Friday, December 23, 2016

Book Review- Prayer by Timothy Keller

Every month I write a book review for my church's missions magazine, New Covenant. When possible, I try to relate the topic of the book I'm reading to the topic of that month's issue. I thought I would share some of them here. My goal is to post every week and to share things I've written in other places as well as new material.

At the beginning of each book review, I share a few "Fast Facts:" information about the book, its author, its length, the publisher, and where you can find it. I  try to touch on the structure of the book, the intent of the author, and the relevancy of the book to the church.

This one was originally published in the May 2016 issue of the New Covenant. You can read the full magazine for free here.


Fast Facts:
Title: Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: Dutton
Length: 266 pages
Find it: wherever books are sold and the Pitt Co Library

Since this month’s New Covenant focuses on the topic of prayer I looked for a book on the topic that would be both instructional and firmly grounded in good theology. I found a book by Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and prolific author, at our local library and decided to check it out.

His book is broken into five sections with a total of fifteen chapters. The first three sections (nine chapters) focus on the theology and doctrine of prayer, exploring subjects such as why we desire prayer, how we converse with and encounter God, and what other “masters” have to say about prayer. The last two sections (six chapters) delve into teaching on how to pray, with chapters on three different kinds of prayer and suggestions on daily prayer routines.

Keller rejects most contemporary sources on prayer in favor of older, more historical works by authors such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, and St. Augustine. Anyone who has listened to Keller preach knows that he has a deep affinity for C.S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards and this book proved that to be true once again.

Keller endeavors to teach a methodology of prayer that is typified by both conversation and encounter with God, a kind of prayer that is both verbal and emotional. He specifically mentions a phrase from Scottish theologian John Murray, who describes an “intelligent mysticism” and he explains that this means “an encounter with God that involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind. We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together.”

This idea of intelligent mysticism sets the tone for much of his book.  Keller indicates that God’s communication to us comes primarily through his Word and the Spirit’s work in us as we read and meditate on the Word. I believe that Keller would reject listening prayer—that is, prayer that focuses on impressions from the Lord rather than on the Word—and styles of meditation that lead participants to empty their minds rather than filling them with Scripture. Even with his strong suspicion of a mysticism that loses its grounding in rationality, Keller still cautions strongly against a purely intellectual pursuit that does nothing to move the heart.

The first nine chapters are a thorough exploration of how this kind of balanced prayer is accomplished. Drawing on works that had formed his understanding of God as a young Christian, he sites historical texts of Christian theology from people he trusts. The last six chapters focus heavily on types of prayer and suggestions for daily routines.

These last six chapters were where I found what I considered the most helpful information. Although the final sections could only come following Keller’s exhaustive instruction on the theology prayer, I personally had some difficulty retaining information from the initial chapters as they seemed to bounce from quote to quote and were filled with caveats and clarifications. I began to feel in those chapters as if there were one right way to pray and that I needed to manipulate my heart to be in a certain way before my prayers could be effective.

Thankfully it all seemed to come together at the end with a pattern of prayer that he suggests each person use in their daily prayer time. This suggestion (listed below) along with his descriptions of different types of prayer are the things that will affect my daily life moving forward.
1.)  Evocation—reminding yourself of who it is that you are praying to and how it is that you are able to come before him (Jesus’ work as our intercessor).
2.)  Meditation—dwelling on a passage of the Bible that you are already familiar with to hear what God is saying to you through it.
3.)  Word prayer—praying through the text of Scripture, paraphrasing each request and filling it out with the concerns on your heart.
4.)  Free prayer—pouring your heart out in prayer, while taking care to develop a habit of moving through adoration and thanksgiving, confession and repentance, and petition and intercession.
5.)  Contemplation—a time of reflection in which you dwell on who God is and invite the Lord to let you experience his presence.

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