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In my last blog, I suggested that “faith” consists of no less than four components (aligned with “the greatest commandment” to love God with one’s mind, soul, heart and strength): 

            Cognition (or “mind”) = what one understands

            Volition (or “will”)       = to what one commits/submits

            Affection (or “heart”) = what one desires

            Action (or “strength” or “hands & feet”) = what one does

From here, I’d like to explore what I think is a common reductionism in evangelical Protestantism: reducing “saving faith” to a single point-in-time “decision.”

I recognize that sometimes conversion can indeed be a dramatic, point-in-time occurrence. I know that “gospel calls” in the New Testament are calls to decision. I realize that, at the end of Acts 2, three thousand souls were added to the Kingdom in a single day.

I mean, hey, y’all, I’m Baptist, ordained Southern Baptist; I’ve been a Baptist all my life.  I know the power of the altar call. … and some of its problems, too. . . . 

Here is what gives me pause.

The emphasis on cognition was already high in the Protestant conflict with Catholicism in the 16thcentury. With Catholicism perceived at the time as touting a mindless submission to the authority of the Church for salvation (emphasis for them on “proper volition”), the Reformers insisted that one must understand what the cross work of Christ entailed and from what this costly benefit secured salvation. “Salvation from the wrath of God by understanding and accepting penal substitutionary atonement” resulted as a common by-product of this debate in Protestantism. To this day, “the gospel” for Protestants is too often thought to be “understand the doctrine of penal substitution/forensic justification.”

By the way, I would not want to deny this doctrinal point. I just don’t want to reduce “the gospel” to such. As Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School (a fellow Southern Baptist, by the way) has put it, that comes too close to making justification by doctrinal erudition.

Secondly, the era of Revivalism took this emphasis on doctrinal cognition a yet farther step. Again, much good was done, many people brought to Christ and brought into fellowship with healthy communities of faith by the revivals and revivalists of the 18th, 19th, and 20thcenturies. But there was a nasty downside, too, in terms of how “the gospel” tended to be framed. That is, because “the gospel” was framed as “a decision” to be made that night at the end of a service in which “a gospel presentation” was made and “an invitation to accept Christ” extended, “the gospel” tended to be thought of and framed as something of a “sales pitch.”

You and I know what happens when “a product” is being sold; costs are minimized, benefits accentuated. “How little is demanded of the poor sinner” to be saved became a common theme, the benefit of “you can know tonight that you will spend eternity in heaven with God, no matter how gross your sins” likewise became a common theme. 

Now, just for starters, recognize that not a single “gospel presentation” in the Bible sounds quite like that. Why not?


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have  

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