Billy Graham just preached his final sermon (well, sort of—it was more a few sentences inside of a state-of-the-art video presentation). We’ve not seen a lot from him lately, so we instinctively tuned in to hear America’s pastor one last time. Everybody liked it. It had the Gospel woven through a pair of compelling narratives—who can possibly complain about that?
For sake of brevity, let’s look at just one of the stories: A suicidal girl desperately in need of “tangible healing” goes to a church against her will and the pastor divines that there was “a suicidal spirit in the room.” Based on this stunning bit of divination, with the hair standing up on the back her neck and thinking, “This is really weird,” the girl flees. But a white-headed man stops her and says, “The Lord wants me to speak with you.” The man somehow knows that the girl has never had an earthly father and that she cries herself to sleep every night. Overwhelmed, she submits to his prayer on her behalf and afterward “feels God inviting her to an embrace of grace and love…. It was like God was saying, ‘I will make you new if you’ll let me.’” Shortly afterward, she prays, with the result that “Jesus saved my life and on top of everything else, the life of my son and the new baby.” Oh, and the girl became a crossover pop icon.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must concede that the video also articulates the doctrines of divine holiness, human depravity, and substitutionary atonement. The Gospel is definitely there if you know what to look for. But I can’t shake the feeling that the theological supports woven into the narrative are so rotten that the Gospel is in imminent danger of being lost to our own Western version of syncretism: you can be right with God and retain the personalized, man-centered, existentialist, and culture-affirming worldview of your choice.
This has been Billy Graham’s legacy. So long as one is able to carefully articulate the sinner’s prayer and leave the world a better place, little else matters. And this persistent error has not only led people astray by theological omission, but has also done much to actively savage churches committed to affirming the whole counsel of God. So while in God’s providence we can rejoice that many people have been saved through the ministry of Billy Graham, we should check ourselves before giving in to the wave of pragmatic fondness that is thick in the air this week.