By C. Aaron Russell, author of Lessons In Faith—learned the hard way

We have opposing viewpoints from two well-known men of God, both preachers and best-selling authors. This is based on the recent sermon from the much younger of the two. David Platt, author of Radical, pastor and prodigy of the Southern Baptist Convention,  laid down the gauntlet with a bold, foundation rattling statement that rocked the Christian establishment. He has gotten many evangelicals, even the SBC itself, to reconsider a very core practice of our faith and ask the questions, “Have many Christian, believing they have been saved, been misled?” And “How does a minister follow the biblical method of leading a lost soul, ready and willing, to commit their life to Jesus Christ?”

Platt elaborated on his provocative beliefs when he spoke at the 2012 Verge Conference in Austin, TX. He gave a sermon titled, God’s glory among the nations. In the sermon, as in his book Radical, Platt addresses the growing problem of apathy in American churches. In his sermon he addresses what he considers to be a primary cause. He believes many were fooled into believing they were saved, when they truly were not. He blames modern false teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. According to Platt, the whole idea that we can “accept Jesus into our hearts” through prayer is superstitious and unbiblical.

That’s a bold statement, worthy of consideration. As Christians we are taught (biblically) to discern the teaching of our church leaders for ourselves. Let’s compare Platt’s message with the message of a well-known evangelist who has devoted his life to doing that very thing, asking people to “accept Jesus into their hearts,” Billy Graham. Watch these short video’s, a sample sermon from each minister, and let our mind and more importantly, our spirit, discern who’s speaking God’s Word and leading the lost to find salvation.

(Three minute video clip of Platt’s sermon posted by vergenetwork.org, offering the entire sermon for $3.99)

Here’s a quote from Platt’s sermon highlighting his main point, in case you need additional clarification on his statement:

“I’m convinced that many people in our churches are simply missing the life of Christ, and a lot of it has to do with what we’ve sold them as the gospel, i.e. pray this prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, invite Christ into your life,” Platt said. “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 Christ into your life’? It’s not the gospel we see being preached, it’s modern evangelism built on sinking sand. And it runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls. It’s a very dangerous thing to lead people to think that they are a Christian, when they have not biblically responded to the Gospel.”

Now, let’s watch and listen to a sermon from Billy Graham, one of those “modern evangelists” whom Platt describes as having preached such a “superstitious prayer” and asked sinners if they are willing to “accept Jesus into their hearts” and “invite Jesus Christ into their lives.”

If witnessing that sermon from Reverend Graham doesn’t quicken your spirit and make you want to “accept Jesus into your heart”, whether for the first time or the one hundredth, you may be right to question your faith. If it seems unfair to compare the young up and coming Platt to the more experienced and esteemed Billy Graham, it most likely is. That’s because one is an anointed messenger speaking under the power and authority of the Almighty, and the other, an intellectual standing on the shoulders of theologians, whose words ring somewhat hollow of Spirit. That’s not to say Platt isn’t a true man of God. He is surely a brother in Christ doing the Lord’s work, but he’s selling a gimmick (explained further in a moment) and still has a journey ahead of him before receiving that true anointing.

To be fair, Platt apparently tried to make the point one cannot be saved in word alone. Surely no true believer could argue that, but the same could be said for his method or any other for sharing the Gospel with the lost. In listening to Billy Graham’s sermon, although he used the exact phrase Platt criticizes, “accept Jesus into your heart”, in no way does Dr. Graham imply that words alone are enough for salvation. He makes it clear the “heart” is a representation of a true commitment from within. Billy Graham set the standard for how modern evangelists should be a witness for God’s Word and effectively communicate what it means to be saved through Jesus Christ. 

In a Christianity Today article, Platt responded that one can’t fully understand his message from a short clip. That’s true, and if you don’t want to pony up the $3.99 to hear the rest, I can tell you he doesn’t elaborate much further on his “superstitious prayers” claim. I can tell you what you do miss in the three minute segment is Platt venturing off into the realm of “disillusioning millions” himself with questionable teaching. Platt, with the same message as in his book Radical, places tremendous emphasis on the Great Commission.

There’s nothing wrong with that, yet while he mentions local missions, he clearly puts greater importance on global missions. He then goes on to endorse and quote from George Eldon Ladd and the doctrine of Kingdom Theology (the gimmick referred to). Kingdom Theology is a tenant of the Vineyard Movement, a neo-charismatic denomination that according to Wikipedia, ” describe themselves as the ‘radical middle’ between evangelicals and Pentecostals, which is a reference to the book The Quest for the Radical Middle, a historical survey of the Vineyard by Bill Jackson” (Name of book sound familiar?).

In a nut shell, Kingdom Theology asserts that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will not occur until Christians have completed the Great Commission, and the fact that He has not yet returned is evidence that Christians have not yet fulfilled Jesus’ command to go and take the Gospel to all nations, supported by Matthew 24:14 which states, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

One could make a case for Kingdom Theology if we take that verse alone and use it out of context. However, when we study the full chapter, and read the verses before and after, Jesus isn’t saying at all that He’s not returning until Man completes a task.  In the beginning of Matthew 24, the disciples ask Jesus about the end of the world and Jesus tells of the signs to come for the end times, giving a vivid description of His Second coming. It’s quite a powerful and exciting point in scripture.

In Matthew 24:6-7, the signs are famine, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, false teachers, as well as persecution and murder of Christians (sounds like today’s headlines). Then the good news comes in verse 13, “but he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Now read verse 14, “And this gospel shall be preached in all the world as a witness…” ‘This gospel’ or ‘this good news’ for Christians being that we will have suffering, but those who endure will be rescued (to be with God). Remaining faithful, even through adversity, is our testimony. Overcoming through Christ is our witness to all nations. Man didn’t have to complete some monumental divine task for the coming of Jesus the first time, neither will we for His Second Coming.

The next problematic teaching of Kingdom Theology is that when it comes to The Great Commission of Matthew 28:19, it puts more weight of importance on traveling to foreign lands and seeking out societies that have never heard or are less exposed to the gospel. Platt plainly says, “We can’t be content to just sit in one place.” The key to global missions being more important than local missions is, according to Platt, all about “access”, to the Gospel. Platt states in his sermon that we Americans have plenty of opportunity to hear God’s word while many foreign nations such as Yemen and North Korea do not.

This down plays the importance of the average Joe plumber or homemaker, who is not called to be a third world missionary. It’s as if to say that a quiet ministry, raising our children to serve the Lord, working dutifully at our jobs, being an example in our lives for Christ and a witness for those around us while on our daily walk, is less significant. That doctrine simply is biased and does not hold up scripturally. It may not be as exciting a story in church, but sharing the gospel with our family and neighbors is just as pleasing to the Lord as converting someone from a Muslim or Communist nation that has never heard of Jesus.

Indeed, many pagan nations will suffer because they’ve denied the one true God— tragically, a fate this country is well on it’s way to sharing. To be clear, every believer is called to a specific purpose and all believers are to be a witness for Christ as they are fulfilling their calling. Certainly, global missionaries taking the gospel to isolated or persecuted people groups, that are lost, suffering and in great need, are admirable servants. However, a man, even a missionary, who stands up and tells others, “Look at me and all the good works I’m doing for the Lord, why aren’t you doing the same?” reminds us of the parable The Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus said,

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Luke 18:10-14 NKJV).”

The truth is, believing or not in the Kingdom Theology interpretation of the Great Commission or the Second Coming will neither damn any souls nor rescue them. However, it does cross over into more of a “good works” philosophy as opposed to “grace” taught by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2. The point of comparing these sermons with opposing views and exploring the doctrine of Kingdom Theology is this; we as believers are to discern for ourselves the messages of our church leaders and pastors. An anointed man of God is a rare thing, but there will be many false teachers in the final days (Matthew 24).

We should not blindly follow anyone without affirming their teachings for ourselves. We should never venture off too far into the words of men or spend more time reading paperbacks than the inspired word of God in our bibles. When a doctrine comes with a few short “proof verses”, and we are told to fill in the gaps with man’s interpretation, we should immediately begin to question. The good news is we can rest assured knowing that when we seek truth and understanding through prayer and study, from the one true source that is the Lord and His word, He will reveal it to us. Jesus taught us,

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened (Matthew 7:7-8 NKJV).

 

An adaptation of this story is published in the new book, Lessons In Faith—learned the hard way  by C. Aaron Russell—Christian writer, author, speaker and missionary with MenofMind.com

This article also published at the Christian Post and Examiner.com.

12 Comments for this entry

  • Hey Aaron,

    I appreciated your comments on Kingdom Theology. However, I don’t think your assessment of Platt is fair at all. Billy Graham has faltered on several points throughout his ministry. Don’t get me wrong, I believe him sincere and I think there is much to be said for him. But, he has always embraced Roman Catholicism to some extent, and he has even admitted in one interview that he wishes he could go back and know Scripture better (memorize more, etc.), a desire we all fall short of, naturally. And, his hit and run style of evangelism has probably left a few real Christians and several nominal Christians.

    In one of Platt’s recent TG4 sermons, he preached that divine sovereignty fuels death defying missions. It was an amazing sermon and anything but works centered. As opposed to the typical, Arminian, “Come join us or people will burn because of you,” which is more works to me, it was “God has this grand design and He wants us to soak in the opportunity to participate in it.” It was a refreshingly biblical approach to missions.

    That said, I do NOT currently agree with Kingdom Theology. My own church recently preached in this regard. John MacArthur points to the angel in Revelation proclaiming the gospel to all peoples everywhere, since Matthew 24 is in the context of the end of time.

    Then again, I do agree that this new movement that Platt and others are behind can be sort of works driven (sell all you have, do global missions now, etc.). But, I wouldn’t characterize Billy Graham as the ace and Platt as a parrot boy. Driscoll, yes. Platt, I don’t think so. He seems to have a real heart for missions. We can at least appreciate that.

    Thanks for your post.

  • Mike Cheslock says:

    C.Arron Russel, you couldn’t be more wrong about this my friend. Even Mr. Graham has stated that though thousands come to the alter and “pray the prayer of faith”, he says, show me the persons life in 10 years. The point is that by saying some words and feeling some feelings, we are by no means followers of Christ. The “Romans road” is not a road map to eternal salvation. Being a follower of Christ should and will cost us everything. I would recommend reading the Gospels and taking and applying the words of Christ literally.
    David Platt is by no means equating eternal salvation with works, but we cannot be followers of Christ unless we are obedient to His commands. God is sovereign in All His ways. We must be about His business. God Bless you Sir.

  • Mike, I respect and appreciate your comment. This was a difficult piece to write, but needed to distinguish between some fine lines that are being crossed by some of today’s overzealous teachers. I go into greater detail and make a stronger case with more evidence in my book, documenting biblical examples and modern illustrations. Even if you don’t agree, consider a couple of points, and just let them simmer on the back burner in your mind as you go about your walk in the Spirit and seeking the truth, which all believers must do.

    Platt’s teaching is close and sounds good, but it is misleading in two ways. First he makes accepting Christ sound harder than it is. We don’t have to prove by works that we’re worthy of being saved. Christ accepted us “while we were yet sinners.” The thief on the cross never had the chance to do any works, but accepted Christ in a true ‘heartfelt’ conversion and was saved then and there. Many theologians try and replace the heart of the Gospel with intellect and deeds. The heart is mentioned over 1000 times in Scripture and clearly represents a true change from within. No matter how we phrase things, there will always be people who say the right things and don’t mean them. It’s silly to argue about the correct phrasing for a true conversion, because it’s not up to us to save, only the Holy Spirit. Therefore we lead them to the Gospel, and it’s between them and God at that point, and only He can judge the man’s true heart (conversion).

    Secondly, Platt’s teaching of why we should ‘spread the Gospel’ is misleading because he doesn’t always make his full agenda clear. The motivation behind the ‘Great Commission’ to him, is that he believes that Christ will not return until the Church has spread the Gospel to all ‘people groups’. That is Kingdom Theology teaching (and a Good Works doctrine) and it is false. That would mean that it is up to Man’s ‘Good works’ to pave the way for The Kingdom. Just like Christ’s first coming wasn’t brought on by any works of Man (unless you count Adam’s sin in the Garden), neither will the Second Coming be thanks to any works of Man. Platt states clearly in his sequel to Radical that he does not believe in Salvation by works, but by dangling a carrot in front of Christians (even something as wonderful as the Second Coming) to motivate us to ‘spread the Gospel’, it makes an idol out of ‘Good Works’. Don’t misunderstand, ‘Good Works’ are more than wonderful, and evidence of our faith, but if we’re doing works because we’re trying to gain something, and not simply because God loved us, and we want to share that love (Good News, the Gospel) with those who are lost and suffering, then it takes away from the purity of the act of spreading the Gospel. If our acts or works are not pure, then they’re hay and stubble and will be burned up.

    Whether we agree or not on all doctrine, the only important truth is that we agree on Jesus, that He is the one and only Savior, and all any of us need is more of Him. God bless you on your Christian journey.

    C A Russell

  • Hank says:

    Mr. Russell, your article worries me because you wrote this without actually knowing what you are talking about. Or if you did, you have a vast and dangerous misunderstanding of Platt. After reading your article and your response in full, I am positive you have not actually listened to him, aside from just enough to attack a man of God who is simply doing more for the kingdom than you. There is absolutely NO reason to write this article other than to try and defame a person whole heartedly trying to expand the gospel! Is Platt more extreme than you… Yes. But then again so was Jesus!

  • Hank, I thank you for the comment and I understand your point. If we’re keeping score, Platt may very well have done more than I to “expand the gospel.” My point is that the Gospel is not a contest. We’re to each do what God called us to do. If that’s being a single mom, working full-time, cooking dinner and reading the Bible to her children every night, that’s as important in God’s plan as a world wide evangelist called to preach to millions. The article is intended to criticize Platt’s doctrine, not the man. “Good works” does not make a man’s teaching automatically right, and even if I’m not worthy to carry the man’s bible, I am still required (Scripturally) to discern a teachers message, and in my opinion, Kingdom Theology is a slippery slope, and Platt is the critical one by insulting many men of God for calling on multitudes to “give their heart” to Christ and have done much more for the Kingdom than he. C A Russell

  • Hank says:

    Mr. Russell you still aren’t getting it… Despite saying you do. Obviously I’m not going to Change your mind. But I truly think it’s sad that so many will attack a man that is just doing what he believes best to expand the message of Christ. You attack from a place of little knowledge (I say this because if you actually listened to Platt you would know that he in NO WAY minimizes any person call to be a “single mom” or “working full-time”. He simply points out, and rightfully so that there is more that Christ has called us to… We may not like it, and it certainly isn’t comfortable BUT the word demands action. Platt NEVER said works get to heaven in fact he is overly adamant that they can not, it is only through a relationship with Christ that true works flow! But Bible tells us faith without works is dead… And to work out our salvation with fear… So to say works has nothing to do with it is simply unbiblical. We are saved through faith not by works that anyone should boast. But if works do not follow we see that our belief our faith is not genuine. This simply pray a prayer theology that is SO common in the US isn’t in the Bible. But we want to hold on to it because we love the simple fast food sermons we’ve been feed. We want it our way. The only problem with that is God demands it His. We say things like “I’m just discerning” when in reality we are just clinging to what we have been feed. McDonalds might taste good, and it is quick and easy, BUT if it’s all you eat it will kill you. Pray a prayer and live your life, might sound good and it is quick and easy but it will send multitudes to hell. The big problem is our life as we follow Christ is not our own. The call to reach the world was not just for a select few… Jesus gave it to ALL. You don’t have to move to another country but you do have to be willing to. Please before you write another article criticizing ANYONE… Listen to more than one sermon, read more than one book. Compare it to the Bible and not just past ideas and sermons. God Bless… And I know I won’t change your mind, but hopefully with help of the Holy Spirit this can help someone searching for answers who reads you blog to not just shut Platt down without actually understanding what he says.

  • Hank, I fully agree on almost everything you said. It’s apparent we’re both believers and brothers in Christ, so as long as we’re in agreement on that, disagreeing on Platt’s teaching is really not important. Fortunately, it’s not me, you, Platt, Billy Graham or men at all that saves, but the Holy Spirit. If it were up to us, then it would be important to get the process, phrasing, formula or whatever it was exactly right. Since it’s the Holy Spirit, all we have to do is our part, which is watering and planting the best we know how as believers, then get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit work in people’s lives, starting with our own. Some will curse it, some will say and do the right things but not be sincere, but some will find true Salvation and Reconciliation with Christ. If you and I keep seeking the Truth at it’s source, God will reveal it to us in time and the Spirit will guide us. God bless you on your spiritual walk. C A Russell

  • Ray Wachlin says:

    Why are you saying David Platt is wrong. No friend he is right and I am a witness to praying that dumb prayer he is speaking of. What do we not get about what God says that some plant(The gospel) some water but, but it is God who reaps the harvest. That means you cannot decide when a person should be saved and they first have to be convicted of sin and then try and save themselves and then God saves them. This comes days weeks and even years after they have been CONVICTED of sin, death and hell and the judgment. Who fears the Lord? God says the beginning of all wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord. I was the worst of all sinners I have ever met. I remember the day God woke me and decided I was going to church to be cut to pieces as all I remember was the pastor saying Jesus said if you so much as look to lust after a women you have committed adultery with her. You could have read that to me when I said that little prayer and I would not have cared. It was not God’s time for me to be saved. And I tell you I went back out and kept doing Meth, LSD weed, beer, whiskey, Cocaine and cheating on my wife. Oh yes and I cursed like a sailor. But when God led me 14 years later to a church to hear that I was ruined and without hope . I tried cleaning myself up and that didn’t work. I had numerous dreams I was in hell, no flames either. Alone and the loneliness is times infinity. I then was saved when God led me out of town to stay at a motel where there was a bible and he said READ IT. I never heard him speak before, was this him. I ran away from this. I knew it was him, just had to be. Satan wouldn’t tell me to read it. It was not out loud either so you know. God saved me and I walked out the next day knowing I was saved. I walked away from drugs, went to work and my friend I worked with thought I lost my mind. He even asked me, what happened over the weekend. Gosh you don’t swear or tell dirty jokes and you don’t want to smoke dope now. Yes I am saved, been 16 years and I have seen satan come after me many times. I even seen the Lord heal a kitten through me and he even healed me of hepatitis b, been dormant ever since. I must tell you as Jesus said to so that the father is glorified. I even had satan come to me before God saved me and offered me fame and fortune for my soul. Ever heard of that? It’s real. I am not your typical convert I know. I have seen and experienced the depths of darkness. But how it is that God saved me and I changed that day? Works. I quit having dreams from hell based off works. David Platt is right and for your info. Billy Graham is a rat antichrist false teacher from hell

    Watch this

    http://youtu.be/5WWUoXuvYgQ

  • Ray Wachlin says:

    I see some thing Platt is wrong. Okay this is what I do not even get. How or why should anyone receive Christ? Okay so you offer me eternal life and say how God loves me. Cool. I want that but I also want to go and smoke dope chase women and maybe shoot some dope later, cool? Who cares right. I will be in church next Sunday to pay my respects. Maybe not. You people do not get it. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. God says we are his enemies and are under law, children of wrath. Jesus even said to bring his enemies to him that would not have them king over them and slay them at his feet. OOOH Jesus said that? That would be some peoples reaction yet they may have just said that dumb salvation prayer which gets who saved? Gosh that prayer just made me sin all the more I think. But when God did save me he did it his way and in his time and you know he didn’t let no man screw it up as he even sent me an angel, right to the house to water that seed. Think I am crazy. The man came out of the woods and made me mad as I was getting ready to smoke dope. Anyway he only stopped at my house. The conviction came from the reading of the law about adultery. Heck so many see not and hear not. It shall come for many though but then it will be the hard way yet it is still God whop decides when and how anyone is saved, not man.

  • Jenny says:

    Thank you for your article Mr. Russell. I don’t know this Platt guy but you are correct in what you are saying. I go out every Friday night with a small group of believers to share the Gospel and most people are really confused. They think as long as I’m a good person or I do this or that then I will be ok. Salvation is very simple because God has done all the work! Jesus shed His blood and took my punishment – all I need to do is accept His free gift of eternal life. It is a choice – either I enter into a covenant relationship with Christ or I don’t. It is like a marriage – the ceremony is easy but the marriage can be hard – after the ceremony you build your relationship with your spouse. As Christians we are to grow in our relationship with Christ and it can be hard to pick up our cross and follow Him. Christians are suppose to be part of the body of Christ and not everyone is called to be a street evangelist or missionary just as a body cannot function if it only has feet. God has called us all to different ministries to serve His will and His purpose. (Acts 6:1-6:6). Even though I was called to street evangelism, my first ministry is to be a helpmate to my husband and then a mother to our child. We are all called to be a light and to always be ready to explain the hope we have in Christ (1Peter3:15). I do wish Christians would share the Gospel more with others because it is the Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation – we can either accept it or reject it but we can’t add to it – just as Jesus said, “It is finished”. I enjoyed your article and I appreciate Billy Graham too. He is not a perfect man as some have commented (we aren’t either though, only Jesus was perfect) but Mr Graham loves the Lord and has allowed God to work in his life to will and to do His good pleasure and I appreciate that. Blessings brother.

  • Chandler Walsh says:

    Mr. Russell, I am an overseas worker for the Gospel. I haven’t read any of Platt’s books nor seen any of his messages, only what you’ve posted here. But I am intensely interested in the gospel. It seems to me that what is at issue here is man’s proper response to it. Not works vs grace. Not Kingdom Theology and the proper interpretation of Matt 24:14. Platt’s point seems valid to me: This prayer of “inviting Jesus into your heart” is not in the Bible anywhere. Furthermore, how many people EXPECTED to feel something exhilarating– the presence of Christ in their heart– when they asked for forgiveness of their sins. Then, if they didn’t, they were disappointed. They went to church hoping to discover the feeling of the living Jesus. I’m not saying that feelings are not valid. But I am saying that if we set people up for the expectation of feelings, they may be disappointed. They may think, “maybe I didn’t say it right”, so they pray the “sinner’s prayer” again… and again… and again… I love John 14:23- “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” This is not a promise to be delivered on at conversion, but upon obedience to Jesus’ commands. So my conviction is this. Our inner world [our heart] is a very important part of salvation as Graham points out. We need to come to a place where we make an important decision to repent and believe. We are commanded to do that. We don’t need to hold out the carrot of Christ coming into our hearts. And after we’ve made that decision– it may or may not be in the the context of a “sinners prayer”– then is the beginning of a spiritual journey or a new life… not the end. That man or woman or child needs to go on to be a disciple of Jesus with the help of other mature believers. [1-1 or small group] We need to grow up to maturity in the context of our everyday lives. My problem with “praying the sinners prayer” is not so much with the language, because as you’ve said, it is the Holy Spirit who saves. Our part is submission, even if the words are not right. But then people of God need to nurture the new believer into spiritual maturity. And as witnesses the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, we need to proclaim the good news to all and do it accurately.

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