Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

15 Nov 2013

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder?


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.

4 Responses

  1. John T. "Jack" Jeffery

    Thank you for posting this. Your critique may certainly not be popular, but was definitely on target. I would add the following in response to your post:

    1. You focused on the content of his recent message related to those in the past. I add that his ministry has been done in an ecclesiastical context that intentionally “made an end run around the local church”. In doing so the endorsements explicit or otherwise of heretical denominations was consistent with the compromised Gospel message.

    2. It is an acknowledged factor in American ecclesiastical history that Graham stands in the train of Charles G. Finney. He “fine tuned” not only Finney’s methods, but also the theology that drives those methods. The “message” of the methods was also consistent with the diluted Gospel and compromising alliances.

    3. Given the compromising alliances involved, and the confusing dilution of the Gospel in both content and methods, it might be more accurate to affirm that “…many people have been saved *in spite* of the ministry of Billy Graham”, rather than “through”.

    Once again, thank you for speaking out. Too few do these days, and even fewer are hitting the target as you do. I for one appreciate it.

  2. I did not see the video, but am in agreement with what the post said about the effects of the man-centered, Finneyesque gospel has had on the American church over the last century; and I don’t see that the Willow Creek, Purpose-Driven, church growth streams of evangelicalism are any different in their strategies and pragmatic philosophies.

    We must guard the gospel that has been entrusted to us, and, unfortunately, we must most ferociously guard it from those who claim to be one of us, and take the heat for doing it.