Providence & Prayer : How Does God Work in the World? – Terrance Tiessen, A
My theology professor introduced this book with the bold pronouncement, “I—uh, that is, we—think this book will be a classic.” The move from first person singular to first person plural did not add significant confidence to those of us who were leafing through the 362-page tome.
In successive weeks, as I made my way through the book, I found myself alternating between extreme fascination and mild derision, depending on the model being discussed. Occasionally, the speculative nature of it all annoyed me. In retrospect, the whole exercise was unquestionably worthwhile, blunt mental trauma and all.
Tiessen brings considerable knowledge and scholarly acumen to bear on the topic of divine sovereignty vs. human freedom, especially as it pertains to prayer. As he poses the question: “How does God work in the world?” The meticulous nature of Tiessen’s approach to the issue is substantiated by hundreds of footnotes. Ten models of God’s providence are assessed—ranging in tenor from deism to open theism to Calvinism and fatalism. Finally, Tiessen lays out his own proposal, including, he believes, the best and most biblically-aligned elements of other models.
The book is demanding, introducing an array of theological terms that require concentrated integration. As well, the abstract conceptualizing that makes up the meat of the text is only slightly offset by the “case studies” Tiessen provides. To read and enjoy this book requires a willingness (and ability) to “play with ideas,” as Joseph Epstein puts it. Some may be turned off by the high degree of theological speculation involved in several models—and in fact, an amused chuckle will go far in keeping the reader sane at some points. However, once one enters the ebb and flow of successive arguments, the discussion is fascinating, and its vital relevance to coherent living and praying becomes evident.