Tag Archives: prophecy

Book Review: Prayer by Roger Forster

Disclaimer: This book was a gift from my church which I received at a newcomers evening (though I have been involved with the network since 2002, I have been attending this particular congregation since last autumn). Roger and Faith Forster began the church and are still present and very active in the life and management of it. I was not asked to review the book so, as ever, this review is wholly of my own initiative.

As the title of the book states, this is a book about prayer. Subtitled ‘Living in the breath of God‘ this is a sort of short guide to everything you might want to know about prayer within christianity. There’s little to nothing here of any other religion and it’s not really an academic text, detailing theory of prayer, it’s developmental history or anything like that. Rather, this is a devotional book that seems very much aimed at the person who is already a christian or who is looking at christianity seriously with an eye to conversion.

Roger starts with a fairly straightforward look at ‘why we must pray’. I would hope that most would find this opening unsurprising. If one were to survey a wide group of christians and ask for a set of reasons and some scriptural backup, then you would not be far off reproducing most of the contents of the chapter. Most, but not all. Because Roger is a charismatic christian, in just about every sense of the word. As such, we get to see what the subtitle is about – the breath of God harks back to the term pneuma which can be variously translated as breath or wind or spirit. So to pray is to live in the Holy Spirit.

As one might expect from a preacher with many decades of experience, he manages to make use of alliteration in his answer to why: communication, communion, command, co-operation, compassion, continuation, confrontation. Though if you want more details on each, you’ll have to read it for yourself.

With it fairly well drummed into us that prayer is a necessary part of the christian life, Roger turns to how we must pray. Roger focuses on some particular examples, though he limits himself to only looking at the New Testament. One could expand this to a whole book in itself and I’m sure you could pick any number of other examples that are omitted here.

Of course, one could hardly have a book on prayer without discussing the so-called Lord’s prayer. This follows on in the same vein as the previous chapter, with a phrase by phrase dissection of the prayer. Of course, one might ask ‘which version of the prayer?’ The version that most people seem to know (I recall a very odd training day at work when it was the one thing that everyone knew off by heart) is the version from the Book of Common Prayer. Of course, that’s a mongrel version, combining elements of both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel. Roger focuses on the two biblical approaches, warning against mindless chanting of it, which negates its validity as a genuine prayer. He picks up his preacher’s alliteration again when looking at 3 possible ways one understand and pray the Lord’s prayer: Eschatologically, ecclesiastically and emotionally. There’s also a neat comparative between the versions in Matthew and Luke, as well as a little bit on textual criticism on the differences between them, though unfortunately, in my view, no discussion on Luke 11:1 from which it has been suggested by others that what we know as the Lord’s prayer may actually be something Jesus copied from his cousin John.

As an aside, there are a few general theological stances made in the book that it might be worth noting. One that caught my eye in particular, given some recent reading was that Roger seems to advocate the more Calvinist view of imputed righteousness. This was partly a surprise as I know from conversations with him that he’s not particularly keen on Calvinism, and indeed one of the things that marks Ichthus out from other charismatic churches is that it is known for being far more Arminian in its soteriology. The idea of imputed righteousness is then linked (by way of an opposite) to imputed sin, which is of course linked to the idea of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). The reason this is particularly interesting is that recently the church hosted an American anabaptist speaker who talked about nonviolent atonement and was very set against the idea of PSA. You may be read more about that on Ben Trigg’s blog here.

The next chapter looks at the question of prophetic prayer. As something to a build up to this, please do see this preparatory post on ‘what do we mean by prophetic‘. Roger uses the term prophetic a lot, though he doesn’t really define what it is, which is a little frustrating. But one can get a fairly good grasp by inference throughout the chapter. It’s really an expansion of one part of his opening chapter. Specifically, he takes a Johannine view of abiding in God and God dwelling within us. This symbiotic relationship is then expressed through prayer in as much as we are allowed to participate in the conversations that go on within the Godhead. So prayer is not a list of asking God for things and having one reply out of: A) Yes, B) No or C) Maybe. It is far more symptomatic of an intimate relationship.

Following on from this, we get a chapter from Faith Forster, though why the book doesn’t then have dual accreditation is a mystery to me. She starts by defining 4 types of prayers. 1) Petitions and supplications, 2) Outpourings, 3) Intercessions and 4) Thanksgiving. Though even after having read it, I’m still not sure what the difference between 1 & 3 is supposed to be. She then takes another look at the Lord’s prayer with a different pair of spectacles on.

From here on in, the book looks at prayer as a weapon in spiritual warfare. Though it is not one of the named “Ichthus distinctives” those of you who are familiar with the church will note that it is one aspect of christian theology that gets a lot of attention; more so than in other denominations. To some this is welcome, though I know that others find it offputting. I confess, while I largely agree with the shape of the theology as it is taught, I do think it is rather over-emphasised at times, almost to the degree that personal responsibility can seem to be glossed over in favour of the power of ‘dark spirits’. But this is not a book of the occult, certainly. Rather, I think Roger and Faith’s aims are to shine a light into the darkness (again, a Johannine theme)

In conclusion, the christian book market is loaded with books on prayer. If you wanted, you could look at it from any number of perspectives. Of those that I’ve read, I would still say that Pete Greig’s God on Mute is one of the few “must-reads” that I would recommend.  But this is well worth reading, if only because you may have an interest in reading about prayer from a charismatic point of view, if you are more used to an ecclesiastically conservative way of looking at it.

Ultimately, it’s not so much a book to be read as to be applied. If you finish it, put it aside and think “well that’s interesting” then perhaps Roger will be sorely disappointed. As I’m completing this review some time after finishing reading it, perhaps the question that ought to be asked is: has it changed my prayer life? If I’m honest, the answer is probably ‘no’. That which I agreed with I probably do anyway and that which I disagreed with, I didn’t find convincing enough to make me change.

A word on the typesetting. This might seem harsh, considering I know who did the typesetting, but it really could do with a review. The book is littered with typing mistakes, the most common being a lack of spacing after punctuation. I just flicked the book open near the beginning and straight away on page 3 I can see the following:

“We are meant to communicate because God is a communicating God.There is a discipline in silence, but there is no discipline in non-communication.”

No space between the sentences. But please don’t let that detract you. If you want a book on prayer, this is as good as any, and certainly more practical than Rowan Williams’ Being Christian.The only omission I think there this is on the topic of the angry prayer, the lamentation, on which I wrote recently as a guest writer for the Big Bible blog.

What do we mean by “prophetic”?

This is sort of a follow up to this piece on the recent christian new media conference, prompted by a couple of the comments. It concerns the nature of prophecy and what we mean when we speak of something as prophetic.

The subject also came up recently when I was reading Roger Forster’s Prayer: Living in the Breath of God which I will be reviewing fairly soon. So I wanted to lay the foundations for that review first.

A very short summary may be found in my guest post the Big Bible blog, where we were looking at the book of Isaiah. The key point that I tried to make was put well by Jaroslav Pelikan when he said that prophecy was less about foretelling, but telling forth. In other words, the prophetic is rooted in the present but is forward looking. To imagine it simply as a form of fortune-telling is a lazy, simplistic and misleading way of talking of prophecy.

The biblical prophets were writing first and foremost to the world they lived in. As we have just been through Advent and Christmas, many will have heard snippets read from Isaiah (probably chapter 53) and Micah (chapter 5). While these passages certainly are forward looking, it is a disservice to them to remove them from their context and only read them with the benefit of hindsight. Both passages are to be found within a wider picture, and even those form a wider landscape of OT prophecy. This is a rugged and varied landscape. While Micah 5 is largely an expression of hope, this comes after pronouncements of judgment and warnings. Such warnings may be found throughout the OT prophets. As an example, the book of Jonah (which all too often is watered down through familiarity via Sunday school) tells of judgment which is to be pronounced against Nineveh, yet this judgment is not final. That judgment comes with the opportunity for redemption through repentance.

Likewise, John the Baptiser (I hesitate to call him “the Baptist” as it makes him sound like a Spurgeon-esque figure, replete with anachronistic overtones) was a fairly harsh figure, yet he called people to repentance. So we see that judgment should not be equated with damnation. It’s a conflation that happens far too often, particularly when christianity is viewed from the outside and our collective communication skills have failed, allowing the confusion to take place. Adopting Wright’s take on Paul’s view of justification, judgment is an eschatological verdict, but justification is the present verdict in anticipation of the final judgment. But that judgment, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, is in our favour. It is only when the offer of grace is rejected that the judgment becomes one of damnation, a verdict of the second death, or annihilation. But it is not our place to judge, either in favour or against, another.

It seems right that secular prophecy should not be excluded from such a discussion. What do I mean by secular prophecy? It is simply any prophecy where a spiritual element is lacking. It is observation grounded in the present, combined with insight as to the causes of a situation and the probable outcomes, which usually come with some kind of warning. As an example, I would state that one of our most prominent secular prophets is George Monbiot, whose frequent warnings over climate change meet the criteria above. In America, one of the most rigorous of the secular prophets is Nate Silver, whose work with polls, combined with an acute understanding of statistics led him to famously predict the correct result of 49 out of 50 of the US states in the 2008 general election. As a side note, I intend to read his book, The Signal and the Noise, later this year.

The final aspect I wanted to look at is the question of the “prophetic act”. This is slightly different, as it is generally less direct than the others. I want to illustrate by comparing two prophets: Elisha and Jesus.

Even among non-christians, the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (men) is fairly well known. But it is often portrayed simply as a miracle as though this were some kind of proof of Jesus’ divinity. I would contend that such a view rather misses the points (for there is more than one). On top of it being an act of kindness, it was a prophetic action that harked back to the lesser known story of Elisha feeding 100 (men) as told in 2 Kings 4:42-44. If one puts on a post-hoc set of glasses, one might think that Elisha is here foretelling what Jesus would later do. That’s one way of looking at it. The other way is to put yourself in the shoes of those who were in the crowd at the later event. They would be reasonably familiar with the law and the prophets and rather than Elisha’s act foretelling the act of Jesus, it was Jesus’ act that harked back to Elisha’s. In this highly symbolic action, which would not have needed to be explained out loud, Jesus was identifying himself with the ministry of the one of Israel’s great prophets. Seen this way, we remove some of the puzzlement over the disciples’ response when Jesus asked “Who do people say that I am?” and they come back with “John the Baptiser; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” If you will permit me a small liberty, if it walks like a prophet and quacks like a prophet then it might well be a prophet.

Sticking with Jesus’ miracles, many of the acts of healing that we find are not only compassionate acts that alleviate suffering, but that they were on those whose afflictions would have rendered them ritually unclean or cause them to be cast out from society. The act of healing then was a prophetic act that says “[you are clean]” which is brought out more explicit with the vision Peter had of the sheet being brought down containing foods that had been considered ritually unclean and commanded to eat.

Hopefully it should be clear that this way of looking at prophetic acts entails communion and baptism. They are highly symbolic acts which hark back to the most important week in world history.

A modern example of a secular prophetic act was the salt march that Gandhi undertook in 1930. As this is quite long, I’ll let you read up more about it rather than recount the history here.

So can we summarise what we mean when we speak of prophecy or to say that some word, image or action is prophetic? My usage would be thus:

An act of prophecy is the act of telling forth of an insight into the present which has repercussions for the future. Something which is described as prophetic is foremost an act or a statement that is loaded with symbolism which, when understood, is meant a statement of prophecy. Secondarily, a prophetic act or word can be something which harks back to earlier such words or actions, but which is marked out by being highly symbolic, yet not to such an obscure level that it needed to be explained by detailed semiotics. They typically reference things which are commonly known and understood. The primary and secondary meanings here need not be separate acts, but can be entwined in a single act.

What hasn’t been addressed here is determining true prophecy from false, or how to respond to it. I’ll leave that for you.