Book Review — Alan Streett, The Effective Invitation

The Effective Invitation: A Practical Guide for the Pastor. By R. Alan Streett. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004, 0-8254-3799-7, 280 pp., $13.95, paper, (originally published Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1984).

Alan Streett is professor of evangelism/pastoral ministry at Criswell College, Dallas, Texas and editor of the Criswell Theological Review. This volume began as his Ph.D. dissertation at California Graduate School of Theology. He revised it for Revell twenty years before the present edition. Before he came to Criswell College, Dr. Streett served ten years as a pastor. There he preached verse by verse through Bible books. This may be an important clue to why he believes every sermon should have an appendix with a new text appropriate to a call to repentance and faith in Christ.

The first chapter defines New Testament terms such as proclaim and evangelize. The second specifies the content of ìthe invitationî in terms of repentance and faith. Chapters three and four answer in the affirmative the question of whether adding a call to public decision is biblical and historical. Streett believes that he has established that the practice is grounded in both scripture and church history. Most of the book is a defense of that tradition. He does not make the case.

One of his proof texts is Peterís sermon on the Day of Pentecost, which might just as well be used to support not calling for a public commitment until the people cry out ìWhat shall we do?î (Acts 2.37). He suggests that Spurgeon supported the practice of adding an altar call to the end of every sermon. He did not, of course. Spurgeon opposed the new practice. Martin Luther likewise is cited as one who used the call-to-public-response appendix to his sermons. He did not. Reading transcriptions of Lutherís sermons makes it clear that he typically moved from explaining the text to a list of announcements — not an appeal for public commitment.

This is the great weakness of the book; it strains scripture and church history to justify a tradition relatively recent in the history of preaching. He cites the preaching of John the Baptist and of Jesus (Luke 15:11-32) as proof of his thesis. First they preached; then they called to repentance. Many of Streettís historical evidences indeed support sermons that call souls to the Savior, but he uses them as proof of the invitation appendix. He never seems to make the distinction between a sermon that is a call to Christ and one that adds a call to public response at the end.

After a chapter on Billy Grahamís use of the altar call and another answering D. Martyn Lloyd-Jonesís nine objections to the practice, Streett returns to reasons why the public invitation should prevail. He offers again scriptural and historical arguments and adds practical, logical, psychological, and other reasons. Chapters 8 and 9 give instruction on how to extend the invitation and some popular models. ìYou should select a motivating theme for each invitation . . . . Find scriptures that deal with [this new] topic . . . . Plan to intersperse these scriptures with fitting exhortations . . . . Next, you must plan an approach that will . . .move them to act.î (pp. 160-161). From a homiletical point of view, it sounds like a second sermon. Two final chapters turn to the questions of the place of music and the propriety of appeals to children. He favors both.

The following paragraph is rather typical of the logic prevailing in this work:

ìWhat effect does music, during the worship or evangelistic service, have on drawing people to Christ at invitation time? Apparently the apostle Paul believed music to be an important instrument in soul winning. Although Scripture does not reveal what songs Paul and Silas sang during their imprisonment at Philippi (Acts 16:25), it does record the amazing results of their singing. The jailer cried out ëSirs, what must I do to be saved?í (Acts 16:30)î (p. 187).

There are five appendixes. The first two list illustrations and scriptures dealing with repentance and with faith. The third is a list of acceptable motivating themes for invitations. There is no mention of inappropriate motives. The fourth appendix is an essay answering ìthoroughgoing Calvinistsî who critiqued an earlier edition of this work. Streett believes that he has studied the evidence carefully and cannot ìimprove on the New Testament method of calling people to Christî (p. 244). The fifth is a list of thirty-seven selected invitational hymns.

In spite of the bookís flawed polemic, it is certainly worth reading. It represents a common tradition on an issue of vital concern to preachers and those who train them.

Austin B. Tucker

About The Author

Most of my life has been as a pastor of Southern Baptist churches. Preaching, teaching and writing have been the major emphases of my ministry. It has long been my prayer that my mature years might be given more to teaching and writing. Especially do I want to help young pastors in sharpening their preaching and other ministry skills.