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Defending Dr. Billy Graham

July 25, 2009


050624_bgraham_hmed_hmediumYesterday, I invited friends to hear John MacArthur’s strong criticism of Billy Graham. John MacArthur describes  Billy Graham’s language about the salvation of the sincerely-seeking-uninformed as an unbiblical “wider mercy” and further says “I cannot imagine a worse view than that.” 

In Billy Graham’s defense, he preaches what I would call the “Jeremiah 29:13 principal” – God responding to our honest seeking and “rewarding those who diligently seek him.” Paul describes this idea in Acts 17, where from the very beginning God’s intention was for people to seek and find God. Paul says even those without any direct revelation of God still have his moral law written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14–15) and can know much about God through the witness of creation (Rom. 1:20). God has made it possible for every person to have knowledge of him, which makes faith in him possible. No one is totally “in the dark,” and, as Isaiah attests, those who seek God and find him will find mercy and forgiveness (Is. 55:66). These are the necessary components of salvation.  BG has a great heart…I aspire to a heart for the lost like his…I invited friends into a conversation. I still affirm Solus Christus….Christ Alone – Only Christ. The question is, how does God goes about this?

how-to-win-every-argument-main_FullThis turned into a passionate conversation about the need for scripture in the experience of salvation and the necessity of Jesus death and resurrection. It raised questions about BG’s belief in exclusivism vs. universalism. We talked about criticizing leaders and Biblical precedents to speak strongly on behalf of good theology. Other good points were raised as well.

I found myself remembering the arguments that followed Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan. Maybe all our arguing is good for us! I won’t hold personal confusion, a cultural barrier, or a lack of mental comprehension against anyone. I hope no one holds it against me. God knows, I am going to be in for a few surprises when I get to heaven myself. But, at least I am expecting to be joyfully surprised. Heaven should have joyful surprises for us all.

Here is another way to talk about part of this issue…Jeremiah 29:13 says “when you look for me with all your heart, you will find me.” BG is not saying that other religions can lead to heaven. BG has always said that all of creation knows God and is called to respond to the work of Christ. BG is suggesting that some are responding with all of their hearts without a full understanding of who God is….BG is using the 1960’s language of the “anonymous Christian.” This was a popular language in the 60’s and 70’s. The downside of this language is that the anonymous person would say “no, I am not a Christian.” They would claim to be a Samaritan, or Hindu etc.

campoloTony Campolo used to say the good Sam parable would sound like this today…”Jesus, show me a good Christian…..(reply) let me tell you about a guy named Gandhi.” BG is suggesting that theology is a tool to bring the heart to God. BG is also suggesting that an absence of understanding may not be a barrier in a world where, according to Romans 1, we all know that God is, and according to Hebrews 11:6b, “He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Charmaine permalink
    July 26, 2009 7:40 am

    Hey, I just want to remind us of the “theif on the Cross” What Scriptures did He know? What revelation did he have of Jesus’ death AND resurrection? Yet we will see him in Paradise one day.

    I don’t like Tony Compolo’s comment although I love Tony. Frankly, I don’t think Jesus would point to Ghandi. I thnk Ghandi fed on his fame and was much more unscrupulous (personally and publically) than we know. In my opinion–bad example.

    Jesus referred, I believe, to obscure and unseen acts of kindess movtivated by sincere love that can only come from God. Well, that’s my take on it.

    Billy Graham is a man of prayer. Who among us is NOT uninformed? Who among us is NOT desperate? Who among us is NOT “sincerely-seeking-uninformed”?

    Jesus came for the sick. We all fit the bill, but we all don’t know it. I never want to make the gospel so “cerebral” or “exclusive” that the most uninformed person can’t understand it.

  2. bobbymac permalink
    July 26, 2009 4:07 pm


  3. July 26, 2009 4:48 pm

    Great stuff Roy. Thanks for the balance.


  4. August 13, 2009 2:18 am

    I’m coming late into this discussion and missed any discussion that preceded it… so forgive me for not knowing the whole context. In reading this post, however, some thoughts come to mind for what it’s worth from a Lutheran:

    1. I’m not particularly comforted by Jer. 29:13… I don’t know if I have EVER looked for anything with ‘all my heart’ let alone God. That verse is a verse of law for me… it demands something that I fail at. It troubles me and drives me to the only remedy – Christ.

    2. Romans 3:10-12 is a more accurate picture of who I am:
    “There is no one righteous, not even one;
    there is no one who understands,
    no one who seeks God.
    All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

    3. God alone gets credit for my salvation… not my will, not my decision, not my sincere looking. Faith comes from the Word… even my belief comes from Him…. John 1: 12-13 “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

    4. To Charmaine, I would respond that the thief on the cross had the WORD hanging right there next to him, speaking to him, and declaring a word of promise.

    I have a great respect for Dr. Graham, but unfortunately I think he has often clouded his clear presentation of the Gospel with an emphasis on our effort to “decide” and distracts from the rescue mission of the cross… hence “Decision” magazine.

    5. In Heb 11:6 seeking follows faith… it doesn’t precede it. It is a response to grace, not a prerequisite.

    Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone, Word alone, Glory to God alone

  5. Lia permalink
    August 18, 2010 2:19 pm

    @ Patrick-

    Wooow you just cleared it all out.
    Thank you for that.

    All the religion there is, all the humanly goodness there is, is absolutly worthless if you reject Jesus Christ. Without Him, you shut yourself off from the Kingdom of God forever.

    The doctrine of man’s inability necessitates the doctrine of God’s divine evasion. Salvation is from God, He must give light, He must give life, He must give sight, He must give understanding, He must give repentance, He must give faith, He must totally transform the sinner.

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