Moore About Billy Graham

Last night, I was made aware that Billy Graham has written to Newsweek magazine in the upcoming issue (September 4, 2006) regarding his recent interview with Jon Meacham. Here is what Graham had to say:

I was overwhelmed by NEWSWEEK’s generous coverage of the life my wife, Ruth, and I are experiencing as we grow older. “Pilgrim’s Progress” was an apt title for the article. Like every other Christian, I see myself as a pilgrim journeying through life, looking expectantly to what God has promised in the future and yet yearning to be faithful in the present. Jon Meacham worked diligently to understand how my thinking on certain issues has grown over the years, and I commend him for seeking to capture my commitment to the Gospel I have always preached. The world is constantly changing, and I am only one in a long line of men and women who have sought to relate God’s unchanging truth to the challenges of their time. As I grow older, my confidence in the inspiration and authority of the Bible has grown even stronger. So has my conviction that only Christ can give us lasting hope—hope for this life, and hope for the life to come. As the Bible says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Billy Graham
Montreat, N.C.

Dr. Russell Moore, academic dean of Southern (of which I attend) as well as director of The Henry Institute, shares in the great disappointment of many evangelicals who read the article called “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Two main areas, two fundamental, non-negotiable areas for conservative evangelicals is the inerrancy of the Bible and the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In both of these areas, Billy Graham has compromised his once-held positions as he has sought to distance himself from what his interviewers call “fundamentalism” and “traditionalism” (which are implied as antithetical to the progressive and inclusive tenor of Graham). Moore accepts the letter from Graham as a clarification on these issues, according to Graham’s affirmations implied in his statements. While I would love to share that optimism, there are several reasons why I am neither convinced nor believe there is sufficient reason to be. Let me explain:

First, I believe we must consider the nature and seriousness of this matter. We are not talking about the percentage of alcohol in NT wine and the various usages of oinos. We are talking about matters which led previous generations to the burning stake and severed bodies, and even to this day our brothers and sisters are having their tongues cut off for confessing the name of “Jesus” (which happened to missing from the articles I read concerning Graham). Second, we must consider the venue and exposure of this matter as it has received national and even worldwide attention having been on the cover of one of the most widely read news magazines in the world. Such a serious and essential issue, coupled with the worldwide exposure, demands more than a sentence or two (which are also lacking precision). Third, one cannot take Graham’s comments in isolation, away from previous interviews and public statements. I will provide just a few below, along with some additional resources. But suffice to say, these comments, especially regarding the exclusivity of the gospel, did not come from old age or just happening to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Finally, as conservative evangelicals, we must be consistent in our criticism of those who error from biblical truth. Were the comments Graham made to come from the mouths of a confessing liberal, we would unequivocally denounce those statements without apology. Yet for some reason when someone of such high repute (and I sincerely mean that – Graham is one of the most well-respected and honorable men no doubt), we tend to let them say whatever they want without public criticism. This is a tragic but truthful reality. We must be honest, transparent, and up front, even when it means admonishing someone much holier than I/we would ever be.

Regarding Graham’s comments, I see three things lacking. First, I believe there needs to be clarity where there has been compromise. Graham has attempted to do this, but it appears that his comments were intended to appease his critics but not necessarily affirm his convictions. If he believes in the inerrancy of the gospel, then why doesn’t he just come out and say it? If he believes that all those who die apart from explicit saving faith in Jesus Christ are going to an everlasting punishment in hell, then why doesn’t he say it? While his letter was helpful to a degree, the doubts still remain, and the periods which have turned into question marks still have one looking for a substantive, precise, and clear affirmation. Second, I believe there needs to be a correction or retraction of his compromising statements which receive the same proportionate exposure and coverage as his previous statements. It is one thing to make a compromising statement on a cover story, with paragraph after paragraph being read by millions, and it is quite another thing to write a sentence or two in the “letters to the magazine” section which hardly receive any attention whatsoever. So the correction, be there as it may, simply does not measure up to the magnitude of his errors. Why is it, that whenever he gets a cover story with Time, Newsweek, or USA Today, it invariably speaks of his distancing from evangelicals and the essentials of the Christian faith? Why can’t the gospel and the name of Jesus get as much attention through Billy Graham and his prime-time interviews as his denials and errors?

For instance, there are several times where Graham has opportunities to publicly go on record for the name of Jesus and the exclusive nature of His gospel. Here are just a few, starting from the most recent:

Graham in Newsweek (interviewer Jon Meacham) on August 14, 2006:

“When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: ‘Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won’t . . . I don’t want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have.’”

Graham in USA Today (interviewer Cathy Lynn Grossman) on May 16, 2005:

“Today, as many fundamentalists and traditionalists refuse to share podiums with people who don’t share their exact vision of salvation, Graham opens his events to Christians of every stripe. . . . ‘There are a lot of groups that feel a little bit strange around me, because I am inclusive,’ says Graham who draws a distinction between ‘evangelical’ – a label often claimed by conservative Protestants – and ‘evangelism.’ ‘Evangelism is when the Gospel, which is good news, is preached or presented to all people,’ he says.” (emphasis original)

“The Christian world today is full of niches – from the vaguest spiritual seekers to the most doctrinally rigid conservatives who decry the ecumenical movement and see tolerance as moral relativism. Words like pluralism and inclusivity, which Graham considers positive, have taken negative connotations, as if they meant all paths to God were equally valid.” (emphasis mine)

Graham and Schuller on
May 31, 1997:

“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 … 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 they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.” (emphasis mine)

“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.” (emphasis mine)

“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. (emphasis mine)

GRAHAM: There is. There definitely is.”

Graham in January 1978:

“I used to believe that pagans in far countries were lost if they did not have the gospel of Christ preached to them.. I no longer believe that.” (McCall’s, January, 1978).

Here you get just a sampling of what Graham has said for the lat 28 years. Like I said, one cannot take his comments from the latest Newsweek article and think this is an anomaly. He has been saying this for more than a quarter century. Were one remove the name and simply took the statements themselves, one would come to the conclusion that this person was more influenced by the Vatican II than Scripture, lining up with Catholic theologians Karl Rahner, Gavin D’Costa, and Jacques Dupuis than Ronald Nash, R. Douglass Geivett, or John Piper. As Graham has sought to broaden his base and become more inclusivistic, he has been forced to ride the fence on issues which do not allow it. You hear him making statements like, “I feel I belong to all churches. I am equally at home in an Anglican or Baptist or a Brethren assembly or a Roman Catholic church. I would identify with the customs and the culture and the theology of that particular church” (David Frost, Billy Graham in Conversation, 68) which make you wonder if his theology drives understanding of the gospel, the church, and even God.

While Graham has adapted an agnostic claim on those without Jesus, the Bible makes it very clear where God the Father stands. Consider the Scriptures:

If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
1 John 5:9-13

It doesn’t get any clearer than that. And God’s testimony is much greater—even greater than Billy Graham’s. Indeed, we can know that we have eternal life, because whoever has the Son has eternal life which has been granted by the Father. This testimony all Christians have in themselves, for God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).

Ironically enough, as I was driving home this morning from work, I was reminded of my paper which I wrote for Dr. Moore in which I addressed the role of general revelation in the fate of the unevangelized. It was my first paper here at Southern. From my research and studies that semester, I was launched into a field of religious pluralism that has marked my theological education for the past three years. In that paper, I argued against inclusivists like Rahner, Clark Pinnock, and John Sanders. I made my case very clear where I believe the Bible stands. Obviously, as I received my paper (and even a personal phone call) back, Dr. Moore whole-heartedly agreed. However, it would have been no different had I put Billy Graham’s name next to Pinnock, Sanders, Grenz, or any other our school disagrees with, and were Graham to write a paper on his views of salvation, I am quite certain he would not get an “A” in Dr. Moore’s class. My point is simply this: when someone is wrong, let us lovingly yet truthfully make it plain that they are in error and seek to bring them back to a biblical understanding of the gospel. This is my hope and prayer for Billy Graham and others who have been influenced by him to adopt a view of the gospel and salvation apart from the saving knowledge of Christ.

Just this past December, I eulogized my grandfather who died at the age of 89. Graham is 87 right now, so there is some similarity. My granddad was a graduate of Southern Seminary in 1943 and was the first in our family to ever have a high school diploma. He went on to minister for 64 years laboring among people who needed Jesus. As a chaplain in both wars and VA hospitals to pastoring little churches all across the heartland of America, my grandfather ran the race and finished strong. What you see here is his Bible which he preached from an a sermon entitled “Prepare to Meet Thy God” (preached on Sept. 10, 1950). In the center of the page you will find the words, “Jesus, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Only Way to God.” Although at the end of his life, where he could not speak and battled Alzheimer’s, he could still pray and smile when you talked about Jesus. Now he has met his God and is worshipping at his Savior’s feet.

Billy Graham is at the close of the last chapter of his life. It would be tragic to see the last pages written with interviews where he backtracked and retracted the convictions which bound his conscience to God’s Word. Having just witnessed the last days and breaths of my granddad, it has made me all the more sensitive to Graham and my hopes that he finish strong. Like Paul, I hope it can be said:

“I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

My granddad never merited an interview except from the little ones which loved to sit on his lap. He never preached to more than a couple hundred at a time. But by God’s grace, He ran the race faithfully. No matter how big or small you are in the world’s eyes, we are nothing without Jesus. And as we reflect on what it means to preach the word, in season and out of season, to endure suffering, to do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill our ministry, may we ever be mindful to be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

Note: Over the past couple of days, I have had the exciting privilege of catching up with a man I mentioned in the comments section of my previous post. His name is Larry Backlund, and he has served as the President of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism across America. He has been very kind to email me, and I am hoping to meet up with him during the week I am in Minneapolis. Having known Graham personally, Mr. Backlund said, “I DO know where Mr. Graham stands on the Cross and the Gospel and the Bible.” While he mentioned that he hasn’t read the articles, he is certain that Graham holds strongly to the gospel and inerrancy of Scripture. Speaking of that, I was able to find an article in which Graham speaks of that now well-known crisis in the summer of 1949. You can access it by going here.

Below are some selected works I picked out that would be helpful for further study. Tomorrow, I am going to post some specific questions that, were I able to sit down an interview Graham myself, I would ask him concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some selected works to consider:

“A ‘Paradigm Case’: Billy Graham and the Nature of Conversion” in Evangelical Landscapes: Facing Critical Issues of the Day by John G. Stackhouse (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002): 103-20.

Drummond, Lewis. The Evangelist: The Worldwide Impact of Billy Graham. Nashville: Word, 2001.

Frost, David. Billy Graham in Conversation. Oxford: Lion, 1998.

Graham, Billy. How to Be Born Again. Dallas: Word, 1989.

_________. Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham.. London: HarperCollins, 1997.

Johnson, Thomas Paul. Examining Billy Graham’s Theology of Evangelism. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003.

Martin, William. A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story. New York: William Morrow, 1991.

Murray, Iain H. Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950-2000. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2000.

Pokki, Timo. America’s Preacher and His Message: Bill Graham’s View of Conversion and Sanctification. Landham, MD: University Press of America, 1999.

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2 Comments on “Moore About Billy Graham”

  1. Gray Says:


    Good post.

    I was thinking the same thing as I read the letter to the editor. He didn’t really say anything better or conclusive to convince people he believed in the exclusivity of Christ for salvation or inerrancy.

    In fact, I don’t think quoting John 3:16 or saying you believe the Bible is inspired makes up for MULTIPLE statements against the exclusivity of Christ for salvation…or statements contradictory to inerrancy. We would not grant that to anyone else.

    The sad irony of this all is that if this was Brian McLaren or a lesser-known pastor or Timmy Brister…all the SBC big-wigs and all the evangelical big-wigs would have juped from their chair and blasted that person in their sermons or on their blogs. But yet despite repeated statements of heretical views, very few utter a peep about Graham…moreover, we erect a statue outside of LifeWay of him.

    The CBF (and others) have to be laughing at the “Champions of Inerrancy” (the SBC) with a massive statue of a man who doesn’t necessarily believe inerrancy, and who has repeatedly said that their will be muslims and pagans in heaven.

    Why are we so inconsistent? Celebrity overrides conviction, I suppose.

  2. jeff Says:


    It truly is sad to read Mr. Graham’s comments, especially since he stands as such a recognizeable figurehead for Evangelicalism.

    When I lived in Kansas City, The Kansas City Star ran a faith page every Saturday. The front-page highlight (or lowlight, depending on perspective) of this section was a Q&A, where a local resident would submit a question and it would recieve an answer by two of KC’s local religious leaders, of all stripes.

    Mostly the answers angered me, so I wrote the editor to ask if my conservative pastor could be a contributor. The editor replied, “We already run Billy Graham, and he represents the conservative evangelical viewpoint.” Sadly, however, much of what the local religious quacks were saying were almost identical to Mr. Graham’s comments. Very sad.

    Hey, when are you going to be in Minneapolis? I am an associate pastor at a Baptist church in St. Paul, and would love to meet you, if you have some time.

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