Saturday, September 02, 2006

Has Billy Graham Become an Inclusivist?

I know I have a hard time imagining that as well but after having read a featured article in the August 14th edition of Newsweek magazine I was definitely surprised to learn of the evolution of some of his beliefs.

The article was written by the managing editor of Newsweek, Jon Meacham. If that name rings a bell it may be because I wrote a critique a few years ago of his article about the birth of Christ. [To read those critiques Click Here and Click Here].

Here are some of the “highlights” (or lowlights) of Meachams interview with the most well-known evangelist of all time:

[In reference to the Bible] …"I'm not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and tittle is from the Lord," Graham says. "This is a little difference in my thinking through the years." He has, then, moved from seeing every word of Scripture as literally accurate to believing that parts of the Bible are figurative…

I’d be interested to know how he reconciles that with Second Timothy 3:16 which states “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” [emphasis mine].

[At one point in the article Meacham inserts a section from an interview with Franklin Graham, Billy’s son.] In perhaps his most celebrated remark, Franklin has referred to Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion," and declines to back down. "After 9/11, there were a lot of things being said about how the God of Islam and the God of the Christian faith were one and the same, but that's simply not true ... ," Franklin told NEWSWEEK. "The God that I worship does not require me to kill other people. The God that I worship tells me I am to love my enemy, to give him food when he's hungry and water when he's thirsty."…. Asked about his son's use of the phrase "evil and wicked" in reference to Islam, Graham says: "I would not say Islam is wicked and evil ... I have a lot of friends who are Islamic. There are many wonderful people among them. I have a great love for them. I have spoken at Islamic meetings, in Nigeria and in different parts of the world."

Refusing to condemn the worship of a false God? I could be way wrong, but it seems to me anything that worships and praises a false God would be, by definition, evil and wicked (remember the first commandment?). I guess I just can’t see how God would look at that sort of behavior and be pleased with it.

Finally, here is the biggest ouch moment for me. Billy Graham, the man who has preached of Salvation through Jesus alone, all over the entire world for the past 60 years goes on to say:

A unifying theme of Graham's new thinking is humility. He is sure and certain of his faith in Jesus as the way to salvation. 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." Such an ecumenical spirit may upset some Christian hard-liners, but in Graham's view, only God knows who is going to be saved: "As an evangelist for more than six decades, Mr. Graham has faithfully proclaimed the Bible's Gospel message that Jesus is the only way to Heaven," says Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross. "However, salvation is the work of Almighty God, and only he knows what is in each human heart."

Wow! I know, not what I was expecting to hear either. Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree that only God knows the heart, God loves everyone, and that God alone is the gatekeeper of heaven’s doors. But I also believe John 14:6 that says “Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. It seems clear to me that belief in Jesus for the forgiveness of one’s sins is a foundational requirement. I can’t understand where he see’s a loophole for those religions that deny Christ. Then again, the article is written by a strong opponent of historical Christianity and it’s quite possible that Billy’s words have been twisted against him to support Meacham’s personal agenda.

If you’d like to read the article, in its entirety for yourself, go to I'd be very interested to read any of your comments whether you agree or disagree with me.


wrf3 said...

First, whether or not something is literal or figurative has nothing to do with whether or not it is inspired, suitable, useful, or even true. I am not a YEC; does that mean that I hold the Bible in less regard than someone who is?

Second, Islam is a false religion but, then again, so are a lot of things (some of them have even crept into the Church. One of the worst seems holds that Paul wrote "from feelings to feelings, the just shall live by feelings". But I digress...) I could argue that Democracy is a false religion (since, after all God is a Monarchist!). I think Graham has learned that the more time you spend attacking the idol, typically the less time you spend presenting the Gospel. It would be interesting to try this experiment: ask random people on the street what they think Christianity is about. My guess is that we would be seen as finger wagging scolds who hate _____(fill in the blank: abortion, gays, evolution, ... ). Or that we're supposed to be "good" people. Very few would say, "oh, they're those benighted people who think their leader rose from the dead." I wonder what would happen if, before he goes Home, Graham and Pope Benedict appeared together and issued the joint statement, "He is risen!"?

Third and last, I completely agree that Jesus is "the way and the truth and the life." I'm not as old as Mr. Graham, but I've come to the point where I disagree with you that "belief in Jesus for the forgiveness of one's sins is a foundational requirement." The reason for this is that this means that our salvation is dependent upon a correct understanding/assent/trust in a particular doctrine. That's a particularly insidious form of salvation by works. Salvation is solely by God's grace and I think it's fair to say that not everyone who is saved knows it (yet). I'm not so sure that C. S. Lewis painted a wrong picture in his book "The Last Battle".

Ryan said...

wrf3 -

Thanks for taking the time to write out such a well thought out response. I'll do my best to address the arguments you present.

I completely agree with you that whether or not something is literal or figurative has nothing to do with whether or not it is inspired. I fully believe God can use both literal and figurative for his purposes. I was more concerned with Graham’s statement that he doesn’t believe that “every single jot and tittle is from the Lord.” Whether or not God chooses to use a figurative or literal approach is completely up to Him, the important thing is to remember that all of it is from God.

The very idea of Graham and the Pope standing side by side exclaiming “He is risen!” is something I believe millions of people worldwide long to hear. It would surely help to heal wounds caused by unnecessary division. I don’t fault Graham for choosing not to fight every battle. In fact in the article he spends quite a bit of time explaining his reasoning and thoughts about “those who are called to certain issues.” My sadness came not from him going out and failing to take initiative preaching against Islam, rather it was from him being asked a direct question about the legitimacies of Islam and him not only failing to denounce it, but embracing it. In fact, one could argue that the failure to denounce Islam, by a man that so many look to as a “spiritual superstar” (of which I do not) could be interpreted as legitimizing it as a path to God. I don’t fault him for not attacking every issue and religion out there, I fault him for remaining neutral and passive when asked a direct question about it. (And it isn’t just about Islam, I’d feel the same way if he was asked about the religion of Democracy).

I think the last issue you raise is where you and I probably have the biggest difference of opinion. I’m not interested in starting theological or denominational wars. I believe we’re on the same team; we just have a different understanding of what the Bible is saying. I completely agree that salvation is solely by God’s grace and that we as humans do nothing to earn that grace which is required for salvation. I also believe forgiveness of one’s sins by trusting, (also called “faith”) in Jesus is a foundational requirement. Entire volumes have been devoted to this very subject so I’ll limit my comments to a very brief defense as to why I believe this, but in no way should this be considered an exhaustive analysis of the issue.

The first reason I believe that faith in Christ is required for salvation is because the Bible teaches it. Some of the supporting versus include:

Galatians 2:16 – nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

Acts 16:31 – They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved

2 Timothy 3:15 – and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:26 – He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Romans 5:1 – Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Acts 2:21 – 'And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Romans 10:9-10 – that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation

John 1:12 – But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,

Romans 10:13 – for "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Acts 2:38 – "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I think the confusion or disagreement comes when we examine the Bible’s clear condemnation of works enabling salvation. We assume that since faith comes from us, it must be a work, or something that we are doing to earn salvation. I believe that is a legalistic approach to understanding what the Bible is trying to say. We are so focused on making sure it isn’t from us, we in effect automatically stop and hold to that belief instead of digging deeper. I believe it is quite similar to the Pharisees blasting Jesus for healing a man’s hand on the Sabbath (Matthew 12 9-13).

During Bible times works were looked at as things like tithing, good deeds, rituals, sacrifices etc. The Bible doesn’t look at faith as a work. We clearly see this in Ephesians 2:8 which states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” By separating “through faith” and “not of yourselves” a clear difference can be seen. Or, one could consider Mark 10:52 which says “And Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well. Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.” Note that the man did nothing to heal himself. Faith was the means God used to heal him just as faith is the means God uses to provide justification.

I’d like to close with two passages from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (page 730). I believe Grudem (who is a theologian and I am not) very eloquently captures my feelings and does a better job of concisely explaining this issue than I can:

Scripture never says that we are justified because of the inherent goodness of our faith, as if our faith has merit before God. It never allows us to think that our faith in itself earns favor with God. Rather, Scripture says that we are justified “by means of” our faith, understanding faith to be the instrument through which justification is given to us, but not at all an activity that earns us merit or favor with God. Rather, we are justified solely because of the merits of Christ’s work (Rom. 5:17–19)… In this way, faith is the exact opposite of trusting in ourselves, and therefore it is the attitude that perfectly fits salvation that depends not at all on our own merit but entirely on God’s free gift of grace.

One example from ordinary life might be seen in receiving a paycheck for work that has been done for an employer. The “means” or “instrument” that I use to get this paycheck is the act of reaching out my hand and taking an envelope from my mail box, then opening it and pulling out the check. But my employer does not pay me for doing any of those actions. The pay is entirely for work that I did prior to that. Actually taking the check did not earn me one cent of the money I received—it was simply the instrument or means I used to take the payment into my possession. Similarly, faith is the instrument we use to receive justification from God, but it in itself gains us no merit with God. (The analogy is helpful but it is not perfect, because I had previously worked to earn the money, whereas justification is based on the work of Christ. The analogy would be closer if I had worked and then died, and my wife then picked up the paycheck from my mail box.)

Doug said...

Man, you are thorough! Don't you have a BBQ to go to?

Good post.

wrf3 said...

I must admit that over the last almost 30 years I have wrestled with the "verbal plenary inspiration" of the NT. Jesus held to the full inspiration of the OT and I have no problem with that. I think the OT was the Scripture to which 2 Tim 3:16 refers. On the other hand, Paul is such a radical genius that I've met few people who really understand him. And, like Luther, I think that James just didn't quite "get it". It's clear that Spirit-led people still disagreed (see Acts) and I sometimes wonder if we are so enamored with a desire for an absolutely authoritative written document that we forget that the same Spirit that works in us worked in them. Which leaves room for error. After all, if Matthew took a modern hermeneutics course, he wouldn't pass. (I don't know whether this says something about Matthew's use of OT citations or about our classes.) I'm not happy being in this position as it makes the issue of authority more problematic but there I am. On the other hand, the OT was "written in stone" and our earthy bits want to cling to this; yet we are "leaves in the wind" (for all the Serenity fans out there, cf. John 3:8), not all of us are being blown in the same direction at the same speed.

There is no disagreement between us that justification is by God's grace through faith. It appears we differ, however, in the role faith plays. You wrote, "faith in Christ is required for salvation." I would say that faith is how we know that God's grace is present in our lives. Faith is the result of grace; it is not the prerequisite. I am not saved because I believed; I am saved because God, in His matchless grace, chose me, opened my eyes, and healed me with the result that I believed. But, again, this has changed over time. Thirty years ago I was adamant that, "I'm saved because I believed." Now I say, "I believed because I was saved."

So let me leave you with a question. Can a person be the recipient of God's saving grace and not know it? While you think about it, I'll say that my answer thirty years ago is not my answer today.

Ryan said...

wrf3 -

My brother, I think this is going to be one of those situations where we will have to agree to disagree until we are with the Father and he explains it to us. Two of my very closest friends (whom I went to seminary with) are both devout Lutherans so I am feeling a bit of déjà vu right now. I’m not sure what more to say. As I mentioned in my earlier comment I am an apologist by training and not a theologian (definitely not by a long shot). I tried my best to explain why I believe what I believe and I hoped between my explanation and that of Wayne Grudem’s, that it would become clearer. I fear I may have failed in that.

I am a bit concerned at your mention of “leaving room for error.” I believe the Spirit is at work in all of us in different ways but that by no means leaves room for error (unless you are referring to human error and not divine error). Personally I believe Matthew wouldn’t flunk a hermeneutics course because proper hermeneutics teaches that above all else, Scripture interprets Scripture. Therefore, Matthew would, by default, earn the A+ and the rest of us would have faulty methods.

But perhaps my biggest concern is the challenging of the inspiration of the New Testament. I am familiar with the argument many people hold (such as yourself) that 2 Timothy 3:16 refers not to “All Scripture” (as it’s written) but rather only to the Old Testament. While many have tried to isolate the nuances of this particular verse, I prefer to use this verse in conjunction with many other verses in the New Testament that support the authority and inspiration of the text, Whether independently or taken as a whole, these verses demonstrate the divine inspiration of the New Testament and therefore 2 Timothy 3:16 can and does apply to the New Testament. Some of those verses are:

We see that Jesus tells the disciples to write scripture:
John 15:27: And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

God will make the truth known to the disciples:
John 16:1314: But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.

We know that the words of the Apostles were considered to be the words of God: (It’s important to remember that all of the New Testament books except Mark, Luke, Acts, Jude and possibly Hebrews were by written by the Apostles; Mark and Luke were close friends of Apostles and Jude was Jesus’ brother)
1Thessolonians 2:13: And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
Acts 12:24: But the word of God continued to increase and spread.
Acts 13:7: who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.
Acts 13:44: On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
Acts 15:35: But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.
2 Peter 3:2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

Paul claimed that the words were from God:
Galatians 1:11-12: I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:13: This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
1Corinthians 7:10: To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.

Paul required his writings to be read in the churches:
Col 4:16: After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
1 Thessalonians 5:27: I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

Paul gave guidelines to receive his word:
2 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:14: If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.

We see different New Testament writers refer to other New Testament writings as Scripture:
1Timothy 5:18: For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." quotes Luke 10:7.
2Peter 3:15-16 Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

John’s method of opening the book of Revelation indicates it is scripture:
Revelation 1:3: Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

The way John closes the book of Revelation indicates it is scripture:
Revelation 22:18-19 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. Compare that message with Deuteronomy 4:2: Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you and Proverbs 30:6: Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

I know that may seem like a bit of overkill but I think establishing the authority of the New Testament is vitally important. To your final question of whether or not a person can be a recipient of God’s saving grace and not know it? That sounds like it is starting to enter the arena of predestination versus freewill which I think is beyond the scope of this site. Like I mentioned I’m not a theologian, and I believe there are good arguments on both sides. I have my thoughts and opinions about it now, but like you, (and to a degree Billy Graham) said, it’s quite possible my answer in 30 years will not be the same as it is today.