Uber-blogger Justin Taylor recently posted an excerpt from an online article by John Piper in which he explains, by way of a fictional dialogue, how God’s foreordination of all things doesn’t imply that petitionary prayers are pointless. One commenter going by the moniker ‘Arminian’ took the opportunity to fire some shots over the fence. I pointed out that this brother was in danger of shooting himself along with the Calvinists, which inevitably drew some more shots in response.
I later posted some follow-up comments, but for some reason they haven’t appeared, even after re-posting them. Since I took the precaution of saving a copy, and since I think Piper’s point is important and worth defending, I’m going to post them here for anyone who might be interested (including ‘Arminian’, whoever he may be). But they’ll only make sense after reading the original post and comments.
Thanks for the reply. Addressing your three points:
(1) It’s hard to see how this resolves the problem I raised. As Paul Helm explains in Eternal God, appealing to divine timelessness doesn’t resolve the problem of divine foreknowledge of libertarian free choices. In fact, divine timelessness would seem to make your position even more problematic, for now you have temporal causes (human prayers) causing timeless effects (divine decisions) — an idea of very dubious coherence. So your reply here raises more problems than it solves.
(2) Again, it’s hard to see how this addresses the problem. I pointed out that on your view, God’s decisions about how to answer prayers are settled from eternity. Do you deny this? I’ve made no claims about the necessity or otherwise of the events that God foreknows.
(3) Once again, this misses the point. I’m well aware of the distinction between certainty and necessity, but you don’t explain how that is relevant. The point I raised doesn’t make any reference to necessity. It’s a point about causation, not necessity. I’m simply observing that, on your view, all God’s decisions are settled prior to the occurrence of human prayers. So, according to your own assumptions, it’s hard to see how those prayers could be “genuine causes” of those decisions.
You claim that my response “falters on attempting to attribute internal inconsistency to the Arminian view by applying Calvinistic presuppositions.” But on the contrary, I haven’t presupposed anything distinctly Calvinistic (and you haven’t shown otherwise). I’m merely observing that your criticism of Calvinism also applies to your own classical Arminian position.
I should also have pointed out earlier that you’ve misinterpreted Piper’s dialogue (at least as I read it). Piper isn’t suggesting that our prayers are the causes of God’s decisions about how to answer those prayers; that would indeed be inconsistent with Calvinism (and with your Arminianism, as I’ve argued). Rather, our prayers are the causes of the answers to those prayers. For example, my prayer that Betty recovers from her illness is a cause of Betty’s recovery (but not of God’s eternal decision to foreordain that Betty recover as a result of my prayer). This is a crucial distinction, but it’s one rightly reflected by Piper’s analogies.
On a counterfactual theory of causation, this analysis makes good sense. My prayer temporally precedes Betty’s recovery, and if I had not prayed then Betty would not have recovered. None of this is inconsistent with Calvinism.