I want to introduce this article by taking us back some forty-one years to the initial publication of what soon became an evangelical classic: J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (IVP, 1961). The book was an expansion of the address Packer delivered to The London Inter-Faculty Christian Union (LIFCU) on October 24, 1959, at Westminster Chapel. What makes Packer’s book so instructive for us today is the utter incredulity on his part, in 1961, regarding a theological perspective that today, in 2002, is widespread and pervasive in its influence.
Packer begins his defense of divine sovereignty in salvation by appealing to what he believes is, or at least should be, an evangelical consensus on the practice of prayer. He appears to assume that no one who embraces a high view of Scripture could possibly think otherwise. It is more than simply that we pray, but also how and what we specifically ask God to do that Packer believes supports his understanding of the activity of God in saving a human soul. Here is what he says:
‘You pray for the conversion of others. In what terms, now, do you intercede for them? Do you limit yourself to asking that God will bring them to a point where they can save themselves, independently of Him? I do not think you do. I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively, save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Saviour. You ask God to work in them everything necessary for their salvation. You would not dream of making it a point in your prayer that you are not asking God actually to bring them to faith, because you recognize that that is something He cannot do. Nothing of the sort! When you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God’s power to bring them to faith. You entreat Him to do that very thing, and your confidence in asking rests upon the certainty that He is able to do what you ask. And so indeed He is: this conviction, which animates your intercessions, is God’s own truth, written on your heart by the Holy Spirit. In prayer, then (and the Christian is at his sanest and wisest when he prays), you know that it is God who saves men; you know that what makes men turn to God is God’s own gracious work of drawing them to Himself; and the content of your prayers is determined by this knowledge. Thus by your practice of intercession, no less than by giving thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge and confess the sovereignty of God’s grace. And so do all Christian people everywhere.’
He also appeals to what he believes is the underlying theological assumption for our gratitude. Why do you ‘thank’ God for your conversion, he asks? It is, he says, ‘because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it.’ You thank God because ‘you do not attribute your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, or prudence, or sound judgment, or good sense.’ Packer believes he is speaking for all Christians when he says,
‘You have never for one moment supposed that the decisive contribution to your salvation was yours and not God’s. You have never told God that, while you are grateful for the means and opportunities of grace that He gave you, you realize that you have to thank, not Him, but yourself for the fact that you responded to His call. Your heart revolts at the very thought of talking to God in such terms. In fact, you thank Him no less sincerely for the gift of faith and repentance than for the gift of a Christ to trust and turn to.’
Of course, today there is an increasing number of professing evangelicals who happily do precisely what Packer contends they ‘would not dream’ of doing. Packer’s incredulous ‘Nothing of the sort!’ is today’s ‘orthodoxy’. What Packer claims you would never attribute to the human will is the very thing advocates of libertarian freedom insist upon. What Packer says we would never tell God, indeed, that thought at which our hearts would revolt, is being preached and published at a dizzying pace in 2002.
In all fairness to Packer, one must assume that such language is intentional hyperbole, a writer’s way of jolting his readers into thinking through what he believes are the unacceptable implications of the theological system he opposes. But the fact remains that what Packer argues most certainly cannot (or should not) be the conscious intent of any thinking Christian is precisely that for most, if not all, open theists. Given the latter’s insistence on libertarian free will, what Packer contends we would never ask of God is precisely what open theists applaud as the essence of intercessory prayer.
I have yet to read an open theist who does not make much of the argument from prayer. Some would even appear to have embraced this theological model in large part because it alone invests in intercessory prayer a value and efficacy that warrant its practice. One often hears open theists declare that classical theism, in its affirmation of exhaustive divine foreknowledge, destroys the foundations of prayer and transforms otherwise meaningful dialogue with God into a sham. Greg Boyd is typical of most open theists when he says: ‘My conviction is that many Christians do not pray as passionately as they could because they don’t see how it could make any significant difference.’ Again, he writes, ‘I do not see that any view of God captures the power and urgency of prayer as adequately as the Open view does, and, because the heart is influenced by the mind, I do not see that any view can inspire passionate and urgent prayer as powerfully as the Open view can.’ The same sentiment may be found in David Basinger’s treatment of prayer as part of a larger concern with the practical implications of the open view of God.
Clearly, open theists are convinced that their system will energize the prayer life of the Christian and help reverse the lethargy and indifference that are so prevalent in the body of Christ. My focus is one specific element in prayer, namely, intercession for lost souls. Open theists would have us believe that they alone provide a framework within which prayer for the lost is meaningful and effective. My aim is to challenge this notion head on. I do not for a moment suggest that open theists don’t pray for the lost. Many of them (all of them, I should hope) are faithful and fervent intercessors. Neither am I saying they shouldn’t pray for the lost. What I am saying is that they cannot petition God actually to save a human soul and remain consistent with their system. What I am saying is that what open theists affirm about human freedom and the self-determination of the will precludes their asking God to intervene effectually in a human soul and bring a person to saving faith in Jesus Christ. It may well be that open theists would immediately concur. Perhaps some will say, ‘Yes, you are correct. What you and Packer insist is the focus of our requests on behalf of lost souls, we deny. We do pray for them, but not in the terms you have expressed.’ Nevertheless, my suspicion is that open theists do pray as Packer contends all Christians should, but that they do so only at the expense of what is foundational to their theological enterprise: libertarian or self-determining freedom. My purpose is simply to make the latter point clear. Perhaps, at the end of the day, one might conclude that open theists are correct in declining to ask God to save human souls. That is not my concern. I wish to focus solely on the fact that such is precisely what they must do. The reason for this is found in their notion of libertarian freedom, to which we now turn our attention.
Libertarian Freedom: A Definition
Clark Pinnock believes that ‘Scripture, like human experience itself, assumes libertarian freedom, i.e., the freedom to perform an action or refrain from it.’ Libertarian freedom, says Pinnock, is something the biblical story simply ‘presupposes.’ Hasker provides the following definition: ‘On the libertarian (or ‘incompatibilist’) understanding of free will, an agent is free with respect to a given action at a given time if at that time it is within the agent’s power to perform the action and also in the agent’s power to refrain from the action.’ He argues that to say the action is ‘within one’s power’ means that nothing whatever exists that would make it impossible for the power in question to be exercised. If I am free in this sense, then whether or not the action is performed depends on me; by deciding to perform the action I bring it about that things happen in a certain way, quite different from some other, equally possible, way things might have happened had I refrained from the action.’ On this basis John Sanders contends that ?a person does not have to act on her strongest desire. It is within the agent’s self-determining ability to change her desires.’ Thus a person is free if and only if he or she ‘could have done otherwise than she did in any given situation.’
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Source: Monergism | Sam Storms