Knocking on Heaven's Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer
Berding, Kenneth, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Knocking on Heaven's Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer. By David Crump. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006, 345 pp., $22.99 paper.
Books on prayer often show evidence of the personal piety of an author and sometimes offer helpful suggestions for the practice of prayer, but many lack serious engagement with biblical texts in which prayer is discussed or modeled. In Knocking on Heaven's Door, David Crump, professor of religion and theology at Calvin College and author of Jesus the Intercessor: Prayer and Christology in Luke-Acts (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1992), has bridged the gap between exegesis of texts on prayer and practical applications of exegetically derived insights. In choosing to limit his discussion to biblical passages that address petitionary prayer, he has focused his discussion and is able to spend more time on interpretive issues in particular texts. Furthermore, since petitionary prayer is the area that creates the greatest number of difficulties for praying believers, his choice to focus only on this aspect of prayer makes the topics discussed in the book extremely relevant.
The book is divided into three main sections. Each section contains three or four chapters in which particular passages are addressed, followed by theological reflections on prayer in the sections discussed. The first main section (chaps. 1-4) addresses petitionary prayer in the Synoptic Gospels, with special attention given to Jesus' comments in Mark 11:22-25 after he curses the fig tree; the healing of the epileptic boy in Mark 9:14-29; Jesus' Gethsemane prayer in Mark 14:32-42; and the parables of the friend at midnight (Luke 11:5-8) and the widow and the judge (Luke 18:1-8). The second main section (chaps. 5-7) concerns the Lord's Prayer, with dedicated discussions of the phrases "our Father," "thy kingdom come," and especially how we should interpret "thy will be done." Nestled between the second and third main sections are chapters 8 and 9, which are about prayer in the Johannine literature, with special attention to asking in Jesus' name, and prayer in the Acts of the Apostles, respectively. The third main section (chaps. 10-12) concerns Pauline prayer, with special attention given to Rom 8:2627. Chapter 13 is a summary of petitionary prayer in the General Letters and Revelation, followed by a final chapter (chap. 14), which contains five conclusions that should, according to Crump, set the boundaries for our theological reflections on prayer. His five conclusions, in his own words, are: (1) we pray to a personal God; (2) a personal God is willing to be moved; (3) prayer can change those who pray; (4) we pray between the (eschatological) times; and (5) power appears through suffering.
Crump has made a concerted effort throughout the book to connect the conclusions he has drawn from biblical texts to real life case studies of people (himself included) who have struggled with applying biblical teaching on prayer. This does not mean that Knocking on Heaven's Door is light reading. In fact, Crump moves back and forth between personal anecdotes and discussions of minute details of particular texts, with greater attention being given to the particulars of the texts under consideration. Although Crump has made a real attempt to address concerns of thinking laypersons in this book, it is hard to imagine that most of our laypeople will have the endurance to read through the entire book (cf. his use of such technical terms as "intercalation," p. 25).
I have been enriched by many of Crump's insights into particular biblical texts and found numerous helpful insights, especially in his discussions of prayer in Acts (chap. 9) and his section on factors that hinder prayer in the General Letters (chap. 13). Still, I have three broad areas of concern with this book.
First, at a number of points in the book, Crump accepts exegetical conclusions that are minority positions in the history of interpretation of particular passages. …