So here I am with this poor man who lost his son and is now trying to share his story but has jumbled it all together into some kind of evangelism tool. It's an odd blend of American patriotism mixed with gospel...Bible verses and all the rest with flags and what not.
How odd I thought? For the past 18 months I've written a couple of thousand pages of material directed largely at...people just like him. And here I am minding my own business and suddenly he's sitting next to me handing me a mish-mash of theological heresy and nationalist propaganda. The muscles around my eyes grew tight.
The gospel tract (and many of you know these well) present the gospel in a very reductionistic fashion. I spent some time explaining this to my kids a bit later. Of course toward the end of our conversation they came out of the store with my wife...they go in to look at the craft stuff...and everyone was standing there wondering who is this man talking to dad?
Usually after taking the reader through the Romans Road, the tract urges you to make a decision and accept Christ as your saviour. Usually they provide a little prayer for you and sometimes even ask you to write your name down and the date...so that you can look to it and remember you were 'saved' on that day. Doctrinally this can be labeled as Decisional Regeneration. Just say the little prayer and at that instant you're a Christian. These churches all teach Eternal Security as well...as opposed to the more Biblical idea of Perseverance of the Saints. The formula is nothing less than destructive. Many people are convinced in 10 minutes that they've become a Christian and then with Eternal Security they can return to their life of sin and still have assurance. The corollary to this Easy-Believism is the very destructive doctrine of the Carnal Christian. I don't mean to get into all of this right now. I guess for me I looked at these issues in my early days as a Christian and they seem so patent and clear to me I don't really revisit them all that often. I might write a piece touching on them at some point. For many years prior to my conversion I was deceived by this system. I was a muddled, confused, and still quite unrepentant and wicked person, but I thought because of this system and its tactics, that I was a Christian. I was the product of Dispensational Baptist theology and American Christian schools.
Basically this set of doctrines and methods of conversion go back to the days of Charles Finney. His anxious bench later became the altar call. DL Moody, Billy Sunday, and of course Billy Graham are all adherents of this system, and today this same theological impulse has manifested itself in the Willow Creek/Rick Warren Seeker movement.
I'm afraid the end result often echoes Christ's words to the Pharisees:
Matthew 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
People are 'converted' without understanding what they've done. Occasionally people are genuinely regenerated and persevere, but the numbers are quite low. Billy Graham admits this but believes the 90-something percent of false converts are worth the tiny portion who end up believing. Of course the multitudes of false converts now are harder than ever to reach, as I was and subsequent to my conversion, I've encountered this grave error more than once with regard to others. They either shut down over time and walk away from it all, or are convinced they're Christians while they live a life of unrepentant sin. Many of these folks believe Repentance is not an essential component of the Gospel. You can and should REPENT, but all that really matters is that you ACCEPT Jesus as Saviour. Later you can embrace Him as Lord.
John MacArthur is a Dispensationalist so I can't recommend him without qualification but he wrote some excellent books on this topic back in the late 1980’s and early 1990's. The Lordship Controversy he battled ties in with this greater range of issues. (* see note)
Iain Murray's tract 'The Invitation System' is also quite helpful. It's put out by Banner of Truth. Murray’s assessment is accurate, although I think the whole system is much worse and more harmful than he’s willing to say.
This theology is destructive, it really cheapens the gospel. And though many Reformed folks rightly condemn this system, many also embraced D James Kennedy's Evangelism Explosion which is almost as bad. Whenever I've looked at its materials, I am immediately repulsed by its marketing used-car salesman tactics.
Gimmicks to get people saved.
Paul was converted in an instant on the road to Damascus, but that passage is not a normative model for Christian conversion. Some are converted in a moment, for others it's a bit of process and it's not always easy to pinpoint the actual date and time. In fact it's really not necessary. What matters is...what are you doing today? I would ask the same thing of you tomorrow.
It doesn't really matter if you repented and accepted Christ on 3 June 1983, let alone signed some salvation form. What are you doing today? Because if you're not repenting and believing...the demand of the gospel, the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in your life...then it doesn't matter what you did all those years ago.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones talked about this a lot as well. He told the story of a man who had been attending his church during some special meetings and running into him a day or so later he told Lloyd-Jones....oh, you could have had me if you'd conducted an invitation the other night.
I'm paraphrasing from memory. Jones said, it doesn't really matter what your state was the other night. If you're not willing to repent and believe on Christ right now than it wouldn't matter. Like I said that was a paraphrase...I'm not going to dig through the book to find it at this moment but the exchange always stuck with me. Lloyd-Jones is saying...so what? If you 'came forward' so to speak one night but you're not moved in the same way the next day...then it's not about Gospel repentance and belief...it's just emotionalism.
Which is all the altar call is...as well this system's whole method of 'soul-winning'.
To be continued…..
*Ironically Zane Hodges one of the chief proponents of non-Lordship salvation (whom MacArthur opposed) was also one of the greatest defenders of the New Testament Byzantine Text versus the Alexandrian Text advocated by modern Biblical scholars. The Alexandrian Text is the basis of the New American Standard (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV) which MacArthur uses for the study Bible published under his name. I think Hodges is right on the text issue, wrong on the Gospel. MacArthur is right on the basics of the gospel, wrong on the text….and they’re both greatly in error when it comes to Dispensational Theology.