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Prayer in the Context of Progressive Christianity


Question & Answer

Q: By John
I’m puzzled about prayer in the context of Progressive Christianity which has replaced the interventionist God “up-there” or “out-there” with the God-within. The typical (conventional) church service liturgy invariably includes an “Intercessions” segment. What meaning does this (segment) have in the context of “progressive” thinking? Should it be abandoned?

A: By Rev. Mark Sandlin


Dear John,

I can’t even begin to imagine how many books have been written about prayer. Undoubtedly, it’s a tremendous amount. I suspect that even if someone could read them all, they’d still be left a bit mystified about prayer. That is to say, I do not know the answer to your question. As far as I’m concerned, no one really does. But I do have my own thoughts and opinions about the subject.

I definitely don’t see prayer as coins for the “great vending machine in the sky.” Theologically, that kind of belief leaves us with either a God whose will and actions can be influenced or even controlled, or it leaves us with a God who is unconcerned and flippant about responding to prayer. Pragmatically, it’s demonstrably untrue and believing that it’s true can lead to a lifetime of wounds and anger with God.

Ultimately, it’s a question of the providence of God. How does God interact with Creation? Personally, I see God interacting through us – reflections of God. So, even if prayer somehow influenced the will of God, I don’t see God reaching down from the sky and mucking about with the world all haphazardly. Instead, I see God impacting the world through relationship with each of us and the actions we take in the world. That’s both an internal and external God.

For me, prayer is one of the ways we connect with that internal/external God. It is a chance to grow in that relationship – including speaking about the difficult places in life and in the world. It’s an opportunity to commune with God and to be oriented toward God. Intersessions are still important in that perspective, but we must understand that it is not us asking God for a result from the great vending machine, but rather us being reminded that we are how God intercedes.

~ Rev. Mark Sandlin

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

 About the Author
Rev. Mark Sandlin is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) from the South. He currently serves at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. He is a co-founder of The Christian Left. His blog, has been named as one of the “Top Ten Christian Blogs.” Mark received The Associated Church Press’ Award of Excellence in 2012. His work has been published on “The Huffington Post,” “Sojourners,” “Time,” “Church World Services,” and even the “Richard Dawkins Foundation.” He’s been featured on PBS’s “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” and NPR’s “The Story with Dick Gordon.” Follow Mark on Facebook and Twitter @marksandlin

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