The danger of the Sinner’s Prayer revealed

An Example of the Sinner’s Prayer:

Dear God, I know I’m a sinner.  I know my sin deserves to be punished.  I believe Christ died for me and rose from you grave.  I trust Jesus alone as my Savior.  Thank you for the forgiveness and everlasting life I now have.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

I can remember early in ministry looking for the Sinner’s prayer in Scripture, and when I couldn’t find it, I was shocked.  I can also remember being terrified early in my ministry that I would get the sinner’s prayer wrong whenever I attempted to point sinners to Christ with it; for, if I got it wrong, regardless if they prayed it or not, they would still be lost!  This mentality is wicked, for it adds to the gospel of Christ.  By believing that sinners cannot be saved without the Sinner’s Prayer (see above), we communicate that the Sinner’s Prayer is essential for salvation, even though the Bible knows no such reality.  In his dissertation on the subject, Paul Harrison Chitwood warns us of the Sinner’s Prayer:

This ethical consideration for evangelism applies to usage of the Sinner’s Prayer in much the same manner as the first.  When a prayer is the supreme goal of a witnessing encounter and based upon that prayer we determine our success or failure in leading lost souls to conversion, we run the risk of allowing that prayer to become a stumbling block.  On the one hand, we may as [Jim] Elliff charges, bring people to “believe in the efficacy of a prayer and not the efficacy of Christ’s work.”  When we do so, the prayer becomes a stumbling block to that person’s salvation, the chief stumbling block indeed.  On the other hand, we may communicate to people who have not prayed the prayer that they are lost and without praying the prayer they cannot be saved.  I refer back to the incident recounted by George Martin in which a pastor had a young boy repeat the prayer again to be certain he had done it correctly so the church family could, in good conscience, acknowledge the boy’s salvation.  We also recall Leonard’s comments, “At the slightest doubt, simply pray the prayer again and settle it.  Lots of people repudiated earlier events—childhood professions dimmed by age, aisle walking without understanding, praying the prayer without meaning it, or praying the wrong prayer.”  It may very well be that we have indeed “enthroned” the Sinner’s Prayer to the point that it has become a stumbling block instead of a stepping-stone as a method in evangelism (pg. 122-123).

When pastors, evangelists, church leaders, etc. make the Sinner’s Prayer necessary for salvation, they add to the gospel; and thus, make it twice as hard for someone to truly trust in Christ (It is no different than making baptism necessary for salvation).  In other words, in trying to simplify the gospel, we’ve actually added to it, possibly eliminating the gospel in the process; for, if your hearer(s) trust in the prayer instead of in Christ, they are doomed for hell while possessing [false] assurance of their salvation.

Return to the Bible friends!  Do not add to the gospel.

The basic problems with paedo-Baptist theology

I agree that the household texts (all of them, in fact, with the exception of Lydia’s household in Acts 16) affirm the baptism of believers/disciples, and that none of them affirm or assert any form of infant-baptism.

The major problems I see with paedo-baptism include:

1. Implementing a hermeneutic that is not generally reformed.
2. A violation of the regulative principle of worship (because infant baptism is not contained, taught, or instituted in Scripture and can only be gained by way of inference, and yet ch. 21 of WCF and 22 of LBCF requires that such practices of worship in the church be directly and positively instituted by Christ himself – only believers’, not infant baptism, is positively instituted by Christ – in Matt. 28).
3. An insistence that the New Covenant is like the Old Covenant, when the only explicit texts (Jer. 31 and Heb. 8) that we have directly comparing the two say the exact opposite (“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant…it will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers”; ” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete,” etc.).

A failure to realize…

4….that OT circumcision looks forward to NT heart-circumcision (regeneration; see Lev. 26:41–42; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Ezek. 44:7; Rom. 2:28–29; Phil. 3:3), and not baptism. This is especially clear in Col. 2:11-14 (see here).
5….the continuity and correspondence between the features of a covenant (e.g. sign, seal, mediator, participants, etc.) and the nature of the covenant itself (e.g. the covenant of grace is unchanging, and yet the signs/seals of covenant of grace change from circumcision to baptism in paedo-baptist theology)

6…the continuity between the covenant of circumcision (Ge. 17, Acts 7:8, etc.) with the Mosaic covenant (see Ex. 2:24, 25; Deut. 29:10-13; Neh. 9:7-9; Psalm 78 with Psalm 105), both (covenant of circumcision and Mosaic covenant) of which are part and parcel of the “Old Covenant” that the New Testament continually speaks and separates from the essence of the New Covenant (see Acts 7:8, John 7, Rom. 2, Gal. 5, Phil. 3:3, Heb. 7-9, etc.).

7…that “I will be your God, and you will be my people” is not an exclusive part of the covenant of grace revealed to Abraham, but is in fact part and parcel of the Old covenant (e.g. Mosaic) in some sense as well (see Lev. 26:11-13, Ex. 6:6–8, Jer. 7, Ezek. 36, etc.).

Thus, in short, I think paedo-baptism simply is not and cannot be supported in any way from the consistent exegesis of (any and all) Scripture, whether by being “expressly set down in Scripture,” or by “necessary consequence” (WCF 1.6), or being “necessarily contained” (LBCF 1.6) in Scripture.

Of course, there are plenty of historical issues as well, such as how we have no record of infant baptism until decades (if not a century) after the closing of the canon, how paedo-baptists not Catholic (baptism removes original sin) and not Lutheran (regenerative baptism) like Calvin, Turretin, etc. were forced to justify the practice by the theological innovation of giving the covenant of grace signs (e.g. circumcision, baptism) – signs that have obviously never been inherent to the covenant of grace since no such sign existed from Adam to Abraham, etc.

Calvinism vs. Hyper-Calvinism

BurningHeretics-300x261“Remember… while some Arminians are Armenians and some Armenians are Arminians, Armenians and Arminians are
two very different groups. Second, while it’s true that some Calvinists can be a bit hyper, that doesn’t make them Hyper-Calvinists.” – Justin Taylor

It is indeed unfortunate that a man’s name (John Calvin) has come to be associated with the doctrines of grace. It is actually something that I am sure Calvin would have opposed himself. Calvin was a humble man of God who spoke very rarely about himself. Even his greatest critics will acknowledge that it is indeed hard to find personal references in his sermons. He actually made his wish known that he would be buried in an unmarked grave so that no undue adulation or veneration would occur at his gravesite after death. This wish was carried out (by the way). In visiting Geneva, Switzerland, I was never able to visit Calvin’s grave for the simple reason that, even to this day, no one knows where it is.

Calvin was by no means the first person to articulate the doctrines of election and predestination. For example, there was nothing in Calvin that was not first in Luther. Yet it was Calvin who was the chief systematizer of these doctrines through his widely influential book “The Institutes of the Christian Religion.”

I think what is even more unfortunate is the fact that some errant doctrines, having no basis in Scripture, have come to be called “Hyper Calvinism.” It would better to describe these doctrines as “sub” rather than ” hyper” Calvinism, as they are so far below the dignity and, dare I say it, “the balance” of the doctrines espoused by Calvin. Hyper Calvinism denies the need for evangelism. More than that, it opposes evangelism. In contrast, Calvin’s doctrines of predestination and election did not make evangelism a rarity, but Geneva, under Calvin, was something of a missions center, as men were sent out to many nations with the Gospel – many of them, knowing full well that certain death awaited them. A great missions movement began under the ministry of John Calvin.

Pastor Phil Johnson writes, “some critics unthinkingly slap the label “hyper” on any variety of Calvinism that is higher than the view they hold to. Arminians like to equate all five-point Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism (as Calvary-Chapel author George Bryson does in his horrible little book, The Five Points of Calvinism: “Weighed and Found Wanting” [Costa Mesa: Word for Today, 1996]). That approach lacks integrity and only serves to confuse people.”

Pastor Johnson goes on to define hyper Calvinism in the following way:

“A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:

1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
3. Denies that the gospel makes any “offer” of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
4. Denies that there is such a thing as “common grace,” OR
5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.

Hyper-Calvinism, simply stated, is a doctrine that emphasizes divine sovereignty to the exclusion of human responsibility. To call it “hyper-Calvinism” is something of a misnomer. It is actually a rejection of historic Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism entails a denial of what is taught in both Scripture and the major Calvinistic creeds, substituting instead an imbalanced and unbiblical notion of divine sovereignty.”

I completely agree and very much recommend the rest of Phil Johnson’s insightful article on this here.

Don’t equate historically early with theologically accurate

Beware of imputing advantage to antiquity. Seventy years after the death of Jesus the churches had neither the collected New Testament nor a living apostle. It was a precarious and embattled time.

Neither the experiences nor the teachers of the first 300 years of the church are as reliable as the finished New Testament. The church did not rescue the New Testament from neglect and abuse. The New Testament rescued the early church from instability and error.

We are in a better position today to know Jesus Christ than anyone who lived from AD 100 to 300. They had only parts of the New Testament rather than the collected whole. That’s how valuable the fullness of revelation is in the finished Bible. Beware of idealizing the early church. She did not have your advantages!

Advice for theological students and young pastors by Kevin DeYoung

pulpit

Kevin DeYoung details 45 things that he wishes he knew whenever he first started in ministry.  It’s important to read the counsel of wise men that have come before or have more experience than us, for “those that do not know the past are doomed to repeat it.”  In other words, let us learn from DeYoung’s mistakes instead of making them ourselves!

Excerpt from part 1:

1. Take advantage of opportunities to be taught by others. Get the most out of books, lectures, and special speakers in seminary, because soon you’ll be doing all the putting out with few people to put it in to you.

2. Beware of closing your heart to people.

3. Be a pastor for the whole church, not just part of it (don’t be just one group’s champion).

4. Establish your priorities at the church early and clearly. I suggest: preach, pray, and people.

5. Work hard to foster deep spiritual fellowship with your closest leaders (e.g., staff, elders, deacons).

The other 15 points of part 1 can be found here.

Excerpt from part 2:

21. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Get in touch with seminary profs.  Try to get a top notch speaker in once in awhile.  Make contact with churches your respect. Build a network and learn from others.

22. Keep reading.  Please keep reading.  Boldly ask for a book allowance. The rule is not absolute, but I question a man’s call to ministry if he does not like to read.

23. Man is not justified by preaching.  Some sermons are a home run. Other times you’re lucky to bunt your way on.

24. Don’t preach your issues from seminary. I can almost guarantee no one in your church doubts the Pauline authorship of Ephesians. It says “Paul” in their Bibles so they’re good to go.

25. Sometime in your first two years, preach about prayer, evangelism, giving, and the authority of Scripture.

The other 20 points of part 2 can be found here.

Calvinism is the only basis for evangelizing the lost

God’s sovereign election is the only basis by which any believer has confidence to evangelize the lost. We do not know who the elect are in this lifetime, but what we do know with certainty is that there are elect out there.

Has God ever revealed to us why we should evangelize the lost? Indeed he has. In Acts 18, Paul was opposed vehemently in his gospel mission. He was about to leave Corinth out of fear and discouragement, but God, in a vision at night, revealed to Paul a confident truth:

“And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.’ And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9–11).

Notice that God did not say, “Paul, there is a possibility that some people might get saved if only they use their free will to cooperate with my grace.” Nor does God say, “According to my crystal ball, I foresee that there will be people who will be in the right place at the right time and the right disposition who will get saved.” Nor does God say, “There are a lot of people in this city, play the numbers game and you are bound to get some saved.” Instead, this is about God’s purposes, and his people. And this is precisely what gave Paul the confidence to stay in that city for a year and a half.

Why is it that most people do not play the lottery? (Forgive my carnal analogy for a moment). It’s because they have no guarantee that they will win. Suppose people had the guarantee that if they played the lottery every day for a year, they would eventually win the lottery on a given day. Everyone would play the lottery!

It is roughly the same phenomenon with Evangelism. Calvinists have the confidence that God’s elect are out there, and they know that if they consistently proclaim the gospel, God’s people, the elect, will hear his voice and become saved.

Arminians do not have this foundation or confidence since, in their theology, it is possible that at this point of time until the Lord comes back, there will not be another soul saved, since for them salvation is not decreed, but ultimately dependent on the enslaved human will.

Believer: Where do you want to find your confidence in evangelism? God’s sovereign grace, or the enslaved will of Man?

All of you and none of me! Praise God that you have ordained it to be!

A classic illustration of God’s sovereign electing freedom

prison bars

Often it takes an illustration to help non-Calvinists break out of their categorical and cultural assumptions about the precious truth of predestination. The following illustration has floated around in Calvinist circles for many years, and has been very effective:

You have 100 criminals on death row. They are all equally guilty and deserving of death. Every single one of them hates the governor of the state. So much so, that all of them conspired together and successfully killed his only son. One of these death row criminals is you. The governor has the freedom and right to pardon and give clemency to any of them. It could be one person, ten, all of them, or just none of them. If he chose to pardon none of them, would he be perfectly just to do so? Yes. And he is not obligated to choose between a dilemma of bestowing mercy either on all 100 of them, or none of them – he could choose any number in between, if he wills. He can do whatever he wishes because of his right as governor. But let us say he chooses to have mercy on 10 of the 100 justly deserved death row criminals. The ten are just as guilty and deserving of death as the other 90. And one of those ten to be graciously pardoned is you. You are free! You are pardoned! You have been granted mercy! Now as you are stepping out of that prison into freedom, are you going to look back and point your finger at the governor and utter, “How dare you pardon me, and not everyone else.” You would be an ungrateful halfwit.

My top 5 books on Calvinism

The writing of books on Calvinism and Arminianism appears to be endless! So where shall we begin? Here are my recommendations.

(1) Perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of issues related to Calvinism, together with a fair and objective response to Arminianism, is the two-volume set titled, The Grace of God and the Bondage of the Will. These books were edited by Thomas Schreiner and Bruce Ware and published by Baker Books. An abbreviated, one-volume version is also available, titled, Still Sovereign, also published by Baker. The two volume set has contributions from Schreiner, Ware, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and a host of other Reformed theologians. Highly recommended!

(2) Although it is not specifically designed to address the Calvinism and Arminian debate, Bruce Ware’s book, God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism, is excellent. This is the best response to what is known as Open Theism. Ware provides an excellent biblical treatment of the foreknowledge and sovereignty of God and how they relate to the life of prayer in particular. It is published by Crossway Books.

(3) There is nothing quite like the old standard, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J. I. Packer (InterVarsity Press). It’s been around seemingly forever (as has Packer!), but is still a very helpful explanation of how one can be a Calvinist and maintain a passion for lost souls.

(4) A more scholarly treatment of the relationship between God’s exhaustive sovereignty and the moral accountability of humans is D. A. Carson’s, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, originally published by John Knox Press and later republished by Baker. This is actually a slightly revised version of Carson’s Cambridge Ph.D. dissertation. It’s challenging but extremely rewarding.

(5) Finally, we need to include in this list of heavy hitters a more practical and pastoral approach to divine sovereignty. There is none better or more helpful than Jerry Bridges’ book, Trusting God (NavPress). Jerry wrote this during the time his wife was dying of cancer. It is the most insightful and practical guide for understanding how God relates to the sufferings and trials of life. The sovereignty of God will never again be merely an abstract doctrine to you after reading this book.

Human responsibility does not imply human ability

Human responsibility is dependent on an objective entity (God’s law), not a subjective entity (human moral ability). Human responsibility relates to a moral standard. It does not imply a so-called free will.

If a teenage boy gets drunk and runs a red light, is he no longer responsible because of his condition? Yes, he is responsible because he has broken the law, even if he did not have the ability to obey the law because of his condition.

The Bible teaches that humans are held accountable to God’s law, not based on their moral ability to obey that law. The assumption by the Arminian is if God commands something, then we must have the moral ability to fulfill his command (with some added coaxing by God’s grace). But their axiom is not taking the biblical human condition into consideration.

The Bible describes our human condition as slaves to our sinful will. Both Jesus and Paul use that terminology. Jesus did not come to affirm a free will; he came to set the will free. Both teach that the unregenerate person does not posses any moral free will: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44 ). “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:7–8). They both use the exact same language “no one can” and “it cannot” (ou dynatai). The Greek means “inability.” In this context “moral inability.” This is why Paul and Jesus use “slave” language. It is not that sometimes they can choose God, or occasionally they can please God. No, it is much more severe. Certainly, they have a will but only in the sense that they can choose according to their strongest desires, which in the unregenerate state is to only choose their fleshy desires.

God’s commands do not imply moral ability. This debate is not new! May we continue to pray Augustine’s famous prayer: “Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.”

My top 10 Systematic Theologies

wall of books

The genre of “Systematic Theologies” does not have a long history, relatively speaking. While this fact deserves its own blog post, it was not until post-Reformation that Christians began to publish such works. The closest book we have in the Bible to a systematic theology is undoubtedly the book of Romans. However, I don’t think enough can be said about the value of such works. Every Christian should have at least one (if not many) systematic theologies on their book-shelf.

The following is a list of my most recommended systematic theologies. As you will see there is not much lack for originality in the titles! I am not necessarily saying that these are the “best” (though all qualify), but the most important and highly recommended for all students of theology today.

10. Institutes of Elenctic Theology (3-Volumes), Francis Turretin

A greatly neglected work from one of the systematizers of Reformed Theology. This served as the standard systematic theology among Reformed thinkers until it was replaced by Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology in the late 19th century. In many ways, including his writing style and precision, I don’t think it would be unfair to call him the St. Thomas Aquinas of Protestantism theology.

9. Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof

One of the most succinct and to the point Systematic theologies available. Berkhof, who taught at Calvin Theological Seminary from 1906-1944, was a leading thinker of Reformed theology during much of the 20th century. If you are looking for original thought, Berkhof does not qualify. But if you are looking for someone who was an excellent organizer and teacher of Christian theology, he is the man.

8. Systematic Theology (4-Volumes), Lewis Sperry Chafer

Though dated like many of these recommendations, Chafer’s theology stands apart for two reasons. 1) It is immanently readable and pastoral in tone. You do not feel as if you are reading irrelevant theology with these volumes. They serve more like a theological devotional filled with a depth of understanding of the grace of God. 2) In my opinion, it is still the go-to Systematic Theology for reformed-dispensationalism. Yes, it will present a more classical dispensational understanding, yet it captures the essence of the way dispensationalists read Scriptures more than any other work.

7. A Theology Of Lordship (4-Volumes) by John Frame

Frame is one of the leading figures in Reformed theology today. His Theology of Lordship series come in four volumes: 1) The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 2) The Doctrine of God, 3) The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 4) The Doctrine of the Word of God. Unlike Berkolf, Frame is very unique in his approach to theological thought, providing it with a interesting, if not persuasive, paradigm of presuppositionalism and “A Theology of Lordship” (which is sometimes hard to follow). Some of the best stuff on the problem of evil and the attributes of God I have ever read. Interestingly, in the last volume on Christian living Frame spends nearly six-hundred pages on the ten commandments alone!

6. Systematic Theology (3-Volumes), Thomas C. Oden

This is not merely a token Arminian contribution, but truly a valuable contribution to the Systematic Theology genre. While I am not crazy about the structure, Oden makes number six due to his clear and consistent explanation of the Christian faith and his draw on the church fathers and all of Church history.

5. Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge’s systematic theology has been the standard theology in Reformed circles for much of the twentieth century. Again, dated in much of its polemics (esp. contra Roman Catholicism), he writes with great clarity. His systemization of Reformed thought and Evangelical doctrine serves as a sort of ambiance for most of the more modern theological thinkers and discussion. It is hard to overstate the influence of this work.

4. Integrative Theology, Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest

This volume (now available as a 3-in-one) serves as a great conservative Evangelical theology. It would be hard to place this strictly in a Reformed camp, even though there is that thought and influence present, therefore I would just call it Evangelical and moderately Reformed. I think I would be safe saying that this is the most neglected modern theology out there. I love the structure and the comprehensiveness of this work. It covers each subject by explaining historically, then biblically, then practically. With this comes extensive dialogue with other positions. The fair and objective treatment of alternatives is what keeps me coming back.

3. Christian Theology, by Millard Erickson

Mildly Calvinistic and thoroughly Evangelical, Millard Erickson, the Baptist Theologian, provides what some would consider the standard Evangelical Systematic Theology of the late 20th century. Erickson has much unique thought, yet is very stable in his Evangelical presentation. I particularly enjoy his balance of thought and his contribution in the area of the constitution of man.

2. Institutes of Christian Religion (2-Volumes), John Calvin

First, get the two volumes set, not the less-expensive one-volume. It may save you money to get the one-volume, but it will be at the expense of your eyes! Whether you are Calvinist or Arminian, one cannot overstate the value that this work has had on Christian thought. I know you are thinking that this is too out of date and ivory tower, but bite your tongue! Reading Calvin is incredible. His thought and his pastoral style are as convicting as they are profound which make this hard and easy to read!

1. Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem

This decision was fairly easy. Grudem has been my go-to and send-to systematic theologian for several years. Clarity. That is the best way to put it. He writes so clearly and makes theology interesting. Calvinistic in his thought, Grudem is very balanced and informed about other options. He gives his opinion with conviction and grace. Great work!

(Please note that I did just purchase John Frame’s new Systematic Theology. I have yet to finish it but am expecting that it may end up on this list.)