A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

By Donald A. Carson
Grand Rapids : Baker (1992). 230 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
4.1 (Spring 1993) : 103-105

Carson believes that the greatest lack today among Christians is in knowing God intimately in prayer. This well-known professor of NT at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School offers another in a long line of quality books. He hopes to stimulate a recovery by deriving principles on prayer from Pauline passages and other relevant texts.

He laments that much of the prayer that goes up (how high?) in the Western church "coexists with abounding Christian activity that somehow seems hollow, frivolous, and superficial . . . ," and that there is " . . . enthusiastic praying . . . that overflows with emotional release but is utterly uncontrolled by any thoughtful reflection on the prayers of Scripture" (9). Living Bible-shaped lives of prayer will be a foundation for growing in other matters of the spiritual life. It will save Christians from "running after God's blessings without running after him" (16).

Chapter 1 is a kind of survey on critical aspects in prayer. Among these are planning to pray, curbing mental drift, cultivating a prayer partner, insisting on models that are truly biblical, and praying in triumph over harsh trials. The chapter also deals with matters of having vision, breadth, and contrition balanced with bold passion in power. It advocates having a prayer list, having symmetry in elements of prayer (such elements as praise, confession, and intercession), leaping past formalism and unreality, and resting in God's presence and will.

Chapter 2 begins expositions in Paul in which he notes lessons that can fan a blaze of prayer. Using a clear outline, he develops 2 Thess 1:3-12, 1 Thess 3:9-13, Col 1:9-14, Phil 1:9-11, Eph 1:15-23 and 3:14-21, and Rom 15:14-33. He interweaves principles of prayer from scores of other texts. So he clarifies praying that is true to the Word, and his emphases correct unbiblical habits.

"Praying for Others" (chap. 4) highlights intercession for people and thanking God for them. The author cites forty-two of Paul's prayers, showing what Paul prayed for in contrast to what people often stress (cf. 75). He also articulates hindrances such as grudges, unwillingness to forgive, adultery, divorce, and half-hearted religion.

Chapter 7 deals with excuses people use, such as too busy, too dry, no need, too bitter, too ashamed, and too content with mediocrity. The next chapter offers help to Christians in hurdling excuses via Paul's example in Phil 1:9-11. Insightful factors on God's sovereignty and the relevancy of man's prayer come in chaps. 9-10. Also of much help is the valid focus on power in Ephesians 3 (chap. 11) and "Prayer for Ministry" in Romans 15 (chap. 12).

In his "Afterward," Carson gives "A Prayer for Spiritual Reformation." This stems from emphases throughout the book`e.g., the Spirit's power, knowing God, better, and a passion for Him.

This work is one of the best recent efforts that integrate biblical praying with the whole Christian life. It stimulates the reader to seek further similar discussions, as on notable passages in Daniel's life and the life of Christ.

One emphasis a serious reader comes away with is how urgent it is to get on with what the book calls for: to pray and not just say nice things about how important prayer is. This means to pray the way God directs, especially through the example and instructions of a brother who says so much about it –Paul.