What Are We Doing When We Pray? Rekindling a Reformation Theology of Petitionary Prayer

Bibliographic information:

Christopher Woznicki, “What Are We Doing When We Pray? Rekindling a Reformation Theology of Petitionary Prayer” Calvin Theological Journal 53 (2018): 319-343.



I begin by providing a working definition for what is today’s most common account of what petitionary prayer accomplishes. This view holds that such prayers attempt to persuade God to act by giving God reasons to do that which he would not have otherwise done had the prayer not been offered. After examining this view, I then turn to the works of several magisterial Reformers including Heinrich Bullinger, John Calvin, Wolfgang Musculus, and Peter Martyr Vermigli in order to show that they deny the notion that our petitions persuade God to act by giving him reasons and yet they still consider petitionary prayer a meaningful activity. These Reformers ground petitionary prayer’s meaningfulness on three foundations: 1) prayer’s therapeutic function, 2) prayer’s “kindling” function, and 3) prayer’s role as a secondary cause for actualizing God’s decrees. By showing that these Reformers developed meaningful accounts of petitionary prayer while denying that prayer persuades God to do something he would not otherwise have done, I hope to make room for accounts of prayer that have been ignored in academic literature. I also hope to show that the account of prayer formulated by these Reformers does not result in an anemic account of prayer but can offer a theology of prayer which is robust and spiritually satisfying.


Calvin Theological Journal (website: http://www.calvinseminary.edu/2015/06/18/calvin-theological-journal/)

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