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Friday, March 23, 2012

Review of Awakening by Stovall Weems

Happy Friday!

Have you ever tried the spiritual discipline of fasting? It's quite misunderstood in today's church environment, and possibly for that reason alone, is not practiced too often.  The historicity of fasting in the Old Testament is amazing and certainly speaks to Yahweh's desire of self-abasement when seeking God's counsel.

With that in mind, if you're looking for information about fasting. I would look in places other than Stovall Weems' Awakening. My review is enclosed below.


Awakening: A New Approach to Faith, Fasting, and Spiritual Freedom
by Stovall Weems
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.19



1.0 out of 5 stars Look elsewhere for guidance on biblical fasting

As the Apostle Paul considered his ministry, he presciently wrote a second letter to Timothy which included the following foreboding warning:
For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths. [2 Timothy 4:3-4, New English Translation]
Rightfully, Paul feared a day when Christians would not tolerate biblical teaching and instead would want to gather teachers around them to tell them what their itching ears want to hear--as some translations render the latter portion of this passage.

No one can doubt the unprecedented popularity of Stovall Weems, founding pastor of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida. According to sources available on the internet, this church started with a handful of people and has grown to include satellite campuses around the United States and internationally in locations such as, Zimbabwe, Costa Rica, Northern Ireland, and Greece. Recently, the church has boasted weekly gatherings of 12,000 in attendance. Weems has been characterized as a popular communicator, who makes his messages "real" and applicable for today.

Does popular mean accurate, however?

It would seem that Weems' release of Awakening: A New Approach to Faith, Fasting, and Spiritual Freedom implies that popularity does not always equate into accuracy. In the book, Weems shares his heartfelt belief that every year should start with a 21-day fast to accomplish four primary objectives:
* Experience surrender
* Experience a passion for God
* Experience God's goodness
* Create a space for God to fill
Stipulating that he is advocating a new brand of fast, Weems makes some audacious claims about fasting which seem far removed from the biblical intention of fasting.

While it is beyond the scope of this review to provide an exhaustive inspection of fasting, it seems that fasting in the biblical era was employed for the following reasons:
* Propitiation of divine anger (Israel fasted, repented, and put away false gods, I Sam 7:6)
* Penance for sin (David fasted and repented of his sin with Bathsheba, II Samuel 12:16, 21-23; Nineveh repented in fasting, Jonah 3:5; Hearing God's word, Israel fasted and confessed their sins, Nehemiah 9:1-3)
* Transformation of an individual spiritually - away from selfish motives (Isaiah 58)
* In preparation for strategic decisions/spiritual alertness (Jesus fasted for forty days prior to his temptation in the wilderness, Matthew 4; Paul and Barnabas fasted prior to appointing elders, Acts14:13)

Weems writes of fasting as many things, including: the celebration of God's goodness, an opportunity to get the spiritual "gunk" out, and as a way to detoxify the body. Throughout it all, Stovall implies that "this can be your best year ever, if it is your best year spiritually." All the while insisting that fasting draws you closer to God, Weems conflates this message to imply that fasting brings numerous individual blessings. He even states, "Fasting will not do much for you if you have an old school mentality."

The biblical explanations seem contrived throughout the book. For instance, Weems contorts Jesus' words of Acts 1:4 admonishing the disciples to stay in Jerusalem when he ascends to heaven as a way to "create space" for God to fill. Is it possible that Jesus was merely telling his disciples to say in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit's empowerment, as the text implies?

Similarly, Weems preaches a heavy "if you're right with God, you'll tithe" message. While Christians should be good stewards of their time, talent, and treasure, it is hard to make a case that tithing is required in the New Testament era. Weems connects tithing to Jesus' feeding of the 5000 as a proof text to imply that giving to God gives Him quite a bit of latitude to work in the rest of your finances. Three of the testimonial stories he includes, typically at the end of each chapter, includes adherents faithfully proclaiming something akin to, "When we started tithing...our finances, business, etc., took off."

Weems is to be commended for his efforts to awaken people to the biblical act of fasting - but those interested in fasting would do well to look elsewhere. This spiritual discipline should not be framed by pop psychology and self-aggrandizement.

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