R.C. Sproul, The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, (Wheaton, Ill., Crossway, 2011)
-reviewed by Karl Dahlfred
How do you put church history, theology, and practical instruction on prayer all together into a children’s book? You write about Martin Luther getting a haircut, of course!
In “The Barber Who Wanted to Pray”, R.C. Sproul has come up with a clever way to bring down to a children’s level Martin Luther’s occasional tract, “A Simple Way to Pray”. As one would expect from Sproul, the text is weighty and informative, yet written in a clear and simple style. And to further hold the attention of children (and adults), each page of Sproul’s text is complemented by a beautiful full-page illustration from T. Lively Fluharty.
The book starts out with fictional Mr. McFarland leading his children in family devotions. His daughter asks how to pray like her Dad, which launches Mr. McFarland into the true (but obviously embellished) story of Martin Luther’s barber, Master Peter, asking Dr. Luther how to pray. Luther is cheered that Peter wants to grow as a Christian so he goes home and writes “A Simple Way to Pray”, and then comes back and talks with him about praying through the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, and the Apostle’s Creed (which can be found at the back of the book). Peter thinks that this means just repeating the Lord’s Prayer a lot, but Luther explains that it means to take each line of the prayer as a launching point to pray about what it means that God is Father, gives us our daily bread, etc. Master Peter is glad for this helpful instruction in prayer from the great Reformer, as is Mr. McFarland’s daughter who requests another round of family devotions so that she can try out this new way to pray.
Practical History for Kids
Most of the Christian children’s books available are either Bible stories or simple devotional tales, some very fluffy. For that reason, “The Barber Who Wanted to Pray” is a unique children’s book, as it draws from the well of church history for its teaching. Most people, including adults, don’t know a lot about history, especially church history, so this book is a great way to introduce kids to a very significant bit of Protestant history. And because it is a practical book about prayer, there is the added benefit of showing kids that history is not just about boring names and dates, but offers us valuable resources for the Christian life.
For Older Kids
As soon as I got the book in the mail, I sat down to read it with my 5 year old. He sat fairly attentively, but when I got to the end, he said, “Never read that to me again.” I thought, “Oh no, how am I going to write a book review about this?!” A few days later, however, when I was out, my wife reported that he requested the book specifically and really enjoyed it. And he has started to spontaneously integrate paraphrases of the Lord’s Prayer into his own prayers. With that said, I got the feeling that as good as it is, Sproul’s book is aimed at kids who are bit older than mine, maybe in the 8-10 year old range and above.
The Family Context - Ideal and Otherwise
One of the nice features of Sproul’s telling of the Luther and Master Peter story is that he bookends it with the tale of a family doing their evening devotions. I appreciated this context to the rest of the book because it models how fathers should be leading their families spiritually and instructing their children. As a model of how devotions can be done, I thought it was great -- albeit a bit idealized. After family prayers, Mr. McFarland’s daughter asks, “Daddy, can you teach me how to pray in a way that will make Jesus happy and make me feel more comfortable?” On occasion, my kids have a good question like the girl in the story, but usually they just ask, “Can I get down now?” or “Can I have cookie?”
Overall, I really enjoyed Sproul’s story of Luther and the instruction on prayer that was brought out in a practical way.... though I may need to wait a few years before my own kids are old enough to appreciate it. “The Barber Who Wanted to Pray” is a brilliant little nugget of church history for kids, and I hope more books like it are produced so that the younger generation will know the blessings to be had from our the rich heritage of faith.