The Lord’s Prayer: A Review

When I think of the phrase “pastor theologian,” I think of Warren Smith. You could chalk it up to his habit of wearing a clerical collar while teaching in the classroom. But it is more than just his collar. He is a pastor theologian because he delivers lectures and writes books like sermons. And this is true of the book reviewed here.

In The Lord’s Prayer (Wipf & Stock, 2015: kindly provided by Wipf & Stock for review), Smith reflects upon the unique prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Smith begins with two brief chapters that situate the prayer in its narrative context. These introductory chapters are followed by ten magnificent chapters that address either the particular phrases of the prayer or elements directly related to the prayer. He concludes with an epilogue in which he calls the reader to a life of doxology. “However ecstatic our love for God may be in times of worship,” Smith writes, “the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer is never so otherworldly as to be separate from our life in the here and now” (p. 130).

The sentence I’ve just quoted is indicative of the book as a whole, throughout which Smith masterfully weaves interpretation and exhortation into delightful prose. There is no clear separation between Smith’s explanation of a word or phrase apart from how it meets the church community. Interpretation and exhortation hang together, as they should. My assumption is that Smith learned this from his long and abiding friendship with the church mothers and fathers. Though quoted conservatively, the medieval theologians’ influence on Smith is pervasive.

For example, Smith reads Scripture in a way learned only through sitting at the feet of someone like Augustine. He allows the language and stories of Scripture to converge upon a phrase so that it may be illuminated. In considering “Hallowed be Thy Name,” Smith does not define “hallowed” strictly according to the usage elsewhere in Matthew or by consulting etymological studies. Instead, he tells the story of Moses stepping onto hallowed ground and the Israelites being warned not to touch the holy mountain upon which God reveals himself to Moses. In light of these stories, Smith explains, “God is holy and the place where God reveals himself is holy. We cannot therefore enter God’s presence casually or thoughtlessly. God is to be approached with deliberate humility, with fear and trembling, in a word, with reverence.” Elsewhere, the Psalms naturally finish Smith’s sentences and the words of the New Testament writers serve as periods and exclamation points. Though he is a church historian by speciality, this book serves as a lesson in the interpretation of Scripture.

One last point. Smith’s primary goal may be to interpret the Lord’s Prayer, but he simultaneously interprets humanity and the church. Whether he is rebuking our tendency toward individualism or our inability to grasp the significance of words, Smith allows this prayer to speak into us, to transform us, into the children who cry out “Our Father.”

The Lord’s Prayer is a continuation of Smith’s teaching ministry. It is perfectly suited for people preparing for the ministry. Yet, he writes with such clarity that churches interested in preparing a small group study or series on the Lord’s Prayer would find this book an immense help. Let me leave you with one final word from the author, in hopes that it might tantalize you into reading it further!

So for Jesus, prayer is not merely words. It is a way of life, a way of being in the world, a way of being in relationship with our heavenly Father. Prayer is how we walk in the world. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is not simply one among many practices; it defines all other practices. It is how we continue to walk with the risen Christ, who is genuinely present with us at the same time that he has ascended to the right hand of the Father. It is our way of being with God in in our walk (p. xv).

Amen.

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