Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Daily Bible Verse

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Scripturalist Critique of Billy Graham’s Theological Ecumenicalism

“However, it is to be feared that not all Presbyterians are both intelligent and honest. There are those who regard the Westminster Confession as a meaningless form to which lip service is paid at ordination. In the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. on several occasions candidates for the ministry, when examined by Presbytery, have doubted or denied the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the existence of Satan and hell—not to mention effectual calling and the perseverance of the saints—and yet the Presbytery voted to ordain them, and they professed in words their adherence to the Confession they had just contradicted.”  -- Dr. Gordon H. Clark.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: (Matt. 7:13 KJV)

A Scripturalist Critique of Billy Graham’s Theological Ecumenicalism

With the recent passing of evangelist Billy Graham, November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018, it is appropriate to reflect on his impact and legacy in the United States and around the world.  Although Graham is credited with bringing prestige to Evangelicalism after the modernist controversy of the early 1920s and 1930s, his theological legacy is a mixed one when examined critically and from a Protestant perspective.

There are those who are better gifted at writing historiographical and biographical reconstructions of the past than I.  Doug Douma has written an excellent account of the life of the late Calvinist and Presbyterian apologist and theologian, Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  His book is called, The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark . Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.  Although this blog post is about Billy Graham’s life and legacy, my own commitment to systematic theology and the presuppositional apologetics of Dr. Gordon H. Clark mandates that I tie Dr. Clark’s thinking on evangelism to his personal connection to Billy Graham.  Billy Graham, often called by the title of Dr. Billy Graham, never earned an academic doctoral degree in theology but apparently was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bellmont Abbey College in 1967.  It is ironic that Graham received his honorary doctorate in theology from a Roman Catholic college.  (See:  Wikipedia:  Awards and Honors).

Ironically, Billy Graham was born to Scottish Presbyterian parents but became a Southern Baptist minister and a traveling evangelist.  After doing one semester at Bob Jones University, Graham transferred to Florida Bible Institute in central Florida and graduated in 1940.  (See:  Theopedia:  Billy Graham).  In 1940 Graham enrolled in Wheaton College and signed up for a philosophy class with Dr. Gordon H. Clark who taught apologetics at Wheaton beginning in 1937.  One contemporary student along with Billy Graham remembers an encounter between Clark and Graham when Clark was teaching a medieval philosophy class and the topic was the philosophy of Augustine of Hippo:

Believing that formal logic was essential for understanding Christian faith, Clark spent much time teaching the subject. Yet some of his students saw his emphasis on logic to be detrimental to their desired “warm” evangelism. In other words, many students were looking for an emotional, not an intellectual, appeal to faith. Samuel D. Faircloth witnessed this struggle between Clark and his students firsthand. Faircloth was a student in Clark’s Medieval Philosophy class alongside a young Billy Graham. According to Faircloth, Graham objected to Clark’s strictly logical and rational approach to Christianity. In an interview in 2010, Faircloth recalled, 

I was trying to catch up historically and every other way with the prof. He knew what he was talking about. He was a top-drawer teacher. Billy (Graham) was back in the background. He stood up one day and he looked Clark right in the eye. I’ll never forget this because I thought he had a lot of nerve. He stood up and pointed his finger at Clark, “Doc, you’re cold.” And Clark looked right back, “I prefer to remain cold.” Clark was a good philosophy professor and Graham was not operating on that level. He was operating on a warm evangelistic level and Clark was talking about Augustine’s City of God.169 

In short, Clark was not Billy Graham, an evangelist of broad popular appeal.170 While students like Graham may have objected to this approach, Clark’s “cold” logic was a corollary principle of his main axiom or first principle: the truth of the Bible. As Clark was fond of pointing out, if one is to think or speak at all, he must abide by the laws of logic.

Douma, Doug J. The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark.  (p. 44). Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ironically, Graham’s future wife, Ruth Bell Graham, was also raised as a Presbyterian and her parents were Presbyterian missionaries.  One has to wonder why his Calvinist upbringing did not take for Graham.  Needless to say, popular evangelists usually preach simple messages and unfortunately appeal more to emotions and persuasive arguments rather than appealing directly to an expository sermon developed from the Scriptures.  Billy Graham was no exception to this approach.  Many who laud his ministry point out that Graham was in the right place at the right time and was able to exploit the new media of radio and television to promote his evangelistic ministry.  But the first break in his national popularity was when a newspaper mogul, William Randolf Hearst, decided to promote one of Graham’s revivals in a major newspaper he owned:

Evangelist Billy Graham recalls in his new book the pivotal point in his young ministry when, during a 1949 Los Angeles crusade, a two-word directive from publisher William Randolph Hearst to "puff Graham" made him an instant celebrity nationwide.

The sudden front-page coverage showered on Graham by Hearst newspapers in mid-October (after three weeks of little notice) was quickly matched by other newspapers and newsmagazines--literally a media circus descending on his rallies under a big tent.
The elder statesman of evangelical Christianity contends in "Just as I Am" (HarperCollins), however, that he never learned why Hearst took an interest in him. "Hearst and I did not meet, talk by phone, or correspond as long as he lived," Graham wrote.

Graham's autobiography makes no reference to a theory by William Martin in his acclaimed 1991 Graham biography, "A Prophet With Honor," (William Morrow) that noted that all Hearst papers had boosted the nationwide Youth for Christ organization to which Graham belonged. Martin said Hearst also sent a "puff YFC" telegram in 1946. The Hearst-owned Los Angeles Examiner gave Youth for Christ leader Roy McKeown a weekly column to report on the group's activities.

John Dart.  Los Angeles Times.  June 07, 1997.

Over the years Graham has made many controversial statements during his crusades.  Liberals like to point out that Graham once made an anti-Semitic remark when he was in the oval office visiting privately with President Richard Nixon.  But for Calvinist Evangelicals who are faithful to Scripture and the principles of the Protestant Reformation Graham’s more controversial statements are in regards to his rejection of confessional Protestant theology in favor of a broad ecumenicalism that embraced not only Evangelical denominations but also liberal parachurch organizations like the World Council of Churches.  Graham also accepted pre-Reformation communions like the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church, both of which reject the doctrine of sola Scriptura and accept church tradition as equal special revelation alongside the Scriptures.  

Also controversial was Graham’s blatant semi-pelagianism.  In his book on predestination Gordon H. Clark names Billy Graham and remarks that the evangelist conducting a crusade with thousands in attendance said that God could not help those who were gathered at the altar:

What troubles certain Christians is the idea that God causes evil events. Some Christians even want to withdraw some good events from God’s power. When Dr. Billy Graham preached in Indianapolis, I went to hear him. Toward the end of the service he asked people to come forward and a crowd came. With them before him evangelist Graham addressed the large audience still in their seats and delivered a five or ten-minute diatribe against Presbyterianism. Don’t pray for these people who have come forward, he said. You may have prayed for them before, and that is good. You can pray for them later on, and that will be good too. But right now prayer is useless, for not even God can help them. They must accept Christ of their own free will, all by themselves, and God has no power over the will of man. Of course, this is full-fledged Arminianism. But most Christians are more perturbed about God’s causing evil events.

Gordon H. Clark. Predestination (Kindle Locations 792-798). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

Popular Evangelicalism today is basically anti-intellectual.  Billy Graham did the Gospel no good when he decided to downplay doctrinal truth and replace it with a generic ecumenicalism.  In a Hungarian introduction to J. Gresham Machen’s book, Christianity and Liberalism, Rev. Imre Szoke quotes Dr. Clark:

Let us now examine two factors which promote the spread of liberalism:

We would name as the first factor, indifference towards systematic theology (dogmatics). The Presbyterian theologian, Gordon H. Clark, writes concerning this phenomenon as follows: “Theology, once acclaimed ‘the Queen of the Sciences,’ today hardly rises to the rank of a scullery maid; it is often held in contempt, regarded with suspicion, or just ignored.”14 Earnest Christians are saying: “No one is interested in doctrine. Doctrines only divide, there is no need for confessions, only Christ.” Of course, for us there is mystery surrounding the question of who this Christ is, what he is like and what he teaches. Unfortunately, there are those who would like to separate the person of Christ from his teachings. Christianity without doctrine, however, is not Christianity at all. Perhaps today’s Christians are marked most of all by spiritual infancy and lack of knowledge. That is why it is easy to mislead them, and so frequently they fall into the trap of following persuasive leaders. It is also because of this that they are not fit for the task of filtering out false teaching, or recognizing gradual theological diversion and liberalism. Ultimately, this is why they are incapable of bringing about reformation. They simply do not see the significance of these things.

Secondly, the passive attitude and wait-and-see policy of small evangelical groups within the liberal churches almost promotes the progress of liberalism. This is also betrayed by the inactivity of a quiet pietism and subjective Christianity. Thus liberalism is permitted to spread practically unchallenged in any way. This phenomenon, as we shall see, was most conspicuous in the case of American Presbyterianism.

Rev. Szoke’s critique of modern Evangelicalism is on the mark and most Evangelicals today do not know what they believe or why they believe it.  Additionally, biblical illiteracy among professing Christians is at an appallingly all time high.  Some Evangelicals today are calling President Donald J. Trump a born again Christian but the man has almost no knowledge of the Scriptures and says that his pastor growing up was Norman Vincent Peale, a liberal Presbyterian from the PCUSA who advocated positive thinking and founded the Guideposts magazine.  Billy Graham also repudiated doctrinal confessions of faith and instead affirmed a broad ecumenicalism that downplayed denominational commitments and biblical exposition.  Although Graham apparently disagreed with gay marriage and other blatantly anti-biblical teachings, he unwittingly invited liberal churches to his meetings and these same liberal churches were promoting the “social justice” issue of homosexuality.

As Graham's prestige and influence grew, particularly among "mainline" (non-evangelical) Christians, he drew criticism from fundamentalists who felt his cooperation with churches affiliated with the National and World Council of Churches signaled a compromise with the corrupting forces of modernism. Bob Jones accused him of peddling a "discount type of religion" and "sacrificing the cause of evangelism on the altar of temporary convenience." The enduring break with hard-line fundamentalism came in 1957, when, after accepting an invitation from the Protestant Council of New York to hold a crusade in Madison Square Garden, Graham announced, "I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the gospel of Christ, if there are no strings attached to my message. ... The one badge of Christian discipleship is not orthodoxy but love. Christians are not limited to any church. The only question is: are you committed to Christ?"

The problem with Billy’s remarks here is that he seems to be naïve about what these liberal mainline churches were preaching from their pulpits.  Perhaps Graham thought he could single handedly turn the liberal churches back to Christ as he is defined by Scripture.  But even in the remarks above Graham never mentioned the Scriptures as the final authority.  A liberal mainline church could say they believed in Jesus Christ and had a relationship with him due to their existential neo-orthodoxy made popular in America by the Niebhur brothers, Richard and Reinhard, and Karl Barth and Emil Brunner.  Is Christianity really about a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ?  Or is it more than that?  No Protestant would deny that Christians need to pray to God, repent of their sins, and love God and their neighbor as they love themselves.  But how do we know what to believe and why?  The answer is the Bible.  Without the Bible there is no Christianity at all.  That’s because everything we know about God comes from the Holy Scriptures.  The Scriptures are a propositional revelation from God in logical and grammatical form.  Since all knowledge is propositional in nature, God has revealed himself to us in plain written language so that we can know what we must believe to be saved and how we are to live by faith after we are converted.  There are certain doctrines that are necessary to believe in order to be saved, which even Billy Graham must have known or else he would not ask for conversion.  Yet Graham’s message is devoid of any call to believe the Bible’s plain language.  Instead he asked for people to believe in Jesus Christ.  The problem should be obvious.  Do you believe in a Jesus Christ of your own imagination or do you believe in the Jesus Christ who is defined by the Holy Scriptures?   (See: 2 Corinthians 11:3-4).  Which Gospel are Christians to believe?  (See:  Galatians 1:6-9).

Graham also rejected creeds and confessions of faith, probably due to his Southern Baptist commitments.  But ironically the Southern Baptist Convention was once a Calvinist denomination as indicated by the history of the denomination promoted by the Founders.org website.  However, since Scripture is fully inspired by God in every jot and tittle, every word, and every propositional sentence, it logically follows that the Bible can be systematically organized into extended creeds and confessions in written form which summarize for us what the Bible teaches through the scope of the whole book.  Gordon H. Clark’s opening essay in his book, What Do Presbyterians Believe? is a devastating critique of creedless and confessionless Christianity:

Today many church leaders consider creeds as obstacles to ecumenical union. It would please such men to hand over the discussions of creedal differences to those impractical fuddy-duddies, the theologians, while they themselves made the important organizational arrangements by which the right people would get the prominent positions. 

Besides these ecumaniacs there are other more humble people who sincerely believe that the adoption of a creed is an act of ecclesiastical presumption. Therefore several denominations have no creed. Then there are others who regard creeds, not as necessarily presumptuous, but as unnecessary. This would be the attitude of those who, though their zeal is unquestioned, find creeds intellectually heavy. 

An evangelist I heard a year ago seems to be an instance of both these latter types. In his appeal to the unsaved he said that first they must repent, then they must have faith in Christ, and finally they must be born again. Since his denomination has no creed, no rule of his church forbids him to preach in this way. But had he been a Presbyterian, he would have been sailing under false colors, for I take it that no intelligent and honest Presbyterian would preach that faith and repentance precede regeneration. 

However, it is to be feared that not all Presbyterians are both intelligent and honest. There are those who regard the Westminster Confession as a meaningless form to which lip service is paid at ordination. In the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. on several occasions candidates for the ministry, when examined by Presbytery, have doubted or denied the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the existence of Satan and hell—not to mention effectual calling and the perseverance of the saints—and yet the Presbytery voted to ordain them, and they professed in words their adherence to the Confession they had just contradicted.[1]

Clark, Gordon H. Articles on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Kindle Locations 111-127). Kindle Edition.  [Note:  This is an abbreviated essay in the Kindle Edition.  For the extended essay consult What Do Presbyterians Believe? pp. 1-8.]

Clark further points out that the purpose of creeds and confessions of faith in written form is for church unity, not divisions.  The way we know the difference between a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventist and biblical Christianity is doctrine.  Without biblical exegesis and a systematic understanding of what the Scriptures teach there is no Christianity.  Biblical inerrancy and plenary verbal inspiration are non-negotiable as well.  And as Clark pointed out during the Auburn Affirmation controversy of the Presbyterian Church USA, the fundamentals of the faith are non-negotiable doctrines of Christianity as well.  

Unfortunately Billy Graham’s anti-intellectualism made him open to being deceived by liberal theology and even was persuaded by Robert Schuller to accept the wideness in God’s mercy doctrine that said that unevangelized people in other religions around the world could have an implicit faith in Christ.  I think this also ties into the Vatican II theology that though the Roman Catholic Church views itself as the only true church on earth there can be other ways to God besides just the Roman Catholic Church, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and other non-Christian religions.  The most controversial statements Graham made on public television were made on a broadcast of Schuller’s Hour of Power:

Schuller:               Tell me, what do you think is the future of Christianity?

Graham:              Well, Christianity and being a true believer--you know, I think there's the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the Body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem, when he said that God's purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that's what God is doing today, He's calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven.

Schuller:               What, what I hear you saying that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?

Graham:              Yes, it is, because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they've believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they've tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.

Schuller:               [R. S. trips over his tongue for a moment, his face beaming, then says] I'm so thrilled to hear you say this. There's a wideness in God's mercy.

Graham:              There is. There definitely is.

You can read the full transcript of the conversation here:  Wideness in God’s Mercy.  The video is posted on YouTube here:  Wideness.  Perhaps Graham is playing the politician and giving an equivocal answer to avoid answering the question directly.  Giving Graham the benefit of the doubt, the official doctrinal statement of the Billy Graham Evangelist Association contradicts what Graham apparently said on the Hour of Power program.  (See:  Can All Religions Lead Us To God?)  But none of this refutes what Graham has openly said in regards to his affirmation of the salvation of Roman Catholics and of members of other false churches.  He was on good terms with Bishop Fulton Sheen, a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church as well.  I leave it up to the reader to draw his own conclusions from the evidence.

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