Review: Ultimate Allegiance by Robert D. Cornwall

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer by Robert D. Cornwall - or Bob, as I know him from our days as colleagues in the Pacific Southwest Region of the CC(DoC). Bob's blog has always been an exemplar of the "blogging pastor" genre; he is a prolific and thoughtful writer who addresses all kinds of important cultural and theological issues. (Meanwhile, I blog about my pregnant lady heartburn. There's room for everyone on the internet, right?) Needless to say, I was excited to read his new book.

Bob reveals in the preface that the genesis of the book was actually a six-part Lenten sermon series addressing each of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer. Still, the chapters did not read like sermons. This is not just a hastily dashed together sermon collection reprinted in book form, but a well-organized, lucidly written, and in-depth study of scripture. I loved knowing that the book originated as a sermon series, because it highlights what I think is one of the book's overriding strengths: it is as deeply pastoral as it is scholarly. It engages the scriptures associated with the Lord's Prayer with both exegetical and practical attention, and is actually quite conversant in the whole of the Bible, drawing from a host of passages to place the prayer in scriptural context.

It isn't always easy to find materials to use in the church that are theologically sound and accessible. Jason Byassee has a blurb on the back cover, and I concur wholeheartedly with his sentiment: "It's a beautiful thing to watch a pastor teaching her or his people with wisdom and grace." This is the kind of book that empowers other pastors to do the same. One minor disappointment was the lack of study questions at the end of the chapters; I can see this as being a good resource for a bible study at church, and that's always a nice addition. But I guess I shouldn't make Bob do all of my homework. And besides, I'm betting his other book published by Energion, Ephesians: A Participatory Study, does have the bonus of discussion questions.

A few things I wrote in the margins:

  • author takes the gendered language issue seriously but without losing perspective
  • he doesn't tame the prayer - allows it to be as radical as it is, even as he puts it in conversation with politics, culture, history, biblical criticism
  • starred passage: "God's name is made holy, not just in our words, but in our very lives."
  • starred passage: "The way of deliverance involves our committing our lives and futures into the hands of the good and gracious God revealed to us in Jesus Christ." This is in the midst of a nuanced discussion of what kind of evil we're asking to be delivered from.
  • starred passage: "This prayer becomes culturally and socially subversive when it becomes the foundation for discernment."
  • starred passage: "Jesus may very well have told his audience to give to Caesar that which is Caesar's, but what belongs to Caesar does not include our ultimate allegiance."
  • loved the definition of the kingdom: "The kingdom of God is visible, but it isn't one and the same with any human government or society. It is instead a parallel culture, where those who embrace kingdom values live life differently."

That notion of the kingdom of God as a parallel culture really struck me. At first glance it seems that "culture" is a fairly weak element, but it really isn't. Culture is huge. It is often the thing in which we unthinkingly live and move and have our being.

Highly recommended! Thanks for the chance to read your work, Bob.

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