Jim Cymbala and the Ghost of Testimonies Past

Over the past two weeks, Pulpit & Pen has been in conversation with Steven Langella, a former member and deacon of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, a megachurch led by celebrity pastor and author Jim Cymbala.  Langella shared with Pulpit & Pen contributors the tragic story of his recently deceased sister Roberta Langella.  Roberta was also a long-time member of the Brooklyn Tabernacle.  In a post entitled “The Story Behind the Story of Roberta Langella and Jim Cymbala – Part 1” Steven explained that his sister’s inspirational testimony was shared by Cymbala in a number of publications and media outlets.  Unfortunately, Roberta was very troubled and was far from the strong Christian that Cymbala made her out to be in his publications.  In reality, Roberta struggled with drugs and sexual sin.  This month, she died from complications from illness and medication.  Today, Steven Langella released the second part of Roberta’s story at his personal blog The Author of My Faith.  Though Roberta is no longer living, the second part of her story is told in her own words.  Per Steven Langella:

“I recently obtained access to Roberta’s email accounts.  What I found was extremely troubling. Roberta sent emails to the Brooklyn Tabernacle leadership as early as 2006, one year prior to the release of When God’s People Pray, and two years prior to the release of You Were Made For More.  In these emails she admitted to having had a relapse and to struggling for over two years.  I will not be releasing those emails at this time, but what I do want to do is give Roberta the opportunity to speak to you in her own words. In 2011, Roberta wrote out her testimony and planned to write her own book.  Since Roberta is no longer with us, I want to give her the platform, however small it is, to tell her story. It is vastly different than what has been put forth in the Brooklyn Tabernacle books and DVDs.  The only changes that were made were minor grammatical errors.  Names of individuals have also been removed to protect them from any repercussions.”

According to the report of Roberta Langella provided by her brother, it is apparent that Jim Cymbala knew of Roberta’s deep struggles and used her testimonies to market his books anyway.   Steven has informed Pulpit & Pen that a similar accusation about Cymbala leveraging a dubious testimony from a struggling church member is forthcoming from another party.

Before readers write Cymbala off as another in a long line of TBN-style charismatic hucksters, they should understand the breadth of his influence. Cymbala was featured, along with Chuck Colson, Franklin Graham, and John MacArthur in a video entitled “Kingdom Voices” at the 2003 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix.  He was also a featured speaker, along with Graham, at the 2015 Baptist General Convention of the Texas State Evangelism Conference.  He is a frequent filler of Baptist pulpits.  In August of this year, he, along with Johnny Hunt, Fred Luter, and Vance Pitman, filled the pulpit of the flagship Southern Baptist church, Bellevue Baptist.   Bellevue is pastored by current Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and was famously grown to massive membership under the leadership of the revered Baptist preacher and conservative resurgence leader, Adrian Rogers.  The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir is one of the most popular producers and performers of music in all of evangelical Christendom.

Cymbala is a major influence to American evangelicals.  If there is merit to the published and forthcoming accusations against him, he is not  biblically qualified to be a pastor.  Yet, he may be coming very soon to a prominent Baptist pulpit near you.

[Contributed by: Seth Dunn]

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Member of the Evangelical Theological Society Certified Public Accountant