Foundations: No.73 Autumn 2017

Book Reviews

Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer

J. Gary Millar, Apollos/IVP, 2016, 263pp, £14.99

This book is part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, edited by Don Carson, “addressing key issues in the discipline of biblical theology”.

Using Genesis 4:26 as his starting point, Millar defines prayer as “calling on the name of the Lord”, by which he means asking God to act according to his character and his gracious plans. The central theme traced through the book is that all prayer should be linked with Yahweh’s plans to act in judgment and salvation to fulfil his good purpose for the saving of his people and the glory of his name.

The author then proceeds to take us on a comprehensive journey through pretty much every setting for prayer in the Bible including the Pentateuch, the Prophets, wisdom literature, the Gospels and the Epistles. Arriving in Revelation, he notes the same theme of prayers for “the coming of God’s kingdom, the completion of God’s purposes and fulfilment of all that he has promised”. He suggests that as Revelation ends Scripture, prayer is replaced with singing as the prayers are answered and petition becomes celebration.

Particularly interesting is his analysis of the Psalms, many of which we would tend to immediately personalise, but he contends that they are firstly about God’s kingdom purpose and God’s king, Jesus: “These are first the prayers of the Messiah… which become the prayers of Messiah’s people”.

A good example is his treatment of Psalm 102, which we would takes as a believer in trouble asking for God to help him, but Millar says its goal is the enthroned God arising to “build up Zion”. Another example is Psalm 51: Millar explains that although it is certainly a penitential Psalm, it also connects directly with the covenant promise of forgiveness: “What is at stake is not the guilt of one man but the progress of the plan of God.”

He accepts that “prayer is not limited to asking God to honour his promises – other things can and must be said to Yahweh” but the primary purpose is in connection with the kingdom of God breaking in as he fulfils his promise.

In the final chapter there is a brief application of the teaching. He ponders on why we seem to pray less than previous generations and calls us to recalibrate how we pray, and what we pray for, in the light of biblical theology. He calls the reader to become an “advanced praying person” by asking God to do what he has promised to do, and keep doing it until we no longer need to pray, when we will see him face to face.

Millar makes a good case for his central argument, which is well illustrated with numerous examples, often picking passages that might, on the face of it, challenge his assumptions. It lifts prayer from self-serving shopping lists to a grand task of calling down the blessing of God in historically significant works, for his glory.

One would have preferred a much longer application section with more examples. Also, at times it did feel as if he was straining out some really important aspects of biblical prayers by applying this filter. Overall, I would thoroughly recommend this book as well researched, easy to read and personally challenging.

Graham Nicholls
Director of Affinity

 

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