Cover Image: Prayer and the Knowledge of God

Prayer and the Knowledge of God:
What the Whole Bible Teaches

Graeme Goldsworthy (IVP, 2003)

Blurb Review by Paul Woodbridge

Review by Paul Woodbridge

Many and varied are books on prayer. A few focus on a theology of prayer, but maybe most are 'how to' books on this important subject. The danger of pragmatism and experience-based teaching are all too prevalent, and, as Goldsworthy points out in this book, can lead to superficiality and wrong practice. Thus he proposes to use biblical theology to provide a solid foundation for an understanding of prayer and its practice. 'Good practice comes from a sound understanding of the teaching of the Bible'.

In just over 200 pages and 11 chapters, this book covers an amazing amount of material. He starts by outlining certain practices in prayer (such as focusing on examples seen in great biblical heroes of faith, not least Jesus), and usefully suggests why they may not necessarily be good models to follow (as it often takes the example out of their historical context). He also warns of the dangers of legalism (e.g. in imitating Christ as an example of the godly life).

Goldsworthy's basic definition of prayer is 'talking to God'. He spends four chapters considering questions raised by this definition: first, how is prayer possible, what is the reality of prayer? Here he emphasises the coming of Christ to earth whose death enabled restoration to God of men and women, on which basis we are remade in God's image and in Christ may become praying people.

Secondly, he considers the basis of all prayer. On what grounds does God listen to our prayers? This chapter sets out the reality of the Gospel message, looking at how Jesus, the true son, calls on the Father and is always heard, and when we are united to Christ by faith, we also become sons and thus can also pray with the same confidence that we are heard.

Thirdly, Goldsworthy discusses the source of all prayer - how do we know what to say? How do responsible humans relate to a sovereign God? 'In prayer, God allows us to be identified with the outworking of his will for all creation. Thus, to the extent that we know him, we "think his thoughts after him" and our prayer is part of the means by which God achieves his revealed purpose'.

Next, he asks the question, does praying make any difference? What enables true prayer? Where does faith fit into our prayers? Here he underlines the work of the Holy Spirit who not only brings us to faith in God's saving work in Christ, but also enables us to pray on the basis of our salvation in Christ and specifically to pray that God will bring to pass all he has planned in the gospel. Thus to pray in the Spirit is to pray in accordance with the revealed will of God in the word of God.

Having considered these various issues raised by his definition of prayer, Goldsworthy then goes on to discuss the pattern of prayer as seen in the Lord's Prayer. He underlines the need to see this prayer not only in the context of Jesus' overall ministry as the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, but also to appreciate how each part of this prayer has its background in God's redemptive work seen in the Old Testament.

Goldsworthy then has four chapters outlining what he calls 'the progress of prayer' in a biblical theology framework, looking first at the history of Israel. He shows how God must first speak to his people before they may address him and how the OT emphasises the importance of the function of mediators of the covenant (prophets, priests, judges and kings) as intercessors for the people.

In looking at the Psalms, he demonstrates how they show that true prayer is always focused on the fulfilling of God's redemption plan for his people as well as for the whole of creation. While the Psalms show how many different kinds of prayers the people of God used, their covenant framework should always be kept in mind and thus they should be seen as a prefiguring of the gospel expressed in the person and work of Christ. A chapter on 'prophetic eschatology' shows how there is a constant looking forward to a restoration of the nation of Israel which the NT declares is fulfilled in Christ. The importance of a faithful remnant who focus their prayers of repentance on their trust in God as their Saviour who is faithful to his promises, and the place of the temple, is also examined.

Finally, Goldsworthy summarises some key points from the New Testament taking in Acts, Paul, Hebrews and Revelation. This I found a particularly stimulating chapter, especially as he draws out some key aspects of Paul's teaching on and practice of prayer. Paul sees clearly that Jesus is the fulfiller of OT hopes and expectations, and he prays not only that believers will grow in their knowledge of God but also make the gospel the focus of their lives as they seek to live by it and witness to it.

A final chapter is most valuable in drawing the key points together. Here Goldsworthy reaffirms the main principles that apply in understanding prayer. He also outlines what he sees as characteristics of authentic prayer: it is always Trinitarian, Christological, predestinarian, eschatological, covenantal and a reflection of our knowledge of God.

This is a book that requires careful reading and is at times a little prosaic and over-precise. But Goldsworthy, while wanting to focus on theological principles, is also keen to help the reader apply what he has written, and at the end of each chapter summarises his main points and challenges the reader to 'pause a moment' and consider certain implications and challenges of that chapter. So a valuable book which will help those who are seeking to gain an appropriate biblical understanding of the different aspects of prayer to provide a platform for growth in its practice.

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