If you are Christian that struggles with prayer, then Tim Keller’s recent book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, is for you. Of course, this means that I am recommending this book to every Christian on the planet because we all struggle with prayer at some point in our lives.
I like Keller’s stuff. I have read most of his books and have listened to many of his sermons. This is, perhaps, his best book so far. That is really saying something.
Despite my appreciation of Keller’s work, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get when I picked up this book. Most books with the word “prayer” in the title end up being glorified self-help books that present a moralistic vision that guilts the reader about not praying enough or not praying correctly. Other books provide simplistic formulas for prayer that may be helpful in the short term, but which fall short of helping the reader construct a theology of and methodology for personal prayer.
Prayer is a masterpiece on this very important spiritual discipline. In a world filled with a myriad of views on the nature of prayer, the methods of prayer, and the efficacy of prayer, Keller’s book stands above the rest.
This book critiques the most common popular errors about prayer. Keller disabuses his readers of the notion that an omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign God would not expect his people to pray. Keller writes:
“If we believed that God was in charge and our actions meant nothing, it would lead to discouraged passivity. If on the other hand we really believed that our actions changed God’s plan––it would lead to paralyzing fear. If both are true, however, we have the greatest incentive for diligent effort, and yet we can always sense God’s everlasting arms under us. In the end, we can’t frustrate God’s good plans for us (cf. Jer 29:11).”
With arguments like these, Keller eradicates the notion that theology–-understanding what God is like––is unimportant to prayer. This book convicts the reader of the importance of prayer, but reminds the reader of the reality and availability of grace.
Keller seeks to present a vision of prayer that is theological, experiential, and methodological in one book. He does this well.
The theological frame for this volume is built from Scripture. Keller emphasizes that the Psalms are largely a collection of prayers. They provide examples of how God’s people have prayed in the past, which can be appropriated by God’s people today. Keller also explores what great theologians of the past have written about Prayer. Augustine and Luther both wrote letters to parishioners on the topic of prayer. In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin has an excellent treatise on prayer. Keller summarizes and shares the pith of these pastor-theologians’ writing on prayer. The depth and breadth of the research are part of what makes this new volume a classic text.
The experiential aspect emphasizes the nature of prayer as a conversation with God. We speak to the God who hears and he communicates to us. Contrary to more theologically enigmatic perspectives on prayer, Keller rightly acknowledges that “if prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.” In other words, Keller’s vision of prayer is more holistic than others, because it includes substantial reflection on the Word of God as an essential part.
This book would be incomplete if it did not provide some helpful specifics that teach the reader to pray. He has chapters dedicated to theological and practical discussion on prayer as worship, as communion with God, and as a means of seeking help from God. Keller also provides some down to earth suggestions for making progress in this important spiritual discipline.
In a world where being Christian and popular at the same time often requires compromise, Tim Keller has managed to shatter the stereotype. Keller’s books sell well because they are well-written, thoughtful, and deal with culturally important topics. Keller’s books are worth owning because they winsomely communicate orthodox truths with depth and accuracy. This book is no exception on either count.
Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher. There was, however, no expectation of a positive review. All opinions above are my own.
Some additional helpful links:
1. A 1990 sermon by Keller on Prayer from Redeemer Presbyterian.
2. A host of resources on prayer from Redeemer Presbyterian.
3. An index of Tim Keller resources from Steve McCoy's personal site. Multiple linked sermons, interviews, articles, etc.