An altar call is an “invitation” to “come forward” after a sermon to make a spiritual decision or commitment. I’ve endured hundreds of emotionally charged invitations characterized by man-centered manipulation. Unfortunately, my experience is not unusual.
The most thorough treatment I’ve read on the altar call is this:
Mark Noll describes Bennett’s work in the foreword as “the best sort of engaged history . . . . thorough . . . . fair . . . . unusually stimulating” (pp. v-vi). This work is a revision of Bennett’s (b. 1942) M.Th. thesis entitled “The Public Invitation System in Evangelism” for the Australian College of Theology in Sydney.
- Part 1 examines the evangelistic practices of John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards and concludes that they did not use the altar call. Bennett then traces the altar call’s origins and early history in the final sixty years of the 1700s, its development into the invitation system in American camp-meetings, and its popularization by Charles Finney.
- Part 2 examines the altar call’s modern usage, rationale, counseling and follow-up, results, and problems. Bennett makes calculated recommendations and conclusions.
- Iain H. Murray, The Invitation System (1967)
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Altar Call (early 1970s)
- Paul Alexander, “Altar Call Evangelism” [This article ends with recommended reading: “If you’d like to read more about method in evangelism, go to Mark 5 on Evangelism at 9 Marks Ministries. For more on the invitation system, contact Christian Communicators Worldwide for their pamphlet entitled The Dangers of the Invitation System, by Jim Ehrhard, or read Iain Murray’s booklet entitled The Invitation System, published by Banner of Truth. For a historical treatment of evangelistic method and its role in the ecumenical movement over the last 50 years, read Iain Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2000). If you are interested in the historical roots of the invitation system, read Iain Murray’s Revival and Revivalism (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1994).”]
- Jim Elliff, “Closing with Christ” (1999)
- Ryan Kelly, “Ten Reasons We Don’t Do Altar Calls“
- Monergism.com’s “The Altar Call” links to articles by John MacArthur, Carey Hardy, Fred Zaspel, and others.
- Jonathan Leeman, “Should Churches Perform Altar Calls?”
1. Sadly humorous:
2. Sadly manipulative and shallow: