There is a storm raging and the warning signs are there. This storm isn’t a physical storm but a spiritual storm. Jim Cymbala asks, “Is the light of Jesus that we are to shine before people growing dark? Has another kind of storm cut us off from our power source? Is the church of Christ disappearing into a dark night?” How did we get here? What is endangering the church and the message of Jesus Christ? How do we move on and become effective at reaching people with the message of Jesus Christ? These are among the questions that Cymbala tries to answer in his book, Storm.
As you might expect from the Brooklyn native, Cymbala comes out swinging with a “take no prisoners” approach. He is not hesitant or shy with his criticism, addressing the issues that he sees on the landscape of the American church. While there are outside influences such as the secular culture and the relativism that runs rampant throughout much of ideology today, those are not to be embraced by believers in Jesus Christ.
Cymbala is critical of the many methods of church growth that have been embraced today which have abandoned the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. Methods such as the entertainment church, the relevant church, the corporate church, the latest fad church, the radical church, and the stale orthodoxy church are among those which fall into the crosshairs of Cymbala’s criticism. We need less gimmicks and more God, he says, stating that the problem, “is not with a godless, secular America, but with a church that is increasingly prayerless, compromised, demoralized, and weak. We have drifted away from the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Throughout the criticism that he heaps, he offers advice and pointers in how to “right the ship” as well as interspersing the stories of people from his own church, the Brooklyn Tabernacle, who have experienced life transformation through the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. Prayer is among the suggestions that Cymbala makes in getting the Church back on track. His emphasis on prayer and the Holy Spirit should not be unfamiliar to anyone who has read his books before. While he may come across brash in some of his criticism, the track record of Brooklyn Tabernacle with their own prayer ministry and Holy Spirit reliance are enough to cause the reader to take pause in wonder of God’s workings through Cymbala and his church.
While Cymbala’s criticism may seem harsh to those unused to a New York state of mind, his own humility is evident. He is not simply casting blame on everyone and everything else but also owns his own shortcomings and faults over the years. Leadership, he says, or the lack of it, has caused much of the divergence that is seen within the church. If pastors are critical of their congregations, is it possible that those congregations are simply reflections of them and their own leadership?
Ultimately, the effectiveness of the church will be directly related to the place of the Gospel, the importance of reliance on Scripture, and the dependence on God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When we fail to see the importance of these things, we should not be surprised when our churches decline and become irrelevant. A reliance on the basics could go a long way to see a revival within the church, Cymbala argues.
Having been born in Brooklyn with parents who had likewise been as well, Cymbala’s style was not surprising. There were moments that I cringed at the harsh criticisms that he heaped, but I realized that he was holding true to being a prophet, one who speeks the truth of God’s word and applies it to current circumstances. Multiple times in the book, Cymbala claims to not want to be hypercritical but then goes on to do just that. His criticism comes out of his own passion and desire to see the message of Jesus Christ proclaimed to bring about life change and transformation. Considering that the average reader of this book will most likely be indoctrinated to the church, his stern words and warnings may be just the thing that is needed to wake some from their slumber and denial of the oncoming storm.
Storm is a book that calls it like it sees it. Cymbala does a good job at interspersing criticism with encouragement and calls to action. He has a heart for the people of God and the lost sheep who have yet to come into the fold of the Good Shepherd. While his style may not be for everyone, this book is a helpful reminder for those of us within the American Church to stand strong on the principles that have been tried and true for two thousand years.
(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Zondervan Publishing. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)