(Photo: The Christian Post)
It was a three-minute video clip that was shared across the evangelical community. In it, Pastor David Platt famously called the "sinner's prayer" "superstitious." A few months later, he still finds himself explaining the heart behind that message.
"I believe we simply need to be as biblical as possible (2 Timothy 2:15). Do I believe it is 'wrong' for someone to pray a 'prayer of salvation'? Certainly not," Platt maintained in a blog post this week.
The 33-year-old pastor, who leads The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., sparked debate earlier this year when he told attendees at the Verge Conference that there is "no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament," referring to the popular "sinner's prayer."
"I'm convinced many people in our churches are just 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,'" he said. "It's modern evangelism built on sinking sand and it runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls."
While some agreed with him, others couldn't avoid what they saw as the underpinnings of his remarks – Calvinism. Some thought Platt voiced opposition to the "sinner's prayer" because as a Calvinist, he didn't want the hopeless unelect to think they are saved through a simple prayer.
He pushed back in his recent blog post, stating that "nothing could be further from the truth."
"Any cautions I have expressed with a 'sinner's prayer' have absolutely nothing directly to do with the doctrine of election, and I definitively don't believe that certain people 'actually have no chance for life in Christ,'" the Southern Baptist pastor clarified. "Instead, my comments about the 'sinner's prayer' have been deeply motivated by a concern for authentic conversion and regenerate church membership – doctrines which many Calvinists and non-Calvinists, as well as a variety of Christians in between, would rightly value."
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, came to Platt's defense on Thursday. While noting that Platt could have chosen a better word other than "superstitious" in his talk, Akin said he shared his concern about poor gospel presentations and false professions.
But that doesn't mean he's against the "sinner's prayer."
"I want it to be known that I shepherded all of my sons in praying a 'sinner's prayer' as an expression of the work of God in their hearts as they repented of their sin and placed their trust in Christ alone for salvation," Akin stated. "I have also preached more than a dozen graduation messages and in each and every one I have shared the gospel, invited people to receive Christ, and even helped them as they surrender their lives to Christ by leading them in a 'sinner's prayer.'
"Handled carefully and wisely, I gladly invite people to repent of sin, trust in Christ, and surrender their lives to Him. David and I, I am quite certain, are in 100% agreement with one another on the issue."
Platt addressed his controversial statements during the Southern Baptist Convention's Pastors Conference in New Orleans last week.
"In my youth, I know that I am prone not to be careful with my words (particularly when they can become three-minute youtube clips!), so I want to be very careful with my words today," he said in his introduction.
He went to the New Testament book of John to show evidence of devout followers of Jesus who were not born-again.
John 2:23-24 states: "Many trusted in his name ... Jesus, however, would not entrust himself to them."
"Clearly, from the beginning of the gospel of John – this gospel that revolves around the necessity and centrality of belief in Christ – John makes clear to us that there is a kind of belief, a kind of faith, that does not save," Platt explained.
"Is it possible for people to say they believe in Jesus, to say they have accepted Jesus, to say that they have received Jesus, but they are not saved and will not enter the kingdom of heaven? Is that possible? Absolutely, it's possible. It's not just possible; it is probable."
Platt, who has a passion for global missions, expressed concern that there are millions of people who are being deceived to thinking they're saved when they're not because of a prayer they prayed or decision they made years ago.
At the same time, he made it clear that praying a prayer or making a decision aren't in themselves bad. In fact, that's how many believers called out to Christ and became "justified" through faith in Jesus.
But the question, he said, is: "What kind of faith are we calling people to?"
"In a day of rampant easy-believism that creates cultural Christians who do not know Christ, who have never counted the cost of following Christ, we must be biblically clear about saving faith, lest any of us lead people down a very dangerous and potentially damning road of spiritual deception."
True, saving faith, the Alabama pastor explained, requires first understanding man's condition before God – that they are dead in sin.
"We cannot dumb it down," he stressed. "We are morally evil."
To be born-again, one must repent – turn from sin and self – and believe – "trust in Jesus as the Savior who died for us and the Lord who rules over us."
"We tell men and women, boys and girls everywhere: repent and believe in Christ. Whether we say, 'Pray this prayer after me,' is not the issue," Platt highlighted. "The issue is that together we say, 'By the grace of God in the cross of Christ, turn from yourself and trust in Jesus. Come from darkness to light. Come from death to life.'
"Now we can debate all day long how these words are used in what senses, but the testimony of Scripture is absolutely, fundamentally clear: God loves the world, and everyone in the world who trusts in Him will be saved."
And those who are truly saved, he added, will be compelled to boldly preach the Gospel. They don't have to be cajoled to do it.
Amid debate on the "sinner's prayer," Southern Baptists chose to adopt a resolution this month affirming the prayer as "a biblical expression of repentance and faith."
Notably, Platt voted for the resolution.
"It was encouraging to see pastors and leaders together say that we need to be wise in the way we lead people to Christ, but such wisdom doesn't necessarily warrant that everyone must throw out a 'sinner's prayer' altogether," he stated.