Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

Featured: ULTIMATE ALLEGIANCE by Bob Cornwall [Vol. 4, #6.5]

“A Subversive Liturgy

A review of
Ultimate Allegiance:
The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer.

By Bob Cornwall.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Bob Cornwall - Ultimate AllegianceUltimate Allegiance:
The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer.

By Bob Cornwall.
Paperback: Energion, 2010.
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Amidst the comforts of Western culture, a major temptation for the church is to marginalize the kingdom of God to some sort of spiritual or eschatological realm, while we seek to grab control of the powers that be and manipulate them to cater to our interests in the here and now.  Bob Cornwall however, in his new book Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer, argues that the Kingdom of God is a relevant political reality in the here and now.  He says:

[The] Lord’s Prayer remains as its very essence a subversive prayer.  It is a pledge of our allegiance to God, one that challenges our world views and our loyalties.  It does so by connecting us with the one who empowers and guides us through life (xii).

In this book, which consists of a series of six sermons/meditations, Cornwall steps through each of the five clauses of the Lord’s Prayer as described in the Gospel accounts – and the final clause (“For thine is the kingdom, and the power…”) which is not in the scriptural texts, but which the Church has added on the end of the prayer since her earliest days.

It’s no secret that we are formed by the rituals (liturgies) to which we submit ourselves (Jamie Smith, for instance, has a delightful passage in Desiring the Kingdom where he describes the liturgy of the shopping mall), and Bob Cornwall does a superb job here of exploring what the shape of a life shaped by the liturgy of the Lord’s Prayer might look like.  This book offers a brief introduction to the prayer and the meaning of each of its clauses.  Readers who have deep allegiances outside the reign of God, might find this a troubling book.  Readers who appreciate it, might turn to deeper explorations of similar topics: e.g. Michael Crosby’s Thy Will Be Done: Praying the Our Father as a Subversive Activity.  Regardless, it is challenging and helpful little book.  In an age when our allegiances are pulled in a host of directions by the consumerism of the broader culture and the growing partisan tensions of our land, our churches desperately need to hear this direct and honest sort of teaching about what it means to follow in the way of Christ.

I loved this book and hope that it will be read and reflected upon in churches.  However, there are two tiny things I wished merited a little more attention.  First, (and longtime readers of the Review will not be surprised by my saying this), I wish ecclesiology played a little stronger role in Cornwall’s account. Secondly, while Cornwall handles the biblical text masterfully (and granted that the purpose of the book is to focus on the text of the prayer), I wish there were a little more exploration of the ethical implications of the subversive nature of this prayer.  Various ethical aspects are mentioned in passing over the course of the book, and the afterword turns in this direction, but ultimately our call is to follow in the subversive way of Jesus, and I’d love to see the excellent scriptural work in this volume expanded into a richer vision of what the Prayer as a subversive liturgy means as we follow after Christ in the basically hostile environment of Western culture.

We review a lot of books here at the Englewood Review, and our primary selection criteria is books that can be read and discussed in churches, and that will be beneficial in helping churches understand and embody the way of Christ in their particular locations.  Bob Cornwall’s Ultimate Allegiance is precisely this sort of book, and in many ways, it is better than many books we review because it hovers close to the biblical texts, terrain in which churches are typically comfortable into launching conversations.  I hope and pray that churches will reflect together on Bob’s superb treatment of the Lord’s Prayer and that in so doing, they will find themselves foisted into a whole new world of questions and conversations about what it means – in a day-to-day, hour-by-hour sense – to follow together in the subversive way of Jesus.

Although it is difficult to review (maybe I needed to take a group through it with me), it is well worth the mention to note that Bob also has a new conversational guide to the biblical Text of Ephesians, entitled: Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide.  Bob is asking some excellent questions here, and in light of what I said above, perhaps discussing this volume as a follow-up to Ultimate Allegiance, might lead church groups into some of the deeper ethical discernments that are briefly introduced in the above book.


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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

One Comment

  1. Thanks Chris!!! I do appreciate the generous and gracious words in your review. Your statement about ecclesiology is a good one for me to think about, as well as the drawing out of the ethical implicatons!