Book Report - Providence & Prayer

my wife thinks i should call these book reviews, but i prefer book reports because compared to guys who are actually published, i'm an amateur. i think a reviewer has authority or at least some credibility. when you read these think along the lines of an amazon review. it could be good and it might not. i've finished a few books lately, but none on prayer. i read this book over a year ago, and it took a long time to read. its 400 pages long and gets pretty technical. so it took awhile to read. it wasn't something i plowed through every night.

Mentioned on an internet discussion i bought it. Here is the publisher's enticement...

'Lord, please give me a parking space!'

That prayer sounds right on your third time around the block, frustrated and late for an appointment. But is it consistent with how God works in the world?

Does prayer change God's mind or only our feelings? Does God do things because we ask him to? Or do we ask him because he prompts us to do so? How much control does God really have in the world, anyway? If he has given us free will, can he always guarantee that things will happen as he intends or wishes? Is our need for parking spaces important enough to bother God, or is he only concerned about things that advance his program of salvation?

If God has already decided how things will turn out, what use is it to pray? On the other hand, if our freedom limits God's ability to achieve his wishes all the time, how much could he do even if we asked for help? How much does God know about the future, and how does this factor into the way our prayers affect the outcome? And how does God's relationship to time enter into the whole equation?

With such questions in mind, Terrance Tiessen presents ten views of providence and prayer--and then adds an eleventh, his own. He describes each view objectively and then tackles the question, If this is the way God works in the world, how then should we pray? The result of his investigation is a book that puts us at the intersection between theological reflection and our life and conversation with God. It prods and sharpens our understanding, making us better theologians and better prayers."

Part 1: Ten Models of Providence & Prayer
2. The Semi-Deist Model
3. The Process Model
4. The Openness Model (1)
5. The Openness Model (2)
6. The Church Dominion Model
7. The Redemptive Intervention Model
8. The Molinist Model
9. The Thomist Model
10. The Barthian Model
11. The Calvinist Model
12. The Fatalist Model
Part 2: One More Model Proposed
13. A Middle Knowledge Calvinist Model of Providence
14. A Middle Knowledge Calvinist Model of Prayer
He runs the gamut of monotheism philosophy. The thing i enjoyed in his presentation is he presents possible prayers given under each philosophy but for the same situation. The situation involves a kidnapped missionary.

The question is, are we moving God or not? The middle knowledge option offers that God has a plan and knows every permutation involved in moving from A to B. Some of those permutations involve His people asking Him to intervene in situations. If we don't pray, His ultimate will can still be accomplished. But since His ultimate will may or may not depend on a missionary being released, He may act in response to the petitions of His people. These are dense sentences and need to be read slowly and reread, but i think he's on to something.

Now I'll quote liberally from the book.

Prayer is one of the means that God has determined to use in the accomplishment of his will. In his eternal purpose God has included all of the events of human history, b he does not act alone, as though he were the only agent in the world. He has given his children the privilege of participation in his program for establishing his kingdom on earth. One of the most significant means of our involvement is through petitionary prayer, because it is here that we attempt to discern God's will in particular situations, we align our own desires with is, and then we ask God to do what we believe he wants to do. Although God could work without us, he delights to answer the prayers of his children and to be glorified by their thanksgiving when he does so. It is particularly because God has middle knowledge that he is able to accomplish his purposes while at the same time being responsive tot he desires and petitions of his children. In prayer we do not seek to change God's mind. We seek to discern his will and to pray accordingly, believing that there are some things the God has determined to do in answer to prayer so that our prayers are a necessary - though not a sufficient- "cause" of the ultimate outcome. Our prayers do affect the outcome as one of the essential factors in the whole complex of events as they transpire through God's superintendence.

p. 338
However, I share with many others the view that within God's overall control. human beings are free agents who act responsibly in the world and that our actions influence the outcome of events within history. Granted, freedom has to be understood as the ability to act according to one's own wishes, without coercion, rather than in terms of the power of contrary choice (libertarian free will), which is favored by most of the models we have studied.

Indeed, we learn from the cases of Nineveh and Hezekiah that God may make predictions about the future specifically to elicit prayer.

p. 341
It is worth noting that God's will includes a timing factor, and so we cannot assume than an unanswered request was necessarily contrary to God's will. This is the truth in the suggestion that one of God's answers is "wait."

p. 342
I propose that petitionary prayer is effective in accomplishing things in the world because God has chosen to involve us in the establishment of his purposes. It is not that we simply do what God forces us to do as though we were not willing agents in the world. God is genuinely responsive to our desires precisely because our good desires are the fruit of his liberating grace in our lives. It is also not the case, however, that God is unsure of what he will do and is waiting for us to decide what we want so that he can act accordingly. We do not seek to change God's mind, we seek to change the situation in the world through an understanding of how God wishes things to be and through fervent petitions that he will do what is necessary for that state of perfect shalom to be realized. It is true that prayer is good for us. It fosters our sense of dependence on God, it develops closer fellowship with God, and it opens us up to God's strengthening work within us. But I reject all models of providence in which prayer has no effect on the way the world goes. Prayer changes u, but God also changes our circumstances in response to prayer. It is God, however, and not prayer that changes things, even though his doing so is an answer to prayer.

p. 343
Since God has chosen to respond to our prayers, we can speak of his acting because of them, but since he has chosen to include those very prayers within his eternal purpose, we can also say that he accomplishes his will by means of them.

p. 346
Calvinist or Reformed theologians affirm the instrumentality of faith in salvation but insist that we are saved by faith, but only because of the work of Christ... By analogy, using the terms in the same way,a Calvinist would have to say the prayer is instrumental but not causal. God acts upon or subsequent to our petition, which was part of the complex of factors included in his plan to act as he does, but his choice to act in this way was not caused by our prayer. In other words, God's act of delivering [fictional missionary] may have been cause by the believers' petition, but his decision to deliver [him] was not.

The framework that Jesus provided to us in his model prayer establishes an important criterion for our request. We are encouraged to ask God for the little but necessary details of our lives but to do so in such a way that these things are not ends in themselves but are part of what is needed for us to work for God's kingdom and will. Thus Roger Hazelton encourages us: "Let there be no limit to what we take to God in prayer, so that there may be no limit to God's reign and rule in all of life. It is far better to ask God for whatever we desire than to play God by deciding on our own what we ought to pray for. That would simply be pious magic all over again, wanting to control God by praying only for the right things in a way that is sure to get results. God himself will be the judge; ours is the task of putting everything up to him."


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