John the Baptist called on people to repent and believe the good news
(Matthew 3:2). Jesus did the same (Matthew 4:17). They were calling for people to make a decision. As Evangelicals we also call people today to make a decision to follow Christ. This is right and good.
However the call to make a decision can sometimes be divorced from the gospel itself. I was at a church meeting recently where the pastor called for people to make a decision for Christ. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. The problem was that he had not explained the gospel at all. Not a word about sin, judgement, Jesus’ death, resurrection, atonement for sin… Just a call to make a decision. A decision divorced from any historical facts and reality about Jesus. I was astounded.
Graeme Goldsworthy writes: “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.”
Goldsworthy concludes: “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.”