Friday, October 21, 2011

Prayer by O. Hallesby

Fortress Press sent me a review copy of Prayer by Ole Hallesby. The book was recommended in a series of lectures on Christian Spirituality by John Kleinig. Ole Hallesby was a Norwegian Lutheran pietist. I am generally opposed to the pietist movement. I think it's very dangerous to direct our eyes away from the objective things that Christ has done for us and to our subjective feelings. But I also recognize a deficiency in my own prayer life. I have greatly benefited from the prayers of the church and the Psalms but have difficulty forming my own prayers. Over time I've gotten somewhat better but I could still use considerable help.

The first chapter of Hallesby's book begins by quoting Revelation 3:20. Hallesby believes that Revelation 3:20 throws greater light on prayer than any other passage of the Bible. This is very strange. Revelation 3:20 really doesn't seem to have much to do with prayer. Jesus is standing outside of the door of an apostate church and knocking. He promises that if anyone opens the door He will sup with him. It seems most natural to take this as a reference to the Lord's Supper. Evangelicals use this passage for evangelism. They say Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart and you have to let Him in but this doesn't fit the context either. The conclusions that Hallesby draws from Revelation 3:20 about prayer seem to be true. Hallesby says that prayer is not initiated by us but by the knocking of Jesus and it's these insights that make the chapter valuable. He arrives at the right doctrines from the wrong text. After Hallesby elaborates on Jesus as the initiator of prayer he tells us that true prayer is the fruit of our helplessness. This section was excellent and he returns to this idea from time to time throughout the book.

The book is worth purchasing for these two sections. But after these two sections the book seems to go downhill. There is very little in the book that explains what prayer is based upon passages that are actually talking about prayer. The book emphasizes prayer chiefly as a way to glorify God which doesn't really follow from prayer being an expression of our helplessness. The book teaches that God cannot work apart from our prayer and that by our prayer we can usher in the millenial kingdom.

My own prayer life is firmly rooted in the historic liturgy and tied to the sacraments. When I pray, even when alone, I join in the prayers of the church. But there was no mention of the liturgy or the sacraments in Hallesby. It seemed to be very individualistic with the exception of some talk of going to prayer meetings.

The Psalms are helpful aids in prayer and learning to pray. Hallesby does direct us there but he only seems to find praise and thanksgiving in the Psalms. Hallesby doesn't speak of the Psalms or lament.

I would recommend reading the first two chapters of the book but I didn't find much that was valuable beyond that.

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