Scott A. Davison, Petitionary Prayer: A Philosophical Investigation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Jamie A Franklin

Abstract


‘Assuming that the God of traditional theism exists, is it reasonable to think that God answers specific prayers?’ (5) This is the question at the heart of Davison’s investigation. But in offering a response, Davison gives a much more interesting answer than a simple “yes” or “no”. The fact is that such a consideration of prayer throws up all sorts of other issues that are (in my view) probably more important ultimately than the initial question itself, and which have all sorts of practical relevance. A number of times Davison refers to C.S. Lewis’ little book Prayer: Letters to Malcolm and the attractive humility of Lewis’ approach to the subject is mirrored in Davison’s equally humble and unassuming manner. Several times, for example, he laments that he might be taken to mean that he intends his work ‘to inform anyone’s personal decisions concerning whether or not to pray in the petitionary way’ (170). Protest as he might, it seems to me that the value of such a work is to give us clarity as to the practical implications of petitionary prayer and other sorts of communication with the divine. And, even though this is a work of analytic philosophy, it must be said in praise of Davison’s approach that it is not an attempt to colonise the subject area of prayer in the name of that discipline. Davison is cautious about his expertise and knowledge of theology and he does not assume that his arguments amount to some kind of final statement. Conversely, I must say that my field of study is theology and that I venture into the territory of analytic philosophy warily, with fear and trembling.

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