Is Prayer Redundant? Calvin And The Early Reformers On The Problem Of Petitionary Prayer -- By: Christopher Woznicki

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 60:2 (Jun 2017)
Article: Is Prayer Redundant? Calvin And The Early Reformers On The Problem Of Petitionary Prayer
Author: Christopher Woznicki

Is Prayer Redundant? Calvin And The Early Reformers On The Problem Of Petitionary Prayer

Christopher Woznicki*

* Christopher Woznicki is a Ph.D. student at Fuller Theological Seminary and member of the Analytic Theology for Theological Formation Project, 135 N. Oakland Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101. He may be contacted at [email protected]

Abstract: Filling a glaring gap in Reformation studies addressing the problems of petitionary prayer, this essay turns to the work of John Calvin and his fellow reformers in order to fill that gap. I argue that despite rejecting a two-way contingency account of prayer, Calvin and most of his contemporaries make a case for prayer being a worthwhile and effective spiritual practice by appealing to something other than prayer’s role in giving God reasons to act. These Reformers argued against the redundancy of prayer by appealing to the change that happens in the praying agent. The argument of this essay is carried out with special reference to contemporary analytic theology accounts of petitionary prayer.

Key words: analytic theology, Heinrich Bullinger, John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Martin Luther, petitionary prayer, prayer, Reformation

“Do we receive an answer when we pray?” This question stands at the beginning of Karl Barth’s treatment of John Calvin’s theology of prayer. Barth goes on to conclude that, according to Calvin, God indeed does answer prayer. In fact, “God does not act in the same way whether we pray or not. Prayer exerts an influence upon God’s action.”1 But Barth’s view of Calvin’s theology of petitionary prayer could not be further from recent views put forth by both friends and foes of Calvin. One “friend” argues that given God’s nature and purposes, petitionary prayer may be redundant for Calvin.2 One “foe,” on the other hand, claims that the theological system implied by Calvinism makes prayer logically unnecessary and for all intents and purposes a waste of time. Accordingly, “Prayer becomes practically meaningless for the true Calvinist since, if he is consistent in his Calvinistic worldview, to him all things have been decided in advance.”3 So which is it? Does

petitionary prayer influence God’s action in this world or is it redundant? If those who argue that Calvin’s understanding of the nature and purposes of God make petitionary prayer redundant are correct in their interpretation of Calvin, we may wonder, is Calvin concerned with the redundancy of prayer and does ...

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