Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

Honest Prayer

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
June 2018
Fred's Rating: 
John Shelby Spong
Total Pages: 
St. Johann Press

This is a reprint of John Shelby Spong's first book printed in 1973 by Seabury Press. It tells us what he taught to his Episcopal congregation (and many others) of Richmond, Virginia. After reading book 759, I decided to also read some of his earliest books. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)

The Amazon website for the paperback edition is

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this book's covers at the website above.]

Amazon has neither a home page summary nor the ‘Look inside’ option. Thus I recommend reading the brief Top Customer reviews by Carolyn and granpadick. The Lord’s Prayer from The Book of Common Prayer is discussed by Spong in 13 rather short chapters. Since I found his 1972 Preface to describe well what he intended with this book, I give next his 3-pp Preface, but exclude some of the last third that consists of Acknowledgements.

“In part this book presents what is my unfinished search for the meaning and power of prayer. It is the collected thoughts of one who is sure that there is more to prayer than he can comprehend. Perhaps it will raise more questions than it answers, although that is not its intention. My primary purpose here is simply to remove some roadblocks, some misapprehensions, some of those barriers to prayer that I believe plague the modern mind, for they have plagued me.

“The book is not presented as a scholarly exegesis of the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus of Nazareth originally intended it. There are many of those already available today. Rather, it is an attempt to discern the eternal truths which are expressed in prayer and to identify those truths as they pertain to our day, although they might be expressed quite differently. Jesus lived and taught and prayed in the context of his world. But if he is to be the Lord of all history the inner truth of his life must be lived and taught and prayed in the context of our world. In order to demonstrate this fact, I have drawn heavily on my own life experience. Hence this book will reveal my ‘being’, and I hope it will be read as offering a dialogue by my reader. It is truly and honestly an offering of the self that I am, a self that I have been given by him whom I call ‘Source of Life.’

“If I had to name the immediate stimulus to my writing it would be my reading of ‘Our Prayer’ by Louis Evely. For me the experience was one of finding water in the dessert. It opened doors and allowed me to crystalize my own search with my experience as a pastor and my study of the Bible. Though I have never met Evely I did send him a portion of this book early in its preparation. His response was gentle and encouraging. Perhaps someday our paths will cross. I would like that immensely. I should also add that I have found ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ by Joachim Jeremias very helpful for his scholarly background.”

I skip the next paragraph to conclude with the last paragraph of Spong’s Preface: “From the inception of this book to the very end of its presentation, my wife, Joan, and my daughters, Ellen, Katherine, and Jaquelin, have made it all worthwhile, for from them I draw my greatest love and strongest support. My hope is that they might say the same of me.”

This Preface, dated May 1972, is followed by The Contents of 13 chapters plus ‘Some Helpful Books.’ Next is the Lord’s Prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (the version used in 1972, the one I have), then a page with the RSV versions from Mathew 6:7-15 and also from Luke 11:2-4.

I chose some quotes from the 7-pp Ch. 9 – When We Are Tested. In Ch. 9 Spong reflects on the English translation of Jesus’ words into “And lead us not into temptation, …” He reminds us that the original Aramaic words were translated into Greek, then Latin, before being translated into Elizabethan English. In his reflections upon Jesus’ original meaning, he concluded that we need to “Think about this phrase rationally rather than emotionally for a moment. If we are literal about this petition, the God to whom we pray becomes quite unbelievable. A deity who must be implored not to lead his unsuspecting people into temptation is a demonic deity.”

After about a page of further discussion of this phrase, he summarizes his conclusion: “‘Lead us not into temptation’ or ‘Do not bring us to the test’ is thus a prayer which refers to this unshakeable presence of God in the midst of the hard realities of life. It means ‘keep us open to your love that we will not face the tests of life apart from your presence.' (Louis Evely) ‘Lead us not into temptation’ means God’s great and only gift to us is to be with us, not as a heavenly parent who leads children by the hand, but as the Power of Love that calls us into being and gives us the courage to say Yes to life, come what may.

I give next his last paragraph of Ch. 9: “’Lead us not into temptation’ means ‘let me know that I am not alone.’ To pray this prayer is to vote for involvement in life, not withdrawal. To pray this prayer is to welcome the future rather than to dread it. It is to see every situation as an opportunity for growth and redemption. It is to view every meeting with every person as a moment for life and community. It is a prayer the world yearns to hear if we twentieth-century Christians will have the courage by deed to act it out and by word to translate it for our generation.”

If I had not already held this interpretation in my mind, I doubt if my partial recovery from my physical disability would have been possible – I might have preferred death over partial recovery. The other chapters of this deeply insightful book also describe well the deep meanings of the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer, but I chose Ch. 9 because it deals so well with the difficult interpretation we inherited from our past. Because of John Shelby Spong’s teachings in this book, I give it five stars, but add ‘think six stars.’