Playing with Ideas, Models of God, a Book about Prayer ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, October 03, 2005

Playing with Ideas, Models of God, a Book about Prayer

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.

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Keshi said...

Nice blog first time here (through brood's) :)

A book abt Prayer can be really interesting...did it say anything about what real prayer is? Cos what I believe is simply this:

"Hands that do service are holier than the lips that pray..."

Have a good day mate!

Tom Wilkinson said...

Considering the heft of this book and my already extensive reading list, could we get a summary of theological and practical truths you assimilated from your reading? I know, it's a lot, but you seem to publish so often, maybe I just assume you have all this free time on your hands. *grin*

Ariel said...

Hi Keshi, glad you found your way here and thanks for the question.

If I'm reading you correctly, you're saying that "prayer" is exemplified by charitable action. In a sense, I agree - prayer should enable us to put feet to our good intentions and play a part in accomplishing the changes for which we pray.

But any idea of "prayer" which left God out of the picture could hardly be called prayer. It would simply be "Peace Corps" or "Habitat for Humanity," if you get my drift. Generous social action is essential, but prayer refers to the vital "influence" God gives us with himself. God wants to accomplish things in the world via our prayers; he chooses to make his power "contingent" on our requests. So in a very real sense, prayer is work. But it is not merely physical work.

That got kind of long.

Tom, you're killing me. I'll think about elaborating, but believe me - the appearance of endless free time is pure illusion. I blog as much as I do to stay sane amid my other responsibilities. :)

Colby Willen said...

Great book. I had to read it as well for a class back in seminary...and I'm still trying to grasp some of it as I was re-reading some chapters this past month.

Andrew Simone said...

Regarding keshi and Ariel.

The distinction between words and deeds, or head and heart, should be resolved in this way: Deny the dicotomy.

What do you think?

Ariel said...

"Deny the dicotomy."

Hmm. I think I see your point, though I invite you to elaborate. Problem is, prayer does need to be defined carefully at some level if we're going to do it. If prayer is mowing my neighbor's yard for him, I may convince myself that the smell of newly cut grass is communion with God. And who knows where that assumption might take me?

We must be people of word and action, and they should be intertwined, but the two are not exactly the same. That's why we need "both."

Anonymous said...

Not all prayer is intended for outward action. Much of prayer involves action in the inner person. Christ taught his disciples to pray and began with "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name..." Much of prayer is a turning of our hearts away from the altar of self to the holy beauty of God and simply praising him. This is a "work" of the heart, mind, spirit and will.



Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife