Do Arminians Really Pray Like Calvinists?

It is often said by Calvinists that when Arminians pray, they pray like Calvinists. Typically this is expressed in such a way as to imply that while Arminians may deny the theological claims of Calvinism, they affirm Calvinism in the way that they pray. The Calvinist assumes that when Arminians pray for God to work or to save the lost we are praying for God to work irresistibly. But why should that be the case? Prayer is relational and if it is true that we are asking God to work in people’s lives, even bringing them to salvation against the backdrop of relational assumptions, then we have no reason to expect God to act irresistibly in response to such prayers. Why should it be assumed that if someone asks God to save a loved one that the person praying is expecting God to do so in an irresistible manner? This isn’t what such things would imply in our normal experiences, so why should we think that way with regards to prayer? Dr. Brian Abasciano makes this point well,

 …respectfully, I strongly disagree that as Arminians we should not pray for God to save people or that it is inconsistent with Arminian theology to do so.

It is all a matter of what is meant by such prayer. We use such language in everyday life all the time of resistible action. What corroboration is there for such language naturally implying a request for irresistible action? The evidence of actual language usage counters the automatic assumption of irresistible action. If I ask my son to take a visitor in our home to the bathroom, that does not mean to overpower them and force them into the bathroom. It means something like, “show them where the bathroom is and lead them there as long as they *willingly follow you*. Similarly, if I say to my son, “Please bring your mother here,” I certainly don’t mean, “get your mother here at all costs; overpower her and drag her here if necessary.” I simply mean something like, “let your mother know I want her to come here.” Or if I ask my friend to pick up my wife from the doctor’s office, that does not mean “force her into the car and drive her back to my home.” Such examples could be multiplied. One more. If a morally upright store owner tells his salesman to sell an item to a customer, he does not mean to do whatever is necessary to make the sale, including drugging the person and coercing them to buy the item, or overpowering them, taking their checkbook, and writing the check out himself, or kidnapping their family and holding them hostage in exchange for buying the item, or anything of the kind. “Sell them this item” or “make the sale”, simply means, “do all you can do that is not coercive or in violation of their free will to persuade them to buy the item.”

Similarly, when we ask God to save someone, we do not mean, “Take over their will and irresistibly cause them to believe and so be saved.” We mean something like, “Take action to lead them resistibly and willingly to believe in Jesus,” which would include any number of actions God might take. Olson mentions God bringing circumstances into their lives that will increase their awareness of their need of God and of his love and power to save them. Yes, that. But there are so many more things God might do that would work toward leading people toward faith in Christ. Be that as it may, I would argue that in a context in which there is the assumption of the honoring of free will, then such language implies a request for resistible action rather than irresistible action. If an Arminian prays for someone’s salvation, then it should be assumed that the prayer is for resitible action for the person’s salvation.

In my opinion, to discourage praying in such a way is needless, ignores this normal use of language, and limits our proper expression to God in prayer. It also fails to rightly grasp the critical issue of the meaning behind words and assumes a Calvinistic meaning for language that is completely compatible with an Arminian understanding. Indeed, it is biblical language–as Paul says in Rom 10:1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (NASB)–and I think it would be very unwise to concede this language to Calvinists, just as it is unwise to let them own the terminology “doctrines of grace” (the *biblical* doctrines of grace = Arminianism).

So the important thing is what the person means by their prayer for God to save. I disagree that asking God to save someone is an incorrect or misleading way to express a request that God work resistibly for someone’s salvation. Indeed, I would argue that it is a perfectly natural and biblical way to pray for this. God, please save the lost! (From: Arminians Can be Consistent and Pray for God to Save the Lost; note that Abasciano’s comments were in response to some posts written by Arminian Roger Olson)

Old time Methodist theologian and philosopher, Daniel Whedon, argued in a similar manner long ago, pointing out that certain things are presupposed when either a Calvinist or an Arminian makes requests of God,

Calvinists often claim that the prayers even of Arminians presuppose that God may at any time consistently with his administrative system convert any man they are praying for, or even the world, at any moment. But in this matter Calvinists truly contradict themselves. They pray, as the result often shows, that God would do contrary to his own sovereign election. Their prayer, though itself decreed, is often against God’s decrees. They pray that God would act contrary to the strongest motive; which they say God has no moral power to do. That is, they commit these contradictions unless all prayer is considered as offered under the proviso that what is asked for be consistent with the Divine Will, and is in fact asked for so far only as allowable by the fundamental laws of God’s administration. Not my will, but thine be done, tacitly or expressly limits and underlies every true prayer.

And such a proviso as fully explains the prayer of the Arminian as of the Calvinist. When an Arminian prays that God would awaken the public mind to repentance, or convert an individual, or spread the Gospel through the world, and turn all men’s hearts to righteousness, he thereby expresses his earnest desire that such things be accomplished in accordance with fundamental laws. Just as when he prays that a temporal blessing may be bestowed, as health restored, or life preserved, he usually expects no unequivocal miracle, but trusts that it may be done in such way as Infinite Wisdom may devise in accordance with the constitution of things; and that on the condition of his prayer it may be ordered otherwise than if such prayer were not offered. We know not how far the prayer of the saints is a condition to the goings forth or putting forth of God, nor how fully he requires the co-operation of his Church, in order to render possible such displays of his truth as will convince the unbelieving, and such impressions by his Spirit as the free wills of men in process of time will, it is foreseen, accept and obey. Certainly man’s Will and not God’s remissness has prevented the complete good of the world. (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, ed. John D. Wagner, 119)

As Whedon points out, unless a Calvinist brings certain presuppositions to his prayers with him, he may indeed be praying contrary to the will of God. Since the identity of the elect is hidden, the Calvinist cannot know if the subject of his prayer is one that God desires to save or one that God has decreed to forever leave in his or her hopeless state. They might pray for countless hours for the salvation of someone who God has decreed from eternity to reprobate and has no desire to save. Indeed, they might be praying for God to save someone who, as the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 would have us believe, has likewise been hated by God from the womb and been made an irrevocable vessel of wrath doomed for destruction. This is a difficulty that seems out of line with passages like Rom. 10:1 or 1 Timothy 2:1-6. Furthermore, 1 Timothy makes it clear that we should offer prayers for all people because God desires all to be saved and because Christ died for all. So the Arminian has Biblical warrant for praying for the lost and knows that in doing so he is always praying in line with the will of God.

But what of the Calvinist? If they interpret 1 Timothy 2:1-6 to mean “some among all kinds” or “some among all classes”, then in what way should they pray? Should they say: “God I pray for some among all men to be saved?” Or should they pray: “God, I pray that you will save all of the elect from among the various classes of men in the world?” Such prayers, driven by the Calvinist approach to such passages, illustrate again that the Calvinist shouldn’t pray for the salvation of any specific person because he cannot know that it is actually God’s will to save that person.

Furthermore, if Calvinism is true, it is hard to understand why one should even bother to engage in intercessory prayer at all. In Calvinism, God has already pre-determined from eternity which persons will be saved and which persons will be damned. That eternal decree is unchangeable, and that decree was not made in response to the prayers of yet uncreated people, who will in fact be created for one destiny or the other in such a way that nothing could possibly work to change that destiny. The person the Calvinist prays for is either elect or reprobate, and nothing can change that. No amount of praying can bring salvation to the reprobate, and no lack of prayer can prevent the elect from being finally saved. It would seem that the Calvinist prayer cannot possibly accomplish anything since eternal destinies cannot possibly change in any way.

Some Calvinists reply that such prayer may yet serve as the ordained means by which God saves the elect, but also maintain that God is in no way influenced by our prayers. It is, therefore, hard to understand how prayer can be a means to salvation, if those prayers can have no possible impact on God or His predetermination to save some and reprobate others. If prayer really plays no part in whether God will save or not, then how can it be a “means” towards accomplishing salvation? As one commenter responding to a post written to help understand and defend prayer in Calvinism well said,

While God knowing everything is consistent with prayer, God planning everything in the Calvinistic sense of unconditionally decreeing it is not. Calvinism cannot account for the Bible’s portrayal of prayer as a cause of God’s answers to prayer because it holds that God unconditionally decides all that he wants to happen and then irresistibly causes it to come to pass, including the prayer that supposedly causes him to respond to it with action that grants the request. It would be like saying that with putting a sock puppet on your hand and having the puppet ask you to do something, that the request made by the sock puppet is a cause of you doing what you had the sock puppet ask you to do. (link)

This observation is important because it highlights how Calvinism, if consistently held, can serve to undermine one’s motivation for prayer (and this eventual lack of motivation to pray is something we often see reported by former Calvinists). If all things are decreed by God from eternity, then whether we pray or not, it is likewise decreed and can have no impact on whether anyone is ultimately saved or lost. A Calvinist can still pray because he thinks it his duty as a Christian or because he thinks it has certain personal spiritual benefits, but petitionary prayer still seems essentially useless since it can have no impact on anything since God has already decreed whatsoever will come to pass from eternity (including any such ineffective petitionary prayers that might be prayed).

So it seems to me that if Arminian prayer has difficulty, Calvinist prayer has far more difficulty. And while Arminians can pray for the lost knowing that such prayers are in line with God’s desire to save everyone and Christ’s provision of atonement for everyone, Calvinists cannot. While Arminians can make sense of why Paul’s heartfelt desire was for his fellow Jews to be saved (and in the context of Romans 9-11, Paul is speaking of the same Jews that Calvinists insist were reprobated and “hated” by God from eternity), Calvinists struggle to make sense of Paul’s anguish.

But if Arminianism is true and God desires all to be saved, why should prayer move God to act anymore than He would already be moved to act? The answer seems to be that as a relational God who so strongly values genuine inter-relational interactions, He wants us to be a part of the process (we are co-laborers with Him, 1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1) . He wants us involved. He wants us to demonstrate our own love and concern for others by petitioning Him for others which further glorifies Him in that it is an example of His love expressed freely in us for others. We reflect His love in our efforts to bring people to Christ and in our prayers for the salvation of the lost, efforts and prayers that are themselves empowered by God with a view towards seeing all saved.

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16 Responses

  1. I think I would laugh out loud if a Calvinist ever told me that, because if anything, Calvinists actually pray like Arminians (as you pointed out)! They pray just as though their prayer might effect something real, which cannot happen in the Calvinist scheme.

    I LOVE that Whedon quote: “…that on the condition of his prayer it may be ordered otherwise than if such prayer were not offered.” That is, indeed, the way the Bible tells us to pray: So as to receive something you would not have received otherwise. I hate it when Christians (reformed or otherwise) try to wiggle out of it by saying that prayer only serves to align our will with God’s, rather than accomplishing anything outside of ourselves. The Bible tells us to pray for our daily bread so that we might receive it, not feel better about maybe not receiving it!

  2. Mackman,

    Well said.

  3. btw, your linked articles (stage right) on Atonement and Calvinism, et al. are producing a lot of 404s when you click on them. SEA must have removed the links for many of those posts.

  4. SEA moved a while back, so those links need to be updated. If you go to the site and do a search for the articles they should come up. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten around to finding and fixing all of the broken links yet.

  5. I am a Calvinist and here is what puzzles me about the way you describe Arminian prayer for the unsaved. You speak of asking God to assist the unsaved to come to faith. It seems to me, however, that Arminianism necessarily assumes that God is doing his utmost to save everyone, so that there can be no difference in the extent to which God is trying to bring people to himself. Am I wrong about this? If so, I’d value explanation of how God can do more for one person than for another without making the kind of choice that troubles Arminians about unconditional election. Thanks.

  6. Mr. Tiessen,

    Arminianism says that God is doing all that is necessary (or sufficient) to bring people to salvation. That means that everyone has an opportunity to come to faith. However, God works through people and relationships and allows (even requires) us to be a part of the process. That is His sovereign right, of course. That is why God calls on us to pray for the salvation of the lost and to reach out to the lost, preach the gospel to the lost and not be a stumbling block to the lost (or even believers, cf. 1 Cor. 8 where a believer can be “destroyed” by the carelessness of another believer). This fits very well with the overall Biblical portrayal of God’s interactions with His creatures and desire for them to all be saved.

    I addressed this at the end of the post:

    But if Arminianism is true and God desires all to be saved, why should prayer move God to act anymore than He would already be moved to act? The answer seems to be that as a relational God who so strongly values genuine inter-relational interactions, He wants us to be a part of the process (we are co-laborers with Him, 1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1) . He wants us involved. He wants us to demonstrate our own love and concern for others by petitioning Him for others which further glorifies Him in that it is an example of His love expressed freely in us for others. We reflect His love in our efforts to bring people to Christ and in our prayers for the salvation of the lost, efforts and prayers that are themselves empowered by God with a view towards seeing all saved.

    Let me add that since relational interactions are based on free will, then no amount of influences will guarantee a certain result, and more opportunities do not necessarily equate to better results. So we have a situation where salvation is based on a relationship with Christ and that relationship is dynamic and brought about through a variety of resistible means. One of those means is prayer, which allows us the opportunity to influence how God might work to lead someone into a relationship with Himself. But again, despite God working in different ways, because of the nature of free will and its import for the relationships that God values (including the most important relationship of all: a saving relationship with God), there is no one specific thing that will necessarily lead someone to believe. So “more” is not always really “more”.

    You ask,

    If so, I’d value explanation of how God can do more for one person than for another without making the kind of choice that troubles Arminians about unconditional election.

    This isn’t a choice that necessarily troubles Arminians. It is not about equality of opportunity, but sufficiency of opportunity. Moreover, “doing more” does not necessarily guarantee a response of faith anyway and is not necessarily better qualitatively (as explained above). And on top of that, it is nothing like unconditional election where God does nothing at all for the (reprobate) lost to bring them to salvation. Indeed, He makes it impossible for them to be saved. Big difference.

    In the end, God will hold everyone accountable for whatever their response was to grace given and to the corresponding opportunities that come with that grace (to whom much is given, much is required…), and our prayers can have an impact on those opportunities and how God works through those opportunities. But again, more attempts and more opportunities still will not guarantee a certain result.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  7. Thanks, Ben. If I understand you correctly, you are telling me that God makes it possible for everyone to be saved, so that the only impediment to that happening is their own unwillingness to respond positively to God’s gracious overtures. But beyond that sufficiency, God has chosen to give some people more opportunities than others. Nevertheless, he is unable to ensure that any particular individual responds positively, so his choice to work harder on some people than others is an unconditional choice to be more gracious to some than to others, but success in those cases would not amount to an unconditional election to salvation, because those people were always able to resist God’s overtures; his saving grace, prevenient and accompanying, is never efficacious in the way it is for Calvinists.

    Thus, some people may be saved who would have not have been saved if God had only given them sufficient grace, but everyone could be saved if they chose, and none are saved by an efficacious grace comparable to that which Calvinists believe is necessary for salvation to occur. (In other words salvation is always incompatibilistic or indeterministic.) Even the most blessed by God with gracious overtures and inner promptings could have chosen not to respond if they wished. Our prayer for particular unsaved people is therefore motivated by the belief that God may graciously respond to our requests for his work in other’s lives and that some of those for whom we pray will be saved who would not have been, if we had not asked God to work harder on them, and if God had not chosen to respond positively to our intercession.

    Have I heard you correctly?

    Thanks,
    Terry

  8. Hi Terrance you said:

    “But beyond that sufficiency, God has chosen to give some people more opportunities than others.”

    I could be wrong but I don’t think Ben said “God has chosen to give some people more opportunities than others”, but rather:

    “But again, despite God working in different ways, because of the nature of free will and its import for the relationships that God values (including the most important relationship of all: a saving relationship with God), there is no one specific thing that will necessarily lead someone to believe. So “more” is not always really “more”.

    I don’t think God has chosen to give more preceding Grace in some rather than others but rather there is a cooperation between His people sharing of His Gospel and the preceding Grace that is accompanied with that. Have you ever or have you known someone that has failed to share the Gospel when the Holy Spirit was prompting him/her to do so? Ben alluded to this in his above statement I quoted.

    Thanks,
    Russ

  9. Thanks, Russ. I was working from this statement by Ben:

    “He wants us involved. He wants us to demonstrate our own love and concern for others by petitioning Him for others which further glorifies Him in that it is an example of His love expressed freely in us for others. We reflect His love in our efforts to bring people to Christ and in our prayers for the salvation of the lost, efforts and prayers that are themselves empowered by God with a view towards seeing all saved.”

    I took from this that when we “petition God for others,” God might choose to respond positively to those petitions and do more for the person we had prayed for than the sufficient work of grace which is universally distributed to all. Are you telling me that our prayers do not in fact have any effect in eliciting from God further working on his part toward the salvation of the lost.”

    I’m hearing you speak of human cooperation with God’s grace only through gospel proclamation, but I heard Ben speaking of effective intercession which brings about action on God’s part. This coheres with Ben’s declaration that “its not about equality of opportunity.” That is the part I am trying to unpack, so I hope Ben will help me out by commenting on my attempt to restate his perspective.

  10. Terrance,

    Today is a pretty busy day for me, but I hope to get to your comments as soon as possible.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  11. Terrance,

    You wrote,

    Thanks, Ben. If I understand you correctly, you are telling me that God makes it possible for everyone to be saved, so that the only impediment to that happening is their own unwillingness to respond positively to God’s gracious overtures.

    Yes.

    But beyond that sufficiency, God has chosen to give some people more opportunities than others. Nevertheless, he is unable to ensure that any particular individual responds positively, so his choice to work harder on some people than others is an unconditional choice to be more gracious to some than to others

    First, let me make clear again that because of the nature of our wills, God is unable to ensure that any particular individual freely responds positively. I also made the point that it is misleading to think of God as working “harder” on a person because he makes more overtures to them than someone else. I am not sure we can always quantify God’s respective efforts towards people or workings in their lives.

    Furthermore, because of free will “less” might end up effective for one person and “more” might end up ineffective for someone else. So I find your way of framing the issue illegitimate. So let’s replace “harder” with more. And with that, actually, part of what I was saying was that it is often “conditioned” on our prayers in that prayer has a relational dynamic to it just as other ways God relates to us and wants us to relate to Him and to each other. So in accordance with God’s desire for us to be a part of the process through prayer, such a choice on my view is not “unconditional”, but “conditional”!

    but success in those cases would not amount to an unconditional election to salvation, because those people were always able to resist God’s overtures; his saving grace, prevenient and accompanying, is never efficacious in the way it is for Calvinists.

    Well, I just pointed out that the choice to work on the person more would not be unconditional. But what you say here is also true of my view. If we are able to resist while also enabled to respond, and salvation is conditional based on that response (the response of faith), then of course it would not amount to an unconditional election.

    Thus, some people may be saved who would have not have been saved if God had only given them sufficient grace

    I assume you are saying that some people may be saved who would not have been saved if they had sufficient grace to be saved but not more than that. If that is what you are saying, then yes, some people might get saved who would not otherwise have been saved if they did not get additional grace as the result of prayer.

    , but everyone could be saved if they chose, and none are saved by an efficacious grace comparable to that which Calvinists believe is necessary for salvation to occur. (In other words salvation is always incompatibilistic or indeterministic.)

    Yes, but I would rather say that salvation is always conditional, rather than unconditional.

    Even the most blessed by God with gracious overtures and inner promptings could have chosen not to respond if they wished.

    Yes.

    Our prayer for particular unsaved people is therefore motivated by the belief that God may graciously respond to our requests for his work in other’s lives and that some of those for whom we pray will be saved who would not have been, if we had not asked God to work harder on them, and if God had not chosen to respond positively to our intercession.

    Our prayers can make a difference, if that is what you are trying to say, just as our actions can make a difference (which I pointed out in my first response to you). And the fact that our prayers can make a real difference serves as another motivator for prayer. But in Calvinism I don’t see how prayer can possibly make a difference and that seems at odds with Scripture (and our own experiences) on many levels. Does that likewise “puzzle” you?

    God Bless,
    Ben

  12. I’d like to ask you, or any other Arminian who follows this blog, the same question that got me banned from SEA’s FB page run by Dale V. Wayman. I suppose the question made him uncomfortable since he banned me immediately–immediately—after I posted it. So much for “the gospel worth striving for”!

    In any case, my prior post contained several of the key differences between Calvinist doctrine and Scripture (Calvinism’s insistence that Christ didn’t die for everyone, there is an eternal hidden decree to damn certain individuals prior to birth, God actively “barring the door to life” to the non-elect etc). Standard Calvinist doctrinal beliefs. I even posted from the Institutes:

    “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is fore-ordained for some, eternal damnation for others.” (III.21.5)

    “..we say that God once established by his eternal and unchangeable plan those whom he long before determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction. …he has barred the door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation.” (III.21.7)

    “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” (III.21.5)

    Following the ungracious non-answer reply to my first post in which Dale V. Wayman threatened to ban me on the spot, I replied, “With all due respect, I don’t wish to be banned for asking a question that refuses to be answered [and yet I was]. If I were a Jew who didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, could I be considered a “brother in Christ”? If I were a Jehovah’s Witness and I didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God, could I be considered a “brother in Christ”? If I were a Mormon and I told you I believe the Bible 100% but I also believe there is another testament, could I be considered a “brother in Christ”? What if I were a Roman Catholic and I told you that the gospel I received was clear: faith plus works equals salvation? Could I be considered a “brother in Christ”? All of these belief systems deny central parts of the gospel message. I realize not all Calvinists believe everything John Calvin believed. But how much deviation from Scripture could you, or I, or anyone allow before we are talking about two different gospels, two different Gods? That’s all I am asking. What is the bare minimum for Christian fellowship given the distinct and glaring differences between Arminian and Calvinist beliefs?”

    That is my question to you. Realizing that not all Calvinists adhere to the same TULIP doctrine, and having come out of a Calvinist upbringing myself, I ask again, “What is the bare minimum for Christian fellowship given the distinct and glaring differences between Arminian and Calvinist beliefs?” Are these differences between Calvinism and Arminianism major or minor? If minor, why waste further time debating something that has found no resolution in 6 centuries? But if they are major differences (and I think it clear that they are), at what point can we say that the gospel according to Calvin deviates enough from the gospel according to Christ as to consider it a different gospel altogether? If that is a question that is too shocking to ask, I shudder at the future of any further theological inquiry because it is indeed, THE QUESTION. Dale was entirely wrong to avoid it and to presuppose my own answer. I merely ask, is TULIP Calvinism compatible with Scripture?

  13. Paul,

    As someone who fairly recently discovered himself aligned (almost by accident) with Arminianism, I’ll give my thoughts (which you can take or leave):

    Calvinists are often better than their theology.

    While they may proclaim that God has decreed all actions of all people everywhere, they will still feel shame at a sin, as something that they could have overcome.

    While they declare that God has damned the vast majority of the human race, many will still try their darndest to bring the gospel to people that, by definition, are either beyond all help or saved already.

    Although their own beliefs make effective prayer impossible, they will pray earnestly, in tears, for an unbelieving neighbor/child/parent.

    It would be difficult – perhaps impossible – to embrace as a brother in Christ someone who holds all that I believe Calvinism necessarily implies, and acts that out in their lives. But everyday Calvinists, who pray even though their theology makes it meaningless, who try to reach the lost even though their theology makes their efforts worthless…those I can embrace and call brother.

    I don’t know if this answered your question, but I’ve thought about that issue as well. (Same thoughts, expanded, here: http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/2014/05/calvinists-are-better-than-their.html)

  14. Mackman,

    Thank you very much for your response. I believe this paragraph states it quite well:

    “It would be difficult – perhaps impossible – to embrace as a brother in Christ someone who holds all that I believe Calvinism necessarily implies, and acts that out in their lives. But everyday Calvinists, who pray even though their theology makes it meaningless, who try to reach the lost even though their theology makes their efforts worthless…those I can embrace and call brother.”

    I can agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly.

  15. Thank you, Ben, this conversation has been very helpful to me. I will now speak differently than I have previously about the function of prayer within Arminian theology.

    I have frequently asserted that it is futile for Arminians to intercede for the salvation of the lost because God is doing his utmost to get everyone saved. I see the “fairness principle” as fundamental to Arminianism. Arminians generally have a strong revulsion at the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election and so they shrink from any suggestion that one person is saved and another is not saved because God did more for the one than for the other. Strangely, in previous conversations with Arminians no one has addressed my challenged my representation in the way you have, and so I have persisted in it.

    You have helped me to see things in a quite different light, and I’m grateful for this. I now see (through your Arminian lens) a situation in which God wants everyone to be saved, so he has made it possible for everyone to be saved through universal prevening grace. Anyone who is not saved is unsaved because they rejected God’s gracious drawing, not because God was insufficiently gracious to them. This does not mean, however (and here is where you have been helpful), that God does no more for one person than for another. God’s saving work is not simply a one-on-one operation. God has called his people to proclaim the good news persuasively and to intercede for the lost. God has not obligated himself to answer every prayer offered by his children (contra the teaching of some synergists of the “name it and claim it” variety, who do not represent classic Arminianism), but he is predisposed to do so, particularly when they ask him to do what he himself greatly desires. So, believers can expect that when they ask God to work for the salvation of particular unbelievers God will act. However, as you wisely point out, God is not always able to draw sinners efficaciously because of their libertarian freedom. His efforts may actually result in a further hardening of heart by a sinner, and hence lead to their greater condemnation rather than their salvation. In such a case, I assume that the believer should feel no guilt for having contributed to a worse rather than better situation than they had wanted. What they did was right, and what God did was done with gracious intentions, but God can not predict how a libertarianly free creature will respond to particular overtures made by God.

    What I’m hearing from you is an Arminianism that rejects Molinism, so you concur with Roger Olson on this one. I know that the validity of Molinism is hotly contested within Arminian circles, but it seems clear to me that you are not a Molinist. I hear you denying that God knows (or could know) counterfactuals of the actions of libertarianly free creatures. There I hear agreement with both Open Theists and Calvinists, but disagreement with many of your fellow Arminians. So you and I come at this from the same perspective, though you are an Arminian and I am a Calvinist.

    Given what you have said, I will speak differently about the necessary consequences of Arminian theology for intercessory prayer. That nuance is valuable, and I thank you for taking the time to correct me when I misconstrued your thinking.

    You wrote: “But in Calvinism I don’t see how prayer can possibly make a difference and that seems at odds with Scripture (and our own experiences) on many levels. Does that likewise “puzzle” you?”

    Presently, I am fairly satisfied on this point, but it is one that I have pondered at great length. I wrote a book on “Providence and Prayer” (IVP 2000) in which I unpacked 10 models of divine providence which I have encountered in Christian theology and endeavored to show how petitionary prayer operates within each model. I then proposed an eleventh model which I labelled “middle knowledge Calvinism.” Correspondence with Paul Helm following an article I wrote in Westminster Theological Journal led me to abandon the idea that God knows counterfactuals as middle knowledge. He and I then coauthored another WTJ article in which I revised my earlier terminology and agreed with him that God knows counterfactuals naturally/necessarily. So I now call my model “hypothetical knowledge Calvinism.”

    I understand your puzzlement. It is a point on which (Open Theist) John Sanders pushed me in a constructive way, and I spoke to it in a chapter entitled “Can God Be Responsive if the Future is Not Open?” in a festschrift for Clark Pinnock (Semper Reformandum, eds. Porter and Cross, 2003). As I understand the situation, God has chosen to actualize this world from among all the possible worlds, about whose possibility God knew because of his natural knowledge of the principles of agent causation. So God chose this world, in all its detail, including which people are saved. In this world, all who are saved come to faith because of God’s efficacious calling (as all Calvinists assert), but God’s knowledge of counterfactuals enabled him to assure this without coercion. (God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is a fundamental plank in my understanding of compatibilism, and I have appropriated a fair bit from Molinism in this regard, even though I consider Molinism to be incoherent in its own construction, on account of the grounding objection.)

    Within this framework, evangelism and intercessory prayer are effective means by which we participate in the bringing about of the history which God chose. Like other Calvinists, I believe that God has ordained means as well as ends. Graciously, he has chosen to let his church be involved in his saving work, so I pray that God will draw to himself particular sinners, and I believe that my prayers can be effective, because God has not only chosen to save particular people but to save them in response to the petitions of his children. I assume that God has gracious intentions for everyone, since he has not revealed otherwise to me. So I ask God to draw people to himself, and if they come to faith, I thank God for having answered my prayers. (I say more about this in “Who Can Be Saved?, IVP 2004).

    I may have gone on too long here, Ben, but I thank you for clarifying some things for me regarding what I wrongly took to be the necessary entailments of Arminian theology.

  16. Mr. Tiessen,

    I do hope to reply to some of what you wrote when I have the time. I am in the middle of a major project on top of other work responsibilities at the moment, so it might still be a while.

    God Bless,
    Ben

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