What is decision theology?

What is decision theology?

Decision theology is the teaching that a person is saved and born-again when he makes a decision to accept Jesus Christ. To come to faith, a moment of decision must be made by the individual sinner. In this way, they are contributing to their own salvation. You may hear invitations such as:

  • “If you would like to begin to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ right now, right where you are, you need only ask Him…”
  • “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart. You need only to let Him in.”
  • “Inviting Jesus into your life is the most important decision you will ever make.”

What are the problems with decision theology?

By teaching that someone comes to faith by making their own decision, decision theology denies the effects of original sin. The fall of Adam and Eve into sin has left our minds so clouded that we don’t know what God’s will is or desire to do what is pleasing to God. The effects of original sin are so severe that Paul says, “you were dead in your transgressions and sin” (Eph 2:1). Not only are we unable to do anything pleasing to God, but we are enemies of God. “The sinful mind is hostile to God” (Rom. 8:7). How, then, could we make a decision for Christ?

Another problem with decision theology is that it gives human beings part of the credit for their conversion. God does His part, and we do ours, by deciding to accept His gift of salvation. The Bible tells us that we are saved by grace alone. Even faith is a gift from God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).

How, then, are we brought to faith?

We are not brought to faith by our own free will. Instead, we are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). God chooses us, not the other way around. As Jesus says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16). Conversion is God’s work. “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1Corinthians 12:3).

How are we born again?

Jesus tells us that this rebirth occurs through the Holy Spirit’s work in Holy Baptism. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). In Holy Baptism, we are brought to faith and God’s gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation become ours. All of this is ours by God’s grace! We are saved, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Lutherans joyfully confess the truth that although we are unable to make a decision for Jesus because of our sinful nature, God has chosen us and brought us to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. In the words of Luther’s explanation to the Apostles’ Creed, “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.”


What is decision theology? — 128 Comments

  1. @John Rixe #1
    But, John, what you are complaining of is not a doctrinal point, more of a peripheral remark, in both cases. And, for that matter, you can’t really prove it wrong from the Bible, either.

    Better leave it at “a pious opinion”!

  2. @helen #2

    Thanks for clearing that up. So the Confessions include stuff that may or may not be proven from the Bible. There’s nothing worse than a quatenus subcription….shame…shame 🙂 – kidding here –

  3. @Matthew Mills #46

    I could be mistaken, but I was taught that “inerrant” means that it contains no errors, while “infallible” means that it is incapable of error. Mr. Mills, I believe you and I are in full agreement in what we mean; we’re just using terms a little differently. The Confessions are without error, but could contain errors. The Scriptures are without error and cannot possibly have any. We do agree, right?

  4. @Ted Crandall #4
    I think we agree Pastor. I’d certainly say that the Confessions are free of doctrinal errors. Still, what do we do w/ poor Chemnitz’ “garlic juice faux pas? I mean, it doesn’t nullify the truth he is asserting that his illustration he chose isn’t true, but that’s the kind of thing we believe, teach and confess can not occur in the Bible due to the verbal inspiration of the Holty Spirit. The BOC 1580 isn’t verbally inspired, or inerrant because it does have at least that one error (and there are probably more, though they don’t affect the doctrine.) I believe teach and confess that the Scriptures should be interpreted in accordance w/ the Confessions, is that good enough?

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  5. @Matthew Mills #5
    “I’d certainly say that the Confessions are free of doctrinal errors…I believe teach and confess that the Scriptures should be interpreted in accordance w/ the Confessions, is that good enough?”

    Absolutely, Brother!

    “Still, what do we do w/ poor Chemnitz’ “garlic juice faux pas?”

    I would put that example of an “error” in the same category as the charges that the Bible is wrong, because it speaks of the “four corners” of the world, and we all know the earth is not flat.

    Besides, the Confessions mention the garlic juice example as one to be rejected:
    “The following and similar Pelagian errors are also censured and rejected, namely…that original sin is not a despoliation or deficiency, but only an external impediment to these spiritual good powers, as when a magnet is smeared with garlic-juice, whereby its natural power is not removed, but only hindered; or that this stain can be easily washed away, as a spot from the face or pigment from the wall.”

  6. What It Means To Subscribe

    But isn’t that making the Book of Concord, written by men, equal to the Bible, which is God’s word?  Not at all.  We are convinced that the holy Scriptures are God’s infallible, inerrant word in everything they say.  Whatever the Bible says on any subject is true because it is the word of God.  When, for example, the Bible tells us that Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians or the letters to Timothy, we are sure he really wrote them.  There can be no mistake about the authorship of that letter.  When the Bible tells us God created the world in six days, this is a factual account of how the world and everything in it came into being.

    On the other hand, when we subscribe to our confessions, we are not asserting that we hold every historical or scientific statement in them as infallibly true.  There are, for example, historical errors.  Ambrose is listed as the author of a quotation in Article VI of the Augsburg Confession (Triglotta, p 47).  The quotation, however, was taken from a document called the Ambrosiaster, which according to modern historians was not written by Ambrose.  We do not subscribe to this historical error, but to the doctrine asserted in the quotation, “It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone.”  Likewise the quotation attributed to Augustine in Article XVIII is from a work which is now attributed to someone else (Triglotta, p 51).  In T.D. XI, Matthew 22:14 is incorrectly cited as Matthew 20:16 (Triglotta, p 1079).  In S.A. II, IV, Luther incorrectly refers to Revelation 10:3 as coming from Revelation 12 (Triglotta, p 473).  The Apology’s interpretation of the words “the communion of saints” in the Apostles Creed as a description of the Holy Christian Church may not be a historically correct interpretation of the original meaning of the creed, which may have referred to the sharing of holy things, that is, the means of grace (Triglotta, p 229).    – John Brug, Why Bible-Believing Lutherans Subscribe to the Book of Concord, July 2001

    Does “free of doctrinal errors” mean “inerrant”?

  7. @John Rixe #7
    I can’t speak for others, but wrote “free of doctrinal errors” instead of “inerrant’ intentionally. For me, they are different for the reasons listed in your quote.

  8. Now wait a minute! In looking back here, wasn’t it John himself who threw out the word “inerrant” to begin with? (Page 2; comment 5) 🙂

  9. I’m the only one who’s inerrant around here.

    You need to work on your pious belief that I’m always right.

  10. @John Rixe #12
    I’m the only one who’s inerrant around here. 🙂

    You need to work on your pious belief that I’m always right. 😉

    “Smileys” are made by typing a : or ; followed by a ) 🙂

    Frowns the same but followed by the left paren.

  11. Does “free of doctrinal errors” mean “inerrant”?

    OK, you strict and wooden literalists, you’ve convinced me. I was wro… wro… wro… (People of a certain age are thinking of the Fonz.) Are you happy now? 😛

    I’ll start saying our Confessions are “free from doctrinal errors” and try to stop saying they are “inerrant.” (Please note that I never said or believed them to be infallible.) (No smiley here!)

    But it won’t be easy, though, because…

    “A man convinced against his will
    is of the old persuasion still.”

    🙂 😉 🙂

    (Those are all for you, Helen, dear.)

  12. @Ted Crandall #16

    Those 🙂 😉 🙂 ‘s were to indicate that John should not take himself more seriously than I do.

    This one 🙁 is because he has seemingly lost the ability to spell. 😉

  13. Once upon a time…. Ray Anderson headed the D.Min program at Fuller Seminary and happened to mention that the seminary had considered admitting students from what was then called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. When asked if that church’s acceptance of the Book of Mormon as scripture was a problem, his answer was interesting. He said that several denominations treat their own church confessions as de facto scripture. Both the Reformed and Lutherans claim their creeds simply are “the” true New Testament doctrine–clearly both can’t be right. Can’t the Book of Mormon be considered as an extra-biblical “creed”? Or, so went the argument. Ultimately, the Reorganized LDS weren’t admitted. But the (what seems very odd) parallel between the BOM and quasi–scriptural creeds got some brief traction.

  14. @Ron #19
    “Both the Reformed and Lutherans claim their creeds simply are “the” true New Testament doctrine–clearly both can’t be right.”

    And both the Muslims and the Christians claim theirs is the one true God — both can’t be right.

    What was Ray’s point?

  15. “Both the Reformed and Lutherans claim their creeds simply are “the” true New Testament doctrine–clearly both can’t be right.”

    And both the Muslims and the Christians claim theirs is the one true God — both can’t be right.

    What was Ray’s point?

    Pastor Crandall, great question, of course. It wasn’t always easy to ferret out his point. In this case, here’s my (fallible) guess. I think he would respond that Islam makes no claim of having any confessions with theologies that present themselves as isomorphic with scripture.
    In older scholastic language (which doubtless he didn’t know), I believe he’s assuming the Bible is the material object, while Reformed and Lutheran confessions are formal objects–the perspectives from which the material object is seen. The Koran would be an entirely different material object of study, to which Reformed or Lutheran perspectives would not apply at all. Of course, your main point is right on target: given two contrary claims, only one can be true, while both may be false. But then, I think if the assumption is that one or the other confession is absolutely true in the whole and in the part, then it would be a case of contradictories–such that if one is true, the other is necessarily false. Since each of the confessions in question agree on some points, I suppose neither side could consider this a case of contradiction in each and every point. The “Community of Christ” (aka, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) was making the case that if some denominations place their creeds on a de facto, if not de jure, parity with scripture, then why not their own “Christian” extrabiblical text? At least, I think this is what his argument would be. I had a severe case of nystagmus when I first heard the parallel myself. But, I did begin wondering about the nature of Reformation creeds (as you can see, I’m no expert on them).

  16. Being a Follower of Christ, from a Muslim background, I may have different perspective on how people are called to faith in Christ
    I believe that I did not take a decision for Christ…He has dragged me from the scruff of the neck…I was dragged into salvation in spite of myself. However, I can tell you when the seed of faith in Christ was planted, when the flower started to blossom, and when the fruit started to appear, or mature… We will stay sinners, whether we trust Jesus or not, but AFTER the seed is planted, we feel the emptiness in our heart that only Christ could fill…After the flower start blossoming, we start to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit for sins, repent, and lose “our addiction” to sin.
    I believe that faith is a mystery…nothing that I am saying is new… How people come to faith, I believe that everyone has or need a different dynamic that calls him/her to Christ…However, the common dynamic is the WORD of God…I know that I am not saying anything new…but I believe that He drags us like fish in a net, from the sea of sin and unbelief…As an evangelist, I keep casting my net, and trust God to bring fish..
    Concerning the Word of God and evangelism, I noticed, through the years, that everyone has a different “silver bullet” that brings him/ her to his/her knees, or shoot him/ her in the heart; mine was: “Love your enemies”

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