Well known Reformed Southern Baptist pastor David Platt caused a stir last year by criticizing the sinner’s prayer – the traditional prayer most Baptists (and several other groups) teach new believers to pray to “accept Christ.”
At that time David passionately pointed out that the practice is not in the Bible, that our role is not to “accept” Christ, and that Christians should not practice something that is not in the Bible.
Recently, David sat down to answer some follow up questions about his statement last year. In this short video, David answers the question, “If there is not a specific prayer to pray, how then should we respond to the gospel?” Here’s his answer:
A biblical response to the gospel is fundamentally to repent and believe. To turn from sin and self, and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. This is the essence of the gospel call. Whenever I share the gospel – whenever we share the gospel – we call people to do this – to repent and believe. Now, at the core that involves a crying out to God in repentance saying I’m turning from my sin and I’m trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord of my life, and that’s where Romans 10 says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
When I’m sharing the gospel with somebody or even when I’m preaching and proclaiming the gospel, I want to call people to cry out to God for salvation. That doesn’t mean I need to say, “Okay, and if you want to do that then say these words: ‘follow me,’ or ‘repeat these words after me’ … it’s not that that’s even necessarily bad, but the reality is if somebody realizes that they’re a sinner before a holy God and that Christ has paid the price for their sin on the cross and they are broken over their sin and ready to trust in Christ as the Lord of their life … at that point it’s not really a matter of ‘did they say the right words.’ It’s inviting them – ‘I invite you to call out to Christ for salvation’ – let them do that. Pray for them, pray after they call out for salvation, but at the same time be willing to let them be alone with God if they need to be. And encourage them in that. Don’t just kind of leave them, “Okay, let’s take it or leave it.”
We urge people to cry out for salvation – we urge people to repent and believe, but in the process we want to be careful not to manipulate that in a way that we give them a box to check – and okay, now they’ve done this – they’ve checked this box off that we’ve told them they needed to check off – now their saved and everything is okay. No, we want the Spirit to give that kind of assurance as He does this work in their hearts. We share the gospel, we call them to repent, believe, call out to God for salvation, and we let the Spirit of God create that work in that person, and it’s a beautiful, supernatural thing when that happens, and it’s the grace of God that we get to be apart of calling people to repentance and faith and belief in Christ. I can’t think of anything more exhilarating than seeing someone’s life transformed for all of eternity right in front of you.
I want to be careful even in talking about praying a prayer, inviting Christ into your life, and some of the different things people might get hung up on – this is a beautiful thing that happens – we just want to be as biblical as possible in calling people to commitment to Christ.
I appreciate David’s emphasis on calling people to repentance and faith, but there is a biblical response to the gospel that goes beyond what he states in the video.
Calvinists believe that God predestined before creation the singular individuals who would be saved and those who would not (even though each passage that discusses predestination in the Bible refers to the plural church – something individuals choose to be part of or not). They believe that when a predestined individual hears the gospel preached for the first time, God triggers something within them causing them to understand they are one of the chosen. Specifically, the Holy Spirit enters that person causing them to be regenerated – that is, their old self dies and their new, recreated, forgiven and saved self emerges. This new self is given a new heart including new wants and desires. One is saved at the moment of regeneration, and the whole of the process is a sovereign work of God. For a Calvinist, anything done in an attempt to add to the completed work of God in the salvific process is akin to heresy, because we are “saved by grace, and not by works” – that is why the sinner’s prayer is out.
Calvinists believe being baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is wrong for the same reason they believe praying a prayer as part of the salvific process is wrong. To them, salvation for an individual is a completely passive process. One is either saved or they are not – the gospel simply proves what was already foreordained by God. David’s point in the video above is that any “crying out to God” should be done in response to what God has already done in an individual through the Holy Spirit, and, even though he doesn’t explicitly state it, what was foreordained before creation.
Let me be clear in saying that I appreciate David and his passion, but honestly this theology has some very disturbing ramifications.
First,Calvinism completely removes individual choice from the equation. According to that theology, one does not have a choice in whether they will follow God or not. Rather, God chose them before creation or He didn’t.
Second, if we take seriously what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, only a few will be saved in the grand scheme of things. If Calvinism is correct, then God created the majority of the world’s past, present, and future inhabitants simply to kill them and send them to hell for an eternity without their having a chance to be saved. Sorry, but that’s not the God I serve. The Bible makes it clear that individuals choose whether to surrender to God or not – He does not choose for us – and the consequences we face in judgment, whether good or bad, will be up to us. After all, 1 Timothy 2:4 states that God “wants all people to be saved” – not just a few. And what of the passages that state God gives people time to repent? That’s what God wants – our repentance.
In short, the Bible teaches that we either choose to follow Jesus, or we choose not to. We are not pre-programmed robots without a voice in the matter.
This is a very simplistic critique as there is a lot more to Calvinism than what is stated in this brief article. Much more could be said about the misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it discusses “works” in the New Testament (as this lies at the root of the misunderstanding David is perpetuating), but, in sum, Calvinism is what David is supporting in this video and the other that went viral last year. In my humble opinion, he is defending the theological tradition he has been fed more than he is strictly defending the scriptures.
I do appreciate David and believe he is my brother in Christ. I’ve enjoyed his books (especially Radical), look forward to more, and hope to shake his hand someday.
But I do wish he would reexamine some of his beliefs.
His voice is becoming more and more influential, and one who “just wants to be as biblical as possible in calling people to commitment to Christ” shouldn’t overlook something so patently simple as how people responded to the gospel in the book of Acts and early church history.
After being pressed by a couple of people who responded to this post, I did a bit more research and ran across an article David wrote for Christianity Today in which he responds to the criticism he received after his comments on the sinner’s prayer in 2012. In addition to this latest video, what inspired the above post were articles I’d read/statements I’d heard from credible sources (referenced here) regarding this issue last year.
Here is an excerpt of David’s response to those articles/comments – according to him they were spurious:
A three-minute video clip from an hour-long message I delivered at the Verge Conference in Austin earlier this year created conversation and eventually led to a resolution among Southern Baptists to defend the use of a “sinner’s prayer” in evangelism. Though I had some concerns with the resolution as it was originally proposed, I was pleased with the resolution that Southern Baptists eventually adopted, and I voted in favor of it. It was encouraging to see pastors and leaders together say that we need to be wise in the way we lead people to Christ, but such wisdom doesn’t necessarily warrant that everyone must throw out a “sinner’s prayer” altogether.
What grieved me about this issue, though, was the way it was reported in a few particularly prominent places that seemed to imply that this issue was dividing Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC, or even me personally from various leaders in the SBC. Some even suggested that as “one of the SBC’s Calvinist stars,” I am “against the sinner’s prayer” because I “don’t want the hopelessly condemned thinking they are saved or joining churches when they actually have no chance for life in Christ.” In addition to how nauseous such a label makes me, words really can’t describe how much a comment like this pierces my heart, for nothing (I hope and pray) could be further from the truth. Any cautions I have expressed with a “sinner’s prayer” have absolutely nothing directly to do with the doctrine of election, and I definitively don’t believe that certain people “actually have no chance for life in Christ.” Instead, my comments about the “sinner’s prayer” have been deeply motivated by a concern for authentic conversion and regenerate church membership—doctrines which many Calvinists and non-Calvinists, as well as a variety of Christians in between, would rightly value.
I believe without hesitation or equivocation that God loves all people in the world (John 3:16) and he desires all people’s salvation (2 Peter 3:9). As followers of Jesus saved by his matchless grace (Ephesians 2:1-10), we are compelled to go with urgency to all people to tell them compassionately of God’s love for them (2 Corinthians 4:5) and to call them clearly to repent and believe in Christ (Matthew 4:17; Acts 2:38). As we do this, I believe we simply need to be as biblical as possible (2 Timothy 2:15). Do I believe it is “wrong” for someone to pray a “prayer of salvation”? Certainly not. Calling out to God in prayer with repentant faith is fundamental to being saved (Romans 10:9-10). Yet as I pastor a local church and serve alongside pastors of other local churches, I sense reasonably serious concern about the relatively large number of baptisms in our churches that are “re-baptisms”—often representing people who thought they were saved because they prayed a certain prayer, but they lacked a biblical understanding of salvation and were in reality not saved. This, in addition to a rampant easy believism that marks cultural Christianity in our context (and in other parts of the world), leads me to urge us, as we go to all people among all nations with the good news of God’s love, to be both evangelistically zealous and biblically clear at the same time (Matthew 28:18-20).
The article also includes a transcript of a sermon David preached in which he articulates his understanding of the conversion process. His conclusion? It’s a mystery.
Oh, what a grand and glorious moment, when a dead sinner comes to life through a divine Savior!
And there is mystery to that moment, isn’t there? Verse 8: “The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). How does this happen?
Think about the mystery here. One commentator said, “The operation of the Spirit is mysterious. What a lesson this was for a man who had been brought up in the belief that a person could and should save himself by perfect obedience to the Law of Moses and to a host of man-made, thoroughly analyzable, human regulations.” Another said, “The point here is that the wind cannot be controlled or understood by human beings.” Yet another said, “The new birth is supernatural, beyond human control or exhaustive human knowledge.” And it is, isn’t it?
How and when does the new birth happen, and who does what in it? Conversion, justification, regeneration—what’s the order here? Does God do all the work? Does man do anything? Is belief itself a free act of man or is faith a free gift from God?
And we all, in this room, based on Scripture, have differing answers to such questions. But we differ with humility, don’t we? Who among us has a market on the mind of God? Who among the finite, flawed men in this room is able to fully comprehend the infinite, flawless majesty of God in man’s salvation?
Let us behold the mystery of biblical conversion. Let us not attempt to explain it away. And let us certainly not try to debate it away, and in the process divide ourselves among the body of Christ. Let us each one (and I include myself) humbly discuss the things we do not know—things that have been discussed among Bible-believing Christians for centuries. And at the same time, let us boldly declare the truth that we do know—truth that has been proclaimed among Bible-believing Christians throughout the centuries.
We all know and we all agree that everyone who repents and believes in Jesus will be saved. And everyone who is saved will be saved by the grace of God. We know this together, we stand on this together, and we preach this together.
We tell men and women, boys and girls everywhere: repent and believe in Christ. Whether we say, “Pray this prayer after me,” is not the issue. The issue is that together we say, “By the grace of God in the cross of Christ, turn from yourself and trust in Jesus. Come from darkness to light. Come from death to life.” We urge people, “Believe in Christ. Follow Christ.” We tell them, in a day of rampant easy-believism, “Following Jesus will cost you everything you have, but he is worth it!” Repent and believe in him. Receive new life, eternal life. Look to him and live.
It appears that this topic is not as cut and dry as I was originally led to believe. Thanks Cary & Kyle for encouraging me to do a little more digging on it.