Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer

Written by J. Gary Millar Reviewed By Dieudonné Tamfu

Who knows the number of books with different approaches that have been written on prayer? Some focus on a biblical writer (e.g., D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014]). Others center on how to pray the contents of the Bible (e.g., Donald S. Whitney, Praying the Bible [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015]). Some integrate the theology, experience, and methods of prayer (e.g., Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God [New York: Penguin, 2016]). What sets Millar’s work apart, even from those that take a whole-bible approach (e.g., James E. Rosscup, An Exposition on Prayer in the Bible: Igniting the Fuel to Flame Our Communion with God, 5 vols. [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2007]), is that it surveys each corpus of the Bible, not only to explain each prayer in its context, but also to discover the focus of the prayers from a biblical-theological perspective. Millar shows what unites all the prayers—asking God to come through on his covenant promises.

Millar divides his biblical theology of prayer into nine chapters, with an introduction and an afterword. In the introduction, Millar laments that “the church in many places has stopped praying” (p. 15, original emphasis). In most churches prayer has been decentralized, and, not only that, prayers are dominated by mundane requests that “highlight the lack of gospel depth in our view of prayer” (p. 16). Millar aims to instruct and challenge the Church to centralize prayer and pray gospel-informed prayers.

Millar examines all the prayers in the Old Testament and states that “prayer that asks God to deliver on his covenantal promises, is the foundation for all that the Old Testament says about prayer” (p. 18, emphasis original). He argues that prayer begins in the Bible with the birth of Enosh: “At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD” (Gen 4:26). He explains that “To call on the name of Yahweh is to cry to God to come through on his promises, and specifically to rescue and give life to his covenant people…. To put it anachronistically, ‘calling on the name of Yahweh’ in the Old Testament denotes ‘gospel-shaped prayer’” (p. 26). Prayer is predicated on God’s covenant initiative, thus in terms of biblical theology, “prayer is made possible only by ‘the gospel’. All prayer is gospel prayer: It is calling on the name of Yahweh, who is the God of the covenant, the God of salvation” (p. 43, emphasis original)—this is the consistent focus of prayer throughout the Old Testament (pp. 65, 68, 74).

In the Major and Minor Prophets, the privilege of “calling on the name of Yahweh” is withdrawn because of sin (p. 106), but beyond this judgment lies the hope that a day will come when “everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved” (p. 106). Reading the Psalter as a book of prayer, he argues that prayer in the Psalms is more complex and can be more than calling on Yahweh to come through on his covenant promises, but it is not less (pp. 140, 163).

In the New Testament, Millar notes that “calling on the name of Yahweh is redefined by Jesus himself, and … after his death and resurrection, the apostles understood praying in the name of Jesus to be the new covenant expression of calling on the name of Yahweh. Prayer throughout the Bible … is to be primarily understood as asking God to come through on what he has already promised” (p. 18, emphasis original). Miller shows that Jesus taught his disciples that prayer is asking God to do what he has promised (p. 183). As a result, apostolic prayers are shaped by the gospel, praying for what Christ has achieved which God now holds out for us in the gospel, and focused on the promised progress of the gospel (pp. 200, 205). In the afterword, Millar challenges the church to relearn to pray gospel-shaped prayers.

Millar’s thesis is clear, convincingly proven, and richly supported with numerous scriptural citations. The book that charges us to pray Bible-saturated prayers is itself Bible-saturated. I encourage every reader to not skip the citations. The Scripture-saturation can be both a strength and a weakness, since it is impossible to expound every passage in a book of this size. You will benefit more from the book if you read all the citations and try to discern Millar’s thesis for yourself. However, Millar does not always make clear how he draws some of his points from cited passages. For example, in Millar’s treatment of Nehemiah 9, he asserts that Nehemiah is asking God for a transformation that will only happen through a new covenant (pp. 125–26). While Millar is right in asserting that the issues Nehemiah presents will only be resolved through the new covenant, it is not obvious how he draws that from Nehemiah’s prayer itself, given that Nehemiah ends his prayer not with a longing for the new covenant but a covenant with the returnees in Jerusalem—“Because of all this we make a firm covenant” (Neh 9:38).

God to come through with his blood-bought promises. Pray for God to advance the gospel as he has promised. “And keep doing it, until that day when we no longer need to pray, because we will see our God and King face to face” (p. 240).

Dieudonné Tamfu

Dieudonné Tamfu
Bethlehem College & Seminary
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

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