What major evangelical leader recently said this: “I’m not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and tittle is from the Lord. This is a little difference in my thinking through the years.”
A) Father Guido Sarducci
B) Bullwinkle the Moose
C) Billy Graham
Give up? The answer is “C.” Billy Graham, indeed, and no small difference it is. For those of you who have been paying attention over the years, this statement, sadly, comes as no surprise.
In the aftermath of 9/11 as his own son, Franklin Graham, condemned Islam as a false religion, Billy said precious, deliberately little.
Recently I saw Mr. Graham on Larry King Live. Sometimes I think Larry likes to get these limp-wristed evangelicals on and ask them direct questions so he can watch them sputter and sell out their convictions in front of him. Larry asked Billy if Muslims could go to heaven. Billy said that that wasn’t for him to decide and that God would sort it out.
How does a man who has devoted so much time and energy to evangelism come to a point at which he undermines the exclusivity of the message he has preached? It’s a long, sad, story paved with you-know-what: good intentions.
Historian and author, Ian Murray, in his book “Evangelicalism Divided” (Banner of Truth, 2000) records that when Mr. Graham was dating his future wife, a Presbyterian, that his own fundamentalist disdain for all the mainline denominations was so strong that it caused friction in the relationship. But over the years, his care for the finer points of theology faded as he pursued more and more opportunities to preach. He began to see some of the negative aspects of fundamentalism as the time, and lumped them in with the doctrines. Further, in order to gain access to preach to broader audiences, Mr. Graham was increasingly willingly to bury the doctrinal distinctives that had once defined him. In particular, in order to be able to preach to Catholic audiences, Mr. Graham began to agree not to call Catholics out of the Catholic Church.
Billy Graham played a huge part in the ecumenical movement over the last half-century. Evangelicals, in an effort to reach a wider audience have compromised their message for the sake of popularity. That we now so often hear the call to focus on what we have in common with other professing (stress professing) Christians is in great part his legacy. Some of his motives are valid:
-He saw that legalism inherit in fundamentalism and all of the squabbling and petty divisions linked to the movement.
-He wanted to get his message out to as wide an audience as possible.
-He saw that there could be some believers to be reached that hadn’t come out of their churches.
Unfortunately, truth was the casualty. Valid criticisms yielded compromise because the Scriptures were not held above all. It is no surprise that in his waning years, Billy Graham confesses to having lowered his view of Scripture.
And it is sad. A friend of mine from a previous job owes his salvation to having heard that gospel at a Billy Graham crusade some many years ago. At one time he did preach the right gospel, but now he says “It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be in heaven and who won’t. He gave His son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have. (Newsweek, August 14, 2006)”
Let this be a lesson for us. Doctrinal compromise begins with a weakened view of Scripture. Everything starts with your view on the nature of Scripture. Be assured that the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Scriptures are indeed the Word of God and they will be a light unto your path and a lamp unto your feet (Psalm 119:105).
If you take matters into your own hands the spiritual slide is inevitable. Just as Mr. Graham denies the literal “day” in Genesis but believes that Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, we too will be the hapless authors of our own faith if we don’t let God establish the foundation.