When You Pray: Thinking Your Way into God’s World

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Topics: Spiritual Exploration & Practice. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “When You Pray: Thinking Your Way into God’s World

  1. Review

    This book, by the Professor Emeritus of Theology at McGill University in Montreal, is not about how to pray. It expounds a biblically based theology of prayer which focuses on the nature and purpose of prayer and what we are doing or ought to be doing when we pray.

    Assuming we are considering prayer as Christians, to ask about the nature and purpose of prayer confronts us with the question: Who is Jesus Christ through whom we explicitly or implicitly, pray? Our answer to this basic Christological question will, Hall writes, "color everything that we think about prayer." He finds in North American society today, five images of Jesus, which give rise to "differing conceptions of the nature and function of prayer in the Christian life." They are: (1) The Divine Jesus, (2) The Conquering Jesus, (3) The Judging Jesus, (4) The Accepting Jesus, and (5) The Transforming Christ. He sketches a portrait of four of these as fairly typical images of Jesus, which he contends, contain "misleading elements that must be assessed critically . . . because they appear to distort or obscure certain essential emphases of the gospel." The central aspect of the gospel, which these images "distort or obscure", is the orientation toward the world to which Christians are called. He writes, "The first approach encourages world denial and evasion of creaturely responsibility; the second a triumphalistic bid for worldly power; the third outright rejection of the created order, and the fourth an uncritical acceptance of the status quo."

    It is Hall’s thesis that "in our particular socio-historical context, what we need most of all to see when we think of Jesus is the One who intends to transform the world." It is the image of Jesus as The Transforming Christ, which most faithfully reflects the Gospel. Hall writes, "This Transforming Christ calls us to participate in his transfiguration of the world." Indeed, Hall adds, "I should say that faith, in the Christian sense is nothing more or less than the God-given courage to be in the world intentionally and without reserve."

    The subtitle of the book points to the purpose of prayer understood by the author. Whatever else it is, Hall emphasizes, "prayer in the name of Jesus Christ means thinking our way into God’s world." When we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, we engage in a "strategic disengagement," a distancing of ourselves from the world so that we can gain perspective and a sense of direction on what is going on around and within us. But we must be clear, Hall cautions, that such "distancing" is a means, not an end. It is a way of enabling us to achieve new levels of attachment and commitment to the life of the world. Through prayer, Hall declares, "God separates us from the world in order to send us back into the world with renewed spirits."

    In defining the purpose of prayer as "thinking our way into God’s world," we must be clear that thought which does not issue in engagement with the world is a very questionable form of thought. And conversely, an act of engagement with the world that does not presuppose serious thinking is equally dubious. We must keep prayer, thought and action together.

    Using the criteria of prayer he has developed, Hall suggests that Christians must be careful to avoid five types of inappropriate prayer: "(1) Prayer that helps us escape reality, (2) Prayer that turns us in upon ourselves; (3) Prayer that fails to represent our fellow creatures, especially those in need, (4) Prayer that is merely emotional or lacking in serious, disciplined thought; (5) Prayer that does not lead to responsible acts of discipleship."

    Although this book was published in 1987, it is available today. And it is even more relevant in the 1990’s world of narcissistic "spirituality." It challenges the reader to develop a more disciplined "thought-directed" prayer. And it is a bracing reminder that Christian prayer is not to be a tool of "individualistic self-serving redemptionism" but to be for us, in spite of ourselves, a ‘way’ of discipleship, participating in Christ’s transformation of the world.

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