I have tremendous respect for David Platt. I pray nearly every day for God to continue to use him mightily. I recommend listening to his sermons. You can find many of them on YouTube. David has shocked people by preaching against telling people to pray a sinner's prayer. He rightly notes that we have been guilty of communicating to people that they can be right with God by praying those words as a sort of ritual without becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I agree with David. But I also believe a person cannot become a disciple without a direct connection with the Lord. That is prayer. We respond to God's embrace in prayer. If we look at the words we use as a conversion prayer, we see this intent.
We encourage people to pray a prayer of the conviction of sin.
“Lord I know I am a sinner.”
We also include repentance.
“I want to turn from my sins to you.”
If we are going to lead people to invite Christ into their life, we should warn them that they are doing business with Almighty God. They need to be fearful of praying such words without meaning them.
And inherent is the gospel is the fact that we cannot even repent without God's help. People do not come to God by their sincerity. We must come receiving His forgiveness.
“I know You died for me. I accept your forgiveness, and Your gift of eternal life. I trust myself to You.”
One of the problems with using the “sinner's prayer” for evangelism is that it is so easy. It is tempting for us because we don't have to enter into a life-long relationship with the person praying. Just get them to pray these words.
It is also too easy for the person coming to Christ. Someone can pray those words without even thinking. I also believe a person can come to Christ and truly be born again without saying the right words. We might suggest that a person think about the decision she is making over night before she prays such a prayer. Of course, we will need to be sensitive to the person and to the Holy Spirit in the situation. But You can trust Him to bring to completion the work He has begun in a person who has heard the gospel.
David, I couldn't agree with you more. I also listen to David Platt regularly; if I were tempted to become a disciple of any current preacher (and I'm not), he would be the one I would pick. My wife and I have done the webcast of his Secret Church for the last three years, and it's been completely inspirational.
I think that there's a huge difference between the way we present what it means to be "saved" today from the way Jesus presented it. Jesus' consistent invitation was, "Follow me". There's a lot packed into those two words - much more than we currently imply in the "sinner's prayer". "Follow me" BEGINS with recognizing and confessing sin and turning away from it - but it doesn't end there by a long shot. "Follow me" is a command to transformation. In Jesus' day, it literally meant a physical following.
Today, the following is more metaphorical, but it means doing what Jesus did, developing the character he calls out in us. "Follow me" includes "Be holy, because I am holy", "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind", "Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, and patience", and any number of other formative commands. And, of course, it includes following Jesus' example of prayer.
I honestly believe that much of the reason that the church has lost its prophetic voice today is that we no longer insist on life transformation. We don't insist on following Jesus - just on praying a prayer and "getting saved". We've made it about what we receive (salvation) rather than what we become (disciples). We've emphasized the fact that Jesus accepts people the way they are (which is true) but left out the part where he doesn't leave us the way we are. As a result, like the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we're not growing up. We're in continual need of milk and not ready for meat.
Another item that David Platt hits on fairly consistently is that many of our churches preach concepts that have truth in them, but are not themselves the Word of God. It's become popular in many circles to emphasize writings of current authors - whose writings are good and helpful, but a steady diet of that rather than of God's Word is another thing that keeps us from maturing as believers. How many expository messages do you suppose will be preached in evangelical churches on Mother's Day this weekend?
We must pray. We must pray for a renewed sense of what it really means to follow Christ. We must pray for a cleansing of our churches and a Holy Spirit-led return to a Biblical understanding of discipleship. Our churches, as a whole, are not praying for this - because they don't see the problem. It's on us as people of prayer to lead this charge.