Dan Phillips writes about altar calls on the Pyromaniacs blog. I've also written that I am not a fan. (The article also shows that D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wasn't a fan either.)
Phillips 15 points can be divided into two pieces; reasons he doesn't like altar calls, and reasons he doesn't like just critiquing altar calls:
- 1. The very term altar call should give any Christian pause. We don't have an altar here. We shouldn't be calling men to an "altar," we should be calling them to Christ... and there's no way in the world I'm going to start using the phrase "Christ call." [UPDATE: btw, a few hours after writing that, something occurred to me. Premise: the only "thing" we should care about calling men to isn't a thing, it's a Person: it is Jesus Christ. Observation: but if we were to stop calling it an "altar call," and dubbed it instead a "Christ call," then it might cease immediately. Because what Biblically-instructed pastor could ever with a straight face try to connect walking somewhere on earth with meeting the Lord Jesus? But if that isn't what we're calling them to, then why are we doing it? And if they don't need to walk an aisle to do it, why make it sound as if they do?]
- 2. Though it is not determinative, it certainly is significant that (A) no evangelist in most Christian history felt the need to do it, and (B) the first to popularize it was the heretic Charles Finney.
- 3. I've also seen horrid, endless, manipulative altar calls (almost but not quite "anyone who loves his mother, come forward").
- 4. To bid people to "come forward and receive Christ" necessarily creates the impression that Jesus is waiting for them at the front of the church (which He isn't), that there's a tractor-beam of salvation located at the front of the auditorium (which there isn't), and that to meet Him they have to relocate their bodies (which they don't).
- 5. "Altar calls" with big responses may or may not puff up a preacher, but altar calls with no response make Christ and the Gospel look pathetic and powerless, though neither is either.
- 6. Further, the primary purpose of assembly is not evangelism but edification.
- 7. Having said all that, the fact that many Calvinists are content to leave it there isn't a happy thing, and isn't adequate. Nor is saying (literally, or in effect) "Oh just let God save them" and "Let the Word do its work" and so forth. To be more specific:
- 8. Simply to say (in effect) "Altar calls are unbiblical and Finneyite, church isn't for evangelism, let people find their own way to God" simply reinforces the (God help us, it had better be) false impression that Calvinists are (A) uninterested in evangelism, (B) indifferent to seekers, (C) cerebral, and (D) arrogantly self-involved.