Billy Graham passed into glory today after a long, full life here on the earth. No doubt his death brings about the praises of many an anti-theist, the sorrow of many a Southern Baptist, and the anathemas of many a Calvinist. I hope with this piece, however, to perhaps shed some light on the man’s ministry, some of his inconsistencies, and his unwavering faith in Christ so that these responses may be better understood and we might rejoice together, Christians everywhere, that this brother is at home in glory.
First, his ministry.
Billy Graham was a young man of only 16 years when he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. At the ripe old age of 21, he became an ordained minister. From that point forward, he reached some 215 million people with the sermons he preached at his crusades. When taking into account the millions more reached through television, the internet, and his 34 published books, the number of people reached boggles the mind.
From a young age, his presence in a pulpit or lectern was confident, commanding, and sincere. This man truly believed the things he said. He believed the things he said. This is quite a rare trait in preachers, politicians, and the like. The cool, confidence of Graham, coupled with the intense and frantic nature of his delivery communicated one thing above all else: it was imperative that you believe in this Jesus.
He was able to speak to little girls and presidents alike. Truly his impact is impossible to quantify.
Second, his inconsistencies.
Graham, for all of his triumphant preaching and advising, bore some theological inconsistencies that are impossible to ignore.
When asked about those who had never heard the gospel in other countries later in his life, Graham said that he thought that such people could get to heaven without ever having the gospel presented to them. His position was one known as inclusivism. Inclusivism states that people can be in Christ without knowing it. It seeks to bridge the gap between Christ being the only way to the Father in heaven and those who’ve never heard of him going to heaven. Of course, we know why Graham would hold such a view. It is a terrible thing to believe that these people will go to hell without any hope. However, his attempt to bridge the gap in this way makes the very concept of missions unthinkable. If one can get to the Father without the preaching of Christ, why send preachers to the unreached peoples of the world?
Another thing that troubles many, myself included, about his ministry was his insistence on altar calls at the end of his messages coupled with his recitations of the “Sinner’s Prayer”. These things, used in the way he used them, elicited emotional responses to the message he preached more often, by his own admission, than true belief in Christ.
“in a 1990 interview with PBS, Billy Graham himself stated his believe that only about 25% of those who come forward at one of his events actually became Christians.”
These are only two of the most egregious theological inconsistencies that He held. There are many more that we could delve into, but this illustrates my point that the man was definitely no theologian. He was greatly troubled when it came to matters of biblical and historic theology.
His unwavering faith in Christ.
Billy Graham was converted at the age of 16 and will be laid to rest at the age of 99. For those 83 years, Graham never once went back on, repudiated, or spoke ill of the Christ he’d believed in. In fact, he dedicated his entire life to seeing more people experience the comfort, peace, and joy that had filled him and sustained him. He sought to grow the kingdom of God and fulfill the Great Commission. He gave it everything he had, and, at the end of the day, I believe, was able to say, “I have run the race. I have fought the good fight.” For all of the trouble he had in his theology, he preached that belief in Christ was all that was needed to save. He preached that Christ had saved him. He believed that Christ died on the cross, died, and was buried.
Calvinist, remember that salvation is by faith alone. There is no other requirement upon the believer than this. The believer is accepted on this alone. Don’t seek to make salvation harder than it already is. Graham was surely a believer. Southern Baptist, rejoice. His was a wonderful legacy, but remember that he himself is not to be put on a pedestal and worshiped. Worship only God. Rejoice. Anti-theist, God has not, in any portion of history, left his people without a preacher. God will, through Jesus Christ by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, raise up more men to preach the Word of God. Fret not; this isn’t the end. It’s a new beginning.