Today, I test the results of yesterdayé─˘s post.
I am too young to have known of the decline of Billy Graham as it happened. I have always been under the impression that his slide into ecumenism and theological liberalism began fairly late in life. Reading Evangelicalism Divided by Iain Murray, I am learning a different story. By the time Graham gained prominence on the word stage, his journey of compromise was already well underway. And while his descent into heterodoxy can be described as a slide, his embrace of ecumenism can only be called an enthusiastic leapé─ţwith a decidedly pragmatic motivation.
Murray writes of a time in 1965 when Graham was seeking support for his crusade in London from Anglican Archbishop Michael Ramsey, who
did not hold all Scripture to be the authoritative Word of God, nor did he believe in such doctrines as the penal, substitutionary atonement. . . . At first Ramsey opposed Grahams beliefs as heretical but he seems to have been charmed by the Americané─˘s amicableness when the two met at the New Delhi Third Assembly of the World Council od Churches. The evangelist has recorded how their friendship began on that occasion when he asked the archbishop, é─˛Do we have to part company because we disagree in methods and theology? Isné─˘t that the purpose of the ecumenical movement, to bring together people of opposing views?é─˘ Thereafter there was no more opposition. é─ţIain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000), 40é─ý41.
When criticizing an evangelical idol like Billy Graham, one is often challenged with the claim that, as so much good is done, faults should be overlooked. Setting aside the seriousness of the faults in question, and the corresponding impossibility of letting them slide, we need to ask, has so much good really been done? Are these methods which we deplore really producing as advertised?
The record says, é─˙No.é─¨
In 1968 the Evangelical Alliance, BGEAé─˘s first sponsor in Britain, published a report on evangelism that included a survey of eighty-five churches which had participated in Grahamé─˘s shorter London crusades of 1966é─ý67. Its authors (a large committee) concluded: On mass evangelism generally, the recurring theme was that the crusade did not make a lasting effect on the complete outsider. Even when they went, they either made no response, or made no lasting response . . . Church members, whether they went forward or not, found blessing and encouragement from the services, but the complete outsider tended to go back outside again. in the words of one comment, é─˛If they asked, é─˙What shall we do?é─¨ they seem to have been given little answer beyond é─˙to decide for Christé─¨ . . . On inquiry they were unable to give any real answer as to what this meant, other than they desired to live a better life. é─ţIain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000), 56é─ý57.
Now, leté─˘s go back a century and a half and examine the record of one of Grahamé─˘s most famous predecessors. Charles Finney preceded Graham in implementing results-oriented methods. Finney claimed that the right use of the right means was guaranteed to produce conversions, and there is no denying that his methods produced massive results. But what results? In Revival and Revivalism, Iain Murray reported that
. . . the permanent results were considerably fewer than had initially been claimed. In the course of time, Finney himself admitted this. Joseph Ives Foot, a Presbyterian minister, wrote in 1838: é─˛During ten years, hundreds, perhaps thousands, were annually reported to be converted on all hands; but now it is easily admitted, that his [Finneyé─˘s] real converts are comparatively few. It is declared even by himself, that é─˙the great body of them are a disgrace to religioné─¨.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Revival and Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 1994), 288é─ý289.
Evangelical icon worshippersé─ţthose who have not already skedaddled, that isé─ţwill be relieved to know that this will probably be my last mention of Billy Graham for the present time.
Compromise with people of all theologies was a common thread running through Billy Grahamé─˘s ministry. In the effort to garner support for his evangelistic crusades, it seems there was no heresy he was not willing to let slide. As time passed, it was not merely his associations that were unorthodox; as the following account* of his embrace of inclusivism will demonstrate, his thinking was altered as well.
Achieving common ground with the Roman Catholicism is one of the things for which Mark Noll commends Graham. But agreement with non-evangelicals has gone still further. In 1978 McCallé─˘s magazine quoted Graham as having said, é─˛I used to believe that pagans in far countries were lost if they did not have the gospel of Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that.é─˘ That statement alarmed supporters BGEA and Christianity Today was quick to claim that the evangelist had been misquoted. Subsequent disclosures would appear to show that it was Grahamé─˘s paper rather than McCallé─˘s which was inaccurate, for a Graham interview with Dr Robert Schuller on 31 May 1997 put the matter beyond doubt. Schuller has attained fame as the promoter of a liberal é─˛self-esteemé─˘ gospel which he preaches in his Crystal Cathedral in California. In the course of his discussion with Graham, conducted by means of a television link-up, Schuller asked for the evangelisté─˘s view on the future of Christianity. Graham answered by giving his belief about the final make-up of the body of Christ. That body would be made up, he affirmed, from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ. And I doné─˘t think that we are going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at one time. I think James answered thaté─ţthe Apostle James in the first Council in Jerusalemé─ţwhen he said that Godé─˘s purpose for this age is to call out a people for his name. And that is what he is doing today. He is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven. Surprised by this, Schuller was anxious for clarification: é─˛What, what I hear you saying, that ité─˘s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they have been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you are saying?é─˘ é─˛Yes, it isé─˘, Graham responded in decided tones. At which point, his television host tripped over his words in his excitement, and exclaimed, é─˛Ié─˘m so thrilled to hear you say this: é─˙Thereé─˘s a wideness in Godé─˘s mercyé─¨.é─˘ To which Graham added, é─˛There is. There definitely is.é─˘ é─ţIain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000), 73é─ý74.
* Those who doubt the veracity of this account can easily find video of the Graham-Schuller exchange on YouTube.
I just got home from a two-day road trip. Ié─˘m tired, and not in the best of moods, which means the few thoughts I have to share today are going to come out bluntly and without finesse. Ié─˘ve been thinking, these last two days, about what Ié─˘ve been reading in Murrayé─˘s Pentecost Today?, Charles Finney in particular. Finney would be easily forgettable if he had faded into history as most of his contemporaries have, but sadly, his legacy is alive and well in churches across this country. It is, not so surprisingly, alive in countless fundamentalist churches, but it (the methods, if not the theology) can also be found in unexpected places, like the evangelical Lutheran denomination in which I was born. Finney lives in evangelistic efforts everywhere, and is most famously represented today in the name and legacy of evangelical hero Billy Graham. Which brings me to those bluntly-stated thoughts of which I warned you. And they are:
Anyone who has a high opinion of the ministries of Charles Finney or his most famous imitator, Billy Graham . . . knows little or nothing about them beyond the numerical claims of their success, or has a seriously defective understanding of the gospel.
I know: Ié─˘ve touched the untouchable. Someone reading this is writing me off as an extremist, a legalist, a crank, and worse. But theyé─˘re doing it without thinking. Theyé─˘re not going to stop and examine the theology and practices in question, and theyé─˘re certainly not going to question the veracity of the success claims. Theyé─˘re really no different than the vacant heads who believe Benny Hinn really heals people, and doné─˘t you dare tell them different.
If youé─˘re among the offended, may I offer you a challenge? Consider the proposition above. Consider the possibility that the truth is not what youé─˘ve been programmed to believe. Am I right, or wrong? Are you willing to investigate? Do you dare? If not, doné─˘t let me catch you doubting Joel Osteené─˘s ministry. 43,000 Lakewood Church attendees cané─˘t be wrong.
In an earlier post, we saw how Charles Finney claimed divine inspiration for his doctrine, even comparing himself to Paul the apostle as a recipient of divine oracles. Murray continues:
More common than such words is the appeal to the success of his ministry as proof that God owned what he was preaching. The narrative given in his autobiography is very clearly constructed to impress the reader with is face. é─˛God,é─˘ he writes, é─˛set his seal to the doctrines that were preached, and the means that were used to carry forward that great work.é─˘ é─˛After I had preached some time, and the Lord had everywhere added his blessing, I used to say to ministers, whenever they contended with me . . . é─˙Show me the fruits of your ministryé─¨.é─˘ He frequently follows such statements with reports of how ministers who held Calvinistic beliefs gave them up when they saw how é─˛the Spirit of God did accompany my labors.é─˘ In this connection Finney omits to say that he had a considerable advantage if immediate visibly results were to be made the test of what was scriptural. Under the former preaching the success of the gospel was only judged as people gave steady evidence of changed lives and were subsequently examined for membership of the churches. With Finneyé─˘s teaching and methods there was now a much quicker and public way of telling converts. If a convert is one who submits and comes to the front, then just how many converts there are on any particular occasion will be apparent far all to see. So the numbers é─˛convertedé─˘ made immediate news and figures proving success were now quoted in a way which was new to the evangelical churches. This was not all. If large crowds attended preaching services and, for whatever reason, many responded to the evangelisté─˘s appeal, then the very numbers responding could be regarded as proof of revival. So there was a visual demonstration, it seemed, of the truth of Finneyé─˘s teaching and a justification of his claim that revivals could indeed be promoted by the right use of means. é─ţIain Murray, Pentecost Today? (Banner of Truth, 1998), 43é─ý45.
This is worth repeating: é─˙Under the former preaching the success of the gospel was only judged as people gave steady evidence of changed lives and were subsequently examined for membership of the churches.é─¨ Clearly, that is the biblical means of judging the genuineness of conversions. Truly, it is the only way. Yet Finneyé─˘s new measures were judged successful, and therefore legitimate, based solely on a physical response to an unabashedly manipulative sales pitch. And years later, many, including Finney himself, admitted that those results which had seemed so wonderful at the time did not last. Multitudes supposedly converted by Finneyé─˘s preaching were nowhere to be found among the redeemed, and in fact, were now hardened to further presentations of the gospel.
Now, carry that forward into the twentieth century. Are we really such monsters who reject the methods and remain unimpressed by the claims of Finneyé─˘s famous heir, Billy Graham?
Good news from Pope Francis (the humble pope) for conscientious infidels. In “An open dialogue with non-believers,” published in the Italian La Republica, he writes:
First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith. Given that - and this is fundamental - God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.
So it seems that the blue fairy was right.
Protestants will be pleased to be reminded that this good news does not originate in the Vatican. Respected Protestants have said this before.
Of course, there will always be unloving, heartless cranks, down on human nature, who insist on a narrow, exclusive religion:
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? —Jeremiah, Prophet, Spokesman for God
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. —Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah, Son of God, God Incarnate
But those guys have never even been on television, so I wouldn’t pay too much attention to them.
Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12
How serious a matter is it to be without Christ? Is it really to be with “no hope and without God”? Or are there other ways to God? One very popular view says, yes, there are.
J. C. Ryle takes the biblical view: Reconciliation with God is necessarily mediated, and there is but one mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).
To be without Christ is to be without God. The Apostle St. Paul told the Ephesians as much as this in plain words. He ends the famous sentence which begins, ‘Ye were without Christ,’ by saying, ‘Ye were without God in the world.’ And who that thinks can wonder? That man can have very low ideas of God who does not conceive Him a most pure, and holy, and glorious, and spiritual Being. That man must be very blind who does not see that human nature is corrupt, and sinful, and defiled. How then can such a worm as man draw near to God with comfort? How can he look up to Him with confidence and not feel afraid? How can he speak to Him, have dealings with Him, look forward to dwelling with Him, without dread and alarm? There must be a Mediator between God and man, and there is but One that can fill the office. That One is Christ. Who art thou that talkest of God’s mercy and God’s love separate from and independent of Christ? There is no such love and mercy recorded in Scripture. Know this day that God out of Christ is ‘a consuming fire.’ (Heb. 12:29.) Merciful He is, beyond all question: rich in mercy, plenteous in mercy. But His mercy is inseparably connected with the mediation of His beloved Son Jesus Christ. It must flow through Him as the appointed channel, or it cannot flow at all. It is written, ‘He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him.’—‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.’ (John 5:23; 14:6.) ‘Without Christ’ we are without God. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), PP.