Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Concerns About the "Sinner's Prayer" Resolution at the SBC

As reported by the May 31, 2012 edition of The Christian Index, Eric Hankins-- pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, MS-- has submitted a resolution to be voted on at the 2012 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention; this resolution is designed to affirm that the "Sinner's Prayer" is a "biblically sound and spiritually appropriate" means for calling people to place their faith in Christ. As reported in the article, Hankins's resolution is a result of concerns that he and others have about challenges to the "Sinner's Prayer" that have been voiced by the "New Calvinists" [a label that seems to be applied in this article, as in recent posts on SBC Today, to anyone who has attended a Together for the Gospel Conference and/or meeting of the Gospel Coalition]. Reading this report concerning Hankins' proposed resolution raises a number of issues: first, I am reminded to check my own evangelistic practices and to call upon fellow "New Calvinists" to check their evangelism as well; then, I must express concern over gross misrepresentations that Hankins and others have published about the "New Calvinists;" finally, I would like to clarify why "New Calvinists" and others have expressed concern over how the "Sinner's Prayer" is commonly used in evangelism.

Closing With Christ

5 When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. 6 And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. 7 And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! 8 The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.”

9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” 10 But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” 11 And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. 12 It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” (2 Sam 16:5-12 ESV)


As the rebel Shimei unjustly cursed King David, the king did not allow Abishai to seek revenge; instead, he trusted in the sovereignty of God. How much more should we "New Calvinists" express forbearance toward our misguided brothers in Christ and look at their misrepresentations of us as an opportunity to see if there is any way that we might improve our efforts in evangelism?

I myself have often been guilty of faltering when I come to the end of a conversation in which I have presented the gospel to a lost loved one, friend or co-worker. I have not pressed people to respond to what they have heard: to "close with Christ," as the Puritans used to say. This is not due to "Calvinism," because I had this same problem with my witness before I'd ever considered the "five points," etc.; rather, this is due to giving in to temptation: temptation to the sin of cowardice.

Beyond that: "Calvinism" can, indeed, provide an excuse for why some are not passionate in their pleas for sinners to repent. This does not mean that the doctrines of grace-- commonly called "Calvinism"-- are incorrect, anymore than the fact that some use the doctrine of eternal security to neglect pursuing holiness nullifies that doctrine. However, some preachers are so focused on Romans 9:16-- a verse that DOES glorify God, and DOES provide comfort that others' salvation is not dependent upon our powers of persuasion-- that they forget to have the same broken heart for the lost that Paul expresses in Romans 9:1-3.

Makin' Stuff Up

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Prov 18:17 ESV)

Concern for the lost and a commitment to plead with them to "be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20) does not lead us to the conclusion that we should use any means whatsoever in evangelism; rather, we should be committed to use biblical means to reach unbelievers for Christ. Some evangelists and preachers-- and not just those who self-identify as "Calvinists"-- have questioned whether the "Sinner's Prayer"-- at least as it is commonly used-- is truly biblical.

Hankins contends:
The real problem that the New Calvinists have with the sinner's prayer is that they believe only certain people can come to faith, and they don't want the hopelessly condemned thinking they are saved or joining churches when they actually have no chance for life in Christ.
Hankins's statement is false. Hankins does not quote any of the "New Calvinists" expressing a concern about the "Sinner's Prayer" in anything like the terms he uses, nor can he do so. In fact, The Christian Index-- in the article from which the above quote from Hankins was taken-- quotes David Platt (apparently a representative of the group being referred to as the "New Calvinists") very explicitly stating some objections to use of the "Sinner's Prayer" in terms that are very different from those used by Hankins; Platt says:
Should it not concern us that there is no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament? .... It is a very dangerous thing to lead people to think they are Christian when they have not biblically responded to the Gospel.
Platt-- like others, as will be demonstrated below-- is concerned about use of the "Sinner's Prayer" because he believes that the prayer: 1) is unbiblical; 2) leads to false assurance. The idea of people being "hopelessly condemned" or having "no chance for life in Christ" never enters into the discussion.

Hankins may still disagree with Platt. Hankins may think that Platt and other "New Calvinists" should-- according to his understanding of "Calvinism" and its supposed implications-- object to the "Sinner's Prayer" for the reasons he has invented. But unless Hankins can produce an actual "New Calvinist" that expresses concerns about the "Sinner's Prayer" in anything like the terms he uses, Hankins should repent of misrepresenting his brothers in Christ.

The Real Issue

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 ESV)

For Southern Baptists, the real issue on whether or not we should use the "Sinner's Prayer" in evangelism is NOT whether the "Traditionalists" say we should use it or whether the "New Calvinists" object to it; the real issue is ONLY: what does the BIBLE actually say?

Consider the following:

1) The Bible gives many examples of evangelism; does the Bible contain any example of an evangelistic encounter ending with the evangelist leading the other person in a scripted prayer?

2) If we are meant to use a scripted prayer in evangelism, then why do we not have the script for the "Sinner's Prayer" in the New Testament itself?

3) Does the need for a scripted prayer match what the Bible teaches about repentance?

-Consider the following illustration from Ray Comfort (who does not self-identify as a "Calvinist," but who objects to the standard use of the "Sinner's Prayer" in evangelism for many of the reasons discussed here):

If a man committed adultery, and his wife is willing to take him back, should you have to write out an apology for him to read to her? No. Sorrow for his betrayal of her trust should spill from his lips. She doesn’t want eloquent words, but simply sorrow of heart. The same applies to a prayer of repentance. The words aren’t as important as the presence of "godly sorrow."

4) Why not teach a person to model their prayer of repentance on a specific passage of Scripture?

-If a person desires to call out to the LORD for salvation, but insists that he is stumped about what words to use, instead of repeating some scripted prayer not found in the Bible, why not direct him to Psalm 51 or some other appropriate Psalm of repentance? [This is a suggestion I've seen from Ray Comfort.] In doing this, the evangelist is actually teaching the repentant sinner how to read and apply the Bible from the outset of his new spiritual life.

5) We should never urge assurance of salvation on the basis of the "Sinner's Prayer."

-This is, perhaps, the most crucial issue: the issue Platt addresses in the quote above. If you have been active in evangelism for any time at all, then you have certainly come into contact with at least one person who seems to eagerly receive what you have to say about the gospel, but who then seems to demonstrate absolutely no sign that his life has been changed by the Lord: on Friday your friend says he's saved, on Saturday he goes out partying with the boys, on Sunday he gives no thought to going to church, on Monday he's back to cussing out his co-workers, etc. If you wait for a few days or weeks and continue to see no change, what do you eventually say? Do you ask if he prayed a certain prayer and meant it with all his heart? Well, his actions seem to indicate that his heart is not changed, and if his heart is not changed, then God's Word declares that it is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer 17:9); so if he asks his heart, "Heart, did you mean it when we prayed that 'Sinner's Prayer'?" Then his unregenerate heart may very well tell him, "Heck yeah, I meant it! Now go get us another beer!" Instead, shouldn't you direct your friend to 1 John-- to a book of the Bible that is all about assurance-- and urge your friend to allow Scripture to be his judge?

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