The Mystical View of Prayer

A few weeks ago James Gordon from Wheaton College came to visit us at our weekly Analytic Theology seminar. He presented an insightful paper title “Thdq-4lckb_400x400e Mystical View of Prayer: Friedrich Schleiermacher in Dialogue with Analytic Theology.” Yes you may be wondering…. Schleiermacher and Analytic Theology? What the!?!? But yes James showed that the two are not as incompatible as one may think. Regardless, here are my notes from his lecture.

You can follow him on twitter at: @JRGordon13

  1. Methodology of Prayer
    1. Challenge 1 – Impracticability of Analytic Theology
      1. Does AT have nothing to contribute to piety?
      2. To talk of prayer through AT is to attempt to get clarity on the act itself and what one is doing
  • What about Novice prayer and prayer without belief? What’s going on there?
  1. Challenge 2 – Improvement upon Scripture… does AT attempt that?
    1. Some genres of scripture are narritival and AT attempts to reduce to propositions
    2. We can use Theological Interpretation of Scripture in order to address this objection
  2. Challenge 3 – Choosing a Starting point
    1. Prayer from Below
      1. Takes the on the ground practices of the church as basic and works backwards towards God to make sense what we know about God in prayer.
      2. Take Wolterstorff’s Liturgical Theology as an example
      3. Liturgy is a fully legitimate source for doing theology
        1. There is a God who is a hearer… what is the understanding of God in our liturgy?
      4. Take Biblical Theology
        1. Looks at Biblical examples as a starting point – healing for prayers àhealing, etc.
        2. Takes these biblical examples and concludes something about God and prayer
      5. Constructs account of prayer AFTER not before active prayer
    2. Prayer from Above
      1. One begins not with practices, but with account of God’s being, then what can be said about prayer can be fit subsequently with what one can say about God
        1. e. why petition an omnipotent, omniscient God?
      2. Prayer seems to be an afterthought after what we already know about God
      3. Starts w/ what we know about God then moves to how we can understand prayer
    3. A Third Way: Schleirmacher’s Alternative Method
      1. The Mystical Account of Prayer
        1. Looks like “From below” – starts w/ concept of God based of religious consciousness/experiences that all people supposedly have
        2. Gordon suggests he has a third way, not above or below, but a mystical account (Christological/Soteriological Method)
  • What does he mean by Mystical? Not what we mean typically… He means: Lies between magical view and empirical view
    1. Magical – Prayer affects God… But If prayer affects God, it’s a lapse into magic
    2. Empirical – Prayer doesn’t do anything… But No. Just No. He rejects a therapeutic account of prayer.
    3. Mystical – supernatural does become natural in the person of Christ, but just b/c it doesn’t bring about divine intervention, that doesn’t mean that prayer is ineffective. Prayer in other words does something – in and through human agency in the natural system of nature.
  1. To say Schleiermacher rejects magical and empirical doesn’t mean he rejects the effectiveness of prayer. Prayer is not a tool to be used like a magic wand nor is it something that one can just forego entirely since God’s ends come about not because of our prayer
  1. Schleiermacher’s Sermon on Prayer – The power of prayer in relation to outward circumstances
    1. Begins w/claim – to be a religious man and to pray are one and the same thing
    2. Prayer creates existential angst – if a person petitions God to heal someone, they may be healed or not. On the former outcome, the temptation is to see it as a mark of divine favor, on the later, the temptation is to have one’s peace disturbed
  • He appeals to the prayer of Christ himself – if answering to petitionary prayer is proof of one’s prayer then you would think all of Christ’s prayers were answered! But what about Christ in Gethsemane?
  1. S urges them to not feel as though what you ask must necessarily take place because of your prayer. We shouldn’t assume our petitions made in faith will by necessity be answered.
  2. True prayer comes only when it is done in the name of Christ
  3. Ends sermon by saying petitionary prayer is not the mark of true piety, entreating prayers are dictated by weak human heart, and a sign of an underdeveloped God-consciousness
  1. Schleiermacher’s Dogmatic Account of Prayer
    1. The fact that humans experience God-forgetfulness – it characterizes the community’s consciousness as a whole and individuals will experience God-forgetfulness as a society – thus one is born into a web of “God-forgetfulness” and it needs someone outside of this web to pull us out
    2. Jesus communicates his God-consciousness to the redeemed (for example see how he does it with the 12 disciples – its not just teaching propositions, its communication of his Spirit)
  • Prayer is the means through which one integrates one’s self-consciousness to God-consciousness
  1. Since the church is an imperfect community it vacillates between SC and GC
  2. One’s ceaseing to pray is expressed in the complete integration between SC and GC
  3. Praying in the name of Jesus = praying the concerns of Jesus in his Spirit and Consciousness
  1. Remaining Challenges
    1. What does “I will pray for you?” mean in this account. Typically we think this means that I am petitioning God for a particular effect, but if this isn’t the case then why say this?
      1. Schleiermacher may say… the sense that we are praying carry’s on GC onto others in the community. So far from superfluous, it has a person and community forming function.
    2. Novice prayer – Kid saying the Lord’s prayer, etc.
      1. Schleiermacher allows for Novice prayer…
      2. (It seems he is saying that Novice prayer creates some philosophical problems. But What’s the problem with Novice prayer?)





Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

2 thoughts on “The Mystical View of Prayer

  1. “To say Schleiermacher rejects magical and empirical doesn’t mean he rejects the effectiveness of prayer. Prayer is not a tool to be used like a magic wand nor is it something that one can just forego entirely since God’s ends come about not because of our prayer.” I really enjoyed this statement!

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