Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Primer on Prayer

D.A. Carson has long been a favorite author of mine. Ever since hearing him give a series of lectures during my freshman year of college, his writing has had a great impact on my spiritual life – most notably the way I think about the love of God. For that reason, I picked up a used copy of one of his books I hadn’t read – A Call to Spiritual Reformation. This book is a study of the prayers of the apostle Paul, intended to help us to reevaluate and reinvigorate our prayer lives.

This was a bit of a curious book from Carson. It’s obviously written with the layman in mind, with each section ending with questions for study and reflection. On an organizational front, this would be a great book for a small group study in the local church. On a content front, it also seems tailor-made for such an endeavor. Time after time, Carson offers insights into the discipline of prayer that the church definitely needs to hear (I say this because I definitely needed to hear them). Some of the middle chapters started to feel repetitive, but the book’s final chapter was incredibly good, with several instances of excellent insight into unanswered prayer. He is better than most at examining theological truths that are not only hard to understand, but hard to accept. My favorite Carson writing is his material dealing with aspects of God’s love that often don’t feel very loving to our human hearts (I highly recommend The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God and Love in Hard Places), and I think he is equally adept at offing counsel on a prayer life that feels like it’s hit a brick wall.

However, the curious nature of the book comes from the fact that, though it seems like a perfect fit for a lay group study, Carson’s writing may be over the head of much of the audience. Carson is an incredibly smart guy. However, I felt at times that the way he wrote wouldn’t really connect across the spectrum of theological literacy. The book seemed to have the pastoral heart of his love books, but the academic tone of Exegetical Fallacies. It was a combination that didn’t always mix well. In final analysis, though it’s not perfect, and it’s not my favorite Carson book, it’s definitely worth a read for someone who is struggling to learn how to pray. Just bring your pocket theological dictionary.

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