The Life and Theology of Karl Barth

It should come as no surprise when a brain that has been marinating for decades in North American evangelical culture has an immediate and visceral response to the names of  prominent historical Christians:

  • C.S. Lewis:  Green light and heart emojis (but, remember, he did smoke . . .)
  • Francis Schaeffer:  Amazing intellect, but too bad about those knickers.
  • Karl Barth:  Tornado sirens and a flashing inerrancy and Neo-Orthodoxy warning light!

Thanks be to God, we are occasionally given the opportunity to step back from our preconceptions and to look at historical figures through a helpful and forgiving lens. In Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals, Mark Galli has extended that gift.

A Rebel with a Cause

Born in Switzerland in 1886, Karl Barth entered the world at a time when liberalism was changing the way Christians worshiped and thought about God. Emphasis on human reason and experience led to a gradual abandonment of the primacy of revelation and to a detour around foundational truths such as the deity of Christ and the fallenness of man.

It was not until Barth  married and entered the pastorate that he began to question his liberal theological underpinnings. His heart for his working class congregation led him to seek answers in socialism, but when Germany declared war on Russia in 1914, and the falling dominoes led to World War I, Barth’s eyes were opened to significant cracks in the logic of liberalism. “If religious experience could give rise to such divergent and even contradictory conclusions, perhaps it could no longer be relied upon to provide an adequate ground and starting point for theology.” (34)

Barth was also a vocal opponent of National Socialism, writing articles that attacked right wing political dogmatism along with letters and pamphlets denouncing the heresy that blood or race had any bearing on church membership or acceptance before God. In 1935, Barth and his family were forced to return to Switzerland where his ministry was based until his death in 1968.

The “Godness” of God

Barth’s studies led him to conclude that the Bible was a “book not so much about men and women but about God,” (43) and that the only sound basis for our theology is the revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture. In his career as a pastor, professor, and theologian, he became known for his commentary on Romans and a stalwart teaching of the complete otherness of God. By the time he reached middle age, Barth had become something of a rock star in his theological circles.

He was a strong proponent for church life even throughout the chaos of Nazi persecution of the Confessing Church, arguing that “we must not . . .hold ourselves aloof from the church or break up its solidarity; but rather, participating in its responsibility and sharing the guilt of its inevitable failure, we should accept it and cling to it.” (51)

Steadfast in Faith–and Steadfast in Adultery?

It is difficult to reconcile the utter strangeness of a man who lived in awe of a holy God while subjecting his wife and children to the indignity and inappropriateness of a live-in mistress, but this also was part of the mystery of Karl Barth. His research assistant, Charlotte von Kirschbaur, was a fixture in both his professional life and in his home.

In an article written for Christianity Today after the publication of this biography, Mark Galli expressed stunned distaste over the rationale Barth used to justify his moral failure. Barth’s dialectical approach to theology emphasized the contradiction between two truths in order to gain insight into the deep truths about God. For example, Jesus is both God and man. Barth’s stretch of reason was that he and Charlotte “had no choice  but to live in this dialectical tension between obeying God’s command about marital fidelity and what felt right to them. ” The ugliness of Barth’s sin is exacerbated by his blatant use of theological arguments to justify it.

Barth for Evangelicals

Whether we choose to argue that Karl Barth’s theology supported him in poor moral choices or that his theology was terrific and truthful, but he simply failed to live up to its ideals, he is arguably one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the 20th century. One of the most helpful features of Galli’s biography is his familiarity with evangelical culture as he “translated” Barth via two doctrines that are unique to his thinking and examined their usefulness to evangelical teachers and pastors:

  1. The Word of God–  Barth viewed Scripture as a three-fold reality: the preached Word, the written Word, and the revealed Word, Jesus Christ. This is helpful, but then he goes on to insist that “Scripture is God’s Word in so far as God lets it be His Word. Therefore, the Bible . . . becomes God’s Word” as we hear it.” (111) Evangelicals can join Barth in understanding that the Bible is not a magic book, but does indeed come alive for us through the work of the Spirit. However, his rejection of inerrancy is a problem, especially when he (illogically) sets Scripture as a means of revelation and then says that it contains “historical, scientific, and even theological errors.” (113)
  2. Universal Reconciliation–  In all the church’s wranglings over election, Barth has distinguished himself by taking a very unique stance, holding that “Christ is both the only one who elects and the only one who is elected.” Therefore, humanity is chosen only in a secondary sense, and all men and women are reconciled to God through the death of His Son. Judgment and pardon are both present in Barth’s soteriology, but pardon for sin “does not depend on one’s response to Christ. . . Instead, total pardon is objectively accomplished in Jesus Christ on behalf of mankind.” This, inevitably leads to universalism, but I appreciated theologian Oliver Crisp’s rendering of Barth’s thinking:  “The Reformers say, ‘If you repent and believe, you will be saved,’ while Barth says, ‘You are saved; therefore, believe and repent!'” I see the potential for error, but this helps me to sharpen my own appreciation of what’s going on behind the scenes when someone “prays the sinner’s prayer.”

On a visit to the United States during the year I was born, church lore holds that Karl Barth summarized his theology and his life’s work in one simple sentence: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It’s likely that this really happened, but it’s unfortunate that Barth could not have found that great love sufficient to enable him to love his wife and his children more than he did.

His story becomes a cautionary tale for any of us who teach and study Scripture, for we will never live up to all that we know, but may we find grace to live consistently with the remarkable message of the gospel with all its provision for forgiveness. May we stand before the mirror of the Word with earnest prayer for a searching and a knowing God to reveal our sins and to hold us close to His Truth.

Many thanks to William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for providing a copy of this book.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you should decide to purchase, Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Every blessing,


The Humility of Being Right

There’s a peculiar satisfaction that comes with being right. Given the opportunity, we’ll make an idol of it and even run roughshod over those we claim to love in order to win an argument, thereby trading peace for the honor of clutching the blue ribbon of rightness close to our hearts. Often what’s at stake is nothing more than a piece of trivia or a detail of shared history:  In what year did we shingle the roof? How old was Uncle Dave when he passed away? Is the truck due for an oil change?

The sandpaper words, “You were right,” turned inside-out become “I was wrong,” and this is music to the ears of the triumphant, but I would argue that when it comes to deep Truth about God and humanity and the deep rift, there should be a humility that accompanies our rightness, a meekness that conveys our understanding that we have been entrusted with a great treasure.

G.K. Chesterton lived and wrote in the early years of the 20th century, crossing verbal swords with materialist and modernist heavy weights the likes of George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Sigmund Freud in lecture hall arguments for the existence of God and the truth of the incarnation. What characterized Chesterton’s approach and filled the seats with spectators was his light touch, his sense of humor, and his refusal to take himself too seriously.

His well known Orthodoxy was written as a more positive follow-up to his lesser-known Heretics and as an opportunity for him to clarify the set of truths that he had come to believe. Of these beliefs, Chesterton is clear:

“I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” (19)

In his efforts to assemble a creed, Chesterton spent years trying to be “original,” trying to “found a heresy of [his] own, and when [he] had put the last touches to it, [he] discovered that it was orthodoxy.” (23)

And so those of us who cling to and defend objective truth must also realize that we have received something that is not our own. Bending my knee to the content of revelation, I am startled to realize that the point of orthodoxy, the reason for a studied cherishing of rightness in my understanding of God, is not for the purpose of winning arguments, or for the satisfaction of belonging to the right camp, or for the establishment of my resume. Orthodoxy that is not purely for the glory of God can quickly become dead orthodoxy, knowledge for it’s own sake and a safe box for the storage and containment of God.

G.K.Chesterton argues for an orthodoxy that welcomes imagination. He viewed the world through eyes that saw “the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.” When we open our Bibles and read the comforting psalms and the familiar gospel stories, we are also being confronted by the God of Ezekiel’s spinning wheels and the embodiment of some of the more frightening creatures in John’s Revelation. The challenge is a paradox of wonder and welcome, or, as Chesterton put it, “we need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.”

For the believer in Jesus Christ, orthodoxy is a condition of having discovered a truth that makes us and defines us. In humility, we come to understand that this Truth is not our own, but, rather, we belong to the Truth.


This is the beginning of a journey through Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. If you’re following along, let me know in the comments below, and be sure to share any insights you glean along the way. If those insights happen to take the form of a blog post, a link is welcome so we can continue this conversation at your place.

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Wait for the Spirit of Christmas

“Wait,” He said, and locked His gaze with eleven pairs of eyes brimming with question marks.

“Wait. I have been your constant companion for three years, walking long deserted roads, sharing our meager meals, sleeping under the stars. I have answered your questions and rebuked your faithlessness, and now it is time for me to return to the Father. But I tell you this: If you could choose and if you knew what I know, you would choose the Helper I am sending over my presence beside you. Don’t try to go forward on your own. Wait for the Gift.”

Imagining myself into the upper room, in the company of the Acts -One-Faithful, I wonder:  Could I have waited in faith for ten long days between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost? Is it possible that I would have persevered in the cloud of unknowing until the tongues of fire landed and the Wind swept in a new era of redemptive history?
Or . . .
Would I have waffled and sown doubt into the gathering, nervously rehearsing Jesus’ words, calling for conferences in which we’d put our heads together — wondering if we’d heard correctly, or if we had misunderstood His intentions.

“He said Jerusalem, right?”
“What was the word He used?”

The record shows they waited, and the promise was fulfilled. The power came down, but not merely as a force or a tingle of energy. Once again, God had sent a Person into time and space to accomplish His purposes and to reveal God-nature to the bumbling race of humanity.

Likewise, today, God the Holy Spirit is a Person Who comes to us, bringing power that holds us in the faith. When the Spirit comes rushing in at the beginning of our following lives, His mission is to initiate an ongoing love affair with God. Miraculously, we become little-Christs, and the Word becomes flesh once again, in our lives and in our deeds.  This is the Gift of Christ to those who “tarry” and are “endued with power from on high.”

A Celebration of Waiting Fulfilled

However, the sad truth that weaves its way through Christmas season 2017 is this:
We’re just fresh out of patience.
The idea of waiting for ten days for anyone or anything is unthinkable. We want to know the mind of God, discover our unique purpose in life, and celebrate Christmas wholeheartedly, dagnabbit, and we want to do it right now. In the impatience of our ceaseless striving, we forget that Christmas is a celebration of waiting fulfilled. It’s the vindication of Old Testament believers who spent long uncomfortable lives clinging to wispy words of prophecy and trusting in God’s good intentions toward them. It’s the season of Mary’s yes to a nine-month obedience and of open-ended journeys prompted by stars and visions.

When I forget the overshadowing Spirit and the power of the Most High, I have lost the Spirit of Christmas. The boundaries between who I am and Who God is become fuzzy and indistinct. It becomes easier and more tempting to arrogate to myself prerogatives that are not mine to exercise. The Christmas Spirit is reduced to a warm fuzzy feeling that can be duplicated by a serving of eggnog or an evening of gift wrapping by candlelight.

Living in “the Interim Time”

Make no mistake: when Jesus promised power from on high, it was a far-reaching offer that spanned the centuries. That’s good news, for we also live in a world of waiting. The only difference is that now Wi-Fi, CNN, the Hallmark channel, and our frantic pace distract us from our true situation, which A.W. Tozer describes as “the interim time”:

“We live between two mighty events — that of [Jesus’] incarnation, death, and resurrection, and that of His ultimate appearing and the glorification of those He died to save.  This is the interim time for the saints — but it is not a vacuum.  He has given us much to do, and He asks for our faithfulness.”

It is the Spirit of Christmas Who will bring about this faithfulness in His people. The same Spirit Who “hovered over the face of the waters,” also seeded life into Mary’s womb and empowered a motley crew of ragtag fishermen to turn the world upside down.   He will show up to guide present day followers as well, even in seasons when pursuing our calling feels as vague as following a star in the East. Our waiting is no more absent of activity and life than a drop of pond water.

Thank you, Spirit of God, for this season of hope in which we celebrate your exquisite timing.
Empower us to view our waiting and our wondering as an opportunity to receive your grace for that moment, to be “endued with power from on High” so that we may become fiercehearted women of Christmas like Anna and Elisabeth and Mary who waited in hope throughout their interim time. May we rejoice in anticipation as they did, knowing that patience is the bridge that joins time and eternity, and Your promised presence is a fresh offering every day.



Photo by Joanna Kosinska from Unsplash

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The Light of Resurrection

Waiting for spring, hanging off the northeast end of the U.S. mainland, it’s a challenge to get into an Easter frame of mind. The dark is still holding sway over the light, and resurrection-thinking requires a muscular faith. Although the calendar tells me that spring will come, this hope in a future date can seem like a flimsy thing.    

Pressing into a Truth that challenges me to fathom the unfathomable, I leave my heart ajar to the record of resurrection in John’s Gospel. After all, Mary Magdalene had nothing but Sunday morning silhouettes to go on when she visited the tomb.

But this one thing she knew:  stones don’t move themselves. 

The absence of death, the presence of angels, and the sound of her own name carried by the voice of Jesus opened Mary’s eyes to Life, and, reading it again today, my heart is blown wide open to the reality that there is a God at work Who is beyond my understanding.

The power that raised Christ from the dead spreads a layer of clear abundance across the sky, and it rebukes all my tattered scripts of scarcity and inadequacy.  Under the light of resurrection, the myth of “not enough” that presents itself as gospel is revealed for what it is – blasphemy, after all.

When I stand before a class or sit around a table with my weekly women and feel like handing off my notes to someone else and saying:
“Here, you do this. It’s too much. I’m not enough,”
I slam my heart shut like a tomb full of death.

When I reject wisdom that whispers:
“Wait; lean into relationship with Me and stop your ceaseless striving;
When, instead, I soldier on by the seat of my pants–I choose darkness over light; death instead of resurrection.

My faithless frame of mind locks me into a small room … and then sucks out all the oxygen.

This was not unlike the post-resurrection dwelling place that the disciple Thomas had created for himself. He’d been given a whole week in which to savor the bitter brew of hopelessness and disappointment, to hear about Jesus’ appearances to others—always when Thomas was conveniently absent. He had cobbled together his own response, apparently deciding that He was not going to be taken in by all the hype. He would not be deceived by any false messiahs who go and get themselves killed in the most humiliating manner possible.

Locked door and double-bolted heart notwithstanding, Jesus showed up with a fresh supply of oxygen and irrefutable evidence—the marks of crucifixion and his own unique wound, a spear-thrust through the ribs.

Thomas’s skepticism melted into adoration and an astounding confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”

Mary’s eyes had been opened by the sound of her Savior’s voice.
For Thomas, it was the sight of His wounds that spoke resurrection.

Millions of us now, following in hundreds of generations behind Mary and Thomas, have never been invited to put our hands on the risen Christ or been treated to the sound of His voice speaking our name aloud, and yet the reality of resurrection and the power of Life over death is so much a part of our creed that we hold it as a mark of orthodoxy. God does not require an empty “faith in faith,” but offers reality, transparent vindication in the form of eye-witness accounts upon which I base my own belief.

“Jesus of the Scars” is Edward Shillito’s poetic invitation for me to join Thomas in bearing witness:

“The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds, only God’s wounds speak,
And not a god has wounds but Thou alone.”

When, through Thomas’s eyes, I see a wounded God, I am brave to come, wounded, to Him, for if it were not for those visible wounds all would be winter.
The stone would still seal in the stench of death;
the door to the upper room would stay forever locked;
there would be no framing of the heart to resurrection truth.

Like Mary, though, I am seen and known.
I hear the sound of His voice through His Word:
a whispered hope,
a release from shame,
a path away from the downward draw of brokenness,
a promise of eternal spring.


Today, my family and I are beginning spring vacation (Hooray!) For a few days, things will be quiet here on the blog while we re-connect, relax, and make memories together.  May you also find joy in your celebration of resurrection life and the Savior who lives. 

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine.

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Why Read the Lists?

“I’m glad you’re the one reading this,” said the patient husband.

He was referring to the tongue-twisting list of names in I Chronicles 5 with all their adjacent vowels and unexpected consonant blends.

I could see his point, but, to be honest, I was enjoying the effort of decoding the names and then saying them, one by one, out loud to the air inside our min-van.

As we waded through the names in I Chronicles, I couldn’t ignore the repeated evidence that God keeps records of the names of His people.  When we look at an old year book or at the many pictures that scroll their way through our social media minutes, it’s human nature to look for the faces and names of those we recognize and love.  God needs no news feed to keep track of His beloved, and every face, every name has significance to Him.  This truth is prevalent throughout the Old Testament:   remember Moses begging God to wipe his own name out of the book rather than giving up on his people?  And the lists go on throughout the books of history right into Nehemiah and the years of exile.

In the New Testament,  Jesus told The Seventy (when they returned from their short-term missions trip), “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  His message to them was that God’s cherishing and recording of their name is more reason for them to rejoice than their ability to “trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy,” (Luke 10:17-20).

Just as God sees all time at once, exists outside of time, and yet is available to you in your moment, so He also sees all of humanity at once — and yet He cherishes uniqueness.  He knows you by name.

Mostly unpronounceable,
They march across the pages.

Trailing their fathers,
Embedded in community,
Their names inscribe the ages.

There are no nameless —
There are no faceless
Followers of God Most High.
Although we read them
With hearts too numb to marvel
At the grace that’s between the lines;

For these are the people promised to Abraham,
The ones for whom God split the sea,
Who sold themselves cheaply
And squandered their chosen-ness —

Just like me.

Seventy servants
Returned from a mission
With tales of demons falling.

Sharing their conquests,
‘Til Jesus gave perspective:
“Your joy is not your calling,

“But you have names
And you have faces
You’re followers of God Most High.
And so your names,
‘Enrolled among the righteous,’
Are written in My Book of Life.”

For they are the people promised to Abraham,
Outnumbering the stars they can see.
When the Lamb’s Book is opened
They’ll hold their breaths, listening.
On their faces, they’ll be listening —

Just like me.


Photo credit

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Inerrancy Defined and Defended


As one who is eminently shake-able, I look daily and with great need to the unshakeable Word of God.  There’s no better place to turn when your heart has been shaken — Truth (with a capital “t”) is the solid foundation for a life of stability.  The #livefree Thursday community is pondering the word “shaken” today, and I’m joining the conversation.  Be sure to check out their great links as well.

From the earliest days of Christianity, the Bible was accepted as the Word of God, inspired and inerrant.  It was not until the 18th century that this belief came into question, but since that time, many mainstream evangelicals, people who believingly follow Jesus, have been shaken from their conviction that the Bible is truly “the living voice of God.”  In The Scripture Cannot Be Broken, John MacArthur has collected an anthology of fourteen articles, fourteen distinct voices attesting to the truth that Scripture is the very Word of God.  With publication dates ranging from 1946 to 1984, the authors, though diverse in style, are one in their adherence to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978.  The list of contributors reads like a who’s who of twentieth-century theological writers and thinkers, and I would recommend that a future edition include a brief biographical sketch of each contributor, either as an appendix or along with the bibliographical information accompanying their article.

This anthology is no over-simplified pledge-of-allegiance.  The writers acknowledge that our faith in God’s inerrant Word will involve “unresolved questions and difficulties with regard to the very content of this faith.”  Just as the transcendent mysteries of the Trinity and the incarnation “are not incompatible with unshaken faith, so the questions regarding inerrancy are often “the questions of adoring wonder rather than the questions of painful perplexity,” (Murray, p. 51).  Wherever my finite understanding comes into contact with God’s infinite grandeur, theology becomes the gateway to pure worship!

Inerrancy Defined

According to J.I. Packer, one of the murkiest issues in defining the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God is that “both have been so variously employed in theological discussions that they now bear no precise meaning at all,” (p. 97).  The Scripture Cannot Be Broken addresses objections, clears up misunderstandings, and fine tunes the reader’s understanding of God’s authorship and preservation of His words. Hearkening back to Augustine, Irenaeus, Origen, Aquinas, and a host of others, definitions of inerrancy center around the truth that the Scriptures are a reliable witness to the words and deeds of God through His inspired spokesmen and His incarnate Son, (Preus, p. 222).  Articles link inerrancy to inspiration, authority, and infallibility for clarification, since, in defining inerrancy, “we are attempting to do more than merely define a term, we are seeking to formulate a doctrine.”   Gordon R. Lewis offers an important analysis of inerrancy as it relates to infallibility:  The Bible is inerrant, i.e. errorless, in the truths it asserts; the Bible is infallible in its use of language (words) to affirm the truth that it conveys.

Inerrancy Defended

Given that inerrancy is foundational to orthodoxy, it is worthy of the thorough defense it receives from the pens of these fourteen essayists.  Their apologetics center around the witness of Scripture; i.e., the New Testament witnesses to the Old Testament and the organic unity of both testaments provides further internal evidence.  Evangelical biblicists are not dependent upon slick mano a mano argumentation whenever doubters raise a supercilious eyebrow.  To the objection that we are reasoning in a circle by allowing Scripture to speak for itself, John Frame (an author from the list for further study on page 329) replies that there is no system that does not involve circularity. For example,  if one starts with the presupposition that there is no God, every piece of evidence will serve to confirm that belief.

B.B. Warfield masterfully summarizes Christ’s and the sacred writers’ view of Old and New Testament Scripture, and Roger R. Nicole affirms the mystery that human instrumentality and divine influence could combine without compromise.  The authors provide abundant and satisfying argumentation and a rich store of Scriptural documentation for their positions, even addressing individual details such as the fact that although copyists did make errors, these inaccuracies affect no more than one one-thousandth part of the text and are insignificant in content.

Twentieth century writings on the doctrine of inerrancy are essential reading, but not because the truthfulness of Scripture is an end in itself.  As much as the heart craves a sure word, theology can never be a purely academic discipline.  The purpose of the Holy Scriptures is to make the reader “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”  This is an intensely practical concern, for, in the words of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:

“The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.”

The timeless truth upheld in The Scripture Cannot Be Broken is this: God has spoken, and His Words are preserved for us in the pages of Scripture that we may know Him, obey Him, and love Him in truth.  Thanks be to God.

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my honest review.

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Thinking God’s Thoughts After Him

“Why would God want us to speak to Him?”

William Philip’s question stopped me in my tracks because most authors of books on prayer argue from the opposite perspective:  “Why should you want to speak to God?”  Forever curious about the nature of God and constantly frustrated with my inconsistent prayer life, I found biblically-based and deeply thoughtful reflections in Why We Pray, which focuses on explaining rather than exhorting, and bases the explanation for why we pray on satisfying theological reasoning expressed in four points:

1.  We pray because God is a speaking God.  He spoke the world into being.  He spoke to our spiritual forbearers audibly.  He spoke salvation through His Son (see Hebrews 1:2), and He speaks today by His Spirit to all who seek his words in the inspired Word.  Created in his image for relationship with Him, our highest privilege is communion with God.  Thus prayer becomes “the audible form of that right relationship with God.”

2.  We pray because we are sons of God.    The only begotten Son of God is ultimately the only “true human being” in the sense that He maintained constant communication with God.  As the God the Son, he had direct access to the Father.  And no wonder the gospel is called good news, because the truth is that all who are in Christ Jesus are the sons of God and have that same access to the Father!  An important point of clarification is that because “son-ship” in biblical times implied a certain status, the term “son” should not rankle the female ear.  If “son” offends, a better substitute would be “heir” rather than “child,” because “everything that [belongs to Jesus] by right of birth is now ours by right of adoption.”  The staggering application of this truth to our prayer life is that, as our Father, God “cannot not hear us” when we pray.  Hence, our identity as pray-ers stems from our standing rather than from our merit or performance.

3.  We pray because God is a sovereign God.  Having taken the initiative in calling out to us, and having restored broken lines of communication with humanity in the death of his Son, God Himself is the ultimate reason that prayer is even a logical activity.  John Newton poetically summarizes Philip’s argument:  “Thou art coming to a King/Large petitions with thee bring/For his grace and pow’r are such/None could ever ask too much.”  However, this attribute of sovereignty constantly rides the theological seesaw opposite human responsibility, particularly in relation to prayer.  Why We Pray makes an excellent case for a balanced seesaw:  “God is sovereign, and we are responsible.”  Philip encourages his readers to view prayer as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him,” not as robots, but from a place of privileged partnership, understanding God’s goal for the universe and receiving all the benefits of a working relationship with One who is aware of, concerned for, and able to meet our deepest, truest needs.

4.  We pray because we have the Spirit of God.  It is the indwelling Holy Spirit who aligns our desires with God’s sovereign purposes — and who convinces us that it is not in our best interest to try to align God with our selfish purposes.  The indwelling Holy Spirit’s enabling us to become “real pray-ers” bears out the truth of Jesus’ insistence that it was far better for his disciples that He leave them, for the ministry of the Spirit completes a staggeringly important circle:  the sovereign God who speaks abides in his true sons through the Holy Spirit’s ministry for us, in us, and to us.  As a result, the believer who abides in Him and prays in line with the revealed will of God in scripture will pray with confidence.

An excellent and very relevant and realistic point for “boots on the ground” Christianity is the matter of prayer when the will of God is not clear on a matter; e.g.  the prayer for healing of a gravely ill family member.  When God has not seen fit to reveal his will, “to attempt to drum up lots of faith in order to be sure that God will answer our prayer is self-deception.”  In fact, “often the more fervent the prayer the more pagan it is,” (see Matthew 6:7).  Refusing to lay the matter out before a sovereign God and scorning the words “if it is your will” is not a mark of faith, but of presumption.

Reading Why We Pray, answering each chapter’s Questions for Reflection or Discussion, and realizing anew the nature and motivation of true prayer is an eye-opening experience.  In the foreword, Alistair Begg has written, “In our Christian lives, nothing is more important and nothing more difficult to maintain than a meaningful prayer life.”  I would add to that:  there is no greater privilege than the challenge of becoming a praying person — because of Who God is and because of who we are in Christ.

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review.