When I Pray What Does God Do? by David Wilkinson
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours in exchange for an honest book review.]
As a man with feet clearly on both sides of the science and religion debate of contemporary society, Dr. Wilkinson is well-equipped to speak about the subject of prayer and also provide a correction to the obsolete scientific worldview many theologians labor under. The result is an immensely complicated book that is full of thought-provoking material. Wilkinson manages to avoid easy answers and manages to provide a book that is explanatory both about his complex view of prayer, and the way in which he respects the biblical complexity about the subject in terms of God’s response, our focus on God rather than on our request list, and on the wide variety of prayers in the Bible that are far beyond our usual range of prayers (apparently my penchant for imprecatory prayers is unusual in contemporary society). This focus is salutary and hopefully will be of use for people who are overly influenced by the contemporary model of prayers and insufficiently aware of its biblical context.
In terms of its contents, this book has a few large chapters and a clear and well-organized purpose. The book begins with the author discussing his own struggles with prayer, as a way of building credibility with a target audience that similarly struggles. Then he discusses the common myths of prayer like praying to a heavenly genie and the prosperity gospel and other similar models full of ritual and manipulation to show how they fail to pass biblical muster. After that the author discusses God’s actions in the Bible and how they are focused on His purposes as signs, and that there is always more going on than meets the eye. After this the author talks about the problem with the widespread adoption of out of date mechanistic views of the universe that pitted order against design, followed by a lengthy chapter that seeks to break down chaos theory and quantum theory into layman’s terms, no easy feat, in order to demonstrate how contemporary science is far more favorable ground to discuss God’s actions in a way that preserves freedom and divine sovereignty. The book concludes with two smaller chapters on the implications this has for our prayer life.
There is a great deal that is praiseworthy in this book, most notably the way the author seeks to avoid easy and oversimplified answers while accepting the complexity of God’s action and His inaction in the case of the problem of evil, for example. The author does not overstep his bounds in the case of theodicy and seek to give a reason for evil in a book that is already fairly ambitious in scope for its 220-odd pages. The book is one that is certainly of contemporary interest, yet one that also reminds us why the Bible does not speak in scientific language, because this book is likely to be obsolete in a few decades when new theories are being held in various scientific disciplines, and other writers with strong backgrounds in both reason and faith will have to translate timeless truths again into contemporary jargon so that it may be comprehensible to others. Unfortunately, though, the book falls flat at the end, failing to point out the true implications of the Family of God and lapsing into an irrationalist defense of the unbiblical doctrine of the Trinity, which fills up far too much of the end of this book, revealing that the author has not jettisoned all of the baggage of Hellenistic Christianity necessary to see the Bible and follow it on its own terms. Nevertheless, the book has much to offer in terms of its skillful defense of contemporary science as well as its critique of various heretical views of prayer.