Continuing The War Against the Sinner’s Prayer: Is It A Heresy?

Forget the War on Christmas.
Do you really want to know a red-blooded, traditional, American-Christian practice that is being destroyed in front of our eyes?
The sinner’s prayer.

For so many, this has been seen as (and still is seen as) the first step into Christianity. The moment of decision. It’s a simple prayer that one is often led through and involves the acknowledgement of one’s status as a sinner, asking Jesus for forgiveness, and possibly asking Jesus to “come into one’s heart.” The sinner’s prayer (or something similar) has been and continues to be the standard Evangelical answer to the question: “How do I become a Christian?”

For my part, I’ve always thought the answer to the above question should be less individualistic and belief-oriented and more communal and action-oriented. How would I answer? Find a church to join and start obeying Jesus’ commands with that community.

Nevertheless, for many the sinner’s prayer is untouchable. Or, at the very least, was.

First, the conservative Southern Baptist darling preacher David Platt launched an unexpected nuclear attack on the sinner’s prayer at a conference in 2012 by calling it “superstitious” and “unbiblical”. 

More recently, progressive Christians have landed some substantial jabs on the sinner’s prayer. Cindy Brandt proposed three reasons why she doesn’t pray the sinner’s prayer with her children. Shortly afterwards, Ben Irwin endorsed Cindy’s critique and offered three alternatives to saying the sinner’s prayer with children.

Allow me to add one more critique to the mix from the viewpoint of historical theology:

The Second Council of Orange (no, they didn’t invent pulp-free orange juice, they condemned Pelagian teachings in 529) made 25 statements to protect the doctrine of God’s grace. I’d like to quote the third such statement:

“If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle Paul who says the same thing, ‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not as for me’ (Romans 10:20; Isaiah 65:1).”

It’s time to give a verdict on the Sinner’s Prayer:
Biblical or Unbiblical?
Wise or Foolish?
Theologically sound or heretical?

What do you think?
Comment below with your verdict! 

The Spirit Energizes

In studying for my class on the Holy Spirit, I read Life in the Spirit by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This paragraph from the 1st Chapter on Ephesians 5:18 has stayed with me. I think it is a valid and needed critique of many churches.

Another striking contrast is this.The Christian life, unlike the life of drunkenness and excess, does not exhaust a man. That is the tragedy of the other life, is it not? The poor fellow thinks he is being stimulated, actually he is being exhausted because of this prodigal use of his energy and everything else. But the Christian life does not produce exhaustion, indeed it does the exact opposite, thank God.

A great principle emerges at this point. It applies not only to drink but to many other agencies that have the same effect exactly as drink. In simple terms, it tells us the difference between the operation of the Spirit upon us, and any other influence that may appear at first sight to be like the influence of the Spirit is this, that all those other agencies exhaust us, whereas the Spirit always puts power into us.

Let me illustrate what I mean. I remember hearing, a few years ago, that a mission had been held under the auspices of a certain Christian organization during one particular term. And then I remember hearing that the following term was one of the worst terms in a spiritual sense in the history of that particular organization. Fewer people went to the prayer meetings and to the various other meetings. People were not only not turning up to prayer meetings or doing their regular Christian work, they were also not reading their Scriptures as they used to do. Someone enquired as to the cause of this strange phenomenon, and the explanation, the answer, that was given was this, that it was due to what they called ‘the post-campaign exhaustion’. Every participant was tired out and exhausted. Does that not cause one to think furiously?

The Holy Spirit, I say, does not exhaust; He puts power into us. Many other agencies exhaust. If a church or Christian organization is exhausted after an evangelistic campaign I would query very much the basis on which the campaign was conducted. The Spirit does not exhaust, but the energy produced and expended by man does. Alcohol, or any artificial stimulus worked up by man, always leaves us exhausted and tired. Not so the Spirit! Drunkenness exhausts; the Holy Spirit does not exhaust, but energizes.

How much of what we call church leaves us exhausted? Then must we ask how much of what we call church is “artificial stimulus worked up by man”?





A Surprising Result: The Freedom Not To Believe

I have the immense pleasure each year of teaching the four Gospels to 14 & 15 year olds at a fairly large Christian high school. Almost all of these students have grown up in the evangelical Bible Belt and many have been immersed in a “Christian” culture through private schooling and church involvement. However, each year I find my work most identifiable with the work of an evangelist or a missionary.

I say this because for the vast majority of my students, my class is the first time they will hear of the Kingdom of God, the resurrection of the dead, and the Trinity. My students are generally only familiar with a watered-down flavor of the faith which hardily continues on in our increasingly Post-Christendom society like algae on the bottom of a fish tank. This Christianity majors on justification by grace through faith – saying the sinner’s prayer, receiving eternal assurance of salvation, and being shamed into not having sex, using drugs, or saying bad words (as an aside, they continue to regularly do all three of these things, despite the pleas of their parents and youth pastors).

As a Christian teacher, my goal is clear, public, and unmitigated: for my students to know and follow Christ. However, there are many different reactions to my teaching, some of them unexpected and disappointing. One of those reactions: unbelief. Some students come to a point where they agree with me that much of what is around them is not biblical or Christlike. Unfortunately, for some students this discovery is not accompanied by a desire to follow the Jesus revealed in the Gospels and the demands laid out in the Sermon on the Mount. (Fortunately, this has been a very rare occurrence over my four years of teaching). This creates in me a true spiritual and moral dilemma: do I keep the status-quo and maintain the commitment of “nominal Christians” or continue to proclaim the truth even if some of those previously identified as “believers” now choose to not believe.

I was reminded of this dilemma while reading Yoder’s recently released Theology of MissionIn a passage defending group conversions in communitarian cultures, he states:

“Based on anecdotes from anthropologically conscious missionaries, once a group started hearing more about Jesus – his promises and his demands, including the moral content of discipleship – the divisions in the community that were not previously there would come to the surface. They were not there before because the Jesus message was not there to provoke them. Some individuals, sometimes many, broke out of the tribal group in order to fall back into the old life, into unbelief and nonconformity to the new norms. The freedom not to believe had become real, in fact, more real than before, because before there were no other options than the traditional tribal one. The initial group decision opened the door to Christian belief. Before that decision, unbelief had been a prison; afterwards it was an option. It was the novelty of the gospel that created the freedom not to believe.”

The observations Yoder notes of certain missionary contexts reminds me of my teaching context. When a foreign group/family/community converts to Christianity, it is not unusual for individuals to begin rejecting Christ as they learn more about him. In a different but similar way, my students come to me (mass) baptized into a nominal Christianity. The introduction of the “Jesus message” – including the moral content of discipleship – now “provokes” the students, until now only exposed to a shallow Christianity, in a new way. Their a priori commitment to Christ leads to a crisis when the previously cheap Christ is challenged and exposed by the Living Christ – leading some to no longer believe. A wise man once said that the truth would set you free – and it seems that this form of unbelief is the result of a new freedom made available by the truth.

I fear my dilemma is ultimately one of truth and commitment vs. numbers and assurance. But as I read (and teach) the Gospels, it doesn’t appear that Jesus is after large numbers or is afraid of people turning their back on him when confronted with the truth. Indeed, in a haunting passage at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus predicts a time in which he will turn away from those who thought they were on his team but were not truly committed. I’ve humbly come to believe that it is better to face that crisis now, with time to think and reflect, than when one is on their knees in front Jesus himself.

What do you think?
Does this resonate with the experience of other Bible teachers?
Does the Gospel necessarily open a door for unbelief to “Nominal” Christians?


Theological Education Outside the Classroom

I am very excited about a series of posts coming in the new year. Multiple pastors/scholars have accepted the invitation to answer questions about theological education outside the typical Western university style classroom. I will announce the contributors soon but will be looking at topics, such as:

  • Theological Education in the Digital World
  • Theological Education for Lay Pastors
  • Theological Education in Non-Western Contexts
  • Theological Education in Prisons (and with those transitioning from prison)
  • Theological Education with those dealing with Addiction and/or Homelessness
  • Theological Education with those having Special Needs
  • Still confirming others

This is not an exhaustive list, in fact, I would appreciate suggestions on topics I should consider including in the series. If you have an idea leave a comment or contact me via Twitter @ChambersChad.

One specific request, if you know anyone working on theological education in Central/South America that would be able to answer questions I would appreciate contact information.

A Universal Gospel

“The church’s call to be universal touches the very issues that seem to perplex the church today: the impact of liberation theology, the urgent challenge of global justice and peace, debates over pluralism in dogma and praxis, dialogue with Judaism and non-Christian religions, church government, the emergence of new forms of ministry, the role of women.  Having to struggle with such issues is a necessary consequence of belief in a universal gospel.  For by definition that gospel cannot be bottled up in one culture, one social class, or one power group.  The Bible itself would raise these issues even if contemporary Christian life did not.  The pages of the Scriptures–both Old and New Testaments–are filled with the struggles of God’s people to be faithful to his covenant, to bring justice and salvation to the poor and defenseless, to reach beyond the boundaries of Judea and Samaria, to find identity as God’s people in new times and new places.  The mission question is intrinsic to the Bible.” – Senior and Stuhlmueller, The Biblical Foundations for Mission (1983:2)