I couldn't help but notice Joe Carter's list of dangerous fads (that unfortunately became fixtures) among Evangelicals. We in the churches of Christ are not generally considered Evangelicals, but I can definitely relate with a lot of this so I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents.
#1 The Sinner’s Prayer – The gates of hell have a special entrance reserved for people who thought that they had a “ticket to heaven” because someone told them all they needed to do was recite the “sinner’s prayer.” Salvation, however, is not obtained by reciting a magical incantation as many, many, “Christians” will discover after it's far, far, too late.
I wouldn't be surprised if Joe gets a lot of grief on this one. (He didn't wait to go after the sacred cows, did he?) I can't disagree with him on this though. There are quite a lot of passages in scripture about salvation. However, the "Sinner's Prayer" isn't mentioned in any of them. Why can we not stick with the Biblical plan?
#2 The Altar Call – In the 1820’s evangelist Charles Finney introduced the “anxious seat,” a front pew left vacant where at the end of the meeting “the anxious may come and be addressed particularly…and sometimes be conversed with individually.” At the end of his sermon, he would say, “There is the anxious seat; come out, and avow determination to be on the Lord’s side.”
Joe explains that the problem with this is that it seems to put the evangelist in the place of the Holy Spirit. (In that it seems to imply that people can come to the faith by sheer force of the evangelist's will.)
I can't entirely commiserate with him on this one. I'm not familiar with an "anxious seat" per se. However, we generally have what we call the "Invitation." This is a time set aside not only for the non-believer to confess their faith and be baptized, but for the believer to ask for prayers.
While I realize this probably isn't exactly what Joe was referring to, my experience leads me to believe that he may be overstating the case here. I would certainly agree that the presumption that an evangelist can simply tell people to have faith and suddenly they will have it is quite absurd. On the other hand, I have seen many occassions when a strong lesson, or series of lessons, can provide the tipping point in one's journey to faith. Shouldn't we provide such people an opportunity to make that faith manifest?
On the other hand, I've seen my share of evangelists who seem to think that it is their duty in life to convert every non-believer in the room on the strength of a single sermon. 1With these men I was uncomfortable with a lot more than just the invitation.
#3 “Do you know Jesus as…” -- In the fall of 1987 I began my freshman year of college. I was far from home, overwhelmed and lonely on a campus of 20,000 students. While sitting alone in the cafeteria one afternoon, an older student walked up, smiled and asked if he could join me. I was starved for conversation and thrilled to have the company. He sat his tray down in front of mine and took a seat as I prepared to engage him in a heady discussion of his choosing. Politics, philosophy, science. I was mentally preparing for anything he threw at me.
Glancing up from his plate of spaghetti, he asked, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
For a few seconds I was stunned, completely at a loss for a response. “Um, yeah, actually I have.” I finally managed in reply.
“Oh,” he said, visibly disappointed. “Okay, that’s good.” He wore a look of minor defeat. He had chosen the wrong table; no soul would be won for Christ over this lunch. We chatted politely while I finished my burger. He ate quickly and excused himself. After that lunch, I never saw him again.
I think Joe's right on this one as well; If you have to ask this question, you probably don't know the person well enough to be trying to convert them. In this case I'm afraid that the fact that this method does generate some success is the reason it is so popular. Unfortunately, it fails to take into account the differences of personality; while some people are most gratified to be approached as Joe describes, there are a great many who could be turned off, maybe permanently, by this approach.
#4 Tribulationism -- Ask a non-believer to give a rudimentary explanation of “the Rapture” and chances are they can provide a fairly accurate description of that concept. Ask the same person to give a basic explanation of the Gospel message, though, and they are likely to be stumped ... I’m sure that somewhere in the three dozen novels that comprise the Left Behind series the Gospel message is presented. But there is something horribly wrong when the greatest story ever told is buried beneath a third-rate tale of the apocalypse.
In fact, I don't have much to disagree or expand on the rest of Joe's points so I'll let them stand.
I think the crux of what Joe is saying here is that a) we do better to stick to the Biblical example than to keep reinventing the wheel and b) if we want to bring people to Christ, we should spend more time living the life of Christ and less time chasing the newest ideas. (My apologies in advance if I got this wrong.) I can't say I disagree with any of that.