Praying with the Church: A Review

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : June 15, 2006

The other reviews in this Praying with the Church blog tour have done a good job of summarizing or stating the need for such a book. My review, therefore, will be more on how it can be useful for a community–mine in particular.

Missio Dei, my faith community, is a missional order. We root ourselves primarily in the monastic and anabaptistic traditions. Part of our challenge has been how to live within rhythms of prayer. I’ve always been attracted the contemplatives and mystics, but I am more action-oriented, and my little community tends to reflect that action-orientation. But it has become clear to us in recent months that we were in desperate need of a more structured approach to prayer. Since most in our community come from more generic, low-churchy, evangelical or pentecostal churches, we found ourselves ill-equipped to build such a structure.

Scot McKnight is not only an excellent apologeia for the use of the cannonical hours, but also an excellent resource for those who are already convinced but don’t know how to proceed. We fall into the latter category.

Pary One of the Praying with the Church focuses on Jesus and his rhythms of prayer. This is the part of the book that makes a case for practicing the cannonical hours. I think, overall, McKnight makes a good case. However, I could almost hear my charismatic friends’ disagreement as I read. I don’t think the book will convince many skeptics. However, it will strengthen the resolve of those who are interested, or perhaps tip the balance for the curious. It all comes down to how one interprets Jesus’ spirituality–and it is open for lots of interpretation.

While I can understand that folks may be intimidated by commitment of praying the cannonical hours and skeptical of the routine-ness of it all, I can think of few practices that mount such an effective resistance against the consumer impulse–to be isolated, autonomous, “choosers” whose choices only benefit the self. It was my frustration with consumerism and individualism that led me to things like the cannonical hours and the lectionary.
Part Two of Praying with the Church introduces four different approaches to cannonical hours: the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Anglican, and Phillis Tickle’s The Divine Hours. These are four different approaches to “praying with the Church”–a helpful concept from McKnight that serves as a needed tonic for our rampant individualism. Praying the hours isn’t simply a structured “devotion time,” it is something we do with others–it is communal. Yes, most of the time one prays the hours, one is alone. But thousands and thousands of others are praying the same prayers somewhere in the rest of the world. When we take on a shared rhythm, we pray with the Church–which is the proper context for prayer.
I am not an expert in these areas, so I’m not sure how well he summarizes the different approaches. His summaries give an excellent primer and leave the door open for further exploration from the reader. And that exploration is started in chaper 11–the conclusion. Chapter 11 is my favorite, because it gives 9 suggestions for future development:

  1. We need realistic expectations (don’t try to jump into too much too quickly)
  2. We need to try (start simple and get help if you need it)
  3. We need space for silence (set aside a special place for silent prayer)
  4. We need variety and flexiblity (don’t stay in a rut if you find a particular prayer book getting repetitious–branch out)
  5. We need depth and breadth (don’t just dabble, give yourself a good, long, bath in a prayer book so that you can find the rhythm)
  6. We need to know what to say first (start with adoration and dedication)
  7. We need to use the Psalter (this should be the core of our prayer life)
  8. We need to recite the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Creed every day (I’m not convinced of this, but these two passages do express the hear of Jesus’ approach to prayer and worship)
  9. We need hymns and readings (again, I’m not convinced of this one–I prefer to stick with Scripture. However reading hymns and spiritual writings is a good practice, even if it isn’t a part of your prayer practice)

Currently, Missio Dei is developing its own breviary (prayer book). It will be simple, utilize Scripture, and emphasize missional passages. McKnight’s book is particularly helpful to us because it gives a broad overview of the purpose and function of the major prayer books so that we can know how to craft our own prayer book. And with his practical suggestions at the end, I think we’re off to a good start.

Why not just use an existing prayer book? Because theology and prayer are contextual–and we want our prayer book to reflect our theology and location. But we will draw heavily from these other prayer books so that we have a strong sense of our connection to the larger Body of Christ.

Special Offer From Paraclete Press (for the month of June only):

Purchase Scot McKnight’s Praying With The Church and McKnight’s best selling book The Jesus Creed and you will receive your copy of The Jesus Creed for free! Reference coupon code PRBLOG and call 1-800-451-5006 or order on-line. (when ordering on-line you must enter both books on the order)

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.

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    Very nice review. What I like about this review is that you've taken from my world and made it live in your world; you've contextualized the book, and I have to say this is very encouraging to me.
    Blessings on missio Dei.


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