Lately I’ve been noticing some differences between general “Christian living” type books publish today and those published two or three decades ago (not often but sometimes). Many of the authors of those past books are still writing today along with a plethora of Christian writers who have arrived on the scene since then. Over this time span postmodernism has had a major influence on the church, and it is sometimes apparent when comparing some of what is being written today from what was written twenty or thirty years ago. The following brief description of postmodernism as it relates to the church is found at GotQuestions.org:
Postmodern Christianity is just as difficult to lock down in a concise definition as postmodernism itself. What started in the 1950s in architecture as a reaction to modernist thought and style was soon adopted by the art and literary world in the 1970s and 1980s. The Church didn’t really feel this effect until the 1990s. This reaction was a dissolution of “cold, hard fact” in favor of “warm, fuzzy subjectivity.” Think of anything considered postmodern, then stick Christianity into that context and you have a glimpse of what post-modern Christianity is.
Postmodern Christianity falls into line with basic post-modernist thinking. It is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward. Are these things good? Sure. Are these things bad? Sure. It all depends on how far from biblical truth each reaction against modernity takes one’s faith. This, of course, is up to each believer. However, when groups form under such thinking, theology and doctrine tend to lean more towards liberalism.
For example, because experience is valued more highly than reason, truth becomes relative. This opens up all kinds of problems, as this lessens the standard that the Bible contains absolute truth, and even disqualifies biblical truth as being absolute in many cases. If the Bible is not our source for absolute truth, and personal experience is allowed to define and interpret what truth actually is, a saving faith in Jesus Christ is rendered meaningless.
There will always be “paradigm shifts” in thinking as long as mankind inhabits this present earth, because mankind constantly seeks to better itself in knowledge and stature. Challenges to our way of thinking are good, as they cause us to grow, to learn, and to understand. This is the principle of Romans 12:2 at work, of our minds being transformed. Yet, we need to be ever mindful of Acts 17:11 and be like the Bereans, weighing every new teaching, every new thought, against Scripture. We don’t let our experiences interpret Scripture for us, but as we change and conform ourselves to Christ, we interpret our experiences according to Scripture. Unfortunately, this is not what is happening in circles espousing post-modern Christianity. (Quote source here.)
What initially got me thinking about this difference came from a book I found yesterday at Goodwill that was originally published back in 1997. The book is titled,“Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” by Jim Cymbala, pastor at The Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City and author of numerous books. The full title of the book is “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God’s Spirit Invades the Hearts of His People,” originally published 21 years ago, and coauthored with Dean Merrill, former magazine editor, editorial director, and a former vice president at International Bible Society (now Biblica). He is also an author of numerous books.
Jim Cymbala is the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, New York, NY. Pastored by Cymbala since 1972, the Tabernacle has, as of 1996, began holding four services a Sunday, each with at least 1,600 per meeting. This is despite the fact that they have been sending groups out to plant churches since 1985, seventeen as of the printing of his book. In the inner city, a church isn’t likely to grow due to transference of members from other churches, or slick programs. Churches grow in dark places when they meet the deep spiritual needs of the people. Clearly then, Jim Cymbala has something to say.
The first part of the book shows the struggle Jim and his wife Carol endured when they took on a small dying church in Brooklyn, that could not even pay it’s bills. A young man with no formal training in ministry, he heard all manner of church growth advice (p. 24). Finally the Lord spoke to him, saying that if he would lead the people to pray and call on his name, that they would never build a building large enough to accommodate the crowds God would send. On that word from the Lord, Cymbala instituted Tuesday night prayer in his church and, as they say, the rest is history.
Cymbala told his church that the Tuesday prayer meeting would become the barometer for the church, the gauge by which they would judge success or failure (p. 27). By this measure Cymbala sees the church in America sadly lacking. In Brooklyn, broken lives were healed, from prostitutes to drug addicts, not because of polished sermons, or better teaching, but because of love birthed in prayer.
“Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” is a plea to the church in this country to return to prayer. “Pastors and churches have to get uncomfortable enough to say, ‘We are not New Testament churches if we don’t have a prayer life’” (p 50). Many pastors have come to him and told Cymbala that they would be embarrassed to have a prayer meeting in their church because nobody would come. “Does the Bible say anywhere from Genesis to Revelation that ‘My house shall be called a house of preaching?’” (p. 71). He is bold enough to say that he is embarrassed that religious leaders in America talk about having prayer in public schools, when we do not even have prayer in our churches (p. 72).
Cymbala rounds out the book with an assessment of the church’s penchant for novelty (chapter 7), marketing (chapter 8), and doctrine without power (chapter 9). This includes a sober and refreshing look at fads, and “new” doctrines. . . . (Quote source here.)
The Church was born shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, and the Book of Acts in the New Testament tells the story of its beginning and its complete dependence on God for everything–literally everything. When I stated above that I sometimes noticed a difference in the writings of Christian authors from two or three decades ago compared with today, that statement isn’t made as if I’m pining for some type of “good old days.” God and Jesus Christ don’t change from generation to generation or culture to culture (see Hebrews 13:8). However, our focus over time has shifted in ways we might not even notice or recognize.
In the 21st Century we are constantly inundated with new information that molds our thinking and our choices through social media, advertising, peer pressure, and the constant 24/7 flow of information. And there are forces at work that are detrimental to us that we don’t even recognize. Read the description again on postmodernism and the church stated above and see if you don’t agree. We are being molded in a myriad of ways that might seem normal when they aren’t. And they are leading us astray from the only Source of real life that there is. For example, money and materialism has a massive hold on many Christians, yet we fail to recognize the danger it presents to us.
Cymbala’s book, “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” is primarily a book about prayer and how powerful it has been in his church and among those attending Brooklyn Tabernacle over the years. In Chapter 3 titled, “A Song for the Desperate,” he states (on pp. 49-51):
Prayer cannot truly be taught by principles and seminars and symposiums. It has to be born out of a whole environment of felt need. If I say, “I ought to pray,” I will soon run out of motivation and quit; the flesh is too strong. I have to be driven to pray.
Yes, the roughness of inner-city life [where Brooklyn Tabernacle is located] has pressed us to pray. When you have alcoholics trying to sleep on the back steps of your building, when your teenagers are getting assaulted and knifed on the way to youth meetings, when you bump into transvestites in the lobby after church, you can’t escape your need for God. According to a recent Columbia University study, twenty-one cents of every dollar New Yorkers pay in city taxes is spent trying to cope with the effects of smoking, drinking, and drug abuse.
But is the rest of the country coasting along in fine shape? I think not. In the smallest village in the Farm Belt there are still urgent needs. Every congregation has wayward kids, family members who aren’t serving God. Do we really believe that God can bring them back to himself?
Too many Christians live in a state of denial: “Well, I hope my child will come around someday.” Some parents have actually given up. “I guess nothing can be done. Bobby didn’t turn out right–but we tried; we dedicated him to the Lord when he was a baby. Maybe someday . . .”
The more we pray, the more we sense our need to pray. And the more we sense a need to pray, the more we want to pray.
Prayer is the source of the Christian life, a Christian’s lifeline. Otherwise, it’s like having a baby in your arms and dressing her up so cute–but she’s not breathing! Never mind the frilly clothes; stabilize the child’s vital signs. It does no good to talk to someone in a comatose state. That’s why the great emphasis on teaching in today’s churches is producing such limited results. Teaching is good only where there’s life to be channeled. If the listeners are in a spiritual coma, what we’re telling them may be fine and orthodox, but, unfortunately, spiritual life cannot be taught.
Pastors and churches have to get uncomfortable enough to say, “We are not New Testament Christians if we don’t have a prayer life.” This conviction makes us squirm a little, but how else will there be a breakthrough with God?
If we truly think about what Acts 2:42 says–“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”–we can see that prayer is almost a proof of a church’s normalcy. Calling on the name of the Lord is the fourth great hallmark in the list. If my church or your church isn’t praying, we shouldn’t be boasting in our orthodoxy or our Sunday morning attendance figures.
In fact, Carol [his wife] and I have told each other more than once that if the spirit of brokenness and calling on God ever slacks off in the Brooklyn Tabernacle, we’ll know we’re in trouble, even if we have 10,000 in attendance. (Quote source: “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” 1997, pp. 49-51.)
In Chapter 6 titled, “A Time for Shaking,” Cymbala writes (on pp. 97-98):
Whether we call ourselves classical evangelicals, traditionalists, fundamentalists, Pentecostals, or charismatics, we all have to face our lack of real power and call out for a fresh infilling of the Spirit. We need the fresh wind of God to awaken us from our lethargy. We must not hide any longer behind some theological argument. The days are too dark and too dangerous.
The work of God can only be carried on by the power of God. The church is a spiritual organism fighting spiritual battles. Only spiritual power can make it function as God ordained.
The key is not money, organization, cleverness, or education. Are you and I seeing the results Peter (in Acts) saw? Are we bringing thousands of men and women to Christ the way he did? If not, we need to get back to his power source. No matter the society or culture, the city or town, God has never lacked the power to work through available people to glorify his name.
When we sincerely turn to God, we will find that his church always moves forward, not backward. We can never back up and accommodate ourselves to what the world wants or expects. Our stance must remain militant, aggressive, bold.
That is what characterized General William Booth and the early Salvation Army as they invaded the slums of London. It characterized the early mission movements, such as the Moravians. It characterized Hudson Taylor in China as well as revivalists on the American frontier. These Christians were not bulls in a china shop, but they did speak the truth in love–fearlessly.
In the familiar story of David and Goliath, there is a wonderful moment when the giant gets irked at the sight of his young opponent. “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” he roars (1 Samuel 17:43). Goliath is genuinely insulted. “Come here, . . . I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” (v. 44).
Does David flinch? Does he opt for the strategic retreat behind some tree or boulder, thinking maybe to buy a little time?
“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him” (v. 48).
That is the picture of what God wants for us today: running towards the fray!
David’s weaponry was ridiculous: a sling and five stones. It didn’t matter. God still uses foolish tools in the hand of weak people to build his kingdom. Backed by prayer and his power, we can accomplish the unthinkable. (Quote source, “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” 1997, pp. 97-98.)
Easter is just two days away. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is about new life, and the power available to us to live this new life–fresh wind, and fresh fire. God never asks us to sit on the sidelines but to enter the battle, just like David did in the story above. But we should never enter that battle alone. Prayer is our vital link and the source of our power (through the Holy Spirit). In fact, Paul commands us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing” (see article titled “What Does It Mean to Pray Without Ceasing?” at this link).
A statement in that article linked above states: “As we go through the day, prayer should be our first response to every fearful situation, every anxious thought, and every undesired task that God commands. A lack of prayer will cause us to depend on ourselves instead of depending on God’s grace. Unceasing prayer is, in essence, continual dependence upon and communion with the Father” (quote source here). So with that in mind, this Easter let’s not just dress up nice to go to church, but learn to lean on God as our source for everything all the time, and . . .
Pray . . .
Without . . .
Ceasing . . . .
YouTube Video: “Because He Lives (Amen)” by Matt Maher: