At the most recent SBC annual meeting there was a dustup about the wisdom of the Sinner’s Prayer in evangelism, and David Platt was the source of the concern because he had made some disparaging remarks about the effectiveness of the Sinner’s Prayer. I stand 100% with Platt on what he said. CT has published not only his own take on the event, and how he has been misrepresented, but also his long sermon in which his remarks were found.
The Sinner’s Prayer, which involves admission as a sinner, need for Christ, an expression of trusting in Christ, and a pledge to obedience, is the staple prayer for thousands and thousands of evangelists, preachers and parents. A few thoughts:
1. The heart of the response to the gospel in the New Testament is repentance, faith and baptism (involving confession); I discuss this briefly in The King Jesus Gospel. The Sinner’s Prayer can and sometimes does put into words both the repentance and the faith dimensions of the New Testament call to response. Even when it is done, it is inadequate: baptism and confession go beyond The Sinner’s Prayer.
2. The problem with The Sinner’s Prayer is that becomes quasi-magical for too many. How so? First, it is thought to be adequate and sufficient and efficient: if you’ve made this prayer, you’ve done enough; if you’ve made this prayer, you’ve done all you need to do; if you’ve made this prayer, salvation has occurred.
In other words, the problem is that The Sinner’s Prayer replaces King Jesus himself for too many. Instead of seeing redemption in Christ and knowing he alone is redemption, some transfer their belief to what they have done to trigger that redemption instead of focusing on King Jesus.
3. Another problem is that The Sinner’s Prayer is driven by a soterian system of thinking that is shaped by a one-time decision (a religious version of “get er dun!”). Platt wants more, even though what I’ve seen of his work makes me think his gospel is soterian. Platt wants more of those who are converting; he wants it to be genuine, life-changing, Jesus-following stuff. The Sinner’s Prayer does not lead a person to that but, like most soterian frameworks, leads people to assurance that they are saved. This is not enough: Jesus called people to become disciples, not to make decisions.
The Sinner’s Prayer can be used to articulate what repentance and faith can mean; too often it becomes a shallow, superficial, let’s-hope-this-person-continues kind of action that falls short of the gospel summons of the New Testament.