Friday, June 30, 2006

Keith Green and "Spiritual Abortion"

I would venture to say that few people influenced my generation (I am 45) for world missions more than Contemporary Christian Music artist Keith Green. Still today, I am continually meeting people on the mission field who credit a big part of their call to missions to the influence of Keith Green. I remember clearly the privilege of seeing him live in concert in Austin, Texas, just a few months before his tragic death at the age of 28, in an airplane crash, together with 2 of his children, in the year 1982.

Keith Green had a passion and authenticity in the Lord’s work matched by very few. The vision is still clearly etched in my mind of the moment that evening in Austin, as he was singing his classic song Grace By Which I Stand, when he came to the line "And like Peter, I can’t even watch and pray for just one hour, and I bet, I could deny you too," and he literally broke down and cried, and was unable to finish the rest of the song.

Keith Green was also known as a fiery prophet, speaking his convictions without mincing words. As we continue to think about evangelism, I want to draw your attention to something Keith Green wrote in a pamphlet entitled What’s Wrong with the Gospel?, in which, in addition to some other subjects, he discussed the concept of what he called "spiritual abortion."

As with the altar call, the practice of having someone repeat a prayer with the minister probably originated from the best of intentions. And no doubt, there are those who have "followed through," continuing to pray and walk with God, entering into the path of righteousness through God's infinite grace. But also, like the altar call, the so-called "sinner's prayer" is one of those tools that make it alarmingly easy for someone to consider himself a Christian, when he has absolutely no understanding of what "counting the cost" (Luke 14:28) really means.

The greatest reason I believe that God can be grieved with the current use of such tools as the "altar call" and "sinner's prayer" is because they can take away the conviction of the Holy Spirit prematurely, before the Spirit has time to work repentance leading to salvation. With an emotional splash that usually doesn't last more than a few weeks, we believe we're leading people into the Kingdom, when really we're leading many to hell - by interfering with what the Spirit of God is trying to do in a person's life. Do you hear? Do you understand that this constitutes "spiritual abortion"? Can't you see the eternal consequences of jumping the gun, trying to bring to birth a baby that isn't ready?

We are so afraid that we'll see a "big one that got away," that we'd rather rush someone into a shallow decision, and get the personal gratification of seeing him "go down the aisle," than take the time to fully explain things to him, even if it takes long hours and nights of travailing prayer for his soul. We just don't "have the time" to do things God's way anymore.

But God would rather see one true convert than an ocean full of "decisions." Oh, can't you see what a mess we're in? What we've done to the Gospel? And when those "converts" no longer want to fellowship with us, when they want to go back to their old friends and their old way of life, we have the nerve to call it "backsliding," when we stood in the very way of them ever "front-sliding" toward the cross! Oh, it breaks my heart to think of that awesome day when God will judge those who have "stumbled one of these little ones." (Mark 9:42)

I am painfully aware of the danger of being so concerned of the dangers of "spiritual abortion" that we never get to the point of bringing new Christians to a healthy birth. I am personally convicted that I don’t do near enough to cultivate redemptive relationships with lost people with the hope of one day leading them to surrender their lives completely to Christ. But, as we as Southern Baptists make a greater push, both around the world, and in the States, to lead more people to Christ, and baptize more converts, I think we would do well to heed the warnings of Keith Green, lest in working harder, we begin to see diminishing returns for our work, and are unable to figure out the reason why.


tim rogers said...

Brother David,

Great thoughts! I know you can read it coming so I will not belabor the question.

The sinners prayer. Help me understand exactly what you are saying. When and where would the prayer be prayed in order not to perform "spiritual abortion"? Also, how would you know that you have not done such a thing? Would you say that everyone that begins a journey only to drop out in two-three weeks have been products of "spiritual abortion"?

Keith Green did impact our generation, I'm 47. However, I came to Christ later in life 29, and was impacted more in his tribute albums.

Your post brings conviction to me. I do not think my questions are a result of trying to rationalize my conviction, but merely trying to find out how to be better equipped to present the Gospel.


David Rogers said...


If I understand correctly, (and if i don't, I'm not sure I would completely agree with Keith Green), the problem is not so much in helping someone to express a prayer of repentance and faith, as in assuring someone of forgiveness of sins and an eternity in heaven on the basis of repeating a prayer. We generally need to spend more time with someone, making sure they understand the implications and count the cost, before giving them such assurance. This does affect, in my opinion, the whole way we approach evangelism, though. With most people, this is very hard to do in "one-off" 30 minute encounters.

OKpreacher said...


Great post! I remember when I was first introduced to the music of Keith Green. It helped to shape my early Christian life which was in the early 1990's. From what I understand, Keith Green was heavily influenced by Leonard Ravenhill who was his neighbor in Tyler, TX.

The reason I bring up Ravenhill is because he also wasn't big on the alter call as was being done at that time.

My favorite Keith Green song was either, "Lord, Make My Life A Prayer To You" or "Asleep In The Light."


Joe said...

I only stumbled across Keith Green in 1997 - though quickly set out to devour everything he recorded. "Asleep in the Light" has more teeth than any urge to missions I've ever heard. ("...but you can't even get outta bed." Ouch.)

I agree with Keith's comments (though he seemed to believe - in practice - that it was better to provoke a decision than to leave people unconfronted with their need.) In many instances the altar call* and sinner's prayer are dreadful ways of pronouncing actualized faith. I think they can become an Evangelical form of infant-regenerational baptism, supposing that the outward expression necessarily shows an inward reality.

Still, like Keith (and Moody, Spurgeon and Graham - all who shared Keith's concerns), I don't imagine that's cause to stop provoking a time of reflection - a call to repentance. What we may need to change is the word of assurance that can only come when true faith rests on the Word and not the authority of an evangelist, pastor or musician.

*Pet Peeve: I've always hated the term "altar call" as if a Baptist Church has a place of sacrifice (i.e. the sacrifice of the mass)

mr. t said...

Amen! I agree with Keith's words on the subject. I believe we can get ahead of the Holy Spirit in our zeal to win people. Of course there in the other extreme of getting way behind the Spirit and missing the mark in that way. Keeping in step with the Spirit, or walking in the Spirit should help us to avoid either extreme.

Jesus commanded us to "make disciples". I believe the initial evangelism is part of that but so is the initial discipleship. We should see our evangelism more as a process than an event. Yes, the decision to follow Christ and receiving Him is a one-time event. But it happens in the midst of a discipleship process, much like when Peter confessed Christ as the Messiah. Peter went through a process of initial discipleship before he came to that point and professed his faith in the Lord.

Application of this in our context is when we study the word with gathered unbelievers (an oikos) and the Holy Spirit uses the word to lead them to a decision (most if not all). We don't force it, they come to the conclusion as we study the word together. Then, after baptism, we begin the "teaching to obey" process, or long-range discipleship (training).

Paul Burleson said...


My eyes are dry my faith is old
my heart is hard my prayers are cold.
And I know how I ought to be
alive to you and dead to me.

Oh what can be done
for an old heart like mine
Soften it up with Oil and Wine

The Oil is You
your spirit of love
please wash me anew
in the wine of your blood

My favorite Keith Green song and one I teach many churches on a tuesday night as we deal with personal dirt that grieves the Holy Spirit. Thanks for reminding me.

Paul burleson said...

I join Paul B. in "favorite songs", though I also like the modified version by Mike Spinks! I also like the way you keep some thought provoking issues "smoldering" over the heart and the head! :)

Publius said...


This is precisely my dilemma regarding children. I have a four-year-old that is beginning to ask questions about my faith, which is awesome! But I'm deathly afraid of leading him to a superficial faith, where he says and does the "right" things because he's imitating my words and forms. I want him to come to Christ on his own, but that's precisely what I can't do!

I've seen so many kids walk that aisle as young children, and think they're covered for eternity, then wonder later why they still have doubts and questions. The ones who mature end up going through another painful "rededication" time later. And the ones who don't... well, we don't hear much from them. So what do you do? Is it wrong to pressure people into making a confession of faith? Doesn't that fly in the face of traditional SB evangelism?

David Rogers said...


I am going to go "way out on a limb" here. What I am going to say here is not consistent with the practice of many people near and dear to me, and I do not wish to offend or alienate anyone. I was tempted to not answer your question, and for that reason I have not up to now.

In any case, after much reflection on the matter, as well as personal experience with my own kids, I have come to feel it is generally not a good idea to baptize children below the age of 12 or so. Yes, teach them about Jesus. Yes, teach them to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus. Yes, teach them to pray and to read their Bible. Yes, teach them to love God, and ask for forgiveness for their sins. But, hold off on teaching them about their eternal security, and baptizing them, until they are older, and understand (not just intellectually, but morally, ethically, and spiritually as well) the implications of being a life-long disciple of Jesus.

I could go on a lot more about this, and maybe I eventually will on a whole separate post.

Publius said...


Thank you for your candor. This is a difficult topic for me, and I value your perspective.

It is hard. Want a good laugh? Read Calvin's Institutes for his take on infant baptism. After an entire systematic theology based on believer's baptism, predestination and the sovereignty of God, when it comes time to tell parents that they can't secure salvation for their children with a little water and prayer, Calvin cops out! He tells them that infant baptism secures grace as a seal against later belief and repentance. Whatever.

I look forward to your post.

Sean Dietrich said...

Love the blog.
I'm a musician who has been heavily influenced by Keith Green, and I'd be honored if you'd check out my music. All my music is free on my site, and I just wanted to share it with you.

I don't want to be an annoyance, so if this message bothers you please delete it and accept my humble apology.
"All my music is free."

Everette Hatcher III of Little Rock said...

David, I really enjoyed your article on Keith Green. My church in Little Rock, Fellowship Bible Church, has a music director that loves to mix in Keith Green Music on ocasion in our services and just this morning we all sang, "There is a redeemer." I remember moving to Little Rock in Jan of 1983 and then going to hear the pregnant Melody Green speak at the State House Convention Center and the Excelsior Hotel in Feb (infamous site of Clinton and Paula Jones) and
see the last concert by Keith Green on Film. I still remember where I was the moment I heard about the airplane crash and I remember where I was the first time I heard my first Keith Green song. By the way, I was at your house, David and you played the whole record for me.
Keith Green's book written about his life is underlined on almost every page because I really wanted to see what made that guy tick. So many times his songs have spoken to me. In fact, one of the ministers at our church, Rick Taylor, during a sermon told about how he broke down and cried while listening to the song, "My eyes are dry" by Keith Green.
I got to talk to Matthew Ward the other day and ask him a question on the radio show "Today's Issues" on American Family Radio with host Tim Wildmon and my question was who did Matthew still stay in touch with these days from the old days. He mentioned Chuck Girard and some others, but to me all those guys are great but Keith was on a different level since his goal was to challenge to the maximum Christians to reach out to the lost and live the Spirit-filled life.

David Rogers said...


Welcome to Love Each Stone! It's been awhile since I heard from you. I trust things are going well for you and your family.

I'd love to hear your comments on anything else you find here that may be of interest to you.

Many blessings, and hope to see you soon! We plan on being in the States this summer for a whole year.