff, there’s really no going back.


What is the good stuff? Religion. Yep—I know the word has fallen out of favor and there is a whole industry that uses religion as a negative foil to spirituality, and some claim Jesus came to end religion. The point is sometimes taken, but quite often it is little more than a rhetorical smokescreen that leads people down dead-end streets, wanting to follow Jesus but having no clue how to actually do it. In fact, I’d say that pretty well describes many Christians I know—a sincere desire to follow Jesus, but besides reading their Bibles (and the yearly book telling them to get radical), they don’t know what to do about it. Their spirit is willing, but their flesh is weak.


Properly understood, religion is a way of life that orients the soul to God. Spiritual disciplines, sacraments, simple constancy, patience, an ear to the past, an eye to the future—this is religion at its finest and it doesn’t just create mystics; it gathers up orphans and widows (James 1:26-27). I’ve seen so myself.


Evangelical pastors, leaders, and elders should really read this book. It says what you have wondered. For example, “We’re in a situation where it is often very difficult, if not impossible, for a pastor to make spiritual progress while being a pastor.”[1] We don’t have time for spiritual progress because spiritual progress is usually slow, meandering, inefficient—in other words, it is hell to those steeped in the ideology of consumer Christianity. Slow, meandering and inefficient are tough sells. So we pastors get to choose: gain the world or lose your soul. Or better yet, lose your soul while you’re pastoring but work long enough to have a good pension and then venture out in search of your soul when you retire. You’ll have time for a soul then.


There is another way, but it isn’t for wimps. Fine wine isn’t for wimps. It takes patience and discipline. But I think Brian is right:


Water turned to wine

The mystery is the time

It takes for my own transformation

A slow and painful fermentation

With a soul like crushed grapes

I’m a dusty bottle in God’s cellar

But the winemaker knows his craft

He makes all things beautiful in their time



The book is a wonderful read, so pick it up and let it ferment.

[1] Water to Wine, 181.

[2] Ibid., 191.