The only problem was, I really didn't believe a word of it. While I'm sure I contributed toward EE's metrics for 1990 (they reported 7.25 million "professions of faith" in 2011), I have no idea what happened to those eight people. If any of them have been truly born again into God's Kingdom, it is indeed a tribute to God's mercy.
I know many honest and mature Christians who began their walk with Jesus with a seminal moment marked by praying a a "sinner's prayer", which has become such a popular tool in evangelical churches that it has its own Wikipedia page. I will not try to deny the reality of their experience, but I find myself agreeing with Miguel in Ecuador, who asked, Shouldn’t We Be Terminating Life Support for the “Sinner’s Prayer"?.
In other words, is our cumulative use of this popular evangelist's tool doing more harm or more good?
Miguel points us to several prominent authorities both past and present who have asked some version of this question, such as whether "We’ve taken Christianity and boiled it down to witchcraft." (Matt Chandler) This may seem harsh, but let's consider: In our desire to package salvation into an exportable, shrink-to-fit size so that we can use to train our legions of Junior Evangelist warriors for battle, we are in many cases destroying that which we have come to save.
How many still-lost souls are wandering the earth with one or more completed sinner's prayers in their back pockets? How many have been set up for a horrible shock when our Lord assigns them a place with the goats on the Day of Judgment, after we've supposedly punched their all-expense-paid ticket to heaven? I shudder to think.
It is logical to ask whether the prayer's apparent success in bringing many to saving faith in Christ is not a powerful argument in its favor. Certainly it is. But it is hardly decisive, and begs the question: are these success stories examples of people who "prayed to receive Christ", or are they better understood as regenerate souls who responded in faith? This is a nuanced but important distinction. The first is a man-centered understanding of salvation (they prayed the prayer and gained the Spirit), the second is a God-centered one (He gave them the Spirit and they responded in prayer).
Moreover, we must also be willing to look at the cumulative costs of its widespread and careless use. Most importantly, are we leading the lost in large numbers to false assurance, that the mere profession of faith is automatically equivalent to the possession of faith?
Miguel refers us to the late Christian singer Keith Green. With his well-known passion for evangelism, you might have expected Keith to be a fan of such tools (after all, he had a song titled "Altar Call"). Well, it would appear the years of outreach ministry taught him a thing or two:
"The greatest reason I believe that God can be grieved with the current use of such tools as the 'altar call' and 'sinner’s prayer' is because they can take away the conviction of the Holy Spirit prematurely, before the Spirit has time to work repentance leading to salvation. With an emotional splash that usually doesn't last more than a few weeks, we believe we’re leading people into the Kingdom, when really we’re leading many to hell--by interfering with what the Spirit of God is trying to do in a person’s life. Do you hear? Do you understand that this constitutes 'spiritual abortion'? Can’t you see the eternal consequences of jumping the gun, trying to bring to birth a baby that isn’t ready?" (What's Wrong with the Gospel)Miguel also points us to the most strident voice which rose this past summer in opposition, prompted in part by the Southern Baptist Convention's decision to endorse the prayer's continued use as an evangelistic tool. Pastor David Platt drew fire for challenges like this: "Should it not concern us that there is no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament? Should it not concern us that the Bible never uses the phrase 'accept Jesus into your heart,' or 'invite Jesus into your life?'"
I wonder if our preference for tools like the sinner's prayer boil down to the church's desire for metrics and positive feedback. Perhaps we could poll the 7.25 million new Christians on EE's checksheet.