Jim Cymbala has built a tremendously successful ministry at one of the most famous churches in the United States, The Brooklyn Tabernacle. His latest book, Storm: Hearing Jesus for the Times We Live In, calls on the church to turn to Jesus and prepare for darker days and challenges that loom. Cymbala has long been a solid, biblical, orthodox preacher and teacher. Storm continues this tradition, offering heartfelt and practical guidance.
The themes of Storm are pretty basic. He calls us to pray, pointing out that churches tend to talk about prayer, and offer moments of prayer, but rarely spend extended time in prayer. He calls us to rely on the Holy Spirit more than on teaching or methodology. He is not too impressed with the church growth movement. He writes, "In the last twenty years there have been more conferences and more books published on church growth than in all the prior history of our country. As new models of how to grow your church have increased in popularity, we have actually witnessed a precipitous decline of Christianity in America." Why the lack of fruit? We are missing a focus on scripture and living sacrificially for Jesus.
Similarly, he is not impressed with so-called Christian political movements. "Where has political activism with an increasing exclusion of prayer over the last twenty-five years brought us? Have we seen America move toward God? Have we seen the Christian church draw closer to God?" The implied answer is no, of course not.
One thing I loved about Storm was the inclusion of several stories about Brooklyn Tabernacle members whose lives have been transformed as a result of their encounter with Jesus. Cymbala is all about Jesus, about prayer, about relying on Jesus, and seeing lives transformed. It's a joy to read these testimonies and to hear Cymbala's heart to reach the lost.
Cymbala does have a habit, at least in parts of Storm, of building up straw men to tear down. For instance, he describes different church models that miss the mark, such as "The Entertainment Church," "Relevant Church," "Corporate Church," "Latest Faith-Fad Church," or "Radical Church." He doesn't name names, but he sure points fingers. It's likely that your church fits one or more of his descriptions. I agree that some of the features he describes in these categories have little to do with biblical Christianity. But by creating the caricatures he does, he misses the value that these models offer. I would bet that we can find plenty of churches that fit each general category, yet are trusting and following God and doing amazing work for the Kingdom.
Later on he writes that "pure and simple gospel of God's love and grace has been discarded . . . or diluted." His examples: "Join Our Church Gospel," "Special Denomination Gospel," "Pentecostals and Charismatics," "Famous Pastor/Teacher Gospel," "White American Cultural Gospel," "Conservative Political Gospel," and "Black and Latino Gospel." If you are part of a church somewhere, you can probably find yourself in his list. Again, abuses or distortion of the gospel message can be found in churches around the world, and we need prophetic voices like Cymbala's to turn our hearts to Jesus. But Cymbala's tone seemed judgmental and ungracious. He doesn't name names, but he might as well.
Cymbala's overall message is great, spot-on for the American church. I especially appreciated his call to genuine prayer, and a reminder to make prayer a central part of our churches' gatherings. But my enthusiasm for his message was weakened a bit by his straw man attacks.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!