Thinking Out Loud

July 23, 2015

The Calvinist and the Altar Call

I don’t want to take a lot of time over-introducing the video segment here, lest I fall into the trap of putting some spin on it; but in this 11-minute clip there is a strange juxtaposition between the revivalism of John Piper’s description of his traveling evangelist father, and the context of the Calvinist audience to whom he is speaking. If your mind and hearts are open, there is a moment of unusual transparency here where we learn as much about the speaker as we do about the place of pleading in the salvation process.

This clip was posted (or re-posted) by Free Gift Media, a new resource I am just being made aware of. To learn more check their Twitter and their website.

April 13, 2015

Book Review: Did God Kill Jesus?

Did God Kill JesusThere was something almost eerie about reading this book over the Easter season. I took a rather slow, almost plodding pace in order to absorb the material and then have a day to digest it before moving on, some of the events described paralleling narratives being brought to mind at Holy Week.

In Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution, author Tony Jones looks at the central element of the Christian faith — the death and resurrection of Jesus — though his focus is clearly on the crucifixion and all of its ramifications for doctrine and theology. Over the years, writers and teachers have processed a handful of dominant models of what all is taking place — what we call atonement — as Christ yields his life to the religious and political powers of Jewish authorities and Roman soldiers; and Jones considers these as well as a few of the lesser-known theories.

At the very core of his analysis is Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?” He veers strongly toward the view that at that moment Jesus sees the Father as absent and dares to suggest that right then, right there, Jesus experiences something akin to atheism; life in a world without God. This is presented alongside the notion that while positionally God’s omniscience is a given, there are things that could only be known incarnationally.

This is a book for people willing to risk actually doing some thinking. Many of us have grown up in environments where we were taught that “Jesus died on the cross for our sins;” but would be lacking clarity in explaining exactly how the violent, death of this One accomplished this. He notes that if a sacrifice were all that was required, a child sacrifice at the Bethlehem manger would have sufficed. He also forces the reader to consider why a violent death was necessary.

I had been aware of Tony Jones through his blogging activity at Theoblogy, and knew that because of his co-authorship of The Emergent Manifesto, some readers here might question his orthodoxy. My thoughts ran somewhat the other way; reading through I asked myself if the book could not have appeared under HarperCollins’ more Evangelical imprints such as Zondervan, instead of HarperOne. (There were a couple of language issues early on, which are, in balance, unfortunate.) Jones is simply a nice guy, charitable to people whose views on Calvary are different because they are Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, Progressive or even Pentecostal. By this I mean, the book accounts for all tastes.

Perhaps it is my own perspective, but my takeaway — and I mean this as high praise — is that I found myself thinking about Jesus and what would be going through his mind throughout all aspects of his final words to his disciples, his betrayal, his beating, his trial before Pilate and the agony of the crucifixion itself. Could there be any higher benefit to the reader of a Christian book?

Click here to read sample pages of Did God Kill Jesus?.

March 7, 2015

Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate

While this is not a direct continuation of yesterday’s post, anyone who has interacted to any degree with the Christian blogosphere is aware that much strong opinion out there on a variety of topics. You can’t help but sense that many people are simply consumed by their obsession with people who don’t look like them or talk like them or belong to their tribe. Some of the best Christian authors and pastors are lined up in their sights and anything they write, say or even think is completely pre-judged. (I just deleted a blog from my computer’s bookmarks, because every time I clicked it, I found my blood pressure rising perceptibly from the first paragraph I would read.)

If you track with Thinking Out Loud’s sister blog, Christianity 201, you know that I’ve been very slowly working my way through a four-book series by Michael Card, the Biblical Imagination series, and I’m currently in the one on the third gospel, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, which surfaces every few weeks. When I looked back to find the source of what follows, I couldn’t nail down a specific section to quote, but I don’t want to take full credit for this, Card’s writings have helped me put myself more into the picture of Jesus’ give and take with the crowd and the religious leaders.

Basically, today’s online haters are best described by the phrase, Modern Pharisees. As such they find themselves in opposition to people on two different levels.

Modern Pharisees Hate Sin

There’s no crime in that. Heck, God hates sin, right? But sometimes hating sin translates into hating the sinners themselves. To Jesus, a person’s performance record with reference to the standards of a Holy God was never in and of itself reason for condemnation. Rather, the term scripture uses translates as missing the mark. Our failure to meet those standards is part of larger nature that needs to be seen for what it is, and then, for those of us who are repentant of this, in our earnestness to please God and in our confession of that failure, we come to understand that we can’t ever make amends with God on our own. We need his help to lead a more God-pleasing life, but we also need is covering or atoning for our mark-missing which by implication means we need a savior. We find that in Jesus, we look to the cross, and then grant him Lordship over each and every detail of our life.

But this applies to everyone equally. Each one of us has that built-in, human tendency to stick our hand on the wall next to the “Wet Paint” sign. Or as Paul said it to the Romans, ‘All have missed the mark (or sinned) and come up short of God’s standards (or holiness.)’ So if you want to wave a placard that says ‘God Hates Fags,’ (which is not true), you need to also have one that says, ‘God Hates Adulterers,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Cheat on their Income Tax,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Steal Paperclips from Work,’ (all equally untrue) because basically, ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’

Except that God doesn’t hate anyone. He hates mark-missing because his standards are high. Very high. The highest. However, on the other hand, sending Jesus as an atonement was His idea. He lets us see our inability to achieve the standard and then, to as many as received that offer, to as many as believed on Jesus, he lets us off the hook, so to speak.

So hating sin is a God-paralleling thing to do. Hating sinners on the other hand is, well, sinful.

Modern Pharisees Hate Grace

And this is where it all gets weird. You would think that those who accept the offer are cause for celebration. Doesn’t the Bible saith that there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth? Yeth, it doth! So if the angels are having a party, can we do any less?

The problem is that the thinking of many is bound by bounded set theory. This is the idea that there is a line and some people are in, and some people are out. Only your hairdresser knows for sure. While there is some truth in the idea that a time is coming when the sheep are separated from the non-sheep — I don’t wanna be a goat, nope — it’s wrong to think that it’s up to us to decide, or that it’s even up to us to worry about who’s who.

So…at the least suggestion that someone from the fringes might actually be in, there is much consternation and concern. Clearly, we can’t have that sort of thing going on, and the best way to deal with people who don’t look like us, act like us, dress like us, read the type of books we read, sing the kind of songs we like, etc., is to condemn them as heretical.

Because if they are in, well, that just cheapens grace. And that would make us all look bad, right? Given the chance to rewrite scripture, Modern Pharisees wouldn’t celebrate the return of the prodigal son, and the thief on the cross wouldn’t stand a chance.

But that’s grace. That’s what grace is. And grace was God’s idea. If you don’t like it, talk to Him.


 

Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea 
Higher than the mountain 
Sparkling like a fountain 
All sufficient grace for even me 
Broader than the scope of my transgressions 
Greater far than all my sin and shame 
O magnify the precious name of Jesus
Praise His name!

 

June 18, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday Link List 2

It’s summertime and you don’t need an Angler’s License to fish for Christian news and opinion pieces on the net. 

 

Typically, my youngest son includes his youth pastor as a reference on job applications; but for this summer job there is the terse admonition, “You may omit names of ministers of religion.”

Typically, my youngest son includes his youth pastor as a reference on job applications; but for this summer job there is the terse admonition, “You may omit names of ministers of religion.”

March 13, 2014

The Spiritual Decision Making Process

A long time ago, in a galaxy rather close by, a new generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers.  One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice. I am privileged to own (somewhere in our house) a copy of both.

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. But I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes here:

Complete Spiritual Decision Process - James Engel

January 5, 2014

How Do You Know You Became a Christian?

Filed under: evangelism, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:21 pm

When I’m in a general market bookstore like Barnes and Noble (or Chapters in Canada) I make a point of hanging out in the Bible aisle and getting into conversations with people. Many people are purchasing a Bible in a relative vacuum and store staff can’t offer the same advice you’d get at a Christian bookstore.

So on Saturday, when the opportunity appeared to present itself, I told the guy that I kinda work in Christian publishing and if he needed any advice on his purchase…

 “I have a doctorate in divinity;” he replied, “and I preach and teach around the world.”

By the tenor of his conversation, I knew that the tables had been turned on me that time. (I also got that humility wasn’t his thing; but that’s topic for another day.) This was clearly a man that doesn’t suffer fools, and that could have shut down the whole conversation right there; but I persisted by explaining what I do and why I asked.

He then asked me, “When did you become a Christian?”  This was quickly followed by, “How did you become a Christian?”  Finally, the most interesting question of the lot, “How does someone become a Christian?”

I liked his forthright manner.

The answer to the first for me would be as a seventeen year old. True, I “accepted Jesus” when I was seven, but I lived a very dualistic lifestyle all through high school. It was at seventeen I took ownership of the faith I had been raised in, the belief system I had been baptized into.

To answer the second question, I told him an analogy I often share with others; that of “taking delivery” of the salvation that God was “holding” for me.  I explained that often one receives a parcel-delivery card in the mail; the card says that someone has sent something, it’s got my name on it, but I need to drive to pick it up. I don’t possess it until I reach out and take it.

For the last question, I said that the act of accepting Christ’s offer of salvation is an invisible transaction that one makes on faith, trusting His promise that if I tell Him through prayer that I want to be under the covering He offers, He will do His part. (You could break this down into the ABC process: Acknowledging, believing, confessing.)

…So, you’re in a bookstore like me, or a grocery store, or getting your car fixed, or your hair styled, and you’re asked, How does someone become a Christian? Do you have a ready answer? Is your answer different when explaining it to someone with a doctorate in divinity than it is explaining it to your mechanic, or mail carrier? Should the answer be different depending on the hearer?

A divinity student named Tweedle
When Refused to accept his degree.
He said, “It’s bad enough being Tweedle,
Without being Tweedle, DD”.

August 2, 2013

Presbyterians Reject “In Christ Alone”

Denny Burk:

Timothy George explains why the Presbyterian Church USA has recently rejected the hymn “In Christ Alone” from its new hymnal:

Recently, the wrath of God became a point of controversy in the decision of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from its new hymnal the much-loved song “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The Committee wanted to include this song because it is being sung in many churches, Presbyterian and otherwise, but they could not abide this line from the third stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.” For this they wanted to substitute: “…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that “In Christ Alone” would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal.

There is no surprise in this news. Although not all PCUSA churches are theologically liberal, the denomination by and large is. Liberalism and wrath go together like oil and water; they don’t mix. And historically speaking, one of them eventually has to go. When wrath goes, so does the central meaning of the atonement of Christ—penal substitution. At the end of the day, the cross itself is the stumbling block, and that is why the PCUSA cannot abide this hymn.

You can read the rest of George’s article here. …

Shane Vander Hart:

…On the Committee’s Facebook page earlier this month they wrote, “After last night’s Hymn Festival, PCOCS think that ‘In Christ Alone’ will become a favorite. What are your other favorites on the list?”

Apparently they used a version that excluded the wrath of God.  How far the Presbyterian Church (USA) has drifted from their historical roots.  I’m trying to picture John Knox, the leader of the Reformation in Scotland and founder of the Presbyterian Church,  having an issue with idea of God’s wrath being satisfied by Christ’s death on the Cross.

Knox once said, “By the brightness of God’s scriptures we are brought to the feeling of God’s wrath and anger, which by our manifold offenses we have justly provoked against ourselves; which revelation and conviction God sends not of a purpose to confound us, but of very love, by which He had concluded our salvation to stand in Jesus Christ.”

The Scottish Confession of Faith (one of Presbyterianism’s first creeds) says:

[We confess] That our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself a voluntary sacrifice unto his Father for us;[1] that he suffered contradiction of sinners; that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressions;[2] that he, being the clean and innocent Lamb of God,[3] was damned in the presence of an earthly judge,[4] that we should be absolved before the tribunal seat of our God;[5] that he suffered not only the cruel death of the cross (which was accursed by the sentence of God),[6] but also that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father,[7] which sinners had deserved. But yet we avow, that he remained the only and well-beloved and blessed Son of his Father, even in the midst of his anguish and torment, which he suffered in body and soul, to make the full satisfaction for the sins of the people.[8] After the which, we confess and avow, that there remains no other sacrifice for sin:[9] which if any affirm, we nothing doubt to avow that they are blasphemers against Christ’s death, and the everlasting purgation and satisfaction purchased to us by the same.

1. Heb. 10:1-12.
2. Isa. 53:5; Heb. 12:3.
3. John 1:29.
4. Matt.27:11,26; Mark 15; Luke 23.
5. Gal. 3:13.
6. Deut. 21:23.
7. Matt. 26:38-39.
8. 2 Cor. 5:21.
9. Heb. 9:12; 10:14.

They are embracing a cultural hatred of God’s wrath.  I mentioned over four years ago something Brennan Manning wrote (Manning’s writings were very influential among the Emergent Church):

The god whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger… the god who exacts the last drop of blood from His Son so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased, is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ.  And if he is not the God of Jesus, he does not exist.

The trend to throw penal substitutionary atonement under the bus has taken root in the Presbyterian Church (USA).   What a shame!  Though Christ’s death on the cross God’s wrath was satisfied.  He gave up His son to bear it Himself because God knew we could not.  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10, ESV).  It is finished.  God’s wrath is satisfied.  Nothing else is needed, Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient for our salvation…

David French:

It [the song] avoids shallow promises of earthly comfort in favor of the ultimate comfort — no matter our earthly destiny — found in Christ. And it’s a beautiful song, covered by countless Christian artists.

The core of the dispute is the mainline break with orthodoxy on the very nature of God and mission of Jesus. In orthodox Christianity, sin demands sacrifice. God’s wrath against sin — our sin — was atoned through Christ’s sacrifice. Or, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

This is the essence of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, and mainline protestantism is increasingly rejecting it in favor of a doctrine that places Jesus not as Savior in the orthodox sense but more as an example of love and nonviolent resistance, Gandhi on divine steroids.

The importance of rejecting substitutionary atonement is tough to overstate, with ramifications across the full spectrum of spiritual, social, and cultural engagement. In fact, it’s likely one of the key reasons for  the steep decline in mainline churches. After all, when the purpose of Christ’s presence on earth is ripped from its eternal context and placed firmly within (and relegated to) the world of “social justice” and earthly systems of oppression, there’s little that church offers that, say, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Occupy Wall Street, or a subscription to Mother Jones can’t also supply.

If, on the other hand, Christ represents the sole source of our eternal hope, then church offers something that no political movement can replicate or replace. No amount of “social justice” or political liberation can save your soul.

A comment posted on John Meunier’s blog:

This song was also sung at the recent worship service when the new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby took office — at HIS request. As I followed the tweets for the service, a number of people noted that about half the congregation refused to sing the words about God’s wrath.

Frankly, I am clear that John Wesley would like the author’s words. He emphasized the need for sinners (including Methodists) to “flee from the wrath to come”. I know you have written about this in the past. I am pretty well convinced that our reluctance to consider the wrath of God is one of the reasons the church has lost it’s emphasis on winning souls.

You know, after reading that last one, I’m determined to return to the top of this article, replay the video and sing loud and strong.

July 30, 2013

Guest Post: An Engineer Looks at Doctrinal Systems

My guest writer today is my son Chris, who I should describe more accurately as an engineer in training. He brings a scientific mind to a study which divides people, the issue of the Calvinist doctrinal system versus the Arminian doctrinal system. He is trying to show here how each of the core beliefs of Calvinism is rooted in the belief which precedes it. To that end it is a systematic theology. Since Arminianism is historically a response to Calvinism, he contrasts each doctrinal element with the corresponding Arminian perspective. For someone not trained in such matters, I personally think he does an amazing job here, even inventing a few new words in the process.

In yet another of history’s attempts to diffuse the unending debate between Calvinists and Arminianists, I would like to summarize my experiences with the dispute.  This caused me a great deal of grief in my first years of university, and I will be quite happy if I can immunize anyone to the arguing by informing them about it before it becomes a “stumbling block” to them.

First, I have identified the most fundamental difference between the two systems of belief to be that Arminians believe that sinful humans possess “free will” or “freedom of choice,” while Calvinists believe that sinfulness precludes choice.  All further differences can be extrapolated from this one point and a few obvious observations about the world.  Therefore, the most core difference between the two theological systems is a disagreement about man, not about God.  (Total Depravity.)

The different views of choice lead to different views of the lead-up to salvation:  The Arminian sees God approach a sinner and offer him a chance to change his ways, and the sinner willfully ceases his rebellion, consents to being changes from within, and agrees to begin working for the Kingdom;  while the Calvinist sees God selecting a sinner and going to work in him without any questions or profferings.  (Irresistible Grace)

The different views of choice also lead to different views of the lead-up to non-salvation:  The Arminian sees God approach a sinner and offer salvation, but the sinner declines to accept it, much to God’s dismay;  while the Calvinist sees no dialogue take place, as God has already rejected that sinner for reasons he has not disclosed.  (Unconditional Election.)

The different views on the distribution of salvation are mirrored by different theories about the available supply of salvation:  Arminians believe that Jesus took up the sins of everyone so that the door might be open to everyone;  while Calvinists believe Jesus only took up the sins of those who would, in fact, ultimately be saved, because it would be pointless for Jesus to suffer for sins whose committors will carry them in Hell anyway.  (Limited Atonement.)

(The remaining Point of Calvinism is Perseverance of the Saints.  Whether or not someone can lose their salvation depends purely on how the word “saved” is applied, which is not really part of the overall disagreement.  It’s purely a difference in terminology.)

The different views of non-salvation, a topic people naturally feel strongly about, lead to different descriptions of God’s character:  The Arminian describes God as unconditionally loving and with arms always open, constantly wooing people to come home;  while the Calvinist may perhaps describe God as a mighty ruler building his kingdom, purposefully and with discernment, to glorify himself.

The Arminian’s favorite word is “love,” while the Calvinists’s is “sovereign.”  Due to differences in rhetoric, each side believes their favorite to be absent from the other’s theology, creating caricatures of each:  Calvinists think Arminians don’t take God’s rule seriously, while Arminians think Calvinists believe God holds humans to be worthless unless useful.  Any contestation that develops between the two sides serves to further polarize the rhetoric.

Both of these caricatures are sometimes correct:  There are people in the church who believe in works-based salvation (whether consciously or not), and there are others therein who think God hates them.

Calvinism versus ArminianismThe caricatures cause “straw men” in any argument that takes place between Calvinists and Arminianists:  The Arminianist thinks he’s arguing about the scope of God’s love, while the Calvinist thinks he’s arguing about the scope of God’s rule, when in fact the two are in agreement about both.  The argument typically doesn’t resolve, but is terminated by an exclamation of, “Well, at least we can agree that we’re both saved by grace through the blood of the Lamb!” or something to that effect.

Both descriptions of God’s character can be taken too far:  God’s love, taken too far, leads to universalism, while God’s sovereignty, taken too far, leads to fatalism.

The different views of choice stem from different individual conversion experiences:  One Christian, who came slowly to understand and accept God’s work in their past, will find that Calvinism describes the process better;  while another, who had salvation explained to them by an existing Christian and then wanted to get in on it, may find that Arminianism describes the process better.  Likewise, I imagine there are nonbelievers who have understood and rejected Jesus, and others who die without ever knowing.

You will encounter people on both sides who acknowledge the correctness of both — either believing that each correctly describes the same God with different terminology, or believing that they serve as a sort of Yin and Yang that describe God well complementarily but poorly individually — and you will encounter those who adhere fiercely to one and war against the other.

~Chris Wilkinson


March 12, 2013

“He said the prayer, that’s enough.”

Altar Call 1

The sinner’s prayer produces false converts.

I was going to use this as an item in tomorrow’s link list, but it truly deserves a much larger audience. This appeared at Arminian Today.

I remember once attending a Baptist church with a buddy of mine.  At the end of the meeting, the Baptist preacher gave a typical, “bow your head and close your eyes” type of altar call in which he asked people to “accept Christ into your heart today, before it’s too late.”  A young teenager “came forward to receive Christ.”  The preacher spoke to the lad, prayed with him, and then announced that the teenager was saved and was a candidate for baptism to which they had a quick congregational vote on the matter and a man raised his hand to second the pastor’s vote for the teen’s baptism.  They then asked us to come up and shake hands with the teenager and welcome him into the family of God.

When I got to the teen, I could tell that he really had no clue what was going on.  So I quickly said to him, “Do you understand what it means to repent of your sins?”  To which he said no.  I was just starting to explain to him what it means to repent when a woman pushed me out of the way and said loudly, “He said the prayer, that’s enough now move on.”

The teenager never came back again.

“The prayer.”  That is how many see salvation.  Just say this prayer and you are in.  Repeat these magic words and you’re in the kingdom of God.  Despite not one example of anyone “praying to receive Christ” in the New Testament and despite not one example from the ministry of Jesus where He instructed His disciples to do this, the modern evangelical church seems fixed on practicing this unbiblical practice.  One large church in Charlotte, NC likes to boast about how many “prayed to receive Christ” and they boast that thousands upon thousands have asked Jesus into their hearts for the first time through this church.  Yet not one New Testament passage is offered for such a practice.

Furthermore, compare the ministries of the great saints of God in Church History.  John Knox.  William Tyndale. William Carey. John Calvin.  James Arminius.  John Wesley.  George Whitefield.  Peter Cartwright.  Charles Spurgeon.  Jonathan Edwards. Not one of these men of God used the “sinner’s prayer” or exhorted sinners to pray to receive Christ.  They certainly used John 1:12-13 and called sinners to look to Christ alone to be saved but none of them had modern altar calls.  The modern altar call does not even appear until the late 1800′s and was especially used by men such as D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and of course, Billy Graham. Charles Finney seems to be the first to introduce what he called, “the anxious bench” where seekers could come and hear more about how to be saved.  From here came the modern practice of “coming down front to receive Christ.”  Spurgeon would call his hearers to receive Christ but he would exhort them to go to a prayer room where a waiting Christian would instruct them on what it means to truly be saved.  This is also the practice of John MacArthur today.

I believe the modern altar call has produced countless false converts.  Since sin is rarely preached against or at least is not even biblically defined (1 John 3:4), many also don’t understand what it means to be saved in the first place.  Saved from what? Saved from whom?  Why must we repent of our sins?  Why does God require repentance?  The modern church seems to have forgotten also that salvation is a work of God (1 Peter 1:3). Regeneration is not a work of the flesh that comes from praying a prayer or saying words or raising a hand. Regeneration is a divine work of God (John 3:3; Titus 3:5-7).  We cannot save ourselves.  We must cast ourselves completely upon the Lord Jesus to deliver us from God’s just wrath (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).  To be honest, too often gospel messages spend too much time focused on our sin instead of the holiness and justice of God.  It is God whom we should fear and it is His laws that we have violated (Luke 12:4-5).  We should be preaching the justice of God in regard to sinning (Hebrews 10:31).

I do praise God that more and more are realizing after studying both the Word of God and Church History that the sinner’s prayer is not a biblical nor historical practice. It is not based on the clear examples of the New Testament nor upon the examples of great church leaders.  We find nothing in the early Church Fathers to suggest that they used a practice of altar calls.  The Church has preached salvation through Christ for 2000 years and this must be our message again if we are to see the lost saved (Romans 1:16-17). Salvation does not come by the tools of the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) but the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Let us trust again in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and save the lost (John 16:8-11).

…In sourcing the image that appears below, I ended up at an article by Caribbean pastor Thabiti Anyabwile.  Since I believe we linked to it back in 2011 when it was published, I’ll just include the numbered points in the middle of the piece, but you can read it all at this link.

1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the pages of the N.T.

2. The altar call is historically absent until the 19th century, and its use at that time (via Charles Finney) was directly based upon bad theology and a man-centered, manipulative methodology.

3. The altar call very easily confuses the physical act of “coming forward” with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ.” These two can happen simultaneously, but too often people believe that coming to Christ is going forward (and vice-versa).

4. The altar call can easily deceive people about the reality of their spiritual state and the biblical basis for assurance. The Bible never offers us assurance on the ground that we “went forward.”

5. The altar call partially replaces baptism as the means of public profession of faith.

6. The altar call can mislead us to think that salvation (or any official response to God’s Word) happens primarily on Sundays, only at the end of the service, and only “up front.”

7. The altar call can confuse people regarding “sacred” things and “sacred” places, as the name “altar call” suggests.

8. The altar call is not sensitive to our cautious and relational age where most people come to faith over a period of time and often with the interaction of a good friend.

9. The altar call is often seen as “the most important part of the service”, and this de-emphasizes the truly more important parts of corporate worship which God has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing).

10. God is glorified to powerfully bless the things He has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing), not the things we have invented. We should always be leery of adding to God’s prescriptions for His corporate worship.

Altar Call 2

Upper image source  Lower image source via source

Related item here at Thinking Out Loud

January 28, 2013

Confronting Salvation Insecurity

At an earlier stage of life, J. D. Greear prayed to receive salvation multiple times and was baptized on four different occasions. In a new book, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know For Sure You Saved (B&H Books) Greear doesn’t speculate on what that means for the statistics of various churches, but he does  confront a problem that is common to many: a lack of assurance that they are truly saved.

A few months ago, I wrote about the ramifications of a faith dependent on an invisible transaction. If only, like one does at the ATM, one had the option of getting a printed receipt. That’s the type of assurance many people crave.

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart - J. D. GreearIn the book, Greear looks at what constitutes belief and repentance. Though he doesn’t use these words, he wrestles with the question of whether or not salvation is a crisis experience (happens all at once) or a process experience (happens over time) and dismisses the distinction by referring to faith as a posture, with the test question being, “Are you in the posture of repentance now?” One section is subtitled, “Present Posture is Better Proof Than a Past Memory.” He allows the possibility that some may not remember an “exact moment” but know they are submitted to Christ, preempting the need to ‘pray the prayer.’

He is equally sensitive to people on both sides of the Arminian/Calvinist divide over eternal security, approaching difficult anecdotal cases not with the negative language that perhaps some were not saved to begin with, but with a more positive spin that those who are truly repentant do in fact persevere in their faith.

Additionally, he recognizes the uniqueness of each our stories.

C. S. Lewis describes a day in 1951 (after writing The Four Loves and giving the talks that became Mere Christianity) where he passed form “mere intellectual acceptance of, to the realization of, the doctrine that our sins are forgiven.” He did not think of this as his conversion, but he did say that in light of it “what I had previously called ‘belief’ looked absolutely unreal.” After writing one of the all time classics of the Christian faith…     (p. 114)

And he concedes the universality of misgivings.

The Bible time and time again reminds us that no one is immune from doubt, spiritual apathy, and severe temptation. Elijah sank into self-pity and depression right after winning the victory on Mount Carmel. After speaking with God face-to-face, Moses lost his temper and blasphemed God publicly. After establishing the greatest kingdom Israel had ever seen, David committed adultery and murder. After preaching a service in which three thousand were save, Peter fell back into hypocrisy and cowardice. Perhaps God lets his saints struggle that way so that their faith will remain in his grace and not in their righteousness.  (p. 108, emphasis added)

In a way, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, while a smaller book, is a somewhat exhaustive treatment of this subject, filled with scripture quotations and quotes from classic and current authors. Packaged in a Prayer of Jabez-sized hardcover at 128 digest-sized pages, its $12.99 U.S. list seems a little pricey, however, I would advise churches to try to track down bulk pricing on this and have giveaway copies at hand for those who are experiencing doubts.

For an additional look at the book, see an excerpt at Christianity 201  Thanks to The A Group for this review copy.

Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.