I grew up in a Pentecostal church where the “plan of salvation” appeared on posters in Sunday school rooms and in pamphlets available from a rack at the door of the church. The plan went like this:
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Sin deserves eternal punishment.
We must repent.
Sinners are saved by grace alone.
Jesus is The Way to salvation.
Receive Jesus as your personal lord and savior.
The Plan of Salvation became a mantra for me as a youth. Preachers preached that the way to activate the plan was “giving my life to the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior.” Never once did it occur to me that making a deity personal—subsuming my idea of a deity into my own ego formations—might be a psychologically dangerous undertaking. Never once did it occur to me that a personal savior is in danger of becoming a secret friend. Never once did it occur to me that the old Jimmy Stewart movie about Harvey the imaginary rabbit might have some bearing on the case.
After all, surety is a delightful thing. Spiritual maturity, however, requires our acknowledgment of the way things are. Faith requires that we be unsure, else it is not faith. Fact is, the “plan for salvation” does not occur in scripture, but was cobbled together relatively recently—the early Twentieth Century. Also, many of its elements—the alter call for example—are simply not biblical. Sure, the Plan of Salvation can work—just as the Twelve Steps can work—if undertaken carefully and consciously. As Twelve Steppers say, “it works if you work it.”
One of the Twelve Steps is, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” This step is an explicit invitation to become conscious of the ego-driven self-talks that stands in the way of new vision and recovery. This consciousness has always been a part of serious religious practice—it is the basis for such practices as yoga, fasting, and prayer. This important step, was not, however, part of the teaching in the churches I attended as a youth. It was as if we were given an escape plan without being shown where the door actually was.
Thus, the Plan of Salvation tended to reinforce the preexisting status quo rather than leading to a new way of seeing.