Hughes Oliphant Old. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995, 370 pp. $19.95. Reviewed by Timothy Mulder, pastor of Preakness Reformed Church, Preakness, New Jersey.
Hughes Oliphant Old has written a practical guide to help ministers teach their congregations the language of prayer. In a warm introduction, he tells family stories of how a life of prayer develops.
One of the greatest contributions of this book is that while the author treasures spontaneity in prayer, he acknowledges that public prayers demand preparation. With both formula and fluidity, Old models styles of prayers for use in common worship. The chapter on invocations is especially good. Each invocation begins with, "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth," then moves to the naming of God, the hallowing of God, a petition and closing doxology, and Trinitarian sealing.
According to Old, the psalms teach the language of prayer and should be used in their entirety, rather than just clipping a joyful sentence or two to open the service. Each Sunday, a psalm should be selected quite apart from how it fits with the theme or sermon of the day, since that is not its goal. Rather, the psalms express the range of the human experience and thus teach us we may offer ourselves honestly to God without editing out the unpleasantries.
Old also notes that hymns are prayers expressed as folk music and are one of the few ways Protestants today learn any of the ancient prayers of the church. Those who love ancient hymns will cheer at what he writes, as will the modern advocates of "praise" music. Both will come away with a greater appreciation for the other.
Too many intercessory prayers these days don't jump beyond the fence of the congregation's backyard. Old corrects this with specific examples drawn from the morning paper as he reminds the church of its vocation to pray for the world. If anything could have been added to this chapter, it might have been that Protestant worship is in danger of becoming too much like that for which we had a reformation five hundred years ago. Our prayers are captives of the clergy. Old lets the pastor do all the interceding on behalf of the people. There are no "prayers of the people" in this book. However, to his credit, he did write (p. 82) that the congregation, not just the minister, should pray the confession, and that the same confession should be used often enough that the people come to know it.
As I read Leading in Prayer, I kept feeling that my grandfather was talking to me. The book is kind and loving, so I tried to overlook its exclusive male language, its talk of calling good "men" to the ministry, its almost total use of "Father" in the opening of its prayers. There is no apology for a preference for King James. All this would be acceptable for something written a generation ago or perhaps by a retired minister. However, it is not the best way for someone writing today to model prayer. As the Consultation on Common Texts has said, the goal is not to be politically correct, but rather expansive in our language for and about God. That does not mean to exclude "Father" talk, but to use the expanse of biblical imagery. I don't want to make too big a point of this, but it did affect my reading. Only when I read the book again, making allowances for that perspective, did the rest of the book's richness shine through.