Thursday, July 14, 2011

I posted this a while ago, but I found it again on my computer and felt it was worthy of a "re-post":


We have fallen prey to Decisionism: “Evangelical Bultmannism”

A key evangelical belief is that people must be called to make a decision concerning the claims of Christ. Thus when people decide that Jesus Christ has indeed lived and died for them, they are often said to have made a decision for Christ. There are plenty of biblical grounds for challenging people to repent and believe the gospel. That is not in dispute. The important thing is that the decision should be a decision to place one’s trust alone in the Christ who has done all that is necessary for us to be accepted by God and to inherit eternal life.

So, what is my problem with decisions, and why am I so provocative as to refer to decisionism as ‘evangelical Bultmannism’? I do this because I have experienced and witnessed the effects of calls ‘to decide for Jesus’ that have been made when almost no reason has been given why anyone should so decide. Rudolf Bultmann applied his existential philosophy in such a way that for him the historicity of the events of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth is not the central issue. What matters is the telling of the story, which may or may not be historically factual, and the way this story helps us in our self-understanding and authentic decisions in life. While not endorsing Bultmann’s philosophy and historical scepticism, there are evangelicals who are so earnest in calling for decisions for Jesus that they seem to forget to tell people why they should decide for Jesus. I remember listening to a speaker at an evangelistic meeting whose only mention of the death of Jesus was a passing reference in his closing prayer. I was acting as an advisor to follow up on the after-meeting counselling. I spoke to a young couple who had heard the talk, gone out to the front, been ‘counselled’ and then brought to me. They obviously had not heard any gospel in either the address or the counselling. They had no idea about being justified by faith in the doing and dying of Christ. It seems that the decision can become everything. People are exhorted to turn to Christ, to receive Christ, to ask Jesus into their hearts, and the like, even when they have been given no substantial idea at all of who Jesus was and what he has done to save us.

It should be obvious how gospel-centered hermeneutics addresses this prevalent evangelical approach. Preaching the gospel does not consist in a few generalities followed by an impassioned plea for a decision. To preach the gospel is to state clearly who Jesus is and what he has done. People must be urged to make a decision in the light of the historical events of Jesus and what God says about these events. They must be urged to repent and believe, to put their whole faith and trust in Jesus as the one who has done what is necessary for us to be saved. The problem is not in the call for a decision. The error of decisionism is to dehistoricize the gospel and to make the decision the saving event. To that extent it expresses an existential hermeneutic


—Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 174

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