Prayer: Experiencing Awe And Intimacy With God, by Timothy Keller
One of the occupational hazards of reading and reviewing a lot of books by Christian authors is the fact that there are a lot of books about very particular subjects. Many times, it feels like an author feels the need to write about a certain subject to cover his (or her, but usually his) bases as a Christian theologian. One of those subjects is prayer. There are a lot of good books about prayer–some of them are practical in nature, based on helping someone to understand what sorts of prayers one can make and what sort of material these prayers consist of, and some of them are more doctrinal in nature, seeking to examine prayer in light of the Bible while avoiding certain extremes. This book is a good book about prayer, and also references other good books about prayer, predictably including a work of C.S. Lewis’ published posthumously as well as his reflections on the Psalms, which is an excellent work. This isn’t the only book I would read on prayer, but it is certainly one that should be on your list if this is a subject you care about approaching from a Hellenistic Christian mindset.
This book of more than 250 pages is divided into five parts and fifteen chapters along with other supplementary material. After introducing the book with the excellent question of why we need yet another book on the subject of prayer, the author discusses the importance of desiring prayer (I). This opening part of the book consists of two chapters on the necessity (1) and greatness (2) of prayer. After that the author spends three chapters looking at understanding prayer (II) with chapters on defining prayer (3), conversing with God (4), and encountering God (5). The third part of the book looks at learning how to pray (III) with chapters on letters about prayer (6), rules for prayer (7), a focus on the model prayer of Matthew 6 (8), and some touchstones of prayer (9). This leads into a couple chapters on deepening prayer (IV) about meditating on His word (10) and seeking His face (11). Finally, the book concludes with four chapters on doing prayer (V) with awe (12), intimacy (13), struggle (14), and practice (15), after which there is an appendix on some patterns for daily prayer that are modified from the Catholic approach of the hours, acknowledgements, and suggestions for further reading. This is a book of prayer that would be pretty familiar to those who seek an approach that is disciplined and patterned in nature.
Indeed, as a reader I was somewhat surprised with how close this book’s approach modeled that of Catholic writers of the Middle Ages. The author has some critical things to say about Anne Lamott and the sort of prayer that she did not include in her own volume. Indeed, the book as a whole contains a great deal of criticism (much of it positive in nature) about the writing on the subject matter of prayer, besides the author’s own prescriptions. In this book more than most, the author demonstrates his Presbyterian background by writing a lot about the approach of prayer that Calvin took, with significant time spent looking at what Luther and Augustine wrote about the subject as well as some positive comments about much of Catholic prayer. The author seeks, in general, a balanced approach as he understands it, even if this book is clearly more heavily skewed towards the Hellenistic approach of prayer (which the author even comments on at one point regarding neoplatonism and its impact on Christian prayer) than towards the biblical approach. Where the book does touch on biblical models of prayer, including the Psalms, though, there is much to appreciate here.