Christian Books

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

True Prayer by Kenneth Leech



True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality
Kenneth Leech
San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980
202 pages

Rating: 9 out of 10

Quick Summary: Kenneth Leech is a retired Anglican priest and spiritual writer. True Prayer is the second book in what became his trilogy on the Christian spiritual life. Previously, I reviewed the first book of the trilogy, Soul Friend: New Revised Edition (click on "Leech" on the LABELS list). While Soul Friend is a textbook on spiritual direction, this work is a textbook on prayer.

Inevitably, when I read Kenneth Leech, I encounter a chapter or section that is an absolute treasure chest filled with gold, silver, and precious jewels. It is priceless beyond imagination! This book is no exception!

The one difference is that there are many places in this book where this is true. From his instruction on distractions in prayer to growth in contemplative prayer, he offers deep, insightful instruction. Yet, the depth of the work should not deter the reader. It is also a practical work on many aspects of prayer and growth in prayer. This book should not, and probably cannot, be read quickly. It should be sipped and savored like fine wine, not guzzled like cheap beer.

Leech says, "This book is addressed to people who are trying to follow the Christian way of prayer and to discern their awareness of life in the Spirit" (10). He structures True Prayer around the Lord's Prayer and plunges into the depths of the Lord's Prayer scripturally and spiritually. It seeks to teach us to pray individually and corporately. As always, Leech's well-known social concern is evident. I generally find it a proper balance to Western individualism.

Leech states, "So the aim and goal of Christian life and prayer is to see God" (9). More than simply making our requests known to God and getting what we want, prayer is relational. It is about knowing God personally. He guides us into deepening our personal relationship with God. Here's the publication information about the book.

Evangelical Assessment: Admittedly, I find myself biased. For me, this book ranks in the top 3 books on prayer that I have read. Still, it requires some evaluative comments. Let me begin with a concern over the format, I found myself wishing for section headings within chapters. I think that this would be helpful to the reader.

Regardless, True Prayer is both academic and practical. It is deeply scriptural and theological, historical and spiritual. It is theologically informed. This work is theologically grounded in the creation and incarnation, which is common for Anglican theology. In addition, the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit form its understanding and practice of prayer.

In the context of this work, Leech is orthodox in his presentation. I do continue to wonder about some of his positions that are not addressed in this work, but they are not a concern in this work. Some evangelicals from non-liturgical backgrounds may raise their eyebrows over his sacramental understanding of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Those in traditions that do not practice confession, even corporate confession, will experience a little anxiety as he discusses private confession.

The humorous thing for me is this: in many of the non-liturgical denominations, they practice of baptism and confession in ways that parallel their fellow evangelicals in liturgical traditions. When I pastored a church in the revivalistic tradition, at the invitation believers would come to the front and basically do a confession. I think that there is something inherently human about this need for confession and forgiveness from God that causes us to develop some type of practices that incorporate it in our tradition.

Who might this book interest? I think that this book would interest any evangelical who desires to grow into and deepen their prayer life, especially pastors who wish to deepen their own prayer life and to better understand and aid those believers who are seeking to do the same. 

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