I receive in the mail the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary Messenger, the free periodical of this Southern Baptist seminary. The Winter 2015 issue was entitled: "Focus on Evangelism." On page 5, the "Practical Missions Report" indicates that all seminary students at the institution between August 2015 and November 2015 witnessed to 1,725 people. That does not sound like all that many in terms of the number of students enrolled at the seminary, although one can be glad that some evangelism is going on. Followed by this not especially high number, the striking figure follows that of these 1,725 people witnessed to 185 made "professions of faith," according to the magazine. This practice of 1 in 10 or higher of the people witnessed to making what the periodical calls "professions of faith"--that is, repeating the "sinner's prayer"--is something that has been relatively consistent in this Southern Baptist periodical, as I have noticed over the course of quite a number of issues. On page 9, one student testifies that he has seen "more than 54,000 precious people ask Jesus to save them, over 1,000 this year alone." On page 19, the seminary promotes a vision of having Southern Baptist pastors and other church leaders "share the gospel with at least one person per week." This terribly low goal would be considered "revival," and the president of the seminary invited "all 46,000 Southern Baptist pastors to join us in sharing the Gospel an average of once a week . . . [i]f only one in 20 of those hearers prayed to receive Christ, that would be more than 200,000 professions of faith in Christ! Friends, we are going to take our nation back!" None of the statistics given in the magazine indicate how many of the people who said the sinner's prayer were baptized or continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers (Acts 2)--probably because the number was very, very low. Nowhere in the magazine is there the slightest warning about false professions.
What is striking for anyone who seeks to practice Biblical evangelism is that these statistics are astonishingly high. There is no evidence that anywhere close to 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 of the people Christ or the Apostles preached to was genuinely converted. Nor do I know anyone who practices Biblical evangelism in the United States that sees conversion statistics such as these, that is, if conversion is defined as a lost person, enabled by God's grace, coming to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. If, however, "professions of faith" are defined as manipulating people to repeat a "sinner's prayer," then 1 in 10, at least in certain socio-economic strata of America, is not surprising, nor especially difficult. It can be done without any help from God at all.
Statistics such as these indicate that Hyles-type "evangelism" is, sadly, not restricted to certain segments of fundamental, independent Baptists. Such "evangelism" is rampant in Southern Baptist evangelicalism and in many other evangelical circles. For instance, Bill Bright's Four Spiritual Laws was explicitly developed by a salesman with salesmanship in mind. The only major difference is that Hyles-people typically do more salesmanship than one person a week, the goal for the Southern Baptist pastors.
Just as Hyles-style salesmanship disguised as "evangelism" has led to huge numbers of unregenerate people in Hyles-churches--explaining the large amounts of sexual immorality and other perversions at such religious centers--so Southern Baptist salesmanship "evangelism" has led to huge numbers of unconverted evangelicals and unconverted Southern Baptist pastors and other religious leaders, just as huge numbers of non-Baptist evangelicals are unconverted.
A 1976 Master of Divinity thesis at the Southern Baptist flagship Southern Seminary by Noel W. Hollyfield, Jr., is illuminating. Of diploma students, 100% knew that God existed without any doubt, that Jesus was doubtless the divine Son of God, that He would return to earth some day, and that there is a life after death. 96% believed miracles happened just like the Bible says that they did, that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that He walked on water, and that the devil actually exists. Of final year Master of Divinity students, only 65% knew that God existed without any doubt, 63% said that Jesus was doubtless the divine Son of God (the percentage that believed in His theanthropic Person as the only begotten of the Father was certainly lower than this; "divine Son of God" is easily twisted into neo-orthodoxy and liberalism), 56% believed He would return to earth some day, and 67% believed in life after death. Only 40% believed that miracles happened just like the Bible says they did, 33% believed He was virgin born, 44% believed He walked on water, and 42% believed that the devil exists. The figures grew even worse for Master of Theology and Doctorate students; of these, only 63% were sure that God existed, the same percentage had no doubt Jesus was the "divine Son of God," 53% believed He would return to earth some day, 53% believed in life after death, 37% believed miracles happened just as the Bible declares, 32% believed He was virgin born, 37% believed the devil existed, and 22% believed Jesus walked on water.
The most notable fact about these (yes, now somewhat dated) statistics is not that theological modernism was being taught at Southern Seminary–it is the fact that such a high percentage of those who think they are called to preach, pastor, etc. in the Southern Baptist Convention are able to be convinced that such fundamental Christian doctrines are false. Only a lost man will ever deny the resurrection, and other doctrines of the gospel (1 Cor 15:2, 14; Gal 1:8-9, etc.). The fact that these Southern Baptist leaders are able to come out of their seminary as modernists shows that, going into the school, of the 96% or so that were orthodox, very, very many of them were orthodox but unconverted. Why? Not because the Southern Baptist Convention does not have orthodox doctrinal statements, but because of weak or false evangelistic methodology that confuses the repetition of the "sinner's prayer" with, drawn by the Spirit of God, coming to Christ in repentance and faith for justification, sanctification, and eternal life. And if a majority of prospective Southern Baptist pastors were, in the 1970s, unconverted, what is the situation among their church members? And what is the likelihood that the Convention's evangelistic methods have drastically improved since then? What percentage of Southern Baptists is unconverted now? And who is to think that other evangelical denominations do not have similar percentages of orthodox but unconverted members? The sea-change in evangelistic methodology from the 18th century to today–which has influenced fundamentalism as well as evangelicalism– has produced a terrible epidemic of false professions. In conclusion, it is very likely that the average Southern Baptist and the average evangelical is lost, in large part because of corrupt substitution of salesmanship for genuine Biblical evangelism, just as the average member of a Hyles-church may be lost. (That most Southern Baptists are lost has even been recognized by some SBC leaders.) Indeed, the average evangelical pastor may even be lost. The "evangelism" of Mid-America Baptist Seminary will never take the nation back--instead, it will produce vast numbers of false professions and hardened hearts who think Christ "didn't work" because of the false and confused gospel presented to the lost by undoubtedly well-meaning evangelicals.
Readers of this blog are encouraged to pray and then to witness to far more than one person a week. They should work with their churches to preach to every single person in their community through public evangelism and through going house to house, to practice Biblical evangelism that seeks to point the lost to Christ so that they come to Him in repentant faith, rather than manipulating them to repeat a "sinner's prayer," and to have specific resources to give to the lost evangelicals that they are likely to run across as they practice Biblical evangelism (and specific resources for other types of lost people). A survey of the history of how we got to this terrible point in evangelical evangelism is also worth the study (see here and here). Readers should also only consider partnering with other churches in training men for the ministry at institutions that recognize the severe problems with modern salemanship "evangelism" and the epidemic of false professions (while still maintaining a zeal for genuine Biblical evangelism). Finally, they should be very careful in dealing with evangelicals or Hyles-type fundamentalists that wish to join their churches, so that they can, as much as possible, only accept into their membership genuinely converted people.