Theological Terminology Thursday:
The Study of Specialized Words Relating to Theology

Decisionism

December 29, 2011

By Ron F. Hale,
Minister of Missions,
West Jackson Baptist Church,
Jackson, TN


Jesus did not call us to anonymity, living and lurking in a shadowy secret society.

Jesus calls us out into the open and into the arena of our community and culture. He promised, “Whosoever confesses me before men, him will I also confess before My Father in heaven” (Matt 10:32). On the other hand, He warned, “But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (v.33). How this has been done publicly has fueled heavy debate through the centuries.

My more Calvinistic brothers have things that we non- or less-Calvinistic brothers need to hear and learn and vice versa. How we share with one another is very important. But when it is done as a doctrinal dressing-down, it is not received sympathetically.

Paul challenged Timothy to do the work of an evangelist as he ministered and proclaimed the Gospel.[1] Every minister or member has a responsibility in sharing the Good News! The Great Commission gives us a compelling reason to be proactive and persistent in our outreach; this commission is for those who stand behind pulpits and those sitting in pews. My motive and means for evangelism should stem from a loving relationship with Jesus; He is to be first and foremost! Sharing Jesus should be done with a dependence on the Holy Spirit and with a humble desire to unfold the Gospel plainly and practically so that a lost person can hear, understand, and respond to God according to His will.

Some years ago, I started seeing the word “decisionism” and related words like “decisional regeneration” or “decision theology.” It is usually referenced by those who are more Calvinistic (Reformed) along with other terms like: “Altar calls,” “clever emotional devices,” “the modern invitational system,” “easy-believism,” “decision cards,” “walking the aisle,” “mourner’s bench,” and “the sinner’s prayer.” It became obvious to me that critics and cynics of invitations and altar calls consider these approaches as dangerous . . . for it is too anthropocentric, meaning it gives man too much control over his salvation or is tantamount to a man-centered salvation by works.

Writing on this subject, Dr. Jay E. Adams explains:

One may read thousands of pages of the history of the Christian Church without finding a single reference to the “old-fashioned altar call” before the last century. Most Christians are surprised to learn that history before the time of Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) knows nothing of this type of “invitation.” The practice of urging men and women to make a physical movement at the conclusion of a meeting was introduced by Mr. Finney in the second decade of the nineteenth century. Dr. Albert B. Dod, a professor of theology at Princeton Seminary at the time of Mr. Finney’s ministry, pointed out the newness of the practice and showed that this method was without historical precedent. In his review of Finney’s Lectures on Revival, Professor Dod stated that one will search the volumes of church history in vain for a single example of this practice before the 1820?s.7 Instead, history tells us that whenever the gospel was preached men were invited to Christ — not to decide at the end of a sermon whether or not to perform some physical action.

The Apostle Paul, the great evangelist, never heard of an altar call, yet today some consider the altar call to be a necessary mark of an evangelical church. In fact, churches which do not practice it are often accused of having no concern for the lost. Neither Paul nor Peter ever climaxed his preaching with forcing upon his hearers the decision to walk or not to walk. It is not only with church history, then, but with Scriptural history as well that the altar call is in conflict.[2]

 

It becomes apparent that Adams (and others) regards the altar call or invitation as new phenomenon in the modern evangelical world and Charles Finney as the instigator of the modern day “invitational system.” Is this a fair assessment of public invitations?

Michael Green studied evangelism in the early church and concludes that early Christians had a basic pattern in their content of sharing the Word. First, they preached a person. Their message was Christo-centric. They preached Jesus to them! They stressed the cross, resurrection, and His present power and significance. Secondly, they proclaimed a gift; the gift of forgiveness, the gift of the Spirit, the gift of adoption, of reconciliation. The Jews had done nothing to merit it, any more than the Gentiles had: it proceeded entirely from the grace of God. Thirdly, they looked for a response. The apostles were not shy about asking men to decide for or against the God who had decided for them. They expected results. They challenged men to do something about the message they had heard. “What shall we do?” was the response of crowd on the day of Pentecost.[3] Thus, we see the early church growing and not being silent about the Christ.

Was Finney the first minister to employ gospel invitations? In his chapter entitled: The Public Invitation and Calvinism, Dr. R. Alan Streett traces back through American history and says,

By the time Finney had stepped onto the scene, the public invitation had been practiced in one form or another for over a century. Among Finney’s contemporaries and staunchest Calvinistic opponents were “old Light” Congregationalists, who, like Calvin two centuries before, ironically called for church members publicly to profess faith in Christ and declare assurance of salvation before taking Communion. These same opponents pointed to Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844), the first American-born evangelist and Finney contemporary, as the ideal evangelist who preached sinners into the kingdom without issuing an invitation. Historical records tell a different story. Nettleton actually gave a delayed-response invitation at the conclusion of his evangelistic sermons, exhorting listeners to attend an “inquirer’s meeting” after the service where they would receive special instruction regarding their soul’s salvation. He used the inquiry room “for those who felt they were ready for such an adventure.”[4]

 

Streett shares a quote by C.E. Autrey,[5] who said,

The inquiry room gave him [Asahel Nettleton] a chance to separate those under conviction from the rest of the congregation in order to instruct them properly. In the inquiry room individuals could speak with others without the excitement and pressure of the crowd.[6]

 

George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, both strong Calvinists used the method of inviting and exhorting sinners at the close of their sermons to meet with them privately for spiritual counsel. These after-meetings were held in various places in the church, parsonage, or buildings nearby. Many came to Christ in these delayed-response invitations. During the Second Great Awakening public invitations were greatly used. The Awakening of the East Coast, led by Yale President Timothy Dwight, combined Calvinism and revivalism and employed the after-meeting model of the invitation.[7]

In the early 1740’s, some 90 years before Finney’s preaching, Eleazar Wheelock, a strict Calvinist and founder of Dartmouth College, called out to spiritually distressed souls to gather in the seats below in order to converse with them more conveniently.[8]

I’m not sure who coined the term “decisionism” but it is obvious that “more Calvinistic” groups and “less Calvinistic” groups have used various forms of public invitations over the last three hundred years. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was a major opponent of the public invitation and charged that it is based on defective theology.[9] If his statement is true, then both camps share in this “defective” theology.

Could it be that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones experienced some truly bad examples of public invitations in the less Calvinistic camp and those experiences tainted his assessment of public invitations altogether? Surely he would not have assessed the more Calvinistic Dr. John MacArthur Jr. as being “defective” in his theology and practice. Dr. MacArthur has led his church in growing from 450 people to more than 5,000 during his ministry, and he has said, “We see hundreds saved and baptized every year. We never have a service without an invitation, and we never have an invitation without people coming into our prayer room.”[10]

Have you read the book entitled: Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue? Dr. Chuck Lawless does an outstanding job in his chapter entitled: “Southern Baptist Non-Calvinists – Who Are We Really? . . .” in calling non-Calvinists to a higher degree of integrity in our evangelism practices while helping our more Calvinistic brothers better understand certain driving forces in our hearts. He gives both camps strong and straightforward words of wisdom. My respect and appreciation for Dr. Lawless grew exponentially as he served as our Interim Pastor before going to the International Mission Board. He preached the Gospel with enthusiasm and extended public invitations with passionate sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Lawless shares that non-Calvinists still want to be heard in at least four areas.

  • “Do not assume that our approach to evangelism is faulty if we sometimes use a tract in a one-time encounter.” He also encourages us to use tracts that explain the gospel well and calls for the proper response to the gospel.
  • “Please allow us to talk about ‘persuading’ others to believe . . . without assuming that we somehow turn anthropocentric and trump God’s sovereignty when we work to convince. Clearly changing the heart is the work of God (John 16:8; Eph 2:4-5), but still we must often work through proper apologetics and passionate reasoning to teach others the truth of the gospel.”
  • “Understand that many of us who still use a public invitation following the preaching of the Word are striving to do so with utmost integrity.” Here we are reminded to help people understand that it is Jesus who saves and not the physical public response of walking down front with tears in their eyes. The one who extends the invitation has the awesome responsibility to clearly communicate the Gospel and give an opportunity for the lost to express publicly their faith in Jesus.
  • “Please do not be gravely concerned if we still use the word decision and lead a repentant sinner to pray a prayer.” Here we are encouraged to properly present the gospel and have a right understanding of the response that the gospel demands.[11]

Public invitations and altar calls will be extended within SBC congregations for many years to come. Many of us believe that “persuasive” preaching always confronts the sinner with a choice of two destinies. These destinies are as real as the air in our lungs. Therefore, some kind of public call to repentance will be extended in most of our congregations.

Where do we go from here? Here are some closing questions to consider and discuss:

  • Who has been your model or mentor in extending a public invitation for the lost to hear, understand, and respond to the moving of God’s Spirit?
  • Can you share a “model” church that is doing a great job in teaching their people to effectively share the gospel and training new believers to follow Jesus?
  • If it is right to ask a lost person to repent and receive Jesus in a one-on-one personal witnessing encounter, why is it not alright to extend an invitation to many sinners in a church service?
  • For congregations not extending a public invitation, how do they discover “new believers” from their worship services and small groups?

[1] 2 Timothy 4:5

[2] A tract written by Jay Adams entitled: “Decisional Regeneration.”

[3] Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1970), 150-51.

[4] R. Alan Streett, “The Public Invitation and Calvinism, in, Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, ed. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2010), 245.

[5] C. E. Autrey, Basic Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 131; quoted in ibid. Autrey served as Professor of Evangelism, Southwestern Baptist Seminary and served in evangelism leadership at the Home Mission Board, SBC. He authored the book Basic Evangelism in 1959, which is in its fourth printing.

[6] Allen and Lemke, 246.

[7] Ibid., 244-45.

[8] Ibid., 244.

[9] Ibid., 247.

[10] Ibid., 246.

[11] E. Ray Clendenen and Brad J. Waggoner, eds., Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2008), 164-66.

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Les

Ron,

One observation, an answer to one of your questions and a question.

Observation: You wrote: “Many of us believe that “persuasive” preaching always confronts the sinner with a choice of two destinies….Therefore, some kind of public call to repentance will be extended in most of our congregations.”

I don’t attend a church where any kind of call to come forward at the end of the service or to another location after the service. So, no “altar call.” And, when I was preaching for years, I didn’t give such. BUT, STILL I agree with the quote of yours just above on persuasive preaching and a public call to repent. To come to Christ. So I think, in fact I know by experience, that we non-altar callers can stand side by side with altar callers in “calling” for persuasive preaching as you describe and calling for repentance and fait.

On your question: “For congregations not extending a public invitation, how do they discover “new believers” from their worship services and small groups?”

In the worship bulletin every Sunday there is a paragraph telling how one can become a member. At some point in the new member process, very early on, people are asked to share with the elders their testimony of how they came to faith. It is there where we hear of people telling how in xxxxx service some time back they believe they were saved, or they tell of another person sharing Christ with them some time back. Then, when actually joining they are given the opportunity to briefly testify to the congregation of their conversion.

Every person interested in knowing more is referred to see an elder or call a # and attend one of the “inquirers classes” we have throughout the year.

My Question: I have wondered for a long time…why do most SBC churches still require any and all (including long time SBC members of other churches) to walk the aisle to transfer membership? i.e. why are they not referred to call the office and set up an interview and then later presented for the public vote to receive? Just curious.

Les

Ron Hale

Les,
Good morning — thanks for your comment, information on how non-altar call churches discover new believers, and for your question.

You asked: I have wondered for a long time…why do most SBC churches still require any and all (including long time SBC members of other churches) to walk the aisle to transfer membership? i.e. why are they not referred to call the office and set up an interview and then later presented for the public vote to receive? Just curious.

Me: Out of 40,000 (plus) congregations, this is done in a variety of ways, including the way you described. However, many SBC congregations ask those who have been attending (and feel led of the Lord to join) to come forward during the invitation so they can be “presented” for membership and then to be extended the “right hand of fellowship”[welcomed in] by the members into the church family. At a certain point (that day or next biz meeting) a vote is usually taken.

Through the years I’ve seen the term “right hand of fellowship” … and if a church historian reads this … ?was the “right hand of fellowship” more formal (or part of a process) in past years?

Blessings!

David R. Brumbelow

Ron,
Great, outstanding article. Wish every preacher, especially every young preacher, in the SBC would read it. Good historical information. Also, good point about tracts and the Sinner’s Prayer.

May we never cease the right use of the public invitation and doing all we can to persuade men.
David R. Brumbelow

Chris Roberts

Les and Ron,

I would add that even in the Presbyterian church in which I grew up, new members would meet first with the pastor (no one ever walked the aisle) and would later be presented to the church in a way similar to what Baptists do, with the difference that the act was in no way spontaneous.

Ideally, even in Baptists churches, the pastor will have some notion that someone wants to join before they come down to ask to join, so the act is not altogether spontaneous. I cannot really present someone to the church for membership if I have only had five minutes to talk with them, and if they have been coming to the church long enough to get to know them, they have probably let the pastor know that they would be joining that day.

Another Presbyterian anecdote of sorts – how non-altar call churches extend an invitation of sorts to new believers. The man who pastored the Presbyterian church for most of my time there would typically end every sermon with a gospel presentation of some sort or another but would encourage those seeking salvation to come and see him – stick around after the service, come to the office the next day, whatever. I liked his method. I do altar calls at my church (but mostly because of their long tradition in the church; I’m not particularly fond of them) but I continue to stress for people with salvation needs to get together with someone else in the church or to come see me. I’d really like more than just a few minutes to deal with them.

As for the blog post, I’m not really sure what the quote by Streett is for. He shows two things: (1) that some Calvinists wanted Christians to profess their Christianity, not that unbelievers were called forward for salvation; and (2) that someone around the time of Finney called for unbelievers to come for more instruction later, not that they were called down the aisle. Both of these practices strike me as a good idea, neither strike me as resembling the altar call.

I have no fundamental issue with altar-calls, but I do have an issue with how I have seen them done time and again. There is a reason they are criticized for the emotionalism and high-pressure sales techniques that can go along with them. From revivals to ordinary church services, I have seen and heard pastors and evangelists pull every trick to try and elicit a response and then celebrate how many people were saved that day. Where are those same “new converts” one month later? No one knows – but now they think they have their fire insurance.

I once heard our state director of evangelism complain about churches that do short altar calls, talking about pastors that only extend an invitation for one, maybe two verses of a song. What, does he think the Spirit only works in a person’s life during the closing hymn and not throughout the whole sermon? His desire to see people saved is genuine and strong, I have no doubt about that. He loves the lost and grieves for their fate apart from Christ. But he is mistaken to think that we need more time in the altar call to allow a response. I say let’s give more time to the sermon itself, particularly if we, like good and faithful Baptists, acknowledge that it is the word preached which is made wise for salvation, not a preacher’s pleading or the music’s drawing! Thus the best invitation is to preach the Word, preach it clearly, preach it boldly, and in that preaching, remind the hearers that this word is not just to be heard but responded to and lived out.

    Bob Hadley

    You and I have the same Director of Evangelism. You are correct in your comment related to his love for the lost, “His desire to see people saved is genuine and strong, I have no doubt about that. He loves the lost and grieves for their fate apart from Christ.”

    Your next comment, “But he is mistaken to think that we need more time in the altar call to allow a response” should be accompanied by the statement, “in my opinion”. To say he is “mistaken” gives the impression that you are in a position to know better and that he is not. I am sure you did not mean that.

    Here is a comment related to your own concluding statement, “Thus the best invitation is to preach the Word, preach it clearly, preach it boldly, and in that preaching, remind the hearers that this word is not just to be heard but responded to and lived out.” Seems to me you are overly critical of one’s suggestion of HOW TO DO what you yourself say is important To Do.

    Just my thoughts.

    ><>”

Ron Hale

David: Thanks for your kind comments, I appreciate it very much! I’m still reading your book and hope many will purchase it; great stuff.

Chris: Thanks for sharing your perspectives based on having been in both Presbyterian and Baptist congregations. I added Streett’s work because he points out that Finney was not the first to use “somekind” of public invitation in America. He points out that it was practised in one form or another 100 years before Finney. Some may disagree on this point.

Thanks!

    Chris Roberts

    Ron,

    I understand and agree – some sort of invitation does have historical merit and stretches back not just 100 years but all the way to Christ. But the issue is not an invitation in general but altar calls in particular. Finding preachers appealing to unbelievers to come to Christ is not new; finding preachers urging and inviting unbelievers to see him after the service, come to a class, whatever, is not new; designating a portion of time at the end of the service for a particular form of invitation known as the altar call is what many argue is new and is what many find concerning.

      Ron Hale

      Chris,

      I glad you agree that “some kind” of invitation streches back, even to Christ. Some believe that it is a modern invention and I’ve read that many, many times – thus my paper.

      On a personal note … I repented of my sins and trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at a Church altar … at the age of 23. The preacher pointed me to Christ and during the invitation … it was quite clear that the invitation was to “Come to Christ” not come down front.

      I contend … it doesn’t matter if it is in a personal one-on-one witnessing encounter … or …a let’s talk after the service invitation … or … come to the altar and pray kind of invitation — as long as the preacher/pastor/evangelist is … clearly pointing people to Jesus Christ and the forgiveness that only He can bring into a person’s life … then I am very happy!

Les

Chris,

You said, “Another Presbyterian anecdote of sorts –”

I agree. I have experienced the same thing as what you shared, and it’s pretty common in PCA churches. Come see the pastor or one of the elders after the service.

In fact, I have pastored in PCA churches. That was my most common conclusion to the service. When I have a few more minutes, I’ll come back and give a Calvinist anecdote.

Les

Now my Calvinist anecdote.

Some years ago while I was one of the pastors in a PCA church, a young woman came in and asked to see a pastor for counsel. I was there. We met and talked. She was having marital troubles, lived nearby and just dropped in to see a minister.

As she shared her story and her plans to leave her husband, I then asked her some spiritual questions…her church/religious background, etc. I then asked her the two EE questions. She answered the second one, “Well I suppose you should let me into heaven because I have tried to keep your commandments, at least most of them.”

I then asked her if indeed she had kept even most of the 10 commandments. She said yes. I ten opened a bible and asked went thru each one and asked if she had kept that one. She said yes to most. I then explained how Jesus explained things like adultery (lust) and murder (anger), etc.

She then sort of looked down and said “Well, I suppose I haven’t done so well after all.” I explained how Jesus came and lived and died for sinners like her, and me. I told her that if she would repent of her sins and trust in Jesus she could experience forgiveness and peace with God.

She said that sounded good, but that she really needed to think about it. I did not press her. I told her to take some literature (inc. an EE tract) and a bible I gave her and to go home and read thru it again and give serious thought to what I had explained to her.

She said she would. She left.

What I later found out was that she walked out toward to exit door and saw the sanctuary. She went in to the empty sanctuary and sat down and read thru the tract again and some verses I had pointed out to her. She would later tell me that right there in the empty sanctuary she cried out to God for salvation, repenting of her sin and expressed her trust in Jesus.

She then went home and shared it all with her husband and he too came to faith in Christ in their home.

God can and does bless the preaching of His word.

PS: Their marriage was saved and they later joined the church and became very active members.

Les

Dave Miller

Well-written, Ron. It’s the kind of article that advances discussion without fostering argument.

I use an invitation, but it is a “soft-sell.” I hate manipulative invitations (I’ve seen plenty of them) but I also think it goes too far to act like anyone who offers people a chance to respond to a sermon is somehow not trusting God to work.

Here’s my biggest problem with the invitation as we practice it. It seems to focus too much attention on whether someone or anyone will respond and go forward. When the Word is preached we should ALL respond. Going forward is just a side-effect of the response.

Again, great article.

    Ron Hale

    Thanks Dave … with all the activity over at your place today :) … I’m delighted that you took the time to read my article and reply. Blessings!

    Bob Hadley

    Dave,

    You are exactly right in your comment. Walking the isle is certainly secondary to the response. I do believe it is a beneficial aspect; stepping out and coming forward is a public announcement of a decision made in one’s heart. Were it not for a gospel invitation, I might never have surrendered to preach. It was not what I wanted to do with my life, that is for sure. Would I have surrendered? I am sure I might have. When I went to my home church as a freshman in high school after attending a funeral for a lady that kept us a kids, and of all things… they were showing a Nicky Cruz film… NO PREACHING…

    I do not remember much about the film.. all I knew was the Lord put His hand on me as a 19 year old and all I wanted to do was get out of that place. I think he sang 10 verses of just as I am… may have only been one but seemed like I stood there for an eternity BEFORE I stepped out and it was as if the weight of the world broke from my shoulders…

    ><>”

Joshua Bennett

I am a Calvinist who rejects the notion of decisionism. I state this so everyone knows where I’m coming from.

I appreciated the article but have three problems with it:

1) I take issue with equating Finney’s anxious bench to the individual counseling of Whitefield and Edwards. Those things are very different.

2) I don’t buy the argument that it is only the Calvinists who reject decisionism. Historical Arminians (which Finney was by no means!) reject the notion of decisionism and have always made it clear that a person’s salvation is worked out with fear and trembling, just like Paul says. So drawing the line between Arminians and Calvinists is only consequentially accurate at best – I do not think it represents Arminianism.

3) Most shocking is that Finney’s views were not articulated. Was Charles Finney born again? While I would be happy to be wrong, I am inclined to say no. I know it’s impossible to come to a conclusion regarding the matter, but the gospel he loved was not the gospel of Scripture – and this is a point that Calvinists and Arminians should be able to agree on. http://www.mtio.com/articles/aissar81.htm

I was saved out of decisionism. Are people truly converted this way? Yes, they are – but it is in spite of it, not because of it.

    Ron Hale

    Joshua,
    Thanks for commenting and stating “where” your coming from. Just so you will know, I’m not a Calvinist nor an Arminian.

    I would encourage you to go back and re-read the article …

    * Where did you see me talking about “Finney’s” anxious bench?
    * You said, “I don’t buy the argument that it is only Calvinists who reject decisionism.” – Good, I wasn’t selling that argument.
    * You said, “Most shocking is that Finney’s views were not articulated.” That is because this article is not about Finney.
    * You ask, “Was Charles Finney born again? I will let you and God determine the answer.

    Last … You said, “I was saved out of decisionism.” What does this really mean?

    Thanks.

Joshua Bennett

I will address each point as you have listed them:

1) I never said you talked about Finney’s anxious bench, although in the fifth paragraph you mentioned “the mourner’s bench” (I can assure you these two are the same). Many people (proponents and antagonists) of “decisionism” – in all its varied forms, link it to Finney, for better or worse. And part of Finney’s legacy was the anxious bench. Your use (or lack of use) of information regarding Finney’s bench is fine; the article is yours to write. But since it was such a big part of Finney’s legacy, I thought it was at least worth mentioning. The reason I thought it was worth mentioning is because in the original piece (in the paragraph that ends with [7]) you state that Edwards and Whitefield both used delayed-response invitations in their preaching. You also state (in the paragraph containing [9]) that both groups who were “more Calvinistic” and “less Calvinistic” used methods such as these. However, you did not state the methods against which the latter ones were to be compared. Again, your prerogative. However, the after-counseling of Finney was very different from that of Edwards or Whitefield. That is why I mentioned the bench. You are equating two things that are very different.

I am not sure what you speak of when you suggest that Lloyd-Jones may have had a poor experience and thus shunned the whole system (the paragraph with the [10]). However, because you did not differentiate between the invitations used between Finney and those used by Whitefield/Edwards, one is likely to assume (in the following paragraph) that MacArthur uses them too. As a former long-term attendee of John MacArthur’s church, I can definitely say that the “invitation” is that you must repent and believe the gospel. A room is made available if anyone needs to talk, but that room is not used so people can parrot prayers, and MacArthur never (in my presence) asked anyone to walk down the aisle. There is a little ambiguity regarding the theological relationship between Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur – at least in my understanding of what you are saying – so I don’t want to put words in your mouth. But it looks like you are equivocating very, very different practices. That is why I mentioned it.

2) Regarding the second of your objections, in the fifth paragraph you do state that the complaints tend to come from those who are of a Calvinistic persuasion. You do not mention any non-Calvinists who reject decisionism, and as I stated earlier, you did blur the lines a bit between the “decisionism” of the two camps. Sorry if I misunderstood you there.

3) This article is about Finney to a degree, just like it is about Edwards, Whitefield, MacArthur, and Lloyd-Jones. It is not primarily about them but it is about the role they played in the development of historical theology. I read somewhere (I freely admit I forgot where…it could have been the internet!) that Finney led over 500,000 people to Christ by means of his methods. I don’t know if the number is exaggerated or not. I do know that many, many people staked their destinies upon events that were directly influenced by him. So to say that you didn’t discuss his views because the article is not about Finney is probably incorrect. Also, you are inconsistent, because you did articulate the views of Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur, Edwards, and Whitefield. So why not Finney?

4) Your final point leaves the realm of cordial discussion and becomes a bit disrespectful. Hopefully you are being sarcastic in your implication that I will be making decisions of that calibre. I will draw attention to the fact that you did not answer my original concern – namely, that Finney articulated theology that was unorthodox. Finney mocked the idea of a substitutionary atonement. Any person who makes this same mockery on his deathbed is not going to wake up in glory. I don’t know Finney’s spiritual status – I feel like I made that clear, but I will say it again just in case. Finney’s own Systematic Theology makes it very clear that salvation is not something given to people, it is earned. Do you believe that people who think they are earning their salvation actually attain it? Or do you refuse to take a stand on this issue, leaving it for “me and God” to decide?

5) A quick testimony. The first 9 years of my life were unchurched. At age 9, we began going to church and I heard the gospel. I was told to repeat a prayer so I could go to heaven. I did. From ages 9 – 17, I repeated the same prayer many times over, often at the beckoning of someone else. I also went forward to a bench more than once. I was truly converted at age 17 when someone actually opened a Bible and told me that my sins had offended God, and because I broke his Law, there would be punishment for me if I did not repent and believe the gospel. By God’s grace, I believed and was saved. Had I have died between the ages of 9 – 17, I would have died and gone to hell. God saved me from decisionism.

Ron Hale

Joshua,

As I said in my paper, I’m not sure who first coined the phrase “decisionism” – but my assumption it was a term of derision used by the more reformed group toward those who used public invitations, especially during the Awakening periods, etc. Therefore, I am not defending “decisionism”. I am for … persuasive preaching and calling the lost to come to Christ.

I tried to show that both Calvinists and non-Calvinists have employed some kind of invitation or call to sinners.

I find it very strange that your would assign Finney to hell (you said that he was probably not born again) … and then on the other hand concerning my comment, you say: “Your final point leaves the realm of cordial discussion and becomes a bit disrespectful.” I would state again, but in a different way, if you know that he’s not born-again (therefore in Hell), then you must be assuming the knowledge of God on the matter.

On the whole, I sense that you are reading too much in to what I have written (or) not written according to some personal standard.

Last … I’m thankful that you came to know Him.

Jeff

I appreciate your comments Mr. Hale. However, I have seen first-hand the outright abuse of the invitation in the Baptist church I was once employed in. The senior pastor would routinely encourage folks to ‘come down’ just so others would see them and be encouraged and, thus, they would respond as well. With such an attitude, and I’m sure it’s prevalent in many SBC churches, is there any wonder that some (Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike) might consider invitations to be, at least to a degree, very ‘man-centered’? When pastors, like this guy, walk back and forth and extend and extend the invitation and cry and carry on, can we really take someone like that seriously? I guess we can’t judge the heart but I worked with the man and I KNOW he didn’t care about anything other than the perceived result. You can listen to his sermons and not find one shred of the gospel ever preached – it was always stories about momma and her biscuits and growing up near Jackson, TN and how the problem with this country is how we’ve left God out of everything (whatever that means.) It was honestly embarrassing. He was educated in an SBC college and seminary (M Div and D Min) and I really do not believe he can correctly articulate the gospel. However, he can certainly tell someone that the most important ‘decision’ they will ever make is to accept Jesus.

    Ron Hale

    Jeff,
    Sounds like you need to go have a man-to-man or Brother to Brother talk with your former Pastor. Hopefully … your experience there has helped you have a more Christ-centered approach to sharing the Gospel with the lost. Blessings!

Joshua Bennett

I just think it’s strange that you are so quick to give him a free pass even though the fact that he was a heretic cannot be denied. Based on the Bible, I also would wager that many other unrepentant sinners are in hell. Am I pretending to have some special knowledge? No – this is simply what the Bible says.

There is a special sort of pride that masks itself for humility. Liberals and postmoderns love to employ it. It says “well, those are things we can’t know.” Many times it is used to excuse obedience to various parts of Scripture. It uses the mask of humility when it says “well, we really don’t know about XYZ” but it employs pride because “if I don’t know about XYZ, I don’t have to obey it.” While we are not talking about a matter of obedience per se, I think you are being prideful by pretending that I am pretending to have some sort of special knowledge. I am not. The Bible says that we can know that we – and others – are saved by the fruit and character of lives and our obedience to Scripture. I do realize there are some “iffy” situations where it may not be so easy to tell, especially in regard to people that have died. However, for you to say I am “assuming the knowledge of God on the matter” – you are ignoring literally over a dozen passages of Scripture that teach the contrary. I know Nero and Hitler are in hell, but it’s not because I get special enlightened treatment, it’s because it’s a clear deduction from Scripture. Finney is not anywhere near the same character as those two, but Finney clearly, publicly, repeatedly rejected the gospel. I have read it myself; this is indisputable.

As for the disrespect, you said you would let God and me determine the answer. I shudder that you would speak of God so flippantly.

    Ron Hale

    Joshua,

    If you want to write a paper about Finney — then please do; he wasn’t the central point of my article (not even close).

    Bob Hadley

    “As for the disrespect, you said you would let God and me determine the answer. I shudder that you would speak of God so flippantly.”

    Somehow I think you misunderstood the “flippantly” part which makes me curious on some other things you so “adamantly” declare to be true. I am sure in 20 or 30 years you will understand some things a little better. I learned a valuable truth the hard way; It is difficult to have all the right answers when you don’t even know all the right questions.

    ><>”

Joshua Bennett

Jeff, you are stealing my thunder. I have heard others with the same educational credentials fail to even articulate the gospel. This issue was being discussed on another thread and someone (I think a pastor!) was telling me why preaching the gospel and giving altar calls was more effective than just preaching the gospel! The very bottom line is that American Christians do not believe the Bible and they doubt the power of God.

Carl Dean White

Ron I love this quote and the replies have shown this to be true:

“My more Calvinistic brothers have things that we non- or less-Calvinistic brothers need to hear and learn and vice versa. How we share with one another is very important. But when it is done as a doctrinal dressing-down, it is not received sympathetically.”

I also enjoy Dr. Lawless’s quote. I see it as a humble attempt to bring unity and understanding from division and misunderstanding. Many of us regardless of theological tendencies judge the majority based on an experiential education of the minority.

“Do not assume that our approach to evangelism is faulty if we sometimes use a tract in a one-time encounter.” He also encourages us to use tracts that explain the gospel well and calls for the proper response to the gospel.
“Please allow us to talk about ‘persuading’ others to believe . . . without assuming that we somehow turn anthropocentric and trump God’s sovereignty when we work to convince. Clearly changing the heart is the work of God (John 16:8; Eph 2:4-5), but still we must often work through proper apologetics and passionate reasoning to teach others the truth of the gospel.”
“Understand that many of us who still use a public invitation following the preaching of the Word are striving to do so with utmost integrity.” Here we are reminded to help people understand that it is Jesus who saves and not the physical public response of walking down front with tears in their eyes. The one who extends the invitation has the awesome responsibility to clearly communicate the Gospel and give an opportunity for the lost to express publicly their faith in Jesus.
“Please do not be gravely concerned if we still use the word decision and lead a repentant sinner to pray a prayer.” Here we are encouraged to properly present the gospel and have a right understanding of the response that the gospel demands.[11]

    Ron Hale

    Carl,

    Thanks for your comments and kind words!

    Also, thanks for taking note of the work of Dr. Chuck Lawless. He shares much wisdom in his chapter: Southern Baptist Non-Calvinists – Who Are We Really?

    I pray that God will bless you and yours and your Church family in 2012!

Jeff

Yes Ron – I have had several ‘heart-to-hearts’ with the man. His response – “I’m just not used to being in a church where folks don’t respect the pastor.” He just didn’t understand that you can respect the office without respecting the man in the office. He seemed to believe that he alone possessed the oracles of God – it was his way or else. Not very Baptist from my understanding of our history.

I know your article was focused on the altar call and I can appreciate your comments concerning it. In my opinion, there’s nothing particularly right or wrong with an invitation/altar call. The problem that needs to be addressed is the abuse of it but the rank-and-file congregant is under the impression that the ‘preacher’ is never wrong because he’s hearing directly from God – something that apparently they assume they cannot do.
Again, not very Baptist.

Ron Hale

I asked this question at the end of my article:

?”Who has been your model or mentor in extending a public invitation for the lost to hear, understand, and respond to the moving of God’s Spirit?”

I haven’t heard from anyone on this, so I’ll go first. Over the years, I’ve been influenced by several men in how they extended a public invitation:

1. Wayne Bristow – he taught a class (the Gospel Invitation) at Midwestern Baptist Seminary in Kansas City many years ago that helped me tremendously.

2. Adrian Rogers – I got to hear him preach at Bellevue (old building) and (new building) and he was so clear, so calm, yet so powerful as he tenderly called people to come to Jesus.

3. Leonard Sanderson (he is with the Lord now) … he taught evangelism at Mid-Western in Kansas City for a couple of years and I was blessed to have him for several classes and he preached a revival in the church that I pastored. He had served at the Home Mission Board (SBC), and state evangelism director for LA state convention.

4. Don Whitt — our staff evangelist — God is using him in about 40 -45 meetings a year and God is using this annointed preacher of the Gospel.

volfan007

Ron,

Great article.

Also, while I have seen some preachers try to use manipulation to get people to walk an aisle, I have also seen many preachers give sincere, earnest invitations. I know of many people, who were truly saved during an altar call invitation. My daughter is one of them. She was truly, genuinely saved during an altar call.

BTW, some of the people who influenced me about invitations were Tom Pirtle, who was the Pastor of the Central Baptist Church of Martin, TN at the time; Dr. Gray Allison, who was the President of the Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary at the time; Dr. Jerry Glisson, who was the Pastor of the Leawood Baptist Church in Memphis at the time; Dr. Adrian Rogers; and some others have helped me understand giving invitations.

David

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