We begin a series today on Telford Work’s new book, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, a book on the Lord’s Prayer unlike any book on either prayer or the Lord’s prayer I’ve seen. Here’s why:
Telford’s book is experimental theology, a grappling with his own questions by pondering and praying the Lord’s prayer. This book does not say “this is what it means, you apply it.” Instead, it invites his readers into his own pondering. The book is not meant to be devoured in sermon preparation, but read carefully and permitted to lead us to prayer and thoughtful meanderings.
The first chp is about the “character of God.”
The whole is enveloped in an e-mail/blog conversation he had with an non-believing seeker and inquirer and skeptic named Cammassia — her problem: the God of the Bible. But behind Telford’s interaction with her is that Telford confesses that 9/11 shook his theology and his faith. What shook him?
The God of those who drove airplanes into powerful icons, he fears, is too much like the God of Zephaniah and at times the God of the Psalms. 9/11 made his God strange, his former evangelical and loving and caring God. But 9/11 awakened him to passages like Deuteronomy 20:10-16 and the imprecatory psalms and the psalms rehearsing God’s distance and evident lack of care. He says, “I found myself lost in my own faith.” Further: “I am not worried that militant Islamists might be right; I am worried that they might be biblical. I am worried that the God of biblical faith might really be like their God rather than the sentimentalized deity of the western Church” (8). Eloquent; probing; leads me to think and search and ponder.
“We are too optimistic for our own Bible” (14).
The Lord’s Prayer points the way forward: here we find more than something from the Lord Jesus; more than a prayer we pray along with our brother Jesus; instead, this is a prayer we pray “along with the Lord Jesus” (17).
Jesus prays with us to God as Father. This prayer, and Jesus’ own last week, swallow up the character of God in the Bible. Jesus’ own last week — and he provides lots of references — embraces the psalter — he envelops those psalms and absorbs them himself. “Every voice … finds its place in his story” (22). He is both “us” and “them.”
Now back to his problems with the character of God and Camassia: “I see discrepancies too. The difference is that I resolve them by trusting in God, and she does not” (25). The solution is not to reject God (as skeptics do) or to retreat into selective exegesis (as liberals do) or to pretend to stoic toughness (as some conservatives do) — the solution? “It is to pray” (25).
“The line between the greatest faith and the bitterest unbelief is nothing more than the willingness to kneel” (26).