Thursday, June 13, 2013

Prayerless Arminians

Christians used to think God controls nature. To take a classic example, a farmer would pray for rain.

Likewise, if you were about to be overtaken by a tornado or hurricane, you would pray that God spare you and your family. If there were wildfires threatening your neighborhood, you would pray for divine protection. In the same vein is the pious belief that God can heal.

By the same token, if you were spared, you gave thanks to God for answering your prayer.

Recently, however, some high-profile Arminians have removed natural evils from God’s jurisdiction.

So, at the end of the day, anyone who says a natural or man-made disaster, calamity, catastrophe is from God must be thinking either that it was an arbitrary act of God, done for no particular reason other than perhaps to create fear (which still doesn’t explain why that particular place), or that it was in some sense God’s judgment.

That particular but pervasive understanding of God’s sovereignty is what might be called “meticulous” (or “exhaustive”) sovereignty. In regards to this subject, there are only two real options: either God determines everything (meticulous sovereignty) or God does not determine everything. A well-known example of meticulous sovereignty can be found in various statements made by notable evangelical leaders in the wake of natural disasters, such as hurricanes from Katrina to Sandy. If one affirms meticulous sovereignty, then one must also believe God decided, desired, and carried out the weather conditions, the speed and direction of the winds, the deluges of water, and precisely which homes would be destroyed and which homes would escape.

The first point immediately confirmed in my heart was theological: God did not do this to my child. God is not the author of evil. God does not terminate sweet lives with a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolisms are a result of the bent nature of this world. As Ann kept repeating, "God is not the problem; he is the solution."

One primary reason I am not a Calvinist is that I do not believe in God's detailed control of all events. Why? First, because I find it impossible to believe that I am more merciful or compassionate than God. Second, because the biblical portrait shows that God is pure light and holy love. In him there is no darkness, nothing other than light and love. And third, the words, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away," from the lips of Job (1:21), are not good theology. According to Job 1, it was not God but the Devil who took away Job's children, health, and wealth. God allowed it to happen, but when Job said these words, as the rest of the story shows, he was not yet enlightened about the true nature of the source of his calamity and God's actual will for his life. God's will for him was for good and not for harm.

As you can also see, their position is cast in explicit contrast to Calvinism. The motivation is, of course, to exempt God from the problem of evil.

However, your doctrine of providence runs in tandem with your doctrine of prayer. If God isn’t responsible for drought, then presumably a farmer shouldn’t pray for rain. That’s not God’s department.

If God isn’t responsible for tornadoes, hurricanes, or wildfires, then we shouldn’t pray for divine protection. And if we do escape, we shouldn’t be grateful to God. We just got lucky. God had nothing to do with it.

Likewise, if a friend or relative is deathly ill, we shouldn’t pray for healing. That’s none of God’s business.


  1. " The belief of an all-wise, all-directing providence, is a powerful support under the most grievous accidents of life.......The passage from distrust to apostasy is very short and easy; and a man is not far from murmuring against providence who is dissatisfied with its conduct."- Adam Clarke (Arminian theologian of the late 18th and early 19th centuries)

  2. Also ironic, given the Charles Wesley sermon posted before where he is emphatic that God is the cause of earthquakes.

    Steve, what's your take on Witherington's appraisal of Job? He seems a little quick to attribute faulty theology to him.

    1. Witherington would also have to fault the theology of the narrator of Job too.

      " Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold."- Job 42:11

      I suppose the narrator could be expressing the belief of his relatives that it was the LORD who brought the calamities on Job without confirming or denying the theology of Job's relatives. However, I doubt it. Most likely, the narrator is doing both (i.e. confirming the truth of the theology of Job's relatives; meaning the narrator believes it too). If that's true, then Witherington would have to radically modify the doctrine of Biblical inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy.

    2. In Job 1:21-22 and 2:10 Job attributes the calamities to the LORD and in both instances the narrator states that Job didn't sin in doing so. If Job's theology was mistaken, then wouldn't that be sin? Later near the end of the book God rebukes the mistaken and erroneous theology of Job's friends but not Job's theology. God rebukes Job for his eventual attitude in response to his [i.e. Job'] correct theology.

      21 And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."
      22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.- Job 1:21-22

      10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.- Job 2:10


    4. 7 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has."9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the LORD had told them, and the LORD accepted Job's prayer.- Job 42:7-9

  3. I'm no apologist, but I did read a lot of Olson in college. Here is my less than two cents attempt at addressing some of his wackiness.


  4. If anyone is interested, here's an example of a Calvinist praying for rain (Dr. Cornelius Van Til). Here's THE LINK

    I loved how his prayer was so saturated with Scripture when I first heard the recording over a decade ago.

    1. The prayer begins at 2:50 (2 minutes and 50 seconds). It lasts till 10:05.