Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review: Dr. Almovodar's "Prayers of Comfort: Daily Petitions from the Heidelberg Catechism"

Almovodar, Nancy. Prayers of Comfort: Daily Petitions from the Heidelberg Catechism. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; First Edition edition. March 5, 2015. http://www.amazon.com/Prayers-Comfort-Petitions-Heidelberg-Catechism/dp/1508751250/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432060037&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=nancy+almovodar+prayers+of+comfort

I will proceed along five lines. (1) The dedication page, (2) A few preliminary observations. (3) Certain notable "titles." (4) Certain notable "phrases." (5) Wrap-up and recommendations.
First, Nancy Almovodar dedicates this volume to Roberto, her husband, God, her mother, her FB friends at “Old Paths for Today’s Women and her Pastor, Jonathan Van Hoogen. Of note, the Pastor offers this salutary challenge: “…better in the arena” fighting imperfectly than “yelling in the bleachers” but doing nothing. A vintage and memorable challenge from the Pastor as well as Nancy herself, especially in this day of declension of doctrine, worship and piety.
Secondly, some preliminary observations. (1) The volume is 91 pages of text—the Heidelberg Catechism with full questions and answers, select Biblical texts, followed by a prayer. (2) The prayers are the unique and very useful contributions here. (3) The volume does not have a table of contents, index, bibliography or exposition of the Catechism itself. The prayers themselves are expository. The idea is devotion based directly and closely on the catechetical content. It works. It has the profound inter-mutuality of the tri-axis of doctrine, worship and piety. (4) This volume is written by someone who has worked her way out of the anti-intellectual morass of charismania, the loud hoopla, the gassy Word of Faith sorceries, and other neo-Montanist features of our time—she worked through all that and into her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. work in systematic theology.  As a reviewer, it has been marvelous to watch Nancy’s change and development since those earlier years.  In addition to the doctorate, most commendably, she is working on her MA in church history.  I can only hope this leads to a second doctorate—an exemplar and benchmark for all. This is most heartily endorsed and appreciated by this reviewer. So, we are not dealing with an uneducated enthusiast and pumpkin-patch rhubarb, but one who has followed the Biblical mandate to learn, read, mark, learn, inwardly digest, meditate, conserve, advance, defend, speak and hand-on…the varied and many injunctions of His Majesty to speak slowly, but deeply and wisely. (5) I will say more on the usefulness of this handy 91-page volume towards the end, e.g. private home devotions, family devotions, catechetical classes in the parish, classical Christian schools, graduate schools (seminary) and I’d add to the Book of Common Prayer. But more on that dimension later. For now, a long list in points three and four.
The third and fourth points will read more like a list—long, but suggestive. We cannot enter into the details. We recommend a quick read on points three and four, long enough to gather the flavor of the orthodox, Confessional, Protestant and Reformed flavor—yeah, of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. It’s here in the prayers.
So, thirdly, a sense of things. Some are from the titles and a few are our own musings on the titles. They are included to give reader the lead ideas.
·        1-Comfort (our vintage Q/A 1-2)

·        2-Necessary Things

·        3-Misery

·        4-Justice

·        5-Man’s Deliverance

·        6-Christ our Substitute

·        7-Particular Redemption (notable here for the (1) inclusion of the Apostles’ Creed, most needfully and helpfully given the national amnesia and neglect and (2) the important term, “particular redemption” for the definitive, sure, effectual and abidingly valid redemption in accordance with election)

·        8-“Our Most Holy Faith”

·        9-God our Father

·        10-Providence of God

·        11-God the Son

·        12-Jesus Christ

·        13-Only Begotten Son (delightfully with the Nicene Creed that classical Anglicans, Lutherans, Romanists and the Greeks use, but so infrequently used otherwise in worship…so was good to see here)

·        14-Virgin Birth (delightful to see the “Nativity of our Lord” from the 1789 Book of Common Prayer, known only to old school Anglicans)

·        15-Suffering Servant

·        16-Humbled to Death

·        17-Raised with Christ

·        18-Ascended to Heaven

·        19-Ascended to Heaven

·        20-Of God the Holy Ghost

·        21-The Holy Catholic Church (a notable phrase, a phrase that includes the Gospel but excludes that false gospel of that deceiving gasser in Rome)

·        22-Raised with Christ

·        23-Why Such Faith?

·        24-Good Works

·        25-Means of Grace: the Sacraments (notably two, not seven)

·        26-Holy Baptism

·        27-Washing Away of Sin

·        28-Lord’s Supper

·        29-Bread and Wine

·        30-Means of Grace (a notable question on the “popish mass”)

·        31-Key of the Kingdom

·        32-Thankfulness

·        33-True Conversion

·        34-Law of God (the catechumen must—yes—must memorize the Ten Commandments here, a long lost project in the nation’s churches)

·        35-Rejection of Images

·        36-Right Worship

·        37-Keep His Name Holy

·        38-Keep the Sabbath

·        39-Honor Those in Authority

·        40-there was no title here, but the 6th commandment was under review

·        41-Keeping Ourselves Pure Unto Marriage

·        42-Thou shalt not steal

·        43-Speak the truth

·        44-Being content in all things

·        45-Necessity of prayer (and yes, the child must memorize the Lord’s Prayer)

·        46-Our Father

·        47-First petition: hallowed by Thy name

·        48-Second petition: Thy kingdom come

·        49-Third petition: Thy will be done

·        50-Fourth petition: daily bread

·        51-Fifth petition: forgiveness

·        52-Sixth petition: deliver us…Amen.
In this third observation, even a quick and cursory review indicates the big issues are covered including comfort, law, misery, guilty, redemption, thanksgiving, and an explanation of the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the LORD’s Prayer with a robust Trinitarianism throughout. This is not just in the catechism, but the prayers.
In the fourth observation, we will do much like the third observation.  The third looked more at topic and leading themes and “titles.” The fourth observation picks up a few memorable “phrases.” The object is the same: give the reader a flavor.  Most of these phrases are found in the prayers. Again, this 91-page volume is a collection of prayers based on the catechism (although this review might suggest otherwise).
·        The standard and wonderful Q/A 1 and 2 stand like a mountain top with comfort, sin, miseries, but also deliverance and gratitude

·        Total inability with “grant us repentance”

·        “…by the Words of Your most holy law, no flesh shall be justified…”

·        The “”greatness of the Fall” (7)

·        “Our inability to obey stems from our own hatred of You and Your law…” (8)

·        “Son of God has stood in our stead” (9)

·        “…Your Son, the Incarnate Word of God, Blessed Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus of Nazareth…” (13)

·        “Particular Redemption” for Lord’s Day 7 (15). We noted this distinctive and important title earlier.

·        Apostles Creed (16)

·        “O God, most high, most glorious, the thought of your infinite serenity cheers me, for I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed, but You are forever at perfect peace” (21)

·        “…let me live near to the great Shepherd, hear His voice, knows its tones and follow its calls…” (21)

·        Christ—“ordained,” “anointed,” “Chief Prophet and Teacher,” “our only High Priest,” “eternal King,” “governs and preserves us,” “eternal and natural Son of God” while we are “children adopted of God” (23, 25)

·        Entire Nicene Creed is cited (25-26)

·        “The Nativity of our Lord” from the 1789 Book of Common Prayer (27)

·        “…very God and very man…with respect to His human nature, He is no more on earth, but with respect to His Godhead, majesty, grace and Spirit, He is at no time absent from us…” (33). An important Reformed position that is not—repeat, not—Romanist, Lutheran or Anglo-Tractarian. This also was Thomas Cranmer’s view and one for which he was murdered.

·        Our “advocate…in heaven as a sure pledge…” (34)

·        “HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH” (38). Caps in the text.

·        “…grants and imputes to me” (41) Christ’s “righteousness,” satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness (42)

·        “…with Martin Luther we pray, `Lord Jesus, You are our righteousness and we are Your sin…” (43)

·        “Thrice Holy One” (44)

·        “…but by grace alone, you have given us true faith which looks to Christ alone for righteousness, obedience, and satisfaction…” (44)

·        “Means of Grace: The Sacraments” (45).

·        “…the Holy Ghost works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Gospel and confirms it by the use of the sacraments…” (45)

·        “signs and seals” (45)

·        “food and drink” (46)

·        We are “admonished and assured by holy baptism” (47)

·        “…the washing is not our promise to You, nor a public statement of our desire to follow You, but it is a sign and seal You have given to the Church and to all who believe and their household” (48). This section entirely upends the Baptacostalist definitions.

·        We are “admonished and assured” in the Lord’s Supper (50)

·        “…certain signs of the body and blood of Christ” (51)

·        “Christ is in heaven” (51).  Again, there is no room for Rome, Lutherans or Tractobates here.

·        Surprisingly and delightfully, a Prayer of John Knox (52-53, 54-55)

·        Delightfully, in Q.80, the “Lord’s Supper and the Popish mass” with its outstanding answer (59)

·        “…that no doctrine of the devil will be established” (59)

·        “...against vain things, strange fire, heretical teaching” (59)

·        “…wicked and ungrateful lives….unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber or such like shall inhabit the kingdom of God (61)

·        We get a quote from the Book of Common Prayer (61). It appears to be from the American 1928 BCP for Morning Prayer rather than the English 1662 BCP.

·        Question 92—requires the catechumen and young scholar to memorize the Ten Commandments (63).

·        Questions 94 to 115 deal with the exposition of the Commandments (60-80)

·        The Lord’s Prayer, Questions 116-129 (80-91)

Your eyes might have glazed over for points three and four.  However, even a cursory glance gives the flavor and sense for the classical loci of theology. It should be remembered that these 91 pages cover 52 Lord’s Day. Hence, just under 2 pages covers 1 Lord’s Day with the Q/A and the prayers themselves. Again, this is a volume of prayers.
So, how might this volume be useful?
·        Private and personal devotions of about under 2 pages per day

·        This is clearly very useful for children. I’d recommend unison prayers out loud with the children.

·        Although this reviewer is committed to Morning and Evening Prayer with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, this could be handily inserted right after the Apostle’s Creed. This scribe uses the Westminster Shorter Catechism as an insert to the BCP. However, these HC Q/A’s and prayers could be used there as well. It is most unlikely there will ever be a revision of the BCP. Currently, on the American, English, Scottish and Irish fronts, the Anglicans thus far are not teachable on this point. That’s just a fact. It shows too. Nevertheless, for the more advanced and Reformed Anglicans, this could make sense. For the others, put the expectation at zero. Again, while this reviewer uses the WSC with the BCP, this little volume would work as well.

·        This volume would be very useful for catechism classes and Christian schools. In fact, if running a catechism class, I’d have the students read the prayer in unison either before or after the session. Although, regrettably, there has been a large stream of Reformed people who have been anti-written-prayers. Not everywhere or always, but often. It makes little sense (e.g. hymnbooks, Confessions, etc.), but it has existed. Not everywhere, but in places. If it weren’t so serious, it would be humorous. (E.g. We have a complex Confession, 700 hymns in the hymn book, and big libraries but no written prayers, please.)

·        I think a Professor of Systematic Theology or even Church Historian could use these each semester with graduate students. That is, for a 3-hour class per week, each class could begin by reading the Q/As (responsively) with the seminarians praying in unison. 3 times per week = 48 times over 16 weeks.  6 times over 3 years. This was never done at Westminster Seminary. The suspicion and expectation would be—I’d surmise—that this would be “Sunday Schoolish” when, in fact, many of their men have never been catechetized from youth.  It would take about 1-2 minutes and would connect the deeply inter-mutual tri-axis of doctrine-worship-piety. Furthermore, it would begin to show prospective Pastors the value of catechesis.  But, then, liturgical worship did not shape the chapel experience at Westminster in my day—it was basically 1 hymn, 1 prayer and another theological lecture. For an old school Anglican, the worship at WTS was impoverished and was just another class room lecture. This little volume could be used for systematics classes. But, they probably think they are too smart for these “little catechisms” in a graduate course with a “little written prayer,” truth be told.

Thank you Nancy for this. May God help the lads and lasses.  As Luther said somewhere, “A Doctor of Theology is not a theologian unless he can sit on the ground with the children and teach them the catechism.” Would that Professors of Systematics and Church History would literally sit with the children like Luther and teach good theology with good prayers.  Barring an outbreak of that, let the parents use this volume to learn, read, and pray with children. This volume is in that vein. 

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