Jim Cymbala, with Jennifer Schuchmann. Storm: Hearing Jesus for the Times We Live In. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.
Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, believes that a storm is coming. It’s a spiritual storm. Christians with orthodox beliefs are becoming a minority in the United States. Churches are in decline and look to business models rather than God to solve their problem. A number of Christians look to political activism and forsake Jesus’ call to love their enemies in the process.
A lot of this book is Cymbala trying to encourage Christians to pray for their church and for other people, to seek and to desire God’s presence, and to preach the Gospel of God’s transforming love. Cymbala also includes stories, perhaps to illustrate the sort of authentic spiritual Christianity of which he speaks. One story is about a homeless lady who started a ministry of giving furniture to the poor. There are also stories about conversion to Christianity from Santeria and Islam.
Cymbala also includes a chapter that highlights the differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in the Bible. This, for Cymbala, is not merely an intellectual exercise, but it has profound practical ramifications. According to Cymbala, many are confused by the Bible because there are a number of Old Testament rules that Christians do not keep, and they wonder why, since those rules are in the Bible. Moreover, skeptics attack Christians as being inconsistent in not obeying all of the Bible. Cymbala also notes the ill results that have occurred when Christians have imported Old Testament teachings into Christianity: the prosperity Gospel, intolerance, war, cursing of enemies instead of praying for them, legalism, and spiritual insecurity. Cymbala is not against Christians learning from the Old Testament, for he in the book draws frequently from the Book of I Samuel. Cymbala stresses, however, that the message under the New Covenant is different from the one of the Old Covenant, and that the New Covenant message is about salvation through Jesus Christ, joy, and eternal life. His rule is that believers should accept only the Old Testament commands that are explicitly affirmed in the New Testament.
Cymbala’s love and hunger for God are contagious, and the stories that he included were inspiring. Cymbala is also honest about his own weaknesses and growth as a Christian, and his book contains valuable insights, such as Martin Luther’s statement that God does many things in response to people’s prayers.
I had, however, three problems. First of all, Cymbala tells about a minister who said that he enjoyed spending time with God but not with other people, and Cymbala replied that this is a problem, and that the pastor should show love to God by helping and loving people. I certainly agree with Cymbala that pastors should be loving, but I wish that Cymbala had shown more compassion, empathy, and understanding to that pastor, or had offered the pastor practical guidance on how to serve his congregation as an introvert. Maybe Cymbala did so and did not mention it. Second, while Cymbala made valuable points in his chapter about the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, I still have questions. Should we assume that the New Testament was abrogating the Old Testament, when the New Testament quotes Old Testament passages as authoritative? Moreover, even if one shares Cymbala’s view that the New Covenant is better, he should still address the question of why God acted as God did in the Old Testament. Third, while I agree with Cymbala that Christians in the political arena can easily become acrimonious rather than loving, I do not entirely agree with his criticism of liberation theology. The Hebrew Bible is often concerned about societal justice, and I have my doubts that God discarded that concern when transitioning to the New Covenant.
Overall, though, this is a good book.
Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers (http://booklookbloggers.com/) book review bloggers program. The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.