David [Malcolm] Bennett has written a well-researched book, based on his M.Th dissertation, called The Altar Call: Its Origins and Present Usage (Lanham: University of America Press, 2000). In this book David defines the Altar Call as:
“A method of evangelism, within which a regular or frequent, planned invitation is given to ‘unbelievers’ to respond to Jesus Christ publicly at the conclusion of a sermon or other gospel presentation, in such ways as: calling out a response, raising a hand, standing or walking to a designated spot in the evangelistic setting. A response to such an invitation would normally be followed by immediate counselling and later by some form of follow up. It often incorporates an appeal to Christians for such issues as rededication and call to mission. It is not a theology, but it does support and reflect particular theologies.”
He examines the methods of eighteenth century evangelists John Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards and concludes that they did not use it. However, he has discovered occasional use in the eighteenth century in America, particularly at the end of that period. It appears to have first been used frequently in the Camp Meetings on the American frontier in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Full details are in the book.
Michael A. G. Haykin has called this book “The definitive examination” of the altar call, and William Edgar Allen describes it as “a scholarly and balanced work”. Other recommendations include: “scholarly yet readable” (Karl Dahlfred), “the most thorough treatment of the altar call that I have been able to find” (Don McChesney), and “The best thing ever written on the subject of the altar call” (Patrick McIntyre).
It is available through Christian and academic bookstores and online.
For further information contact David Malcolm Bennett here.