Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer. By Robert D. Cornwall. Gonzalez, Florida: Energion Publications, 2010. 65 pages.
The writer of Ultimate Allegiance is Robert Cornwall, the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan and the Editor-in-Chief of Sharing the Practice. To be honest, when I first picked up this new book on the Lord’s Prayer, having read dozens of books on the Lord’s Prayer and having written a book on the Lord’s Prayer myself, I wondered if I could find anything new or different about it. I was soon pleasantly surprised and stimulated to find within these brief pages many fresh and challenging insights. This book is based on a six-part sermon series, which Cornwall delivered in his own church to probe the question: what was he and the congregation praying each week and what did Jesus really intend for his followers to take from this prayer? As beautiful and inspiring as most people feel from praying the Lord’s Prayer, Cornwall believes that at its essence it is a very subversive prayer. Subversive prayer is prayer that engages “the powers that be.”
Cornwall notes the differences in the Lord’s Prayer in the two gospels, Matthew and Luke, and the differences in meaning of the words in the prayer according to the context and purpose of each. In six chapters he examines the declaration and petitions that form the prayer, he believes, “serve as an affirmation of God’s reign.” In the first petition he prefers the Greek word in the text for father, pater, which provides the root for words like patron and patriarch, and fits the “subversive” challenge which calls for our allegiance to God our Father over all other powers. The “our” Father reminds us of our corporate relationship to God, which is not a private or personal one, but is a part of the family of God--the Kingdom of God. The concept of the holiness of God helps us qualify our understanding of what it means to be in a relationship with the God who reigns over all and requires ultimate allegiance. He asserts boldly that the petition about praying for the coming kingdom is not a minor focus but is a reminder that the kingdom is at the center of the teachings of Jesus. This petition about praying for the kingdom to come is subversive in that it is not only a religious and spiritual declaration but a political one as well that declares God reign on Caesar’s throne or on any throne of power to bring about justice. This involves the willingness to say no to Caesar’s claim on one’s life and acknowledge our dependence on God.
The petition about our daily bread is a recognition that we must attend to our basic needs before we voice any others. The subversive dimension of this petition is the affirmation that we entrust God to provide for our needs not Caesar or government. Ultimately God is our provider and we declare our allegiance to him and humbly acknowledge our lack of self-sufficiency. “Our” bread affirms our solidarity with our neighbors and our willingness to share our bounty with them. This comes as a radical demand which, he knows, will be hard for many of us to embrace. In the petition on forgiveness he examines the three variants-one’s debts, sins or trespasses- with helpful insights. Acknowledging that trespass may not have textual support, he believes that it fits the subversive nature of the prayer, if we take the word in the modern sense to cross boundaries and invade spaces. He also reminds us that in this prayer Jesus states that forgiveness involves reciprocity. It is never enough simply to receive God’s forgiveness, we are charged to offer forgiveness to someone who has hurt or offended us. The prayer regarding temptation becomes culturally and socially subversive, according to Cornwall, when it becomes the foundation for discernment. In our journey through life many temptations will call for our allegiance but adhering to God’s reign means nor giving in to those voices and continuing the journey even when the way is difficult with the assurance of God’s presence with us. The doxology and affirmation about God’s glory confesses God’s power to transform the world as a power of love and relatedness and not by coercion or violence as evidence in the cross of Jesus.
This book can be used by ministers or lay persons for a devotional guide to the Lord’s Prayer, reading a chapter a day to deepen their understanding of this rich prayer. Churches could use it as a resource in prayer and book studies. Pastors could study it and draw on it as a model for preaching a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer. They might follow Cornwall’s model and have the congregation sing the prayer instead of reciting it. I personally found it a thought provoking experience that forced me to reexamine the various petitions in this model prayer of Jesus. I commend it highly and hope many will discover and read and use it to grow in their awareness of this special prayer.
William Powell Tuck, FAPC
Intentional Interim Pastor
Cool Spring Baptist Church