The Sinner’s Prayer–A “Get Out of Hell Free Card”?

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[Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on July 28, 2012.]

A great deal of ink has been spilled and Internet bandwidth expended over the controversy of whether or not it is appropriate to use “the sinner’s prayer” in evangelism (i.e., is it proper to tell someone to ask Jesus into his heart when leading him to Christ).  At the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans this last June, messengers overwhelmingly approved a resolution supporting its use.  I have to confess that I think the whole dispute is misguided.  In my opinion, what is driving the concern of many is the paltry results of much of our evangelistic efforts.  Whether it’s one-on-one soulwinning (through Evangelism Explosion, Continuing Witness Training, or FAITH) or mass evangelistic meetings (such as crusades, youth camps, or VBS) the outcome is too often the same.  Scores make “professions of faith” who afterward demonstrate little or no interest in Christ, the church, or the walk of faith.

The problem, however, is not with the use of any particular prayer.  Rather, I would contend, that the difficulty lies in the way we present salvation.  Most evangelistic methods present salvation as a commodity that Jesus purchased and now offers.  Christ is presented as having bought salvation by His death on the Cross, and if you ask Him then He will give it to you.  Salvation, redemption, and forgiveness are understood entirely as a purchase, a business deal, or a transaction.  Salvation is reduced to the offer of a “Get Out of Hell Free” card.

But one can do business with someone he really doesn’t care for.  In fact, one can receive a gift from someone he positively dislikes (just think of how much foreign aid has gone to countries that don’t like the USA).  Here’s the important point: salvation is not something Jesus gives; salvation is something He is.  One does not receive salvation from Jesus.  You and I receive Him–the Lord Jesus Christ–for Who He is, and in receiving Him we receive salvation, redemption, and eternal life.  We are not simply being offered a really great bargain; we are called to enter into a covenant relationship with Christ.

We affirm the penal substitution of Christ upon the Cross, and gladly use the language of “purchase,” “redemption,” and even “transaction.”  But to see salvation only in those terms runs the danger of viewing salvation merely as a commercial contract.  A saving relationship with Jesus Christ is more than just a contractual agreement–it’s a covenantal relationship.  Scripture describes a saving relationship with Christ in terms of marriage (Eph 5:23-27). Marriage is indeed a contract (as least, as far as the state is concerned), but it’s not merely that.  Who wants a relationship with his or her spouse that is entirely or only legal in nature? Marriage is a rich and effective metaphor for describing our salvation because it teaches us, that above all else, salvation is a proper relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and us.

I suspect that we tend to emphasize only the transactional aspects of redemption because such an objective understanding seemingly provides certainty.  Relationships, in contrast, are subjective by their very nature, and therefore more complicated, maybe even messy.  Yet you and I are called to be in vital union with Christ, and it is in this relationship we are saved.  “He who has the Son, has life.” – 1 John 5:12

So yes, when we are leading people to Christ we should encourage them to pray the sinner’s prayer.  Let’s just make sure we are leading them to Christ, and not just selling them on a really great deal.

This post is cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

 

Teleological Amnesia–What I’ve Been Reading (10)

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In God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation, Jonathan Wilson argues that the Church has neglected the biblical doctrine of Creation–he calls it a case of “teleological amnesia”–and all of Western culture is the worse for it. Rather than responding to the onslaught of naturalism, materialism, and Darwinism, theologians of the last 250 years turned inward. Instead of developing a robust theology of Creation, they focused on salvation history. This abdication had consequences–nearly all of them bad. Theology as an intellectual discipline was banished from the academy, the Church embraced a nearly-Gnostic view of salvation (salvation came to be understood as deliverance from Creation rather than the redemption of Creation), and society came to view technology in messianic terms.gods-good-world

One of the worst effects of abandoning Creation as a worldview is that, in the modern mind, Creation has been transformed into Nature. This left the modern world with four miserable options:

  • We can conclude that there is no meaning, purpose, or teleology to the universe.
  • We can try to manufacture meaning for ourselves.
  • We can try to believe that the universe creates its own purpose or telos. However, if death is the final outcome for all then it is difficult to avoid fatalism.
  • Or we can attempt to construe meaning in the light of another god besides the Triune God of the Bible.

Wilson contends that the only proper telos is Jesus Christ (Col 1:15-21). Failure to recognize this leads to despair, and much of modern society’s frenetic activities are attempts to deny, manage, or ameliorate this despair. Only a recovered theology of Creation–a theology that always views Creation in the context of redemption–can heal the pathologies of society.

Wilson presents his case in three parts. First, he surveys the damage caused by ignoring the doctrine of creation. Second, he presents an approach for developing a robust theology of creation. Last, Wilson devotes the remainder of the book to applying the motifs developed in part two. This book identifies an important issue. It’s not the final word on the subject; Wilson doesn’t claim that it is. But he makes a good case for where the discussion should go from here.

This posted is also available at www.theologyforthechurch.com

A New PhD Track for Worship Leaders and Worship Theologians

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Worship leaders and worship theologians are of the greatest significance to our churches and seminaries. For this reason  we at SEBTS are more than a little excited to introduce a new PhD in Theology & Worship which does not require the student to move to SEBTS’ campus.

Students will come to campus for short periods of time in order to take one-week intensive seminars, after which time they will return to their places of ministry where they will continue to research and write while also serving their churches.

Rather than being a music-based degree, the PhD in Theology & Worship integrates multiple theological and ministerial disciplines such as Bible, theology, pastoral ministry, and worship. This will prepare students for future roles in local church worship leadership, academic research, scholarship and higher educational classroom instruction.

Students will take seminars in History of Worship, Theology of Worship, and Ministry of Worship. Those seminars are complemented by seminars in Doctrine of the Church, Doctrine of the Christian Life, The Church in Its Cultural Context, and Christian Faith & the Arts. Students will also take and independent study with a professor external to SEBTS, a professor who will chose based upon his expertise in the student’s chosen dissertation topic.

Students will study under a total of nine professors in this degree track. Professors for this PhD track include four systematic theologians John Hammett (PhD, Southern Seminary), Bruce Ashford (PhD, Southeastern Seminary), Keith Whitfield (PhD, Southeastern Seminary), and Benjamin Quinn (PhD cand., University of Bristol). In addition, seminars will be taught by musicologists Joshua Waggener (PhD, University of Durham) and John Boozer (DMA, Louisiana State University), Baptist historian Keith Harper (PhD, University of Kentucky), missiologist Chuck Lawless (PhD, Southern Seminary), and philosopher Bruce Little (PhD, Southeastern Seminary).

The PhD in Theology & Worship was created to help advance the understanding and practice of worship life in the Christian church, and to prepare students for future roles in local church worship leadership, academic research and scholarship, and higher educational classroom instruction.

For more information, and to inquire about the application process, click here.