Preaching at Southern Seminary, by Dr. Eric Hankins

November 19, 2013

by Dr. Eric Hankins, pastor
FBC, Oxford, Miss.

Recently I had the privilege of preaching the chapel service at Southern Seminary and participating in a Q&A with Dr. Al Mohler afterwards. In many ways, those events completed an arc that began for me almost two years ago. In January of 2012, my article, “Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology,” was published in New Orleans Seminary’s Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, which, when turned into a series of blog posts at SBCToday, generated quite a bit of discussion. I argued that most Southern Baptists are neither Calvinists nor Arminians in the classical sense and that we have our own unique approach to soteriology. The article raised a simple question that I felt needed an answer: “If we aren’t Calvinists or Arminians, then what are we?”

So, in April of 2012, I engaged in a little thought-experiment to see if I could put into words what I had always thought most Southern Baptists believed about how people are saved, paying special attention to the places where we differ from Calvinists and Arminians. After interacting with some other respected thinkers and showing it to some Convention leaders who liked and agreed with it, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist View of God’s Plan of Salvation,” hit the Internet, generating, well, no small interest. The “Traditional Statement,” as it came to be known, appeared just before the New Orleans Convention and was a motivating factor in Dr. Frank Page’s decision to form the Calvinism Advisory Committee to deal with the growing theological fractiousness he was observing in the Convention.

The committee included Dr. Mohler and me. Over the next several months, the committee met, and Dr. Mohler and I were tasked with giving shape to a statement that would present to the Houston Convention in 2013 the fruit of our deliberations, a document called “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension.”

As a result of serving on the committee and writing the document together, Dr. Mohler and I had an opportunity to get to know one another better, and the respect that I had always had for him grew into genuine friendship. Because of that respect and friendship, Dr. Mohler invited me to speak at Southern. I couldn’t have been more warmly received by the faculty and students. Chapel was full, the worship time was powerful (it’s always fun to hear a room full of ministers sing), and I preached to listeners who were ready for and responsive to the Word.

Later, the Q&A was irenic and, hopefully, informative (Dr. Moher had just taken me to lunch at Jack Fry’s, where I consumed about a thousand calories. My contribution at the Q&A probably would have been improved by a quick nap or a lap around the campus). The essence of our interaction was an expression of our commitment to Christ-exalting excellence in gospel partnership within the sufficiency of the Baptist Faith and Message, even while maintaining and discussing our distinct views on soteriology as they relate to our collective kingdom impact.

I plan to take the next few days and unpack several implications of that expression of partnership, but let me briefly chart the course for what to expect.

First, the SBC has outstanding denominational leaders who really do care deeply about the gospel going out to every person. You can’t be on the campus of Southern Seminary for five minutes and not understand that it is an institution that has benefitted mightily from strong, focused, visionary leadership. But Dr. Mohler didn’t invite me to Southern because I agree with everything he thinks; he invited me knowing I don’t. I was glad to be given an opportunity to take my place at the table and speak from my perspective.

I believe that one major reason for the rise in interest in Reformed theology among Southern Baptists is because of sustained excellence in scholarship and communication from that point-of-view, excellence that is on display at Southern. For those concerned about the proportionality of Calvinist influence in the Convention (a concern I share), I don’t think it’s super fair to expect Dr. Mohler to be a less compelling, less influential leader and thinker who needs to field a less erudite, less prolific, less talented team, even if we think he should include more of our voices. It’s incumbent on those of us who see things from a different theological position to elevate our game. We’ve got to make better and better theological arguments. We’ve got to be more productive and constructive. We’ve got to break out of the cultural captivity that often encases the salient features of our soteriology under a thick rind of monolithic, monochromatic, platitudinous, and parochial forms and norms of expression that are simply becoming less and less meaningful to the next generation of pastors and lay-leaders.

Second, the journey from January 2012 to November 2013 means that the views of non-Calvinists* are legitimate, significant contributors to the Southern Baptist theological conversation. Dr. Mohler would not invite an arch-heretic to preach at chapel. He would not want to partner with someone who has aberrant theological views. We have real differences, and those differences are meaningful and worthy of further dialogue. But those differences fall within the scope of the Baptist Faith and Message. Those wanting to participate in the discussion as it moves into the future will need to operate within parameters that circumscribe both a Mohler and a Hankins. Within those parameters, both of us are fair game for critique, but we need to move beyond the slash-and-burn, Chicken Little, conspiracy-theory mentality that too often characterizes the debate.

Finally, as I hinted in my chapel sermon, I believe the next phase of the soteriological discussion needs to focus on hermeneutics, which demands that we critically engage the philosophical and theological presuppositions of our approach to the text. It is time to stop throwing Bible verses at each other. Inerrancy is the base-line position of both perspectives. Southern Baptists believe that every word of the Bible is true, and we need to quit accusing each other of not loving the Bible and the God of the Bible. We all want to say that the gospel is for every person and that salvation is a sovereign work of God. We need to quit acting like our opponents simply do not take the Scriptures seriously. The question is, what precisely can we understand about what the Scriptures teach about how individuals are saved? This question raises the issues of our articulated and unarticulated pre-understandings. Those who want to engage the debate need to be willing to engage it at this level, or we will be trapped forever in the vicious cycle of Scriptural one-upmanship from our respective troves of pet verses. The interpretation of texts is determined by our theological and philosophical assumptions that sit in abductive relationship to the Bible. So, to hermeneutics, theology, and philosophy we must go.

I believe the resources and identity of Southern Baptists uniquely prepare us to engage this debate in fruitful, mutually edifying manner, and I believe we are ready to listen critically and carefully to one another as fellow believers.

*As I stated in the Q&A with Dr. Mohler, I dislike the term “non-Calvinist.” It’s a rather insipid, apophatic moniker that reinforces the stereotype that we are clear about what we’re against, but hazy on what we’re for. I’m not surprised that anyone has difficulty getting excited about embracing “non-Calvinism.” As we get better at articulating our theological position, I hope a term will emerge. If “Traditionalist” isn’t it, that’s fine (I’m hearing some speak of a “Hobbs-Rogers Tradition,” which I do like). But until something better coalesces, Traditionalist is still the term I will try to use when possible.

 

 

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Adam Pace

There are probably few people happier to see to this partnership developing than me. I have a few reasons:
1) I am a recent grad of SBTS.
2) I share Dr. Hankins’ soteriological convictions deeply.
3) I respect Dr. Mohler, loathing the hero worship that is often paid to him on one hand equally with the paranoid, irrational hatred heaped on him on the other hand.
4) I appreciate the historic contributions of Calvinists in our convention with regard to missions, evangelism, and basically every denominational structure.
5) I appreciate the more recent contributions of “Traditionals” with regard to the same.

All that said, it is so comforting for a new pastor to see significant influencers among us acting like real Christians. Shame in advance on the cynical among us who will see this as either an underhanded power move by Mohler or as chicken-hearted capitulation by Hankins. I believe that none less than the Holy Spirit has worked to create this personal connection between the two of you that you mention in the article. The spirit that we usually meet on these blogs is a spirit of division and acrimony, and it is not from God. The Spirit that seems to be at work in this rapprochement is the Spirit of peace and love.

Thank you, Eric.

Norm Miller

The sermon Dr. Hankins preached at SBTS is a must-see for all SBs. The most learned and accomplished of exegetes and homiliticians could hardly bring a legitimate negative critique. It is the kind of sermon that makes the responsible pulpiteer recall that preaching is an entirely human endeavor unless the unction of the Holy Spirit is present.

We thank Dr. Mohler, and agree with what he noted in a direct twitter message to SBCToday, citing the sermon as a “very fine message.” He also noted the sermon’s popularity on SBTS’ site. If you have not viewed the sermon, SBCToday strongly recommends you click the link in Dr. Hankins’ post and do so. Prepare to be blessed by God.

Whereas the sermon is replete with encouraging fodder, the following excerpt we pray is one that resounds throughout the SBC irrespective of human, theological nuances.

Said Hankins:
“That ‘allness’ of the gospel – that’s what needs to be the very essence of those who live their life in Christ. And yes, we can have discussions and theological debates – and they’re important – about how people get saved and how the announcement goes out to all. But we do not need to debate over the objects of that announcement.” — Norm

Rick Patrick

Thanks are due both to Dr. Hankins and to Dr. Mohler for their Christ-like manner and respectful theological dialogue.

Some readers of this article may discover that Eric’s formulation of soteriology resonates with them in such a way that they wish to identify with it and embrace it formally. Those who wish to do so may sign The Traditional Statement at the following link: http://www.connect316.net/sign.

Robin Foster

I appreciate the willingness of both men to stand in the gap on this issue and create a dialog that does not throw any boogeymen out to win their side of the argument. The Q&A was wonderful and I thank Dr. Mohler and Dr. Hankins for stepping out in the forefront of this critical debate.

    Norm Miller

    With all due respect to pastors and scholars:

    The SBC has pastors. The SBC has scholars. Dr. Hankins is among the very few pastor/scholars in the SBC. The Convention needs many more like him. Dr. Mohler graciously providing a venue for Dr. Hankins is both commendable and helpful.

John Michael LaRue

Dr. Mohler’s legacy will be as SBC statesman. He is living out the heritage of Southern’s first president James P. Boyce, who was an eminent statesman for the convention during his time.

When battle lines had to be drawn, he put his neck on the line. When battle lines need not be drawn, he extended dinner invitations. There is room at the table for Gospel-bearing, inerrancy-affirming, missions-sending Southern Baptists of differing soteriological views.

Christian

What are my choices as a Southern Baptist if I do not wish for my offering to fund Calvinism? Is it wrong for me as a Christian to want my offering to only support my soteriological views? I am responsible to God not just for giving but where I give and what I support. Right now I am not happy funding a belief that I believe the Bible does not teach.

    Max

    “I am responsible to God not just for giving but where I give and what I support.”

    These are days, Christian, to follow that conviction.

    Rick Patrick

    Christian,

    I share your dilemma. A Calvinist can simply give to Acts 29 and plant churches that are all Calvinist. But a Traditionalist has no soteriologically exclusive option. We don’t even know how many of our church plants are Calvinistic and how many are not. And those at the top, who ALWAYS CLAIM that the headquarters of the SBC is the local church, are unwilling to give us the answer. In fact, they almost bristle at the question.

      Johnathan Pritchett

      Traditionalists need not bother with church plants. At least, in the US.

      Taking a look at Chris Justice and the new Lee Park network model, Traditionalists need to make organizations for church reviving, not church planting.

      We don’t need new SBC churches, we have 50,000 some odd already.

      What we need is for many of those that lack tespurces and people to be brought back from the brink of death.

      Trad churches need to stop giving to bad and gratuitous causes, and target their monies to worthy ones. If the CP dollars are not being spent wisely, give the money elsewhere until the stewards of that money get the message.

      Just as in politics, Baptists in the convention can vote with their wallets. They should do so, and give to things that are actually viable and worth doing.

        Max

        Young man, you make too much sense. Many of us “Trads” are waking up to the realization (in this current environment) that SBC church plants may mean more about planting theology. Good Lord, we have enough SBC churches “if” they were truly on mission. Southern Baptists at large need not give blindly to the Cooperative Program … understand fully where your dollars are going.

Ron F. Hale

Thank you Dr. Hankins for increasing the dialogue on these issues over the last couple of years. I was so excited the day that I read: Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology.” It has been written, let it be so! Blessings!

dr. james willingham

I listened to Dr. Hankins Sermon in Chapel on the site and the Q & A period between him and Dr. Mohler that followed. I was much cheered by what he had to say, and I think both men were faithful to their positions as well as open to hearing one another. In fact, Dr. Mohler added one of the funniest illustrations about John Calvin that I have ever heard. We really do need one another as it seems like our country might seen go to pieces with a more communistic administration involved that could spell disaster by way of martial law. My prayers for a Third Great Awakening began 40 yrs. ago this fall. God speed the day is my prayer.

Stephanie Usrey

Dr. Hankins, I watched the Q & A and I tried to watch your sermon, but the video kept shutting down on my ipad. Do they have it fixed yet? If so, I will go back and watch it again. What I saw and heard was impressive and encouraging.

I am an SBC layperson. And maybe my favorite part of the Q & A was the point at which you described your ah-ha moment with one of your young reformed church members. What made it my favorite was that you really seemed to grasp, possibly for the first time, the problem we have. Your church member’s sentiments are my sentiments. You’ve stated part of it again here when you say the traditionalists need to “elevate” their game.

When I am generally believing that the SBC is okay and that we will reach the 20- year vision you have for us which you described in the Q&A, it is because I have purposely stuck my fingers in my ears and put on a blindfold. But when I open my eyes and listen, my heart is dashed on the rocks of our present state. I no longer look to my leaders to lead me, they seem completely unaware and their leadership leads nowhere. I know the majority of leadership has no idea of the things of which you speak. I know because I ask them. When you “elevate” your game, will they even notice?

I just finished Paul Washer’s “The Gospel Call and True Conversion” and it resonated with my soul. I know we will always have tares in the wheat, but our failure to “elevate” our doctrinal game sooner, failure practice church discipline, and failure to stop relying on that blasted sinner’s prayer has left us with church buildings full of goats, not sheep. And these goats think they have eternal security because of a prayer they prayed one day when they were a child. These goats have grown up to lead deacon boards, Sunday school classes, missions trips, mission friends, choir, and committees. No one dares to question their conversion. I would welcome that scrutiny, why then are so many offended by it?

Duking out soteriological differences in the tower and blogosphere won’t turn goats into sheep down on the street level. I hope God will fast forward your vision at warp speed. Scotty, we need warp speed NOW!

P.S. It’s a fair question to ask me what I’M doing to effect change. Without tooting my own horn, I will say that God is being glorified and I’m more and more satisfied in Him every day. :)

    Johnathan Pritchett

    Stephanie, I sympathize with a lot of what you are saying. As someone who grew up Reformed, and still attends a Reformed SBC church, Dr. Hankins “a ha” moment resonates with me as well. I wasn’t robbed. but many people were.

    Churches with a Traditionalist soteriology are, by and large, theologically thin. This criticism is shared by many in the Reformed tradition, and now that Dr. Hankins has conceded the point to Dr. Mohler, I don’t think I am unfairly painting with a broad brush. A lot of young Southern Baptists were robbed of a rich theology. But, not all Reformed churches are created equal in this regard either though. it is simply that Reformed churches are working on these issues more readily whereas Trad churches lag behind.

    I am glad I wasn’t robbed, but I would have been had I not been brought up in a committed Reformed tradition, as opposed to a nominal one, which exists as well. Even though I ultimately rejected Reformed theology as a series of erroneous presuppositions and bad exegesis, I am still thankful for being instilled with a passion for learning that I received from the best of that tradition.

    Having said that, simply because one side needs to elevate their game more than the other, it doesn’t follow that the deep theology isn’t already there. It is, it just needs to be approached with more rigor by the majority of Traditionalists.To be sure, I have left post after post of exegetical material on Acts 4:27-28, Ephesians 1, Romans 9, John 6, etc. here at SBC Today over the past year or so, and the Calvinists who demand thorough exegesis from all of us Trads never bother respond to it. Which surprises me, since those supposedly are the Calvinists’ bread and butter texts.

    As such, it will be noticed, if and when a larger majority of Trads do elevate their game. One thing that would help is for Trads to stop talking about talking about theology and start talking about theology.

    One thing I must disagree with you about is your criticism of methodology, like the sinner’s prayer. There is nothing wrong with the sinner’s prayer. How anyone can criticize a convert’s first communication with God being one of repentance and faith is beyond me. The prayer itself isn’t a problem. Nor are alter calls, nor are any other trendy evangelical method that is now “trendy” to criticize.

    Perhaps people would do well not to pay so much attention to Washer and Platt when they gripe about evangelical methodology. I find this sort of bogus criticism distracting, and misses the point.

    The real issue is nominalism and lack of discipleship. Sadly, when guys like Washer and Platt make hay out of popular evangelical methodology, they divert attention away from the main issues of nominalism, and lacking discipleship, and end up slugging it out over non-issues with people who affirm such methods. Besides, though less frequent than Trad churches, poor discipleship and nominalism is still found in Reformed churches as well.

    In any case, I have failed to see how the sinner’s prayer, or an alter call, is the evil culprit it is made out to be. The real issue is people’s hearts, rampant nominalism, wimpy preaching, and lacking discipleship. Whenever the focus is taken off these real issues, and put on fake issues like the sinner’s prayer or whatever, because confused Calvinists think it sounds good and edgy and non-conformist or whatever else to poo-poo them, then the real conversation about nominalism and lacking discipleship gets put off. It happens again and again. We still need to have that conversation, and the sinner’s prayer or alter calls have nothing to do with it. Take Platt’s recent claim for instance. It is a non-sequitur. There is no line that runs from praying the sinner’s prayer to missing the life of Christ. It is not only simplistic, but it is logically fallacious.

    This sort of wrong diagnosis is typical in Reformed circles. For example, their constant wrong diagnosis that “works-righteousness” is the ill of all lost people’s activity with regards to religion. That completely misses Paul’s point. Works righteousness is just the expression of a deeper problem that the Jews had, along with everyone else who is not a Christian. Namely, the establishment of a righteousness of people’s own creation rather than the righteousness of God which is faith in Jesus (Romans 10:3). The real issue is that any righteousness people establish for themselves, be it works-based or faith-based, that is not faith in Christ, which is the righteousness from God, is the real root of the problem. It is called idolatry. As such, I am always weary when Reformed folk think they understand the real issues. Too often they run uphill chasing symptoms, not the disease.

    In any case, I don’t think the SBC is full of goats in the pews as others claim. There are ten million SBC goats on membership rolls to be sure, but they aren’t at church on Sundays. The problem is that there are a lot of ignorant sheep in the pews, who don’t know the joy of rigorous discipleship that includes knowing things and doing things about and for the Kingdom. The SBC needs revival in the truest sense. Nominalism and lack of discipleship are not strictly a non-Reformed problem. Nominalism and poor discipleship exists in Reformed SBC churches as well. We need revival in the truest sense that the sheep wake up and become disciples rather than immature believers, or babes in Christ, if you will.

    Can it happen in twenty years? Sure, if God wills it, and the Trads elevate their game. This doesn’t mean all Calvinists in the SBC are ahead of the game though. It simply means that a larger majority of Calvinists than Traditionalists working on these problems, even if they get lots of things wrong in the process.

    Imagine what would happen if everyone elevated their game. It wouldn’t even take twenty years. It could be done in five. All Southern Baptists, Reformed or otherwise, need to do is just humble themselves and decide to become better disciples. God would honor it, and of this, I have no doubt,

      Norm Miller

      I think your assessment is largely accurate, Johnathan. However, in my upbringing, I was blessed to have a father who preached the Word with conviction and accuracy. He not only led me in the classic sinner’s prayer, he preached in a way that still informs my life. Even so, there were those members of the churches he pastored who, for whatever reasons, chose to remain babes in Christ, who refused the meat of the Word, who occasionally exhibited fruit, but mostly were nominal (disobedient). Were they actually tares? Only God knows that.

      I think Trads as a group are grossly and unfairly broad-brushed and characterized as being theologically thin when many pastors are rightly dividing the Word, but members are not obeying God. This is a problem in all SBC churches everywhere. What individual or group of believers always obeys God? Will we look at the glaring recalcitrance of the few and say the entire group is theologically thin? The tradition I embrace is not theologically thin. I would say by-and-large, that the theology has been sound; it’s discipleship that has been so thin and skimpy. Is it the pastor’s fault that the babes in Christ refuse to wean from milk and eat meat?

      RE: the sinner’s prayer, please, get over it people. There are millions who have prayed it, and if they did so sincerely, then who among us can say they are not true believers? I am personally offended when people diss the prayer because it was my prayer of salvation.

      Alas, poor Publican.

      Further, let us not overlook the incredible, sophomoric fallacy that the sinner’s prayer has sent untold multitudes to hell. People go to hell for rejecting Christ, not for praying or not praying a certain prayer. For Calvinists who rant about the SP, I want to challenge their belief in the sovereignty of God. So strange that those who hold a Calvinistic view of election would somehow believe that a ‘falsely’ prayed ‘incantation’ would send the non-elect to hell. According to Calvin(ists), the non-elect are doomed from the start, having been created for hell by God’s good pleasure.
      The gospel is not even for them.
      The atonement can never apply to them.
      They are going to hell anyway.
      They don’t have a prayer.

        Christian

        Yes. Mr, Miller, I agree with you, and according to neo Calvinism a person has to be regenerated before they can trust Christ as Savior. So if people are saying the sinner’s prayer without being saved it must be God’s fault not the prayer’s fault or the sinner’s fault. The Lord just hasn’t chosen them to be saved, after all it’s all about the sovereignty of The Lord isn’t it?

        Johnathan Pritchett

        Norm,

        I don’t mean to say the theology of Traditionalism is thin. I stated that the theological tradition is deep. The problem is that the approach to theology in traditionalist churches is thin. I think too many people have acknowledged this now for us to simply say anyone is painting with a broad brush.

        What is generally true is only true generally and won’t apply to specific churches to be sure. We don’t ant to misuse the law of large numbers in either direction (a sign of tipping point and decadence).

        So yeah, the issue is discipleship and lack of rigor on the part of many, if not most, Trad churches.

        Here though, unlike you and a lot of my fellow Trads, I am not going to place the blame on the pew folk to the extent others would. Sadly, very few people agree with me on this (that doesn’t make me wrong though), but I think the leadership of the pastors, and the seminary professors who trained them, bear much of the responsibility for allowing theology to take a back seat in many of our churches,

        And, if theology indeed informs practice, then it follows that a lot of the disengagement from evangelism in our culture has resulted from this neglect. If a church’s leadership doesn’t model the rigorous approach to theological depth in their own lives, sermons, etc., why would anyone in the congregations do that in their own studies, even if the leadership instructs them to?

        The folk in the pews are getting up, getting dressed, and going to church to be fed. In our cultural climate, by and large, they aren’t doing it for social reasons or whatever anymore like perhaps was the case 20 years ago. I think the folk in the pews generally love the Lord and are converts (contra Stephanie), they are just stunted in their growth. Sure, we can blame them for some things (like not demanding more from their leadership). but I was simply raised to believe that leaders bear the bulk of the responsibility. The Bible certainly teaches this. I just haven’t seen too many of them own up to it lately when discussing the decline in the SBC and issues like that.

          Norm Miller

          I take your clarification. Thx. On the other point of thin application of Trad theology – I suspect there is plenty of ‘blame’ to go around. W/o statistical data, there is no definitive way to know how much has been fed, eaten or ignored. In my experience, and among the pastors my dad knew, as well as myself, probably 90 percent or better were serious about exegetical/expositional preaching, not just topical. And they were serious about discipleship. Assessing where we came form and where we are, however, is the door to where we go from here. And the mini-treatise you posited here initially I subscribe to 100 percent. The paralysis of analysis thwarts the process of progress. Time to move on.

          As we move forward, however, I do have concerns that some in the SBC will continue to deem the majority view of the SBC — the Trad or Hobbs/Rogers theology — as deficient. A pastor recently posted on FB a prayer request for a young man in his church who was considering which SBC seminary to attend. The young man had three friends — all SBTS students — who told the prospective student that NOBTS and SWBTS were not true SBC seminaries b/c they weren’t teaching the ‘true’ gospel. With attitudes and specious info like that out there, I’d say we have a ways to go. If these SBTS students came to this position on their own, that’s one thing.

            Johnathan Pritchett

            I am not surprised by that attitude of SBTS students. Mohler told Hankins his soteriology is deficient to his face…however politely. When a guru speaks, the followers will take all the rhetoric to the extreme while leaving out the polite demeanor.

            Though, if Trads plumb the depths of the theological tradition, and teach it to others, Calvinist critics will find that their noise will lessen.

            Chris Fenner

            As an SBTS grad and employee, I want to apologize for the attitude of those young men who disparaged their sister seminaries. Those comments do not represent everyone at SBTS (not me, at least). Likewise, I caution Johnathan not to fall into the opposite trap, which is to believe that people who work and study under the leadership of Dr. Mohler are not capable of thinking for themselves or champion rhetoric over the Fruit of the Spirit. I see this in the secular world when people declare that people who buy an Apple products are blind sheep. It’s discouraging, and it’s not true.

            JP also left out an important part of Mohler’s quote, because after he called Hankins’ soteriology deficient, he continued to say ‘and you would say the same thing about me.’ It was an act of openness, and a recognition that arrows can be flung from both sides.

              Norm Miller

              Thank you, Chris. I am hard-pressed to think that the three SBTS students, whose unfortunate characterizations of two other seminaries, is isolated at SBTS. The testimony of former Calvinists, and the attitude of many with whom I have talked and exchanged verbiage otherwise, is one of elitism. I am sure not all Calvinists are that way, but I must say the overwhelming majority with whom I have dealt are indeed elitist.
              With regard to “deficient” theology: everyone’s theology is deficient. Theology is fallen man’s attempt to study God. As such, Calvin’s theology is flawed as it is the product of a fallen man — and the same is true for all of us. So, it would behoove none of us to have a sense of elitism about our theology since we all are fallen men.
              I thank you again for your words.

            Johnathan Pritchett

            Actually Chris, the rest of the quote was irrelevant to my point. I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one when the video is linked above.

            Seriously…

            My point was that Mohler’s followers hear a thing, and tend to run well beyond what Mohler said. For instance, Mohler said the Trad Statement “appears Semi-Pelagian”, but what did hs followers hear? “Those Trads are Semi-Pelagians!”

            This blog is a witness to that point. We’ve seen it over and over again from them here. No one made that claim until Mohler did.

            Also, don’t tell me Mohler isn’t responsible for others’ behavior either, when they take their cues from him whether he likes it or not.

            He is in a position where he needs to be a lot more careful with his rhetoric than he is a lot of times, and has no excuse to not do so, or to be excused for how his fans run with it. Let us not live so naively and reject reality. That is the bigger trap.

            Now, I’m fine with if you disagree. But, that’s irrelevant, as it doesn’t change reality.

            In any case, I don’t have it in for Mohler. He is alright for the most part, but he can be a pill on occasion. Ask people around here, I can be a bit of a pill too. It is what it is.

            Also, I like SBTS, and have several friemds there who “think for themselves” or whatever. Also, I like the seminary because it is the only SBC seminary that takes apologetics seriously as far as I can tell.

            What is best is not to read more into my comments than are there.

      Max

      “A lot of young Southern Baptists were robbed of a rich theology … The real issue is nominalism and lack of discipleship … The problem is that there are a lot of ignorant sheep in the pews … We need revival in the truest sense that the sheep wake up and become disciples rather than immature believers.”

      Johnathan – from my 50+ year SBC experience, you have clearly articulated the dilemma within “traditionalist” ranks. For too long, we have put new believers – particularly young believers – in a shallow pond of Biblical training. It’s well past time for SBC to re-evaluate the youth minister model. We need godly, mature believers discipling our youth, not fresh-out-seminary recruits … older saints instructing youth (the Biblical model). I realize that age doesn’t necessarily produce wisdom, but it helps. In the meantime, we’ve nearly lost a generation of SBC youth to the New Calvinism movement, with all its bells and whistles …they have been easy pickings. On the other hand, I’m not sure what to do with the millions in SBC pews who have been life-long church members … but still in diapers and sucking their thumbs spiritually. It all boils down to digging your own spiritual well, I suppose. May God stir the hearts of His people to draw closer to Him … may we have an outbreak of 2 Chronicles 7:14 in our pulpits and pews.

        Johnathan Pritchett

        I agree that we need to reevaluate the youth minister role. I can not say that we need to dismiss them and not give seminary grads with a heart for youth the job though. We need more mentoring going on, and elder believers doing that is the preferable, biblical model. I do not think this eliminates the youth pastor though. The youth ministers need to coordinate this. Youth ministry needs to be more robust. It needs tweaked, not dismantled. I say this because some Biblical values need to be taught to the youth by the youth minister who can communicate these values, like being mentored from an elder in the church, in a way that the youth will hear it.

        I would rather lose SBC youth to New Calvinism than to the world though, which is the bigger problem facing the church right now.

        As for the millions of life-long thumb suckers in the church..they need examples from their leadership. They need to be encouraged, and yes, they need to be rebuked if necessary.

        The bottom line is that people just need to decide to elevate their game and get on with it. It actually isn’t easier said than done. It is easily done. The Holy Spirit isn’t powerless in the face of complacency or anything. The right does of example, encouragement, and rebuke is all that is needed to get it off the ground.

          Max

          “I can not say that we need to dismiss them … We need more mentoring going on …”

          Agreed.

          “I would rather lose SBC youth to New Calvinism than to the world though, which is the bigger problem facing the church right now.”

          We’ve made it too easy for church members to have one foot in the world, one foot in the church, and both feet out of the Bible. During my Christian journey, I have been blessed by a handful of mature believers who challenged me to get in or get out of the way! Souls are at stake.

          “The bottom line is that people just need to decide to elevate their game and get on with it.’

          Contrary to what a certain corner of SBC thinks right now, we do have a personal responsibility before God. It’s not “all” God. We must dig our own spiritual wells through dedicated study of the Word, disciplined prayer, and faith in action.

            Johnathan Pritchett

            You and I are on the same page.

            A common misconception people have is that if God is doing something, that means people are not also doing that something.

            The Biblical view is God is doing something, and thus we need to be doing something in accordance with what God is doing. I.e. We work out our salvation because God is at work in us (Phil. 2:12-13). Things like that. One doesn’t cancel the other.

            There is no mystery here.

    Rick Patrick

    Stephanie,

    Since you’ve been reading Washer, I can easily understand your disdain for “that blasted sinner’s prayer.” I think you deserve to know, however, that Dr. Hankins is also the author of a resolution “On the Sinner’s Prayer” that strongly encourages the practice. This resolution was passed by the SBC at the New Orleans Convention in 2012.

    Personally, I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer when I got saved, so I’ve obviously become rather fond of it. I was so sorry to hear that it was now sending people to hell. Years ago, it was such a good prayer, but you never really know, I guess. It must have gotten involved with a rough crowd of prayers and been influenced by them toward the dark side.

      Stephanie Usrey

      Rick, I prayed that prayer too, yet I am not fond of it.

      Thanks for letting me know about Hankins’ resolution. I’m not familiar with resolutions… are they binding when they’re passed by the SBC?

      Nice jab with the dark side. :)

        Max

        “I’m not familiar with resolutions… are they binding when they’re passed by the SBC?”

        Stephanie – SBC resolutions are only binding if Southern Baptists are bound and determined for them to be so. For example: at this year’s 2013 annual convention, the messengers passed a resolution “On Sexual Abuse Of Children”. That resolution encouraged “all denominational leaders and employees of the Southern Baptist Convention to utilize the highest sense of discernment in affiliating with groups and or individuals that possess questionable policies and practices in protecting our children from criminal abuse…” In the ensuing months, certain SBC leaders have maintained an active affiliation with a non-SBC ministry head under legal scrutiny for unproven allegations of covering up sexual abuse of children by members of his ministry. Another example: at the 2011 annual meeting, messengers passed a resolution pertaining to concerns “On The Gender-Neutral 2011 New International Version” of the Bible. In that resolution, it was respectfully requested “that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores.” LifeWay trustees disagreed. After a committee review, they voted unanimously to keep selling it.

        Norm Miller

        No, Stephanie, they are not ‘legally’ or ‘SBC constitutionally’ binding. The SBC actually exists only once a year — at convention time. So, the resolutions of 2013, e.g., are simply the non-binding resolutions of those Southern Baptists assembled as the SBC at that time.

Channing Kilgore

I appreciate the candor of the article. And I agree there is room in the SBC for both sides and definite need for Christ-like attitudes towards the differing side. However, the only caveat I have is the use of the term traditional. Non-Calvnistic thought and positions are not the traditional view of soteriology in the SBC. It is a historically incorrect term and a loaded term that will affect the dialogue in the future if the term “traditionalist” is allowed to be used for non-calvinistic positions. If the term ‘traditionalist’ is adopted and used, then the Calvinistic position will always been seen as the ‘outsider, newcomer’ view in the ranks of the SBC and any new theological position is already suspect of danger and/or heresy. The perceived invastion of the alien theology of Calvinism will raise many fiery responses as it already has just bec it is seen as an intrusion into the ‘traditional’ views of the SBC. This is the reason I suggested the SBC study how the Founding Fathers of the SBC used the terms ‘predestination and election” to show what the traditional view of soteriology was of SBC’ers. (See motion here: http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=38116) It was politically passed over by the seminaries for convenience sake and ignored. I have no agenda to push Calvinism per se, only that we as SBC people use terms honestly and accurately and not bias the conversation. Traditionallly, the SBC was Calvinistic. The rise in Calvinism is a return to our traditional roots, not an aberration in our root beliefs. (See Tom Nettles “By His Grace, and For His Glory”) So I’d lovingly ask that Non-Calvinists, for lack of a better term, find another term besides ‘traditionalists’ to help honestly and accurately move the conversation forward as we seek to take the gospel to all nations together! Grace, Channing Kilgore

dr. james willingham

To Stephanie, Johnathan, and Norm. God can and does use whatever means He pleases to bring His elect to himself, and it is interesting that the First and Second Great Awakenings in America, at least, was the work of Reformed ministers and/or Sovereign Grace ministers of the Baptists. The change which began with a trickle, a few in Virginia in particular, some of whose names I still have in my 3000 5×8 notecards taken during my 6 years of intensive research, was related to the text of Hebs. 2:9 where the tasted death for every man was taken quite literally by those few ministers. Up until that time, the understood view was Particular Redemption, which some call Limited Atonement (except everyone holds to a Limited Atonement, including the Universalists, because their view can’t get people to believe and be saved in this life). At first they were given to outbursts of anger at one another and they separated. Upon reflection, they became ashamed of themselves for having acted that way toward one another, toward people whom they had called “brothers” and with whom they had suffered for the cause of Christ (imprisonment, whippings, etc.). That is when they came back together and wrote out the terms of union between Separate and Regular Baptists in which they stated that preaching that Christ tasted death for every man would be no bar to communion. Interestingly enough, the first named member of that committee would later join the Primitive Baptists (kind of Ironic in his case. In fact, irony is often a part of the whole process which, perhaps, indicates that it is truly of God).

Brother Pritchett indicated that he thought the whole view was founded as a result of the efforts of people who had misunderstood the texts. Though I was raised in a church where the pastor preached Sovereign Grace, I never knew it until I returned to preach a revival and by that time my theology had become the same. It had come about as a result of a study of Puritans like Clarkson, Sibbes, John Bunyan and some others, along with Arthur Pink and some more contemporary writers. It has also resulted from a study of John R. Rice’s Predestined for Hell? No which, when I looked at the sources he cited, came up wanting. The Puritans are some of the most exhaustive writers and preachers of texts that I have ever studied; they were given to 2-3 hour sermons that amounted to a minute examination of every thing known about a text in their day.

Later, I would began to understand that there was a slow return taking place, a return to the original theology of the Particular Baptists. When such event takes place, there are, usually, no really good examples to follow. And no reading of books alone will enable one to regain that kind of attractiveness that first drew the multitudes of Western Civilization to the Reformed view points. Contextual settings are not only a matter of Scripture; they are likewise a reality in society. In any case, I began to look for examples and understandings that would show the truths of Sovereign Grace in that light which our Lord intended that they should show and in which they are set in relief. Perhaps one of the most enlightening was the statement by Dr. John Eusden in his Introduction to his translation of William Ames’ Marrow of Divinity (the first theology text book used by Harvard in the 1600s (written in Latin, the international language of that period): “Predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgrimage,….” That led me to preach a sermon on Romans 9:13, The Hardest Text in The Bible as I titled it, with three points: We are invited to receive God “I. Who does not think like we do, “it is written,” II. Who does not love like we do, “Jacob have I loved,” (the hardest part of the text), and III. Who does not act like we do, “But Esau have I hated.” There are many ways to approach that statement, i.e., love less, etc., but the one that was most helpful to me was found in how God treated Esau.”

Rather than run over the limit. I will continue this at another time (also being weary, a common problem of heart conditions I think).

    Norm Miller

    With all due respect, James, spiritual awakenings do not come from one’s theology, nor from the revival of any system of theology, nor from any definition of the ‘true’ gospel, nor from the adherents to any system of theology. Revival comes from repentance and prayer. It is therefore a non-sequitur to attribute any spiritual awakening to any man, or men representative of any theological system. 2 Chron. 7.14 does not specify one’s theology.

      Max

      Amen! Folks, you need to print Norm’s comment and stick it on your refrigerator!! Much truth in these few lines.

      IF My People … THEN Will I.

      volfan007

      Norm,

      Amen and amen and amen….repentance and prayer AND falling in love with Jesus, again!

      David

    Johnathan Pritchett

    I think citing the Great Awakenings solely attributed to Reformers is a bit of a stretch, unless you guys are now claiming that “Pelagian heretic” Finney as one of your own, and the Wesley brothers to boot.

    “except everyone holds to a Limited Atonement”

    This is patently false, and “Limited Atonement” is simply a categorical error in its construction in any case. It is of no biblical or theological value in any system of theology.

    “Sovereign Grace” is an expression of the sort of misunderstanding I am talking about. God is sovereign. Grace is not a sovereign anything. Grace is not the fourth person of the Trinity, or an agent that could be identified as sovereign. If the word “sovereign” is just an adjective to describe the extension of grace by the Sovereign God, then it is simply redundant and somewhat superfluous, faux-pious talk.

    Grace is not even a religious word, but an socio-economic word. as far as the context of the New Testament is concerned. So, I don’t understand in a biblical sense what “sovereign grace” would mean, because it, in a biblical sense, translates into “Sovereign socio-economic arrangement of patron/client reciprocity in the Ancient Near East.” The beneficence of a patron to extend benefaction to needy clients is “monergistic” (to use the post-medieval Reformed categories) in its extension, in the sense that it not obligated to the potential clients by the patron, nor was it prompted by the clients themselves as being worthy of the extension. However, and this is a however the Reformed tradition doesn’t seem to understand, grace is “synergistic” (again, to use the useless post-medeival categories of the Reformers) in its interaction and outcome, namely, that it is conditional on the part of the clients to accept the benefaction extended to them with gratitude and exclamation of the honor of the patron in public, namely loyalty (faith) in the case of salvation in Christ, as opposed to other conditions, like works, that other patrons besides Yahweh might impose as conditions. It is simply that as a matter of definition. As such, this phrase “sovereign grace” is somewhat of a categorical mistake and redundant as well.

    If by grace, or “sovereign grace”, the Reformed tradition means something other than socio-economics, then they are talking about something other than what Scripture is talking about in its language of grace, and there is little reason for anyone to be interested in it. If by grace, or “sovereign grace” they are referring to a socio-economic arrangement of the Ancient Near East, the explaining how the categories of :irresistible” or “100% mongergistic” regarding something that is by definition is neither of those things would be very interesting indeed. The Wheaton brand of Calvinists (except Moo, who doesn’t bother) have tried to make their theology square with the data regarding the social context of the Ancient Near East, and have failed to sound like anything but confused Arminians.

    The patron/reciprocity arrangement is also a covenant. It must be a corporate one in order to be a singular covenant. If the arrangement, an “irresistible” one at that (whatever that would even mean) was only extended on an individual by individual basis as particular redemption/limited atonement would have it, then Jesus would have to have made millions of new covenants upon millions of new covenants with the Father in eternity, and we would speak of Jesus as being the mediator of all these new covenants, plural, not the New Covenant, singular.

    “The Puritans are some of the most exhaustive writers and preachers of texts that I have ever studied; they were given to 2-3 hour sermons that amounted to a minute examination of every thing known about a text in their day.”

    That last bit, “in their day” was part of the problem. Way over-embellishment to the point of error is another problem they had. Though, all theology over-embellishes to the point of error in one instance or another. It is, in general, the problem of theology being done after 2000 years of the texts being commented upon after they were written. In any case, the Puritans ignored many of the later Remonstrants and Radical Reformers scholarship on what those texts meant in the “day” of the original authors, as understood by the early Fathers. That knowledge has only increased massively, and the Reformed streams remain largely ignorant of it, which means, they remain largely ignorant of the Scripture they claim to hold dear, but refuse to understand because if offends the demands that their theological tradition imposes on the texts.

    As for Romans 9:13, I don’t think it means “loves less” at all, but I don’t think how God treated Esau is the focus of that text itself either. Rather, how God treated Edom is the focus, since that text comes from Malachi. Clearly, God’s destroying Esau and never allowing them to rebuild is not merely “loves less” but a real, righteous (and emotionless) hatred, but nor is it a statement about God’s hatred for the individual Esau prior to his existence, which is a misreading of the text typical among Calvinist interpretations.

    I have heard your approach to the text before, with the attempt at cleverness that God could actually love being the hardest part of the text. But, this actually fails at cleverness, and fails at being biblical. It is not hard to see how a God of love (who is also holy, just, has wrath, etc.) loves anymore than it is to see how a God of love (who is also holy, just, has wrath, etc.) hates. People who don’t try to be clever, but rather, try to be reflective (including Reformed theologians) recognize that God hates sin because He loves righteousness. God’s love for sinners is not in contradiction with His hatred for sinners, because hate is not the same thing as “not love”, so there is no logical contradiction between loving in one sense, and hating in another at the same time, because a contradiction would be to love and not love at the same time in the same sense, or hate and not hate at the same time in the same sense. Both “not-love” and “not-hate” would be best represented by the word “indifference”. Since God is not ever indifferent, He can both love and hate at the same time. In any case, to say something like “it is hard to believe God could love a sinner” is exceedingly silly and thoughtless, because every creature is a bearer of God’s image, and God doesn’t simply hate His image without any love at all there. It makes perfect sense to say it is entirely believable for God to love sinners. He is a God of love and the Creator of all things, and everything He crated is good (repetition in Gen. 1; 1 Tim. 4:4) in some sense, even if morally, the creatures are evil.

Stephanie Usrey

Wow, a girl has to be careful on these Christian blogs! I just logged on for the first time and I made the error of logging on with my iphone. Reading all your comments proved difficult on my tiny screen, I just kept scrolling and scrolling and scrolling!

I have just written a long response to you guys, but when I finished it I looked back over it and thought, “But it lacks love”. If I speak with the tongues of angels but have no love, I’m just a clanging cymbal. And we all know what a ranting woman sounds like… a clanging cymbal.

So I won’t rant. I won’t defend my position. I will simply say I still believe the sinner’s prayer needs to be scrapped. If my pastor had not used the sinner’s prayer with me when I was 10, I would have still repented and believed, because I wanted to repent and believe in Jesus. I wanted to turn my life over to Him and give Him complete control. It never entered my mind to make Him a co-pilot or a compartment of my life. I wanted to surrender completely to honor the life He gave for me. I still do because He who began a good work in me is continuing to perfect me. This is the promise of God. I wonder, could you lead someone to Christ WITHOUT using the sinner’s prayer? I did it Monday. I challenge you to try.

I am reformed, gentlemen. And I am in the SBC. I am no threat to you. I want to work with you in evangelism and missions and discipleship to make more disciples of Christ in obedience and love for my Savior and my Lord. You do have any enemy but it’s not me. I may rise up and fight traditions that I think are damaging to the Name of our Lord Jesus and the costly blood He shed for us, but I’m not fighting you. I am FOR you, regardless of whether your soteriological leanings.

(P.S. You can free your mind from thinking the likes of Washer and Platt have led me astray. I had those beliefs before I heard theirs. They merely affirmed my thoughts.)

    Norm Miller

    Hi Stephanie:
    Thx for the tone of your response. May I pose a question? Whereas I would disagree with scrapping the SP, I wonder what you would propose, if anything, to replace it? — Norm

      Stephanie Usrey

      Good question, Norm. No, I don’t have a proposal for replacing it. Somehow that seems like a bait and switch. But maybe that’s the wrong terminology. On Monday, after I presented the gospel message and the poor woman’s hopeless and depraved condition, she was undone and desperate. “What can I do to be saved then?” were her words. So I said, repent and believe. And then I asked her to pray, but I informed her I would not be telling her what to pray. I asked her to pray from her heart what she believed she needed from God. At one point in the prayer, I did prompt her to confess her sins, which she did… for quite a while. I tried my best to stick with what I’ve seen in scripture. Afterward, I explained the parable of the soils/sower. That if her conversion was real, the “proof would be in the pudding”, that if the Word fell on fertile soil, God would begin a miraculous and continuous process called sanctification. And I am discipling her now so time will tell.

        Norm Miller

        My heart is warmed by this testimony, Stephanie, as is your exemplary conduct in sharing the Good News. PTL for that. While I suspect we may never agree on the SP, I would submit to you that anyone who prays the SP with as much sincerity and authenticity as the woman you described has also prayed a prayer with the same effect and vitality. I absolutely take yours and others’ point that no formulaic prayer alone brings salvation. The key is what is in the heart at the time, regardless of the specific words. As one of my professors said, “One can pray the ‘right prayer’ with a wrong heart and go to hell. Another can pray the ‘wrong prayer’ with a right heart and go to heaven.” I think this point has merit, and therefore negation of the Sinner’s Prayer nor the affirmation of the ‘hopeless’ woman’s prayer is warranted based on word content alone. Further, I think we would most heartily agree, as you alluded, that, “we shall know them by their fruit,” or as you put it, by their “pudding.” ;^>

        Thx for being here, Stephanie. I appreciate your point of view and your tenor. — Norm

          Max

          “… no formulaic prayer alone brings salvation. The key is what is in the heart at the time, regardless of the specific words.”

          Amen! I purchased a gem of an old book at a yard sale earlier this year for 25-cents: “What Baptists Believe.” Compiled by O.C.S. Wallace, this book was published by the SBC Sunday School Board (1934) to be used in the Training Course for Sunday School Workers. The following text puts the sinner’s prayer into proper perspective I think:

          “In the use of means, God’s purpose of grace meets the free-acting human soul. He does not use force. He does not use magic; the idea that … the recitation of certain words and the performance of certain rites, can save a soul, is contrary to the teachings of the Word of God. Salvation comes to the soul that comes to salvation. Forgiving Saviour and penitent sinner meet.”

          I love those last two lines. Best quarter I’ve ever spent! I would encourage LifeWay to republish it!

        Rick Patrick

        Stephanie,

        I’m so encouraged to hear your story. I realize now our disagreement was essentially over semantics. I love the manner in which you witnessed to this woman and helped her pray “her own sinner’s prayer” as she expressed repentance and faith. In my view, you led her appropriately and with integrity in praying the sinner’s prayer. I agree that the word-for-word repetition style is perhaps the most egregious aspect of the sinner’s prayer, but as you have illustrated, it’s not the only way to lead someone in prayer.

        volfan007

        Amen Stephanie….that’s exactly the kind of sinner’s prayer that needs to be prayed!!! From the heart…sincerely calling upon the Lord!! Romans 10:9-13.

        Stephanie, everyone who gets saved must ask God for His gift of salvation. Now, they don’t have to pray out loud, or recite a certain amount of phrases, but they must call on the Lord. And, just like you helped that lady to know what to pray, is exactly what a lot of us do with the sinner’s prayer….we’re just helping lost people to call on the Lord…because many of them tell me that they don’t know what to say….a lot of sinners want me to help them to call on the Lord for His amazing gift of salvation.

        David

    Johnathan Pritchett

    Hey Stephanie,
    I can’t speak for others, but in my meager ministry experiences and endeavors, I have been privileged to be used by the Lord to lead some 300 people to Christ. Compared to some people in ministry, that isn’t a lot by comparison, but it ain’t nothing either. For me, the sinner’s prayer has never been a part of my methodology. This is not because I have some problem with it, only that it just isn’t a part of how I’ve always gone about it.

    However, for some ministers, 300 people is a typical month, or even a typical event in their evangelistic endeavors. Were I ever in that position, I can see how such a method would be beneficial and I might opt to press it into service myself.

    I can see the usefulness of it. So, again, in principle, I am not against it, nor can I see see the issue that others have that makes them think it is problematic.

    I know you don’t want to defend your position, but I must say, if you have that ever elusive premise that makes the complaints against the sinner’s prayer logically valid, I do ask that you share it with us. I have listened to Washer’s passionate but misguided concerns, and I have listened to Platt’s passionless parroting of Washer on this point, along with the similar gripes to Platt from Reformed folks that seem more like being trendy in bashing methodology rather than being thoughtful about it. Bashing the sinner’s prayer has struck me as more of a way of getting attention or for shock-value than anything else.

    So, what is the premise that makes the complaint logically valid, that sits between the first premise p1 that the sinner’s prayer is a superstitious, unBiblical (whatever that means) prayer and the conclusion C it has lead many people astray, damned them to hell, caused them to miss the life of Christ, etc.? As it stands, the complaints are irrational because they are logically fallacious without some premise(s) that make it a valid complaint against the methodology. This is why so many of us defend the sinner’s prayer and don’t see the problem. The complaints are not rational (and by this, I simply mean they are irrational on pains of being logically fallacious).

    I must say, I agree with Rick that you essentially led the woman in a version of the sinner’s prayer. I do not mean to undermine the experience you and that woman had, but it seems to me that telling her you won’t tell her what to pray, but prompting her to confess her sins anyway, sounds a lot like what people mean by the sinner’s prayer. No one thinks that conversion occurs because of the prayer. It is an instructive tool to help converts to pray. Even believers do not always know how to pray (Rom. 8:26), so how much more do unbelievers or new believers not know how to confess with their mouth what they have come to believe in their heart?

    Whether an aid in conversion, or the first lesson in discipleship, or however one wants to look at it, the sinner’s prayer is simply a useful tool for instruction. Again, not to take away from the experience you recounted for us here, but to use it as an example, your prompting her to confess her sins in the prayer is just the same as doing something like leading someone in a sinner’s prayer, formulaic or not.

    Indeed, in my opinion, you should reconsider your position and try using the prayer as an instructive tool next time. I submit that it is a far more useful instruction than simply telling someone to existentially speak their first prayer to God from the heart. Not to stray too far off topic, but existentialism has been an incredibly disastrous approach for Protestant prayer life as it is, especially among Baptists. My suggestion is to not encourage it for someone’s first prayer of repentance and faith.

    Hear me on this, I am not trying to take away from that experience, I am just using it as an example of why the sinner’s prayer may be useful as an aid for instruction, since you were essentially doing part of what the purpose of it is for anyway when you prompted her to confession of her sins in her prayer.

      Ron

      This probably won’t meet your definition of a rational basis for objection to the Sinner’s Prayer, but it’s good enough for me:
      1. 16 million Southern Baptists have prayed the Sinner’s Prayer (presumably, since they joined an SBC church).
      2. By almost everyone’s admission, 10 million of those are still lost because they never come to church.
      3. Many notable leaders (e.g. Billy Graham, Paige Patterson) suggest that out of the 6 million that do show up, at least half of them are still lost.
      4. So roughly 81% (or more) of the time, people pray the Sinner’s Prayer thinking they are “getting saved” when they are not.
      Now, I believe in unconditional election, so the problem, as I see it, is not that the Sinner’s Prayer is sending people to hell who otherwise would be saved; rather, it’s filling our churches with unregenerate people who think they are saved and end up on deacon boards, stewardship committees, personnel committees, etc. and wreak all manner of havoc in the church.

      Stephanie Usrey

      Johnathan, since you say you’ve personally witnessed 300 conversions, I am deeply interested to know:
      1. Your methodology
      2. How you discipled those converts (or if someone else discipled them)
      3. Your estimate on how many you believe were true converts. This estimate could only be based on your observance of their perseverance in the faith, obviously, since only God can truly see the heart.

      I appreciate your help!

        Norm Miller

        Stephanie: I am sure Johnathan will answer you, but your questions prompted me as follows:

        1. There are many methodologies as evidenced in Paul becoming “all things” to save some.

        2. The Great Commission begins with “As you are going….” How can someone I meet on a plane and share the gospel with and who prays a prayer of repentance and faith in Christ (I would call that a sinner’s prayer) — how am I to disciple that person in an effective manner? Sure, there is e-mail and the telephone, and that would help. but the new convert needs to be in a church for discipleship, too. Wouldn’t Calvin’s tenet of perseverance ensure that a true convert would also be a true disciple?

        “As you are going, make disciples …” Going is not static. I would say the phrase mitigates for an active spreading of the gospel message more than for the stasis of one-on-one discipleship. And for Calvinists, this ought to be acceptable given the perseverance tenet.

        3. If we shall know them by their fruit, then would anyone have said the Apostle Peter was a true disciple after hearing him deny Jesus — or King David after murder and adultery? Doubtlessly, there are lost people in our churches. And for many Calvinists, they must be purged from the church roll. I know because I went through this. My former pastor had no interest in actually visiting these people to witness to them — just sent them a letter saying, essentially, get back in church or be removed from the rolls. However, I am not sure what removing a piece of paper from the files, or a digital entry from a spread sheet, does for the church. For my former church, nothing. Subsequent visits back there reveal a shrinking attendance, too.

        True, only God sees the heart. Many-a long time, apparently true disciple has fallen, like Peter, and also King David, a murderous adulterer, but also one after God’s own heart.

        As always, thanks for your comments. Glad you are here.

Stephanie Usrey

Gentlemen,

Thank you for your kindness. And I think you are right… what that woman did the other day, though maybe with different words, WAS in fact a sinner’s prayer, but it wasn’t formulaic. I am doing much soul-searching as well as research. A large part of my scrapped writings yesterday was incredibly detailed – it was the recounting of my own conversion and the way my church pastor, youth group, and every other leader I’ve had for the last 35 years in the SBC used the sinner’s prayer. I was taught that the sinner’s prayer saved people and I believed it so much I begged people to “just pray this prayer” or “just say these words” because that’s what I’d been taught. After all, I prayed that prayer and look how I turned out – a pursuant believer in Jesus Christ. We will never know the moment I was legally justified – I can tell you I repented and believed in the balcony that day, but there was a formality that took place at the altar with the pastor. Had I died on my way downstairs to talk to the pastor, would I have entered heaven? I don’t know for sure, but I think maybe so because my mind was made up in the balcony – I decided to turn my life over to Jesus. I had heard the gospel message, and I believed.

This afternoon I Googled “how to lead someone to Christ without the sinner’s prayer”. The leading hit was “Platt: How to Lead Someone to Christ Without Using the Sinner’s Prayer” (ha!) which led to a ChristianPost article I absolutely love. It affirms what I did on Monday, and really does help me to see it was good to break away from the rote-ness of the sinner’s prayer. I would post it here but you can’t embed links in this blog. Platt’s main point is that if you do your job as a witness and completely explain the gospel message, the sinner will automatically know what to say in prayer. “If they see God who He is, their sin for what it is, themselves for who they are, and Christ for who He is and what He has done, then by the grace of God through the Spirit of God they are more than able to call out in repentance and faith… so let them do so.” After reading that article, I am baffled about the defensive posture in this blog. Why are you so bent out of shape over his stance?

On Monday, in listening to that woman’s story, I discovered she was led in the sinner’s prayer and baptized at age 22. Her life was in shambles, a good friend wanted to save her, so she led her to pray this prayer, assured her of salvation and eternal security and then encouraged her baptism. I heard that story on Monday, but I’ve heard it over and over and over throughout the years. We were taught to never doubt our salvation if we had prayed that prayer in sincerity. A natural byproduct of that edict is that believers like me have been and are terrified to ever question anyone’s salvation that prayed that prayer! Can you understand the frustration and sadness that conjures up? And it’s still happening in many, many churches today!! Thousands, maybe millions have prayed that prayer and are never questioned about whether or not they are truly converted.

Lastly, I’m going to paste a paragraph from a sermon entitled, “Evangelizing Heathen Americans” by John Waldrip in 2005. Do you think these men are referring to the people on the membership rolls or sitting in pews every Sunday? I cannot be sure. Regardless, if the last two men are correct, then a large number of our Sunday member-attendees are unconverted and we should be deeply sorrowful, intensely focused on converting them! First, there would have to be painstaking preaching, following by intense individual Q&A and discipline, followed by rigorous discipleship.
“We are seeing ever-larger churches across the nation, but the lost are not being reached for Christ. Dr. D. A. Waite writes concerning the number of lost people in our churches that Dr. B. R. Lakin estimated 75% of church members to be lost. Dr. W. A. Criswell estimated the percentage of lost members to be 75%. Billy Graham’s estimate was 85%. A. W. Tozer’s estimate was 90%. And Jim Eliff, a Southern Baptist consultant, estimated that 90% of church members are unsaved. Imagine that. One of every ten church members not truly born again.”

    Norm Miller

    Are we to say that everyone who prayed the formulaic SP will be in hell?

    If the answer is no, then the formulaic SP is (has been, and always will be) a way to direct the potential believer unto the feet of Jesus for salvation by grace through repentance and faith. In fact, for the Calvinist, anyone who is under conviction of the Holy Spirit must be elect, and therefore the prayer’s verbiage is of no consequence whatsoever (so, what’s the big deal?). And neither is discipleship since the new elect convert assuredly will persevere.

    Never have I heard anyone say: “Just pray this prayer and you will be saved.” When the prayer was used, it was always qualified with what words like repentance, faith and trust mean. And it was also followed by one-on-one counseling.

    As for the woman you noted, Stephanie, could she have been in a state of rebellion for many years? I know of lots of believers who have run from God for years, refusing a certain ministry call, etc.

    And as for the observation of mere men, many of whom I respect, how can they quantify the number of lost people in the church? We are to be fruit inspectors, for sure, but only God knows the heart. Spiritual fruit is an outward product. God sees the inside. How can we truly know who is and is not a disciple given that every believer is tempted, and often succumbs?

    Discussions like these are good, but I think they devolve into regions of ‘unknowability.’ Once we hit that threshold, we ought to realize that discussion time is over, and we need to get back to talking about Jesus to those who have not heard of him.

      Max

      “… we need to get back to talking about Jesus …”

      And everyone said AMEN! (or should have)

Volfan007

Stephanie, I think you are still not getting it. We all would be against telling someone that saying a rote prayer will save someone. And, we were all telling you above that the way you led that woman to Christ was great! You led her to call on the name of The Lord, and you helped her to know how to pray and ask The Lord to save her. You see, if you counsel with someone…explaining repentance and faith, then it’s not “easy believism” even though you led them in a sinner’s prayer. Explaining repentance and faith is the key…..and people have to call on The Lord to be saved….Romans 10:9-13.

David

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