At the convention’s annual meeting, Southern Baptists reaffirmed the magic words.
America’s largest evangelical denomination wound up endorsing the revivalist tradition of the “Sinner’s Prayer”:
Jimmy Scroggins, chairman of the SBC Committee on Resolutions, told the convention that the committee brought the resolution to the floor because of recent challenges to the emphasis on the Sinner’s Prayer — usually a prayer of repentance to “invite Jesus into your heart” that has become a hallmark of evangelical conversionism.
This is the prayer that’s printed in many evangelistic tracts, or at the “How can I be saved?” link on many evangelical websites. Debate over the prayer, Christianity Today’s Ted Olsen writes:
… was sparked by a talk from one of the SBC’s Calvinist stars, David Platt. Speaking at the Verge church leaders’ conference March 1, the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, said the emphasis on the Sinner’s Prayer is unbiblical and damning.
“I’m convinced that many people in our churches are simply missing the life of Christ, and a lot of it has to do with what we’ve sold them as the gospel, i.e. pray this prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, invite Christ into your life,” Platt said. “Should it not concern us that there is no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament? Should it not concern us that the Bible never uses the phrase, ‘accept Jesus into your heart’ or ‘invite Christ into your life’? It’s not the gospel we see being preached, it’s modern evangelism built on sinking sand. And it runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls.”
I share many of Platt’s concerns about this “superstitious prayer,” albeit from a different starting point. Platt seems to worry that the central prominence of the “Sinner’s Prayer” conflicts with his Calvinist doctrines of election and grace. I’m more concerned with what Scot McKnight calls the “soterian” logic behind the prayer. Here’s McKnight in his book The King Jesus Gospel describing what he means by that term:
Evangelicalism is known for at least two words: gospel and (personal) salvation. Behind the word gospel is the Greek word euangelion and evangel, from which words we get evangelicalism and evangelism. Now to our second word. Behind salvation is the Greek word soteria. I want now to make a stinging accusation. In this book I will be contending firmly that we evangelicals (as a whole) are not really “evangelical” in the sense of the apostolic gospel, but instead we are soterians. Here’s why I say we are more soterian than evangelical: we evangelicals (mistakenly) equate the word gospel with the word salvation. Hence, we are really “salvationists.” When we evangelicals see the word gospel, our instinct is to think (personal) “salvation.”… We ought to be called soterians (the saved ones) instead of evangelicals. My plea is that we go back to the New Testament to discover all over again what the Jesus gospel is. …
So it’s good to see the SBC talking about this and re-examining the ritual of the magic words. And particularly encouraging was the part of the SBC’s resolution urging its members not to think of the magic words as magical words:
A ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ is not an incantation that results in salvation merely by its recitation and should never be manipulatively employed or utilized apart from a clear articulation of the gospel.
Unfortunately, that just kicks the can down the road a bit, since the “clear articulation of the gospel” implied there is still “pray the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ and you can be saved.”