Theology 101: Is Decision Theology Biblical?

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I used to attend Monday nights with Greg Laurie at Calvary Chapel when I was a kid. At the end of every service Greg used to invite people in the front to make a decision to accept Christ and become born-again after repeating a one minute “sinner’s prayer.”

This practice became more pompous at the yearly Harvest Crusades when after reciting the sinner’s prayer, fireworks went off and Greg would declare: “welcome to the family of God.

Is the personal decision to become born again unto eternal life grounded in the Bible? And is it ok to label a person born again after reciting the sinner’s prayer?

Billy Graham has been applying decision theology throughout his evangelistic career, and he famously declared that only 5% or less of those making a profession of faith at his crusades eventually make their way into the Body of Christ by joining a church.

It then follows that a huge number of people who make a decision to believe, make a profession that is NOT of faith. That is just the tip of a nefarious iceberg. These folks leave the crusade thinking they are saved and they continue to live unchanged lives. They are left with an empty decision, a profession, and a false declaration of salvation by a celebrity evangelist.

This problem invariably gets into the monergism vs synergism debate. Monergism holds to the supreme sovereignty of God in matters of salvation, and states that a human decision is not involved in becoming born again, while synergism claims that a human decision for salvation is necessary and synergistic with the work of the Holy Spirit.

But I argue that when it comes to conversion, philosophy can muddy the waters. Let us go to the Scriptures to highlight the fact that salvation belongs to God and it is the work of the Holy Spirit. The only thing that humans can do is abandon salvation.

First, a confession of true faith stems in the gift of faith given by God, NOT in a human decision:

Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”

Second, this faith cannot be activated by a human decision because such an action is contrary to fallen human nature:

1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

It becomes clear that in order to make an authentic confession of faith one has to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit because the unregenerated natural man is not able to do this.

Even repentance is not the result of human decision but something that is granted by God:

Acts 11:18 “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.””

I need to stress that human participation in salvation is not robotic. But also, it is not a man initiated event by decisions and sinner’s prayers. It is the result of the quickening of the Holy Spirit.

An appropriate altar call should include the presentation of gospel facts and gospel terms followed by an invitation to repent and surrender to God. Decisions to become born again have no place in a biblical understanding of salvation. Neither do declarations of eternal salvation for those who make professions of faith.

48 comments on “Theology 101: Is Decision Theology Biblical?

  1. Chris,
    Very good point you are raising…the same with fund raising newsletters, counting the members in a church, writing reports, etc…
    I think in themselves these things are not bad… when it becomes a doctrine or it’s done with mixed motives–save face, impress, manipulate, etc… that is a problem…I think something does happen when a person, sincerely, confesses the sinners’ prayer and if it’s real of course…
    Problem is, in any crowd you’ll have the real and the unreal together, that is part of life, church, altar calls, etc…

    • I think altar calls are OK, even though some conservatives in the reformed camp disagree strongly because of the real and unreal that come forward. I just have a problem with declaring the crowd that comes forward “saved.”

      • Yeah, I hear you…only God knows the heart. But, see, when one is in business too and not just serving…. all kinds of pressure is on them and then they do resort to things that can be misleading even though not always intentional…

  2. “The only thing that humans can do is abandon salvation.”

    Another thing humans can do is to accept salvation; and there are many other thing we can do as well…..
    —————————————————-
    Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”

    According to the above passage, grace, faith and salvation are altogether mentioned. What is the “it” in the last stretch referring to; is it grace, faith, salvation or all of the above? If we are not created robots, as you state, where does human accountability/responsibility fit? (that is in the event you agree with “all of he above”)
    ————————————————–
    “An appropriate altar call should include the presentation of gospel facts and gospel terms followed by an invitation to repent and surrender to God.”

    Typically, the altar calls are done after the Word of God is orated just as you prescribed. I have never seen altar calls done without the Gospel being preached first. The “altar call” in itself is not the problem even though I do fathom that there may be abuses.

    We must recognize that many actually converted during that one minute prayer and that the 5% is a significant figure given that the Bible states that the road is narrow and not many choose to take it…

    • Ben, have you ever seen altar calls where a sinner’s prayer is done? Where in the Bible is the sinner’s prayer prescribed?

      Have you ever seen altar calls where after the sinner’s prayer the evangelist declares that the multitude that came forward is now saved or born-again? That is an inappropriate altar call. The thrust of this post is to show that.

      “by grace you have been saved through faith” is the IT.

      And IT is a gift from God. Human responsibility comes in participating in being saved. Salvation comes from God and it belongs to God. It is NOT the result of a human decision.

      The human decision as the impetus for salvation is the center of decision theology and it is not found in the Bible.

      • Chris,
        If the sinner has sincerely believed and asked Christ to come into his or her heart as their Lord and Saviour, then according to John 3:16, at that moment in time, the person IS saved.

        • I am not doubting your complete statement. But there are a lot presuppositions in your statement.

          1. sincerely believed.
          2. Christ being Lord, that is the center of their life
          3. at that moment in time… I would argue that the conversion has already occurred BEFORE for the sincere believer in whom the Holy Spirit has done His work. As a result of THIS work, the sinner is able to make a true confession of faith! As a result of this work, the believer can go forward to the alter and profess.

          But… what do we do with the 95% who follow the prescription and are NOT converted? Why doesn’t John 3:16 apply to them? They may say they were sincere… honest… willing.. etc… what is the difference in them?

        • Chris,

          It is plain and clear that Salvation does not belong to man. God made Salvation available through Jesus to everyone who believes.

          Man does play a part in Salvation, as you stated earlier. The part that man plays in Salvation is in accepting it and in walking in faith. That’s not a little part.

        • Of course man participates, by bringing his wretched self and receiving grace, faith and everything else good from the Father of lights.

          Do you hold that a decision and a sinners prayer plays any part in conversion? If yes, what are the bible passages supporting that?

        • I am not saying that the prayer saves. Again, if the sinner has sincerely believed and asked Christ to come into his or her heart as their Lord and Saviour, then according to John 3:16, at that moment in time, and yes, even befor that moment if you will, the person IS saved.

        • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son – all God up to this point…

          that whoever believes in him – we determined that the ability to believe is not a human event/work/origin/initiation/etc. It is a gift from God.

          Where is the sinner’s prayer and human decision? My point is that an unconverted sinner cannot make a decision to become converted. It is impossible due to spiritual death.

        • I think an altar call should consist of preaching the gospel, a call to repent, and a call to surrender to God. Like the old time pentecostals in Romania did it. A call to surrender, not a decision and sinner’s prayer. When you surrender to God, you give it all up to God.

        • “… an unconverted sinner cannot make a decision to become converted. It is impossible due to spiritual death….”

          We have to be careful here not to completely remove human responsibility and cause the “robotic” arm to move uncontrollably…

        • The human is responsible, but NOT for his salvation. He is responsible for many things…

          There are instances in Scripture where “make every effort” is used, but it is always told to believers who are now converted and who are saved. That is sanctification and perseverance in the faith by the power of the Holy Spirit…

    • I will not get into the topic of what comes first (even though:we were dead in our sins… that is not fainted in our sins… )

      But “sincerely believed and asked Christ to come into his or her heart”
      Right … two thousand years of christianity used the gospel call “repent and believe” until the liberal modern christian decided to make it easier with the call Ben and the liberal christian embraces

      So 5% is very good ( Ben’s math)… but how about the 95% that go home thinking they are saved and on the way to heaven based on a silly little prayer they repeat after a man that wants to have a mega church as fast as possible?

      The gospel call is “REPENT AND BELIEVE” …..

      But with that call Greg L. church would have been no more than 1000 people (maybe)

      Ben , you might want to study the article fr. Ionescu wrote on his blog about the liberals

      And by the way … you preach .. you should know that you never take a verse and make a doctrine from it… so read John 3 16 together with 3:17,18,19…

      And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

      You see that? “men” not “some men”

      And according to romans 1 all men practice evil there is none that do good

      Look at this: ” For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light”

      So no one comes to the light ..”NO ONE”

      Unless they receive the gift from God “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”

      A little 101 exegesis 🙂

  3. Great topic. I have a couple comments. 
     (1 Corinthians 2:4, 5) …and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 
    This implies that there are two possible types of faith here and that we are prone to putting our faith in something that is not Christ. Why would Paul do this if faith was God given, why would he worry about it? God is all mighty–if faith is granted and not based on a decision then why was Paul so concerned about how he was speaking? If faith is given by God–what words of man could stop that gift?
    Second:
    1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
    Are you reading this as if faith is something that is received after the Holy Spirit? I thought the Holy Spirit was given to those who believe–and the knowledge of the Holy Spirit is then given. But it sounds like you are arguing that the Holy Spirit gives knowledge so that we can have faith an be saved. 
    One might argue based on this that there is then no point to evangelism if faith and therefore salvation is granted not by a choice–but by the convincing through the knowledge of the gift The Spirit. 
    Perhaps I have misunderstood your argument? 

    • Andy, welcome to Delight in Truth as a commentator and God bless you!

      1. You are correct, there are two kinds of faith. An authentic faith that comes from God and a faith that can be in vain. The evangelist is merely a vehicle (so Paul was careful in presenting a correct message) but, the Holy Spirit is the One responsible for the work of convicting and converting someone, and this is the work of God and God alone.

      Let me ask you, how can a dead person perform an act that only a living person do like take in a breath, or move, or open their eyes?

      Ephesians 2 tells us that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” on two occasions. How can a spiritually dead person perform an act (decision) that only a spiritually alive person can do?

      That is why an unconverted sinner cannot decide to become saved. It is the quickening of the Holy Spirit that changes his/her heart. When that happens, they are a new person and a decision is now obsolete.

    • part 2.

      I subscribe to Pentecostal pneumatology where the baptism with the Holy Spirit occurs after conversion, that is at a separate date than conversion as part of sanctification and for empowering the believer for evangelism.

      The other part of the question has to do with what is theologically called “ordo salutis.” The order of salvation, this is reformed concept that I have not dwelt on much… It is argued based on biblical passages, but overall I do agree that faith is a gift from God and it comes after or as a person is regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

      I struggled with is concept for a long time. But this is the only explanation in order to keep salvation out of the hands of man and ascribe it to God alone.

      And evangelism is 100% necessary in this scenario because of what it says in Romans 10:

      14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!””

  4. “…and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. ”

    Actually this verse makes it clear that our faith comes only from God …by the power of the Gospel (except Jesus Christ and Him crucified)…

    So there is a “faith” that comes from human wisdom…and there is the supernatural (saving) faith that comes from God.. the verse is clear …

    “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

    So we have been saved trough faith…

    it is like :I have been healed trough chemotherapy , and that chemotherapy was not mine, it was the gift from my doctor ..

  5. Ill try an illustration

    A druggy that didn’t have drugs or any food in a week… goes in a room with crack and bread on a table….what’s he going to choose?.. of course he is going to choose the crack… it is his choice…free choice

    But suppose before he goes in the room a hypnotist snaps his fingers and takes away his addiction to drugs … this time he will choose the bread…it was his choice…but who was behind his choice? …the hypnotist….

    So can the druggie boast before the hypnotist for his choice? May that never be …

    Was the druggie a robot ? by no means …he made a free choice….

  6. Gaby,

    Your illustrations remind me of my philosophy classses I really enjoyed in school.

    By the way, does the druggy ever find out that it was not really free will and that he was actually tricked into eating the bread? Or will he be forever stuck in believing a lie? or does this even matter?

    When you get to heaven you will find out that God tricked or forced you into loving Him? Is that the “L”?

    • Oh….Ben…you took philosophy? And the they didn’t teach you the purpose of an illustration? Our four that matter the way a parable should be understood? …sorry …you learn that in a theology class… :)…. I guess you took philosophy 🙂

  7. I do understand the situation of not giving people the tools or guidance to keep in the path and grow. It is a sad epidemic of wanting masses but not disciples. At the same time….Plain and simple Faith comes by hearing. Hearing brings forth to us confrontation about our condition as sinners. When we receive the revelation through the Holy Spirit that we need Christ we are brought forth to repentance. We make the decision to surrender our life to Christ, believe He gives us eternal life through His sacrifice and accept Him as our personal Saviour. The Holy Spirit comes and abides in him. The moment that person does this has been redeem. The person has the Holy Spirit that the Word says will guide them to the truth. Our job is to give the Word. God is infinite and powerful and through His Spirit will guide those that have had a real encounter with Him. We should pray for them and those that are still struggling and in all we can do help guiding those around us to know Christ the way we have.

  8. Pingback: Theology 101: Is Decision Theology Biblical? | Wbmoore's Weblog

  9. I think there’s a lot of pomp and fanfare with altar calls. God is the giver of salvation & it happens inside the mind/heart of the receiver when sincerely accepted. ..not by the outward stretched hand of a preacher with a microphone, or under an array of stage lights, not under “mood music”..but between the Creator and His creation accepting the gift of redemption. It’s God’s gift, not anyone else’s to give. It’s such a personal matter, only God can truly decipher its sincerity & moment of acceptance.

    • That’s how I was taught too…that it’s not a “magic wand” from a preacher, but the work of the Spirit inside the heart and mind of a believer.

      I wasn’t raised a Christian, so I’ve seen and been to plenty of “altar calls”…the way I understand these is that the idea is to *start the process* of following Christ-meaning, yes you’re saved because you believed, now it’s time to start *living* it. Put your money where your mouth is. That’s one reason you might see someone come forward at more than one event-we are dedicating ourselves to God, which for some of us is an ongoing struggle. If that makes sense. I’m told I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

  10. If I understand this correctly the Holy Spirit has already begun His work in me, before I am in a position to confess with my mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead. Once I am have confessed this, this is confirmation that I have been saved, rather than a decision that I am saved. If I was not saved I could not believe in such matters. That sounds more like it. In that way it was all the work of God in bringing me to salvation : all I did was follow upon the gift He had already given me! Praise Him!
    Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
    If this is so, it gives a totally different perspective of life : it is almost like God’s will is playing out before us. We His sheep, are being led by Him, as sheep among wolves, in preparation for the harvest to come.

  11. Silverhair

    “An appropriate altar call should include the presentation of gospel facts and gospel terms followed by an invitation to repent and surrender to God. Decisions to become born again have no place in a biblical understanding of salvation. Neither do declarations of eternal salvation for those who make professions of faith.”

    Many people have come to know Christ via such a presentation of the Gospel. As to being Born Again see;
    Joh 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

    and as to confession unto salvation see;
    Rom 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
    Rom 10:10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

    It would be great if all that hear the Gospel would repent but that is not he case as shown by;
    Luk 8:11 “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.
    Luk 8:12 “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.
    Luk 8:13 “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.
    Luk 8:14 “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.
    Luk 8:15 “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.

  12. Typo in the sentence: “Let us go TO the Scriptures to highlight the fact that salvation belongs to God and it is the work of the Holy Spirit.”
    Good article!

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