The Sinner’s Prayer, David Platt and the SBC

Most folks who know me know of my close friendship with David Platt. I am grateful for how God has raised David up for this time and this generation. Our friendship is not surprising given our mutual passion to see the name of Jesus made famous among the nations. And, when you consider my son Paul serves as a missions pastor and elder at The Church at Brook Hills, David preaches at SEBTS annually, we are editing together with Tony Merida a 40 volume preaching commentary, and SEBTS is partnering with CBH in EQUIP, where our seminary works with local churches in doing theological education (we are now partnering with more than 100!), this friendship has been a natural and wonderful working out of God’s providence. The fact that we agree so much about preaching and theology hasn’t hurt either! I love this brother and thank God for him.

Recently David caused quite a stir with a comment he made concerning the “sinner’s prayer.” His use of the word “superstitious,” no doubt, caused the greatest concern. While I think David could have chosen a better word that would have avoided a visceral reaction on the part of some, I too share his concern about poor gospel presentations, manipulation and false professions of faith that have resulted in our churches being filled with unregenerate members. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, 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. 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.” I have done this many more times when preaching, as well. 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.

David spoke again to this issue when he preached at the Pastors Conference at the SBC. I gladly commend his message to you, and you can find the manuscript of that sermon here. Also at the SBC, the messengers passed, overwhelmingly, a resolution on a “sinner’s prayer.” Both David and I gladly voted for the resolution, and you can find David’s comments on that resolution and the entire issue here. I again commend and affirm David’s comments, and appreciate both the clarity and charity he brings to the conversation.

In the days ahead I hope and pray Southern Baptists can model genuine Christlikeness as we talk about important issues like this one. Wild exaggerations and misrepresentations must be avoided. To say I am against the “sinner’s prayer” because everyone in my town has prayed it and our churches are filled with lost people is irresponsible and does not help. On the other hand, to say that Calvinists do not want to use the “sinner’s prayer” because they fear leading someone who is non-elect to pray a prayer that is hopeless is equally irresponsible. Let’s all of us be better than this. Let the “Golden Rule” be your guide, and represent others as you, yourself, would want to be represented. This will build us up and not tear us down. And, it will show so many who are watching us closely the difference Jesus makes even when brothers and sisters may see things differently. It is a good thing for fellow believers to talk to one another when we “seek the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Let’s work hard to ensure this good thing!

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  1. cb scott   •  

    Well stated and thank you for a timely response to this little brushfire among us.

  2. Bob Cleveland   •  

    If we were throw out everything that can be misused, we’d have to toss out scriptures themselves. I’ve seen enough preachers misuse them, too.

  3. Martie Mangum   •  

    I am thankful for your leadership, but respectfully disagree on the “sinner’s prayer” resolution. Yes, there are many “wild exaggerations” and “misrepresentations”, but there is also a genuine concern.

    Part of the resolution stated:

    “RESOLVED, That we affirm that repentance and faith involve a crying out for mercy and a calling on the Lord (Romans 10:13), often identified as a “sinner’s prayer,” as a biblical expression of repentance and faith; and be it further”

    My problem with this particular resolved statement is although some understand the “sinner’s prayer” to be this type of crying out in repentance and faith, from my experience most church members (at least the churches that I have been involved with) do not.

    I do believe most understand that the “sinner’s prayer” is an expression of Faith, but my fear is that a much needed emphasis on Repentance will still be lost for many.

    The great thing about SBC polity is I can disagree on matters like this one, but remain united for the advance of the gospel. This is a much needed discussion, but by no means needs to dominate the discussions we have.

    Grace and Peace to you,

  4. Trey   •  

    Well said, Dr. Akin. I fully agree with Bob’s point as well. Too many times, ministry figures have their words taken in a twisted context. I know exactly what David meant and I wholeheartedly agree with him. I support the “sinner’s prayer” and think that as Christians, we need to actually listen to what our leaders are saying instead of searching for twisted contexts in which we can criticize them.

    I am thankful for Southeastern, leaders like Platt and Akin and most importantly, a merciful,loving God who hears my repentant cries to Him daily.

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  6. Robin Foster   •  

    Dr. Akin

    Thank you for this article. I believe if things were originally stated as a concern for manipulating people with this prayer I would have concurred also. As a preacher of the Word, I have also stated things in a manner I wish I hadn’t and asked for forgiveness when things did not come out right or were misunderstood because of my lack of clarity. I have enjoyed Platt’s book and ministry and I am hopeful this was a big misunderstanding. Thank you for your wiilungness to use prayer as a means for others to profess what has happened in their hearts.

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  8. Will Dixon   •  

    God has permitted me to be a part of dozens of people professing salvation as a result of walking through the sinner’s prayer found in the back of a Gideon Personal Workers Testament in work settings, personally and while ministering in jail. Some of the changes in the lives of the people involved has been profound and wonderful. A SEBTS student who was preaching a Sunday School class at our church said “using a sinners prayer is the same as witchcraft.” I am glad to get clarification of the school’s position and see that some staff still use the prayer with their own family. Had I interrupted the student’s message it would have destroyed the tenor of the class and flesh would have overwhelmed spirit. I will still follow up with the student for clarification but it is good to read these pages which provide better understanding that you are not rejecting this as a tool, but rather urging the sanctification process that needs to accompany it. G. K. Chesterton said if you tear down a fence, first find out why it was erected.

  9. Kris Blanchard   •  

    This article is careful, uplifting, and well-put, Dr. Akin. As a former student of yours last semester, I clearly recall you consistently reminding us to enforce a greater understanding of the importance of repentance of sin in our churches, our families, and in our private confessions before the Lord. I remember you telling us that it is very important to realize that many evangelicals today are quick to become divisive and argumentative concerning matters of the faith that all of us, regardless of how we word our thoughts on these issues, should understand we are to ultimately be united on. You told us “Our desire to remain united for Christ should far outweigh our eagerness to pick points of contention”. This is a powerful reminder of the character of Christ. I hope that this motivates a greater effort throughout the body of Christ to consider that we all should strive to hold each other’s best interests at heart. Regardless of how we perceive what one another is saying or has said. You helped teach me that the perception of something does not always truly reflect what is really being said. Scripture speaks clearly to how this unity both pleases and glorifies God in Psalm 133:1, and even more-so in 1 Corinthians 1:10. Thank you for re-directing our attention back to one of the central components of our faith: loving one another as Christ has loved us. After all, as He has been to us: We must be to others.

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