Knocking on Heaven's Door: A New Testament Theology on Petitionary Prayer

By David Crump
Grand Rapids : Baker (2006). 345 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Greg Harris
18.1 (Spring 2007) : 118-119

The book begins with different life illustrations that beg for prayer but that also end with different results. Consequently, such deep misery and life perplexities raise many questions regarding the very nature of prayer, in both its purpose and results. Can prayer actually change God’s mind? Does God always answer prayer (16)? The author proposes that attempts to answer such questions have resulted in two differing solutions. One position is that if one is faithful and persistent in prayer, God can be influenced so that any request can be granted. The other side is that prayer never influences heaven; only the one who prays is affected as God uses prayer as a tool to shape and mold believers into His already determined will. Crump’s challenge is to unravel this “Gordian knot” with a NT theology of prayer. He seeks to do so by examining different passages within the Synoptic Gospels (chapters 1–4), what is called by many “The Lord’s Prayer” (5–7), and Pauline Prayer (8–12). He has one chapter on petitionary prayer in the General Letters and the Book of Revelation (13), and a final chapter on “Petition, the Hiddenness of God, and the Theology of the Cross” (14). Crump holds that both the Old and New Testaments are “the divinely inspired word through which God speaks today” (17). However, he likewise holds to “the current scholarly consensus regarding Markian priority . . . and the Two-Source Hypothesis . . . of the now-lost source called Q” (22 n. 1).

The arrangement of the book is intriguing. The first chapter deals with Jesus cursing the fig tree (Matt 21:21-22; Mark 11:23-25), which while a pertinent study on prayer, begins with the last week of the life of Jesus. Obviously much of what Jesus stated in regard to prayer in the earlier part of His ministry would be an extremely helpful foundation. The context of this statement in Matthew 21 after His entry into Jerusalem, especially how this relates to national Israel, could be explored. Beginning a study of prayer in the last few days of Jesus’ life leaves out much discourse on what Jesus previously taught on prayer. Simply put, it begins toward the end of His teaching, not the beginning.

Crump’s book contains numerous footnotes. For those who want to do scholarly work, these may prove helpful. For “the average church member,” it may interrupt the flow of the book. The conclusions at the end of each chapter do have a sense of reverence to them, repeatedly emphasizing the relationship of prayer to the heavenly Father.

Crump obviously writes from a Reformed theological perspective, which, consequently, affects the theology of his study on prayer. For instance, as part of the answer of Jesus cursing the fig tree, he writes, “The unbelieving temple establishment of Jesus’s day was replaced by (and finds fulfillment in) the tenacious community of believing disciples—you and me; members in the Christian church—who will never surrender true faith in Jesus Christ . . .” (38). It ignores or diminishes the immediate context of Jesus being the promised Messiah of the Jews, as the King promises to return in Matthew 24–25. The same will be true for what is called “The Lord’s Prayer.” The church exists “as the Messiah’s new temple” (157). Thus Crump sees “Thy Kingdom Come” as already finding its fulfillment in the NT church rather than a prayer that still has unfulfilled eschatological hopes and promises.

Some may find Knocking on Heaven’s Door helpful in their studies or in their prayer life; it contains sections of warm devotion and reflection. However, for those who understand Scripture in accordance with the doctrinal statement of The Master’s Seminary, it will be a much more challenging read.