Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

John Shelby Spong on Prayer


Spong's presentation concerning prayer in the above video is nonsensical both in his critique of the traditional Christian understanding of prayer and in his proposed solution for how people should understand prayer.

As to Spong's critique:
I suppose it is possible that those who were friends with Spong or under his influence could have really believed that Mrs. Spong's life was extended merely "because lots of people prayed for her." But this understanding of prayer is sub-Christian both in terms of how the Bible presents prayer and how Christian theologians have explained prayer.

The biblical presentation of prayer. The Bible NEVER intimates that the amount of people praying impacts the effectiveness of prayer. From Moses interceding on behalf of Israel, to King Hezekiah's prayer for himself, to Jairus pleading to Jesus on behalf of his daughter, the Bible consistently presents God as willing and able to answer the prayer of a single faithful individual. However, from these examples, we also see that God does indeed answer prayer; this is a teaching that is meant to encourage the faithful, but it may also be troubling to the theologian who wonders, "What if no one prayed?"

The theological explanation of prayer. God is not "wringing His hands," waiting to see whether or not someone will pray so that He may act. Rather, God says, "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please'" (Isa 46:10 NIV). Likewise, Jesus says, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matt 6:8b NIV). And the Apostle Paul writes that God "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will" (Eph 1:11b NIV). So, from our perspective, we pray because we want to and then God acts on the basis of our prayers; since this is the case, we are held accountable for whether or not we pray. But from God's perspective, the prayers as well as the answers are part of His eternal plan. Additionally, believers in Christ are indwelled by the Holy Spirit so that God can move His people to pray in accordance with His will.

As to Spong's proposed solution:
Based on his critique of Christian prayer-- a critique that I argue is invalid, on the basis of the evidence above-- Spong asserts "a whole new understanding" of prayer. For Spong, prayer involves people 'channeling God energy.' But notice that Spong's hypothetical Newarkian garbage collector fares no better under this "new understanding." Since the garbage collector only knows "one or two" people, there are only one or two people 'channeling God energy' to him. The garbage collector, then, is actually much worse off than Mrs. Spong in this view, because, unlike the garbage collector, the bishop's wife has multitudes 'channeling God energy' toward her. In the proper Christian view, the "one or two people" are potentially in communication with a personal, infinite, omnipotent God who can more than balance the scales of influence and who can effectively work healing. Spong's philosophy has nothing to compare with this.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Tommy said...

Can you expand on your view of the purpose of prayer? I don't quite understand what you mean by praying because we want to, regardless of the outcome - or for that matter why we would pray at all if we already know through the Holy Spirit the direction of God's Will. I do appreciate you making the case that Spong's reason for not believing in prayer may not be theologically sound, but as someone who has never put much stock in prayer, I'd like to better understand what part of praying to God is appealing to a non-believer if God's plan is already laid out anyway.

11:35 AM  
Blogger ajlin said...

Re: "what part of praying to God is appealing to a non-believer."

-I don't think anything about praying would be appealing to a non-believer, especially as the primary purpose of prayer is communion with God. I wouldn't call someone on the phone whom I hated or was apathetic toward, neither would I pray to God if I did not believe in nor care for Him.

11:48 PM  
Blogger Tommy said...

I am still interested in hearing your view of the purpose of prayer in light of dismissing Spong's views of the purpose of prayer. Also, to clarify, I didn't construct my sentence properly. Obviously I clearly have no interest in praying to a god I believe does not exist. What I meant was that based on what you said in your post (which I grant was not a post on prayer, but merely a response to the Spong video), I didn't infer any implications that the act of prayer provides any evidence that God exists or cares what you want. Do you mind saying something about that? By the way, I don't plan to argue it or anything - I'm just interested!

4:55 AM  
Blogger ajlin said...

I wouldn't argue that the act of prayer in itself provides evidence for the existence of God, except maybe in the sense that the impulse to pray, found in a multitude of cultures, may point to a Higher Being.

That God cares what we want is implied in both the commands to pray, found throughout all of Scripture, and in the examples of answered prayer, such as those mentioned in this post under "the biblical presentation of prayer."

6:38 AM  

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