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The problem with easy believism

The video below warns us about "the sinners prayer".  And there is indeed a problem with the preaching of many evangelists.  But let's locate the problem where it belongs.

The problem with offering salvation freely is not the freeness of the offer, it's the definition of salvation.  If salvation is stuff - forgiveness of sins, cleansing from guilt, eternal fire insurance, "life to the full" - then offering it freely is like telling your mates they can borrow your next-door neighbour's lawn-mower.  Just because you can use it freely doesn't mean everyone else can.  You can use it freely because you're in relationship with your neighbour.

Now if your neighbour was very generous, he might lend it out to all who come to his front-door and ask.  But you don't honour his generosity by giving it away impersonally.

There is a deeper problem than easy believism.  The deeper problem is offering gospel commodities.  And that problem is not alleviated by selling them on at a high price!  That only compounds the problem.

Imagine that I undertook to sell-on the use of my neighbour's lawnmower at a handsome hourly rate, because I wanted to honour the costliness of my neighbour's gift.  Of course I might not be honouring my neighbour at all if I broker such deals.  Because - what if the deepest joy of my neighbour was not lending out his stuff, but getting to know his neighbours personally?  And what if my "handsome hourly rate" only ends up advertising how tightfisted he is around the neighbourhood??

There is nothing wrong with a free gospel offer.  So long as what we are offering is not a what, but a Who.  Don't offer stuff for free.  And don't offer stuff for a price.  Offer them Christ.  And offer Him for free, because that is what most honours His free self-offering.


0 thoughts on “The problem with easy believism

  1. Kip' Chelashaw


    I agree that we need to steer away from an easy believism of the type that thinks that to simply say the sinners prayer means all will be well but, what exactly is it to offer Christ for free? What does that look like? Could it include things like getting baptised in the Triune name and being discipled in the Scriptures (as it says in Matthew 28:19-20)


  2. David

    What confuses me about this video is, why would anyone say a sinner's prayer if they didn't mean it? He seems to be suggesting that the some people say the so-called sinner's prayer as some kind of eternal fire insurance, and that's why the sinner's prayer is evil/demonic. I don't personally care either way about the sinner's prayer, but surely the issue he is speaking about is the motivation for saying it and the out-working of that, not the sinner's prayer itself. If someone teaches that simply by saying the sinner's prayer you can be saved then clearly that is just magical thinking, not faith.

    I suppose what confuses me is his vehemence that seems misplaced. Wouldn't it be better to speak out against magical thinking in churches more generally, than focus on one specific instance of it and call it evil. I appreciate that the stakes are higher with this instance, though.

  3. waycon

    Argh yes - as we Anglicans would say:

    "... the Gospel according to a rhyming YouTube post, from the American chapter, beginning at the Southern verse"

  4. Glen

    Hi Kip, I preach on "Repent and be baptised" on a recent Acts 2 sermon I posted up. You can read what I do there.

    Bottom line is we want to avoid sounding like "God's done His bit, now you do yours." And the best way to do that, I reckon, is saying "Here's Jesus, He is Lord. He's calling you, like a Bridegroom calling a bride. He's made His vows, He's offering Himself in *this* kind of all embracing union. It's free, it's forever. Don't be a gold-digger, His stuff doesn't make sense apart from Him. But He's offering Himself to you. You want Him? He's yours.". Sort of thing.

  5. Glen

    Hi David,

    Yes I think de-magicking any "prayers of response" at the ends of talks is very important.

    What particularly is curious and curiouser?

  6. Dave K

    Hi Glen,

    Finally got round to reading your Acts 2 sermon. It is unsurprisingly very good. I give thanks for your gifts. Love the emphasis on the gifts that God just keeps on giving.

    I was just thinking over the “God’s done His bit, now you do yours” statement. Let me know what you think of my half-baked thoughts....

    I was thinking over what Torrance says about Jesus even providing the right response to God's commands and promises (is that the right way of understanding TFT?)

    But I was thinking, where is that in Acts 2? Then I thought it is there in the command to be baptised. If we remember that baptism is a word of promise which unites us with Christ's story then in baptism we receive even the human response God. So when we say he is offering himself, we don't just mean that he is offering a relationship with him, but also that he is offering us his relationship with the Father, in him (which means his history and his faithful response).

  7. Glen

    Hey Dave - that's a good summary of TFT. All about the "vicarious humanity"!

    I tried to do a bit of that (without showing my working) when I started the baptism bit with *Christ's* baptism. I think I'll do this a lot more from now on. First Christ's baptism *then* ours. First He is baptised into our life to do it in our name. He cuts to the front of the queue of sinners, is numbered among us, and does life in our place on our behalf. This is Him earthing His relationship with the Father in our humanity. *Then* we are baptised into His life. We come in on His relationship with the Father - which He has already established in *our* name. Now we come in on it in *His* name.

  8. John B

    Beginning in the last half of the 20th century, American evangelicalism has been profoundly influenced by mass media evangelistic crusades. (I don't know the extent of the influence of these crusades in the UK, but I know that Billy Graham preached there and conducted a crusade there.) This has had a continuing impact with the net effect being that the sinner's prayer is widely perceived, even in churches, as the evangelical "magic". I think that the makers of the video are addressing this real and pervasive error. I'm glad to see the movement away from a mass media crusade evangelistic mentality, towards a willingness to engage people with the gospel in a variety of ways. Preaching against this error in the church is to engage people with the gospel in a specific and necessary way, but one that wouldn't be a suitable evangelistic message to a secular audience. It seems to me that the 20th century innovation in evangelicalism was to reduce "faith" to mere belief and assent to a specific set of propositions, but divorced from genuine repentance and radically trusting in Christ, and the abandonment of all reliance on self. Grace is cheap. Believing is easy. It works like magic; once saved (having said the sinner's prayer) always saved. Evangelism without discipleship. But Jesus never taught it.

  9. Dave K

    Ah, yes. I see it clearer now. Excellent stuff.

    I like the sentence:

    "First He is baptised into our life to do it in our name. He cuts to the front of the queue of sinners, is numbered among us, and does life in our place on our behalf."

    What a great Saviour and Gospel we have.

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