Southern Baptists—of all people!—recently debated the propriety of the Sinner's Prayer—of all things! What's the world coming to when we can't even count on Baptists to unswervingly defend the faith once delivered to the saints?
They eventually affirmed the Sinner's Prayer by a strong majority, but not without a fight. Yet the Baptist naysayers are not alone; the Sinner's Prayer has recently been suspect in influential evangelical circles.
The Sinner's Prayer rose from the mist of evangelical revivalism, and is in many ways a work of genius, as brilliant as the simple formulations of Martin Luther (Sola fide! Sola Scriptura!). It comes in many flavors, but it generally contains two elements: repentance for sin and trust in Christ's redemptive work at the Cross for forgiveness.
The prayer assumes absolute dependence on God's grace (we do not "cooperate" with grace); trust in Christ's lordship ("accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior"); and union with Christ (as in, "inviting Christ into my heart"). Some versions are theologically better than others, and there are often more felicitous ways to express its truths. But if we recognize that the Sinner's Prayer is not systematic theology but a heartfelt expression of faith in Christ, we needn't quibble.
The prayer at the end of the classic Four Spiritual Laws is as good an example as any:
Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.
The Sinner's ...