Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Decisionism and the sinner's prayer

John H has posted an alternative version of 2WTL (h/t Craig S). He said he was keen to avoid the "decisionistic" emphasis of the final box of 2WTL. I'm completely with him on that, not so much with respect to 2WTL (which, by the way, I think is generally great as a gospel summary), but more wanting to avoid the "decisionistic" emphasis of evangelicalism generally. Here's (you guessed it) five thoughts:

1. What do I mean by "decisionism"? It's a common feature of evangelicalism that, in the course of evangelism, the evangelist tries to get a "decision" out of someone to become a Christian. Moreover, it can be an attempt to get a decision expressed in a particular way - in the old days it was the altar call; nowadays in Sydney Anglican circles it tends to be "ticking the box" on a feedback card. In both cases it is accompanied by praying "the sinners prayer". So much so that the phrase "prayed the prayer" has become a synonym for "become a Christian".

2. There is much that is true about decisionism. Following Christ does involve making a conscious decision to do so. And in our evangelism we are to call on people to make a response to the gospel. But there's a few aspects I'm not keen on.

3. The gospel response the Bible seems to ask for is faith and repentance. Yes, there's an element of "decision", especially the repentance part. But for the faith part, it's more a case of simply believing. Do you believe Jesus is Lord? Do you believe he died for your sins? Do you believe he rose from the dead? For many (myself included) it can be a case of the penny suddenly dropping - one minute you lack belief, the next minute it falls into place and you believe it and grasp it. Or for others it may happen more gradually over time. It's not so much that I made a decision to be a Christian (although I did), but that God opened my eyes to see the truth and believe it. "Decisionism" can start to sound very Arminian, so I find it somewhat surprising it is so prevalent in our more Calvinist-inclined circles.

4. The other issue I have is the empahsis on "praying the prayer" as the expression of that decision. Barely a gospel tract or gospel outline exists without a version of the sinner's prayer to pray. Of course, there's nothing wrong with praying on conversion - indeed, it's a great thing to do! But as Phil said over in the comments at John H's blog, it implies that the newly-converted person has no faith or forgiveness before the prayer and gains both by the act of praying. Phil said he would teach people the 'convert's prayer'. "Do you believe this? Then the first thing to do is to say thankyou to God!". I like that.

5. Finally, if there is to be some physical expression of the new convert's faith, what's wrong with the physical expression used in the Bible - i.e. baptism? It seems the "sinner's prayer / altar call / tick the box" package has become the new initiatory sacrament of evangelicalism. Instead of ticking the box, what about just finding a nearby river or swimming pool or bath or jug of water and being baptised!! Indeed, even taking the Lord's Supper would be a good idea - eating the bread and drinking the wine as a sign of feeding on Christ in faith for the first time. I saw the Lord's Supper used in that way at St Helen's Bishopsgate in London on my recent trip, and we've done it a few times since at our church - i.e. use the Lord's Supper as a demonstration of new found faith - "if you have believed Jesus' promises for the first time today, why not take and eat this bread along with us".

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