The Failure of Decision Theology

jesus-thorns-cross-sculpture

I happened to notice a friend share his testimony online with an atheist, and in his dialogue he included the following statement:

“Once you decide who created this all, I feel it only respectful to figure out what this being wants – and how I can please him/her. I chose Christ.”

It’s natural for me to see these things because a lot of my friends believe in decision theology, which is common among evangelicals.  The magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is called “Decision” because they teach decision theology.  It is quite prevalent and is believed by some fine people, including a lot of my friends.

If you believe in decision theology, I want to biblically show you two things.

  1. We didn’t choose God, we were chosen by God.  Man has no part in his own salvation.
  2. We were not chosen by God because He wants something.  We were chosen exclusively because He loves us.

Consider these verses;

 

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” John 15:16 ESV

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:44 ESV

“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Ephesians 1:4 ESV

“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9 ESV

Before God draws us, we are spiritually dead.  Ephesians 2:1 starts with,

 

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.”

Dead people don’t make choices.  It is more like when Jesus came and raised up Lazarus from the dead, saying, “Lazarus, come forth.”  It wasn’t, “Lazarus, do you want to choose to be raised from the dead?”.  Just consider how silly it would be to insert a decision moment before resurrection….

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When Paul wrote Romans 3:10-11, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God’,” he meant exactly what he said.  He didn’t mean “those other people don’t seek for God.”  He means, “no one,” including those of us who now believe because of God’s gracious choice.

So, why did God save us, which is the second part of my premise?  In the same passage, at Ephesians 2:4, we read, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved.”

Why?  “Because of the great love with which He loved us.”  No other reason.  It was not so we would do something for God.

The fact we have been saved by grace is strongly reiterated in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

This includes the work of making a decision.

It may feel like we’ve made a decision, but we have already believed and already been saved before we make the decision we perceive we’ve made.

Now, when we are saved we do begin functioning somewhat normally and somewhat according to God’s original design, as Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  We never in this life, while we carry the sinfulness inherent in our flesh, do this perfectly according to God’s design, but we do begin and through God’s grace grow in it.

Why is this important?

For a number of reasons….

First of all, when we present our faith as a matter of our choice, we’re just not telling the same story the Scriptures tell of our being chosen by God before the foundation of the world.  We have no authority to change the message and the people who taught us this had no authority change it either.

Second, this takes justification out of the realm of human choices, and recognizes it as God’s infallible and eternal choice.  If it is my choice, it is prone to error, and failure, and change.  God’s choice on the other hand does not change.

Third, it also takes away boasting.  We convey an air of superiority when we say we have made such a “good choice,” that our choices are better than those others have made.  We didn’t choose Him, He chose us and granted us repentance unto the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25).  This should give us greater humility and thankfulness, because there was nothing in ourselves that caused God to choose us.  As Ephesians 2:4 said above, the only “because” is “because of the great love with which he loved us.”

Fourth, it changes how we approach mission.  We no longer have to try to cajole, manipulate, or convince people to make a decision.  We present the Word of God to them and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.  Usually we do this because God the Holy Spirit is already at work in them and they are asking questions.

It changes how we view mission outcomes.  When a person is saved, it is because God has “granted them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).  We can rejoice in that, but we can take no credit for our ability to convince them.  We didn’t convince them, the Holy Spirit did through the Word.

If they don’t believe, we also can take no blame or fear that our witness was not good enough, or we “messed up.”

When a person is saved, it is God’s choice.  When a person is not saved, it is that person’s choice, because God desires that all will come to repentance;

 

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  2 Peter 3:9 ESV

 

This is paradoxical, but is more honest with the Scriptures overall than the Calvinist belief that if God chooses some for salvation, he must choose hell for those who are not saved.

Fifth, this is what separates Christianity from all other religions.  In other religions, the followers serve their god, and if they do a good enough job, maybe they get to heaven.  In Christianity, God chose us, serving us as a good father serves his own children.  The same way a human father serves his children, not expecting things back from them.

How is this difference helpful when it comes to sharing our witness with an atheist?

Well, first off we aren’t condemning him for his choices, or basing our witness on the notion that our choices are better than his.  We can come to him as equals, people whose choices also caused them to deserve condemnation, but who have received salvation despite our choices.

We can come to him recognizing that making a choice for Jesus in the flesh is totally impossible for all of us apart from the miracle of God’s granting us belief.  Therefore a lifelong atheist is not a “harder case” than anyone else.

We can also show him that whatever choices he has made in the past have no bearing on the possibility he can be saved, because our choices have nothing to do with our salvation.  Our salvation is an act of God akin to a miraculous healing.  As Jesus pointed out, a healing is a forgiveness of sins.  The forgiveness of sins is salvation.

Mainly, it helps us to know our role.  To give the Word, which is a means of grace that the Spirit can use to work faith in anyone who can receive it.  What follows is the Spirit’s doing, creating faith in the person who hears it.  God created the world with His Word, and certainly creates faith with it as well, and with as little cooperation!

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8 Responses to The Failure of Decision Theology

  1. Jason Skudlarek says:

    Excellent post. I wish this was mandatory reading for all Christians! How we despise divine monergism! Here’s my personal list of proof-texts showing decision theology to be completely wrong:

    Nobody righteous: Gen 8:21; Ps 15 and 24 (not talking about us!), 130:3; Prov 20:9; Eccl 3:16, 7:20, 9:3; Is 64:6, Ps 143:2, Job 9:2-3, 30-31; Jer 17:9; Zech 2:13; Dan 9:18-19; Mt 15:19; Jn 3:6 and 15:5; Rom 3:10-18, 23, 5:6 and 12, 8:7-8 (and ref’s therein: Ps 14:1-3, 53:1-3, 5:9, 140:3, 36:1, 10:7, Is 59:7-8); Rom 10:17-11:16; 1 Cor 15:22; 2 Cor 3:5; Eph 2:5; 1 Jn 1:8
    Original sin: Gen 8:21, Ps 51:5 and 58:3, Rom 3:10-11, 23, Eccl 7:20
    Nobody seeks God: Rom 3:11; Ps 14:2 and 53:2-3

    Monergism:
    Gen 8:21
    Ex 33:19
    Ps 53:2-3
    Is 55:10-11
    Ezek 36:25-27 (baptism, too)
    Mt 11:27
    Mk 9:24
    Jn 1:13
    Jn 6:44, 63-65 (flesh profits nothing)
    Jn 3:6 and 15:5, 16
    Acts 1:7 (we don’t know when conversion will occur), 13:48, 16:14, 18:27
    Rom 3:28, 8:7, 28-30, 9:16, 10:17 (faith comes from hearing)
    1 Cor 1:30, 2:8-14, 12:3 (no one can say Jesus is Lord except by Holy Spirit)
    2 Cor 1:22, 3:5, and 5:5
    Gal 4:6 and 5:22 (faith is fruit of spirit)
    Eph 1:4-5, 2:5, 8 (1-13 point to Jn 11, Lazarus), 3:14-17, 6:23-24
    Phil 1:29
    1 Thess 4:8; 2 Thess 2:13-14
    2 Tim 1:9
    Titus 3:3-8
    Hebrews 12:1-2
    James 1:18
    1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:1
    1 Jn 5:1 (regeneration IS faith)

    As you can tell, I used to struggle with this doctrine myself! But the scriptural evidence is 100% clear.

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  2. TrueBluePT says:

    You make some good points. It is about what God does for us, but isn’t a response of faith necessary? (Romans 10:9-10) Salvation is a gift but doesn’t a gift have to be received in order to be actualized? I think the decision that is most important is the choice to be a disciple of Jesus.

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    • Jason Skudlarek says:

      Egad. Methinks you’re missing the point. Your will is not a tool used in your conversion. Rather, it is the OBJECT of conversion, because your will is only and wholly counter to and against God and faith due to its fallen nature. You have no more ability to respond with faith or make a decision to be a Christ-follower than a dead corpse has of getting up and walking around. This is the error of Decision Theology, and it has infected the church in America to such an extent that people can’t see the error. Granted, this has always(?) been a problem in the church, but it is especially rampant nowadays.

      Rather than go on a long discourse, I simply urge you to read this short article. It sums up everything with regards to monergism and conversion: http://www.stpaulslutheranchurch.net/cruxtheologorum.html

      Most importantly:
      If a person is saved, it is entirely the work of God.

      If a person is not saved, it is entirely the fault of the person.

      But someone will protest: “That doesn’t make sense!” To which we respond, “That’s right, it doesn’t make sense—at least not to us. But then, it doesn’t have to make sense to us to be true.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jason Skudlarek says:

      I should have added: this doctrine is vitally important with regards to assurance. If ANY part of your conversion is dependent upon us, flawed, selfish, sinful human beings, there can be no assurance of salvation, because we rightfully doubt ourselves and our thoughts and our motives. But since our conversion is wholly dependent upon our loving God, we can rest in the knowledge that He has saved us, not because of anything lovable in us, but because of what Christ has done for us. Luther often spoke this way.
      “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

      Liked by 1 person

      • cypheroz says:

        The Bible does NOT teach eternal salvation, although it sure would be nice if it did. The WHOLE Bible warns Christians that they can “fall from grace” (Gal 5:1-5), be “cut off” from salvation (Rom 11:18-22), have their names removed from the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 22:19), by committing certain sins and not repenting of them (cf. Eph 5:3-5; 1 Cor 6:9; al. 5:19, Rev 21:6-8).

        In a chilling reminder of the possibility of losing salvation by separating oneself from Christ, Paul says, “I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27).
        Here are a couple of additional passages that pretty much spell out the fact that one can lose one’s salvation:

        Matthew 10:22; 2 Peter 2:20-22 (lose your salvation then come back); 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Colossians 1:22-23; Hebrews 3:6, 14 (if); Rev 2:10, 25-36; 3:1-5

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  3. Mike Ureel says:

    Interesting discussion. I am learning about this topic, but I come at it from a strong initial standpoint (probably due to my past decision theology experience) steeped in decision brand Christianity. Some questions/points:
    – Why the need for “calling” or preaching or the Gospel message to go out into world if God makes people believe?
    – If God makes us believe, what is the purpose of our individual agency and will? Why doesn’t he just tweak our minds, hearts to believe in Him?
    – If it is all God, who is it that “believes” in Christ? If I don’t have control over what I believe, doesn’t that render belief and faith meaningless to the person?
    – If our volition or will isn’t necessary, why doesn’t God make everyone believe and be saved?
    – What of Jesus’ parable of the sower? So God wills some to receive belief with “joy” and then He takes it away later?
    – The words “draw” “call” “lead” referring to God bringing us to Him implies that it requires decisions or action on our parts too.
    – Spiritually dead people make decisions all the time, as life requires us to. If i’m not Christian and a friend invites me to church for the first time, i can decide to go or not; I can decide to listen to the street preacher or not; i open the bible in my hotel room or not.
    – Why God save the elect without their decision, yet their obedience and later spiritual growth is on them?

    God bless

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    • ACTheologian says:

      Good Questions!

      – Why the need for “calling” or preaching or the Gospel message to go out into world if God makes people believe?

      When we preach the Word (Rom 10:17) God supernaturally gives faith to the hearer (Eph 2:8). This faith is delivered by means, namely preaching in this case. So if you subtract the means you don’t have God doing it.

      – If God makes us believe, what is the purpose of our individual agency and will? Why doesn’t he just tweak our minds, hearts to believe in Him?

      God gives us faith, a substance, a noun. Belief is the verb we do after receiving that, it is a good work. We are not saved by good works we are saved by faith. Human will is the object of conversion not the agency of it. Confessing belief after receiving faith is just one of many good works that happens when you’re given faith.

      – If it is all God, who is it that “believes” in Christ? If I don’t have control over what I believe, doesn’t that render belief and faith meaningless to the person?

      I think my last answer got this one too. God gives faith, then we believe after having been saved.

      – If it is all God, who is it that “believes” in Christ? If I don’t have control over what I believe, doesn’t that render belief and faith meaningless to the person?

      Is that the same question again? I think I already got that one for you. Let me know if I missed something.

      – If our volition or will isn’t necessary, why doesn’t God make everyone believe and be saved?

      For reasons he has not revealed to us, God has placed the means of grace in the hands of the Church. The more proper question would be why has God placed all of creation subject to his Church in this regard. And the answer is I don’t know. Maybe just to glorify himself, that’s what the calvinists say anways. That works for me.

      – What of Jesus’ parable of the sower? So God wills some to receive belief with “joy” and then He takes it away later?

      I believe that though we cannot choose to have faith, we can choose to reject it after having received it. Thus salvation is monergistic but damnation is synergistic. I think that fits nicely with the sower as you may seem to expect the soil to throw the seed too based on your reasoning? Or at least help out in some regard with that? That’s now how I would see it.

      – The words “draw” “call” “lead” referring to God bringing us to Him implies that it requires decisions or action on our parts too.

      So he needs our help to save us? Really? I don’t feel that special to be honest. I didn’t help Jesus die for me and send someone to preach the word to me. Any decisions I made after receiving faith are salvifically irrelevant. It’s like saying someone chooses to fly by walking on a plane as a passenger. They do not, the pilot is the one who is flying the plane. Your decision to enter a plane is irrelevant to the pilots actions.

      – Spiritually dead people make decisions all the time, as life requires us to. If i’m not Christian and a friend invites me to church for the first time, i can decide to go or not; I can decide to listen to the street preacher or not; i open the bible in my hotel room or not

      Correct, but those are not salvifically relevant decisions. That’s why means of grace is placed within your reach, the grace itself is not within your reach. It has to be given to you.

      – Why God save the elect without their decision, yet their obedience and later spiritual growth is on them?

      I don’t think that’s true, I believe God sanctifies you too through the same means. And I don’t think it’s limited to the elect either, the reprobate are simply known to fall away sometime before they die.

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    • JWSkud says:

      You are asking all the right questions! Most of them are addressed on this excellent, short article on the Crux Theologorum: http://www.stpaulslutheranchurch.net/cruxtheologorum.html. This short article is a fine treatise on the subject of conversion from a distinctly Lutheran (aka Scriptural) standpoint.

      In brief, if a man is damned, it is his own fault through denial of the saving grace and call of the Gospel. If a man is saved, all thanks is to God, for He alone saves. To say anything (and I do mean anything!) beyond this is to go beyond scripture. Many of your questions cannot be answered using Scripture alone. Thus the rationalistic Calvinists develop their doctrine of Double Predestination, and the Arminians develop their doctrine of Decision Theology. Both are wrong, for both deny scripture.

      It took me a long time to come to grips with the Lutheran teaching of divine monergism, because it is a paradox. And yet, as Lutherans, we allow the paradox to stand unanswered, knowing that God doesn’t reveal everything to us. This is frustrating to most, and so they add their own doctrines.

      More of your questions are answered in Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Apostle’s Creed, as written in the Small Catechism:

      “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.” In other words, God uses the Word to call people to faith.

      Good answers above!

      One last item: I had all of this explained to me by a pastor on a podcast (Table Talk Radio) in the clearest of terms. He said, “The human will is not a tool used in conversion, rather it is the OBJECT of conversion.” Profound and wholly scriptural. Hope this helps.

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