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To You All Hearts are Open: Revitalizing the Church’s Pattern of Asking God

by Scot McKnight

Paraclete Press, 2021
Review by Jenny Gilbertson, a Reader in the Diocese of Chester

To You All Hearts are Open: Revitalizing the Church’s Pattern of Asking God

In this brief and accessible book Scot McKnight urges both church and individual to adopt a pattern of petitionary prayer which he persuasively argues is firmly rooted in Biblical example and in particular the Old Testament. The pattern or structure which McKnight identifies has 5 components: Address (to God); Reminder (also to God); Petition; Expectation and Access. Anglican readers may well have spotted that what McKnight is promoting is the ancient collect-form so prevalent in Anglican liturgy, although a handful of other examples adopting the same structure are also given. Indeed, McKnight makes a rather half-hearted attempt to argue that most Christian denominations take the collect as their basic form of public prayer, which may come as something of a surprise to readers of other denominations.

The book is structured around this pattern, with chapters devoted to each of these 5 elements. These chapters are bookended at the beginning by two chapters looking at Old and New Testament patterns and at the end by chapters summarising the argument of the book and encouraging the reader to try writing their own collects. McKnight illustrates the structure by breaking down the component parts of several collects (at the same time perhaps further irritating the non-Anglican reader by identifying them by reference to the Anglican church year: ‘Proper 17’ or ‘The Sixth Sunday of Easter’). He adopts a different script for each component; italics for the Address; underlining for the Reminder and so on. This is helpful (until one puts down the book and continues reading later and can no longer recall what each script denotes!).

McKnight’s ideas about how God is addressed in petitionary prayer are particularly thought provoking and merit reflection. It is so easy when praying privately or publicly simply to use some form of address just to set the prayer going but McKnight suggests that the composition of the prayer should begin with the Petition and the Reminder which in turn will dictate the most appropriate form of Address. On the other hand, I found his approach to ‘reminding God’ lacked balance. Nowhere is there mention of the Reminder being a reminder to the petitioner of the nature of the God to whom they pray, a public declaration of the character and deeds that God has done or an offering of praise.

Finally, there is perhaps an unspoken agenda to this book. It is implicit in the title, ‘Revitalizing the Church’s Pattern of asking God’ that said pattern is moribund and in need of revitalizing. McKnight urges us to ‘say what we want.’ No criticism should be made of being direct. (McKnight commends the Anglican collects for their directness which may also come as a surprise to some readers). But the choice of words is unhelpful, obliquely suggesting that a petition with enough conviction behind it will always get results. Nevertheless, this book has the potential to instil greater confidence in a nervous public intercessor and greater reflectiveness in both public and private prayer and is to be commended for that.

 

Save 10% on the RRP when you order this book from chbookshop.co.uk. Add the voucher code PREACHER22 at the basket to receive the discount:

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