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Book Review of When You Pray by Philip Graham Ryken

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

In light of our current discussion that stems from someone else's book review, I remembered that I had never posted my book review of When You Pray over here on A Thinking Man's Thoughts. This version is substantially the same as the one that was published at SharperIron, but there are some things in here that did not make the cut due to space considerations over there.

When You Pray: Making the Lord's Prayer Your Own by Philip Graham Ryken - A Review by Pastor Frank Sansone

When Jesus' disciples recognized their need to pray, they asked Jesus Christ to teach them to pray. The answer that Jesus gave to their request is found for us in Matthew 6 - a prayer commonly called "The Lord's Prayer." In When You Pray: Making the Lord's Prayer Your Own, Dr. Philip Graham Ryken provides a helpful study of that prayer and encourages the reader to not view the Lord's Prayer as something merely to be recited, but something to actually learn from. As Dr. Ryken correctly points out early in the book, "Jesus' teaching about prayer begins with an urgent request: ‘Lord, teach us to pray' (Luke 11:1). Not ‘teach us how to pray,' notice, but ‘teach us to pray.'"(p. 13, emphasis n the original), and it is that desire to teach us to pray that seems to direct Dr. Ryken as he writes this book.

In the introductory chapters, When You Pray starts by discussing "How to Pray Like a Hypocrite" and "How to Pray Like an Orphan." In these chapters, When You Pray deals with verses in Matthew 6 that precede "The Lord's Prayer" and encourages the reader to pray in secret and to avoid the error of praying repetitiously. As Dr. Ryken points out "the prayer babbled more than any other is probably the Lord's Prayer. How ironic!" (P. 36).

After instructing us to avoid the hypocritical and repetitious prayer, chapter three encourages us in "How to Pray Like God's Own Dear Child" with an excellent chapter that deals with the familial aspects of the prayer - that this is a prayer to Our Father, suggesting not only a father- child relationship, but also a reminder that this is not just for us, but rather it is prayed in the plural with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Following the three chapters of introduction, Dr. Ryken then proceeds to spend the rest of the book breaking down the prayer into ten phrases and discussing each of those phrases in detail. Rather than just dealing with the academic details of these phrases, however, Dr. Ryken does a good job of filling the explanations with practical encouragements to not only understand what the passage is teaching, but to actually do what the passage is teaching.

As the subtitle of the book indicates, Dr. Ryken's goal is not merely to explain the passage, but rather to encourage the reader to "Make the Lord's Prayer Your Own". The writing style bears this out, as it is a very readable book. In fact, it comes across as though this material was originally preached and then edited into book form. The book is also filled with personal comments and pastoral insights rather than a mere third-person academic accounting of the Lord's Prayer. At one point, Dr. Ryken comments, "My goal as a minister is to keep the proclamation of God's Word and the prayers of God's people at the center of church life (see Acts 6:4). The great difficulty, however, is that this requires me to be a man of prayer as much as a preacher (p. 13)."

In addition to being a warm-hearted exposition of this passage, the book also manages to bring in a presentation of the Gospel in a number of places. At first, I thought this was odd, considering the fact that this is a book on prayer, but considering the interest in the Lord's Prayer even among those who do not attend Bible-preaching churches, I found this to be a wise thing.

The book is also set up in such a way as to make is useful as a book for a Home Bible Study or an Adult Sunday School class. It has discussion questions at the end of each chapter and is broken down into thirteen lessons (to fit in nicely with the typical thirteen week Sunday School quarter).

The strong dispensationalists needs to be aware that this book is clearly not written from a dispensational stand point. This does not negate the book's value, but it does effect some of the areas of interpretation that are presented in the book - particularly in Chapter 6, which covers the phrase "Your Kingdom Come."

The book also does something interesting in regards to the text of the prayer. Even though the chapter headings reflect a more modern translation, most of Dr. Ryken's exegesis and quotes actually come from the King James Version's rendering of this prayer - the one many have memorized. When it comes to the doxology, Dr. Ryken tries to walk a little bit of a tight-rope. He follows many modern textual critics in stating "on the basis of this somewhat contradictory evidence, it seems best to conclude that the traditional doxology possibly was not part of the original text of Matthew, but certainly was in use from the early days of the church (pp. 174-175)." However, he still provides some good material on the meaning of the doxology and comments that "it hardly seems right to consider the traditional ending of the Lord's Prayer a mere trifle or a matter of taste, for it is a highly appropriate way for the prayer to end (p. 175)."

I would also encourage the publisher to consider handling the notes in the book differently. The book employs the practice of adding end-notes rather than footnotes. I am the kind of reader who likes to see what the author is going to say when he makes a note. Going to the end of the book to find out is annoying. Since almost all of the end-notes in this book were of the merely bibliographic variety, this merely added to the frustration as you get back to the note and find out that you did not need to look up the note after all. It would seem better to provide in-text citations for those notes that were simply bibliographic in nature and then footnotes for the few notes that actually added information.

Despite the formatting issue (which seems to be becoming an industry-wide problem) and the other issues, this book is definitely a book worth adding to your library. For the serious layman, this book provides a lot of good material to help you not only to better understand this important passage of Scripture, but also to help you if you want to know how to pray better. For the Pastor, this book provides some sound exegesis and is packed with enough pastoral insights to make this a very helpful book for the Pastor who is preparing to preach on the Lord's Prayer.

Just my thougths,



Jim Peet said...

Thank you for this thorough review. I agree with you about the foot notes versus end notes.


Frank Sansone said...

Thanks, Jim, for the encouragement. (The foot notes thing is part of what did not make the cut in the earlier version - not enough space.)