Calvinism and Arminianism:
Myths & Realities

John Calvin comments: “In case anyone should think that there is no benefit gained by others praying for us, he sets out the usefulness and the effect of prayer.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Matthew, Mark and Luke Vol. III, and James and Jude, p.316, emphasis mine)

James 5:16 states: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Often the response of Calvinists is: Prayer does not change God; prayer changes man.” So prayer does not change God’s mind, ever? What about king Hezekiah? He prayed, and God said that He saw his tears and added fifteen years on to the end of his life. (Isaiah 38:1-5) Or was all of that part of the script?

For a Deterministic Calvinist, prayer is the predetermined means” to a prescripted end.

I think that with King Hezekiah’s prayer, it shows that even though something might not be in the “Divine Plan,” things can still change, and thus his additional 15 years would prove that prayer is not futile. (2nd Kings 20:5-6; Isaiah 38:5)

Calvinist, Spiros Zodhiates comments:Hasn’t God already determined everything, however? Yes, He has. If so, then how can prayer produce results? After all, His decrees are immutable. It is true that God has foreknown and predestinated everything that happens in Heaven above and in earth beneath. Why pray then? But that’s like asking, if God has predestined the air, why should we breathe? The answer is, because He has ordained it so. Yes, it could have been possible that we didn’t need to breathe to live, but God who has put oxygen here in the exact amount needed to sustain life has also ordained that we should breathe; and He who has set His plans ahead of time has also told us that we should ask and pray. It’s all there waiting for us to appropriate it, but He says, ask for it. Prayer simply releases what God wants to give us. He also predestined His people’s prayers. When we pray we produce links in the chain of ordained facts. It gives us a sense of bringing to pass that which God in eternity predetermined. That’s a tremendous thing to contemplate -- that when we pray God does something. It proves that we are in tune with God, and what we have asked has been in such agreement with God’s purposes that it has been accomplished and we are co-workers with God. The privilege of prayer is tremendous. What joy to know that we have adjusted our will with the plan of God. Destiny decrees that we should pray; therefore we pray. Destiny decrees that we shall be answered, and the answer comes. The Lord Jesus says the decrees of God need not trouble us. They are His business. He has also determined that our business is to pray.” (Why Pray?, pp.91-92, emphasis mine)

One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians states: “While God knowing everything is consistent with prayer, God planning everything in the Calvinistic sense of unconditionally decreeing it is not. Calvinism cannot account for the Bible’s portrayal of prayer as a cause of God’s answers to prayer because it holds that God unconditionally decides all that he wants to happen and then irresistibly causes it to come to pass, including the prayer that supposedly causes him to respond to it with action that grants the request. It would be like saying that with putting a sock puppet on your hand and having the puppet ask you to do something, that the request made by the sock puppet is a cause of you doing what you had the sock puppet ask you to do.” (SEA)

This meme reflects the concern that many non-Calvinists have about Calvinism. The response from Calvinists is often that prayer is the means to a predetermined end. However, I think that there is a psychological issue at play, since if one thinks that they cannot change this world, then there is no use trying. In other words, if everything is prescripted, then why bother? But if prayer does change things, and things are not fatalistically predetermined, then prayer offers real hope, and its not too late.

2nd Kings 19:20:Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you.”’

Isaiah 38:4-6:Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah, saying, ‘Go and say to Hezekiah, “Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city.”’

Notice how prayer changes things. But the problem with Calvinists is that they first establish that Calvinism and Determinism are true, and then they check to see what the Bible says, and if there is a renegade verse which threatens Calvinism, the verse is stamped with a “Revealed Will.”

Question:  Does prayer change anything?  

Philip Yancey answers:  In a sort of negative proof of the power of prayer, three times God commanded Jeremiah to stop praying; God wanted no alteration in his plans to punish a rebellious nation. Prayer had, after all, softened God’s resolve before.” (Does Prayer Change God?)

Jeremiah 7:16-18 states: As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you. Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods in order to spite Me.”

Jeremiah 11:14: Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains:Petitionary prayer makes no sense on exhaustive determinism. It cannot reasonably be considered even a predetermined means to God’s answer, since it is a special case of asking God to do something. It would be like putting a sock puppet on one’s own hand and having the sock puppet ask oneself to do something, and then doing it, and insisting that the sock puppet’s request was a means to oneself doing what was requested. Say one desires to offer a drink of water to a friend, and so one puts on the sock puppet and has it ask oneself to offer the friend a drink of water. One then offers the drink to the friend. The request from the sock puppet cannot reasonably be considered a means to offering the drink to the friend.” (SEA)
Arminian Charge:  Calvinism eliminates the meaning of Prayer.

Myth or Reality:  If, according to Deterministic Calvinism, everything has been predetermined by God, then what would prayer accomplish? Does prayer change anything? Some Calvinists are frank in admitting that prayer does not change God, but only changes us, which doesnt make sense how anything could really change, if everything is prescripted.