Book Review: Kneeling with Giants

Book Review: Kneeling with Giants

Author: Gary Neal Hansen

Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830835621

Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers

“Excellent, excellent, excellent…this is really great stuff here!” These are the thoughts and the words that I’ve found coming to mouth and mind over and over again as I have read and referenced from Gary Hansen’s book Kneeling with Giants. This is an exceptional book; it will prove to be an invaluable resource for years to come as I integrate it with my teaching and discipleship methods. At a personal level, it will prove to be an invaluable resource for my own spiritual development and maturation as I incorporate some of the prayer applications with my current disciplines.

I was excited when I first saw this book offered by InterVarsity Press. While I have studied prayer disciplines across many traditions of the Christian church, I have not found a resource that has been as ecumenical as this; they may exist, but I have not found any before I received this book. This is a very good thing. Gathering a diverse sampling of prayer methods, Kneeling with Giants, provides a safe way of exposing people to different styles of prayer and ultimately communing with God. In my opinion, Gary Hansen has done a remarkable job of bringing together a solid and historically representative grouping of prayer styles. I do not think curious readers will be disappointed with what they find in these pages.

Hansen has arranged his book into four primary sections. Each of these sections represents a different “style” of prayer and includes actual historical figures (people) to help illustrate those styles. Part one gives attention to Scripture prayers and liturgical prayer such as the Divine Office, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Jesus Prayer. The historical figures Hansen chooses for teaching these prayer styles are St. Benedict of Nursia, Martin Luther, and the “Pilgrim” of The Prayer of the Pilgrim. Subsequent sections include Praying with Scripture (John Calvin and St. Ignatius of Loyola), Meditative Prayer (St. Teresa of Avila, the Prayers of the Puritans, and Prayer from The Cloud of Unknowing), and Petition, Supplication, and Intercession (Agnes Sanford and Andrew Murray).

While I enjoyed each section for its individual merits, even those I am well studied in, I was particularly drawn to the teaching from the Puritan tradition. I found the meditative and reflective style of prayer from the Puritans very enlightening and plan to explore it in greater detail. Additionally, I found the method by which Hansen approached the prayer of The Cloud of Unknowing inspired. I have studied the teaching of The Cloud of Unknowing  from many sources and have not found the type of clarity that I witnessed in the short chapter from Kneeling with Giants. The chapter on The Cloud does not go into step-by-step instruction on the method of this prayer, but instead, addresses and responds to many of the questions that are posed by persons who are unfamiliar with this type and style of prayer. I know this will be very useful for my own teaching purposes.

If there is any complaint from my corner, it is the fact that I am missing the additional content that has been included with the e-reader version of the book. I suppose that I will have to purchase the electronic version to participate with the additional material (an extra chapter of primary source material corresponding to each of the ten chapters of Kneeling with Giants, with election chosen to clearly introduce each approach to prayer in its original context). Overall, I am exceedingly pleased and grateful for this book. I believe it will be an eye-opening experience for quite a few people who may have never journeyed outside of their own tradition. It will be a great asset to me I am sure and I believe the same will be true for others who decide to open their hearts and minds to Kneeling with Giants.

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