Review: Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

Fresh Wind, Fresh FireFresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

With recommendations from Drs. Joseph Stowell and Warren Wiersbe, it was a given that Jim Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire would become a bestseller. Full of relatable stories of struggle with sin, this pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle writes this engaging work that will encourages readers to turn the sufficiency of self to trust in the power of prayer. Even so, this is not a book I recommend.

First, irony opens the book: a man who wasn’t called to be a pastor treated water by gaining footing on bad ideas. His father-in-law “coaxed” him into pastoring (11); Cymbala had other interests and balked at the idea, noting his lack of experience, training, and desire to fill such a role. The call Cymbala answered, then, came from the guiling of one who then left this family in the lurch, to learn without discipleship or even occasional input. How did this self-described amateur survive such whimsy? He did so by coming to terms with his lack of training, by ceasing “to act ministerial” (20), and thus by developing a love for himself as an individual. As such, the book opens with what amounts to an argument against Cymbala’s original pastorate.

Oddities permeate the book, such as the contrast of Bible against prayer. Cymbala rightly notes the essential role of prayer in ministry, and he speaks of preaching, but not of preaching God’s Word (contra 2 Tm 4:2). He writes that prayer “cannot truly be taught by principles and seminars” (49), even though God teaches us much about prayer in the Bible. He writes of listening to God (e.g., 59) but not in terms of reading God’s Word. He notes that Jesus demanded His Father’s house to be a house of prayer… but contrasts that to “a house of preaching” or music or reading of the Word (71). He even incorrectly notes that “America has made the sermon the centerpiece of the church” (84), while sermons grow shorter and feature less Scripture than ever (“worship music” dominates most American services). His emphasis gives the wrong impression of God’s will for Christians; while it is possible to become puffed up with knowledge (1 Cor 8:1), Jesus’ prayer for His disciples is that God would sanctify them through Scripture (John 17:17).

The kind of prayer promoted in this book walks the line of name-it-and-claim-it, let-go-and-let God mysticism. His backburner approach to the preaching of Scripture reapportions prayer and love the main dishes of Christian living, and leads to other problems. He embraces heretics such as the nineteenth century revivalist Charles Finney, who taught a false gospel and reshaped the American Evangelical landscape for the worse. He gives his approval of false revivals such as Azuza Street in 1908. Now, to his credit, Cymbala counters some of Charismatic Movement’s drift in his seventh chapter, “The Lure of Novelty,” but he fails to provide a sound defense against excesses. The reason is that movement away from the Bible is a drift away from the Holy Spirit’s discernment. Should sound doctrine hold a dearer place in Cymbala’s convictions, it would have blocked much of the spiritual driftwood accumulated in this book.

Again, this book contains many excellences about the Christian faith and testimonies of God’s grace. The overall premise of the book is accurate, leaving these baffling passages within otherwise edifying portions of this book. Based on this book alone, Cymbala seems to be Christian who simply had to quickly learn a lot and missed much as a result. As such, I can only recommend Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire as a study in what not to do and the need for discipling men before they enter the ministry.

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