Book Review: “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” by D.A. Carson

2 Jan

D.A. Carson, a leading evangelical scholar, wrote this book in 1992 to address the challenge of prayer which confronts many (perhaps most?) Christians. Prayer, Carson says, is often a struggle for Christians. Some don’t pray at all while others pray enthusiastically but not in a way that bears any resemblance to the kind of prayers we see in Scripture. In the internet age, my guess is that these problems with prayer have only become worse so that Carson’s book, though more than two decades old, is more timely than ever.
Carson does not set out in A Call to Spiritual Reformation to give readers a complete biblical theology of prayer. Instead, he goes to Paul’s prayers and holds them up as a good model for believers to follow. The reason he goes to Paul is because he sees Paul in prayer consistently addressing what Carson sees as the Church’s greatest need: a deeper knowledge of God.
The book is organized into twelve chapters and runs 225 pages in my edition. Each chapter is either an exposition of one of Paul’s prayers or a topical presentation from Carson on key aspects of prayer. I found this format helpful because the topical chapters tended to show how the principles of exposition in the other chapters could be applied in every day ways.
Following an introduction which compellingly lays out Carson’s thesis that the greatest need of the church is a deeper knowledge of God, the opening chapter of the book contains many practical tips from what Carson calls the “school of prayer.” The book then launches into two chapters which are expositions of prayers from 2 Thessalonians. Chapter four covers the topic of praying for others, using the example of Paul to show that intercession for others is a primary task of Christians in prayer. Chapters five and six contain expositions of prayers from 1 Thessalonians and Colossians. Chapter seven is an outstanding and challenging chapter on excuses for not praying. Chapter eight is a lengthy chapter on one of my favorite prayers of Paul, Philippians 1:9-11. In chapter nine, Carson deals with the issue of prayer and the sovereignty of God, showing how they fit together. In chapter ten, Carson uses an exposition of Ephesians 1 to show that Paul is a model of fervent prayer and deep belief in God’s sovereignty. Chapters eleven and twelve center on ministry as Carson expounds on two Pauline prayers in Ephesians 3 and Romans 15 respectively. The book closes on a pastoral note as Carson prays for his readers in a short Afterword.
I was helped by Carson’s book to see themes in Paul’s prayers that I hadn’t considered as carefully in the past. The topical chapters also effectively addressed some hurdles to prayer in my life and gave me a better perspective. This is neither a light book nor a work of scholarship with extensive footnotes and the like. But for believers who desire to grow in prayer, few books will be as helpful as Carson’s study of Paul’s prayers in A Call to Spiritual Reformation.

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