Book Review: The Circle Maker
Author: Mark Batterson
Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 9780310333029
I’ve put off reviewing this book for a long time. I was sent a prerelease copy by Zondervan before the book was published in mid-December of 2011. Why has my review been so slow in coming? I struggle with critique for books that I don’t particularly enjoy—and this was a book that I didn’t enjoy; in fact, I don’t care too much for it at all except for the fact that I like Mark Batterson. I had the opportunity to meet him personally a few years back at a conference in Ohio. He’s a very good speaker and a seemingly genuinely nice guy. I’ve read all but one of his books to date and have pretty much enjoyed them all; my favorites have been Wild Goose Chase (I even bought a case of these direct from NCC for our church leadership team) and Primal. This compounds my reluctance to offer my honest review of Circle Maker. I wanted to like it and I wanted to submit an encouraging review, but I can’t…at least if my intent is to be honest about it. One last point before I continue, it seems as though I am in the minority with my opinion concerning this book, but then…the Prayer of Jabez has sold millions of copies and is a New York Times bestseller, so what do I know.
(From the Back Cover) In the Circle Maker, Pastor Mark Batterson shares powerful insights from the true legend of Honi the circle maker, a first-century Jewish sage whose bold prayer ended a drought and saved a generation. Drawing inspiration from his own experiences as a circle maker, Batterson will teach you how to pray in a new way by drawing prayer circles around your dreams, your family, your problems, and, most importantly, God’s promises. In the process, you’ll discover this simple yet life-changing truth: God Honors Bold Prayers; Bold Prayers Honor God.
Without attempting to be overly critical, I have a fundamental issue with this: “Batterson will teach you how to pray in a new way by drawing prayer circles…” as compared to this:
He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation”‘ [Luke 11:1-4].
Am I to believe that Mr. Batterson is going to unlock the mystery of prayer that Jesus did not? I wonder why Jesus did not teach his disciples about Honi. Surely Jesus must have seen the value of Honi’s boldness and realizing that “bold prayers” are the secret to grabbing the attentive ear of God Almighty, he would have shared this information and teaching with them.
The book is full of neat anecdotal stories that grab a reader’s attention. It is full of interesting stories, but that is about the extent of my generosity. I think the hermeneutic used to make some of the claims regarding “biblically-defined-theologically-accurate” prayer is weak at best. I suppose I could make a few examples, but the book is rife with them beginning with Batterson’s interpretation of the “Jericho Miracle” to the “Feast of Quail” and on and on, through to “Daniel Fasting” and beyond. And… I have to admit I’m still scratching my head over Batterson’s claim; “God has determined that certain expressions of His power will only be exercised in response to prayer. Simply put, God won’t do it unless you pray for it. We have not because we ask not, or maybe I should say, we have not because we circle not. The greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked.”
I think this book is full of hyperbole. I think hyperbole makes for good copy and much profit. I think it also contributes to bad thinking, and in this case – bad theology. Prayer is more about unity with the Godhead than it is making petitions and supplication. A soul who is in constant and unbroken fellowship with the Godhead will pray the prayers of the Trinity and will be in agreement with Him at all times. Although I did give one of my copies away, I can’t in good conscience recommend the book as a faithful teaching on prayer.