Newsweek’s Exclusive on Billy Graham

Written by Drew on August 14th, 2006

Anybody who wants to put his finger on the pulse of evangelicals in America needs to read Jon Meacham’s exclusive on Billy Graham printed in Newsweek last week. The piece pictures Graham as a wise old sage, sitting atop a secluded mountain, rethinking his past and moving away from conservative views to a more moderate position on the Bible. He is described as “a man of unwavering faith who refuses to be judgmental…a resolute Christian who declines to render absolute verdicts about who will get into heaven and who will not.” “He is an evangelist,” we are told, “still unequivocally committed to the Gospel, but increasingly thinks God’s ways and means are veiled from human eyes and wrapped in mystery.”

The paradoxes are carried to clear inconsistency when Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross explains,

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. However, salvation is the work of Almighty God, and only he knows what is in each human heart.

Thus Graham the octagenarian is having a difficult time balancing himself on the proverbial fence of religious moderation. How Jesus can be the only way while leaving open the possibility of eternal life for Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and secularists is, indeed, “wrapped in mystery.”

The balancing act was no easier for Mr. Graham before he became dizzy with age. As a young man he preached moderation, omitting exclusive language from his preaching even if it meant using the thief on the cross as a model for conversion and removing baptism from the God’s plan of salvation (cf. Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).

One does wonder if he detects a move away from past convictions as Meacham writes,

While he believes Scripture is the inspired, authoritative word of God, he does not read the Bible as though it were a collection of Associate Press bulletins straightforwardly reporting on events in the ancient Middle East. “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….

Is this the kind of preaching that, as Meacham puts it, placed Billy Graham on the list of “one of the most formidable figures in the 2,000-year story of Christian evangelism?” How can Scripture be “the inspired, authoritative word of God” without every “jot and tittle” being from the Lord? Who decides which parts are inspired and which are not? Perhaps this, too, is wrapped in mystery. If so, “we are of all people most to be pitied.”

As religious blogger Daniel Pulliam pointed out, Newsweek’s Billy Graham piece reveals editor Jon Meacham’s agenda for the Christian religion in America.

One of my main problems with the article was that it mirrored Meacham’s book, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, in its attempt to have Graham walk the reader down what Meacham considers the ideal find line of religious moderation. In American Gospel, moderation is made out to be the ideal religious experience; in the Newsweek piece “Graham’s spirit of moderation” is portrayed as exactly what will solve all of America’s problems.

For those of us who believe God verbally inspired every word of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17), this is what we face. It’s not enough for us to simply quote book, chapter and verse. Today we must convince the world that the Bible is God’s word.

Men like Meacham and Graham are not making our job very easy. They’re singing a song the world wants to hear. If it is true that not every word of the Bible is from the Lord, man can do anything in the name of Christ. And Christianity becomes a trend instead of a way of life.

 

5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Ashley Kizer says:

    Great post, Drew. The challenge is clear: we must defend the inspiration of the Scriptures to our world. Don Johnson made this point on his radio show/podcast during a debate with a muslim. He commented that Islam seems to be growing because it appeals to the layman’s sense of wanting a reasonable explanation for the religion, whereas Christian evangelists generally appeal to one’s desire for a better life. (See http://www.thedonjohnsonshow.com/.)

  2. James Jones says:

    Mr. Graham has been ‘appreciated’ for his ‘moderate’ views for years. I was critized by a family member because I did not idolize Graham. They couldn’t believe that I would allow doctrine to get in the way of honoring Graham because of his alleged success in reaching the lost with the gospel.
    Hypocritical messages from the pulpit is what drove me to find the truth. So many in my family’s denominational church seemed content to ‘preach it hard’. But, at the end of the day, it was okay to agree to disagree. It just did not make sense to me. Thankfully, God’s word is clear about the way. I know we are to speak ‘as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11).’ How can we preach Christ as the way, but also offer ‘hope’ in ‘you never know.’ That is not preaching the word, that is preaching speculation. Okay, off the soapbox for me. Have a good one!

  3. Jeff @ truth-in-love.com says:

    Last year, the Charlotte Observer did a piece on Graham that included something like, “Little he preaches today makes anyone feel uncomfortable.”

    Smooth things sell better to itching ears, I guess.

  4. Kevin W. Rhodes says:

    Graham sounds an awful lot like a “‘Peace, Peace’ when there is no peace” advocate to me. Why others cannot see that is frightening. He is living off a reputation for respect for the Bible that he obviously does not deserve and now wishes to take additional steps backward just to attempt to remain relevant in an increasingly secular age.

    This is not the problem, but it is a major symptom of the problem.

    Drew, you did a great job bringing this out.

  5. Joel says:

    “He has, then, moved from seeing every word of Scripture as literally accurate to believing that parts of the Bible are figurative….”

    It’s interesting that Meachum makes a distinction between Scripture being literally accurate and believing that parts of it are figurative. If I didn’t know better, I’d believe him. 😉

    How can Scripture be “the inspired, authoritative word of God” without every “jot and tittle” being from the Lord? Who decides which parts are inspired and which are not? Perhaps this, too, is wrapped in mystery. If so, “we are of all people most to be pitied.”

    You hit it on the nail Drew. Hence, the dilemma you have from those who want to ride the fence. They want to pick and choose what they like, but when their hand is forced to explain what exactly is the Lord’s word, they’re not sure how to respond so they hold some kind of half n’ half belief. It still doesn’t make sense to me though.

    What’s best – pleasing God or man? That question still applies today as it did so long ago, no matter what people like Meachum say. (Acts 5:29)

    – Joel

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