Billy Graham Crusades in India

Billy Graham in India

“…that all the adult heathen are lost is not the teaching of the Bible or of the Westminster Standards.”

— William G. T. Shedd

“That’s in God’s hands. I can’t be their judge. …My calling is to preach the love of God and the forgiveness of God and the fact that he does forgive us. That’s what the Cross is all about and what the Resurrection is all about. That’s the Gospel.”

— Billy Graham, interview with Larry King asking Graham about Mormons, Jews, Muslims, etc., and whether they are condemned

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This blog has been on break for the last couple of weeks, and I might continue the break for a little while longer. But I want to make a quick interruption, pertaining to a post from last month: “Calvinism and Salvation Outside the Church.”

In that post, I provided an excerpt from William G. T. Shedd (1820-1894) — a Presbyterian dogmatician of known excellence — on the vexing question of salvation outside the church. Can the electing grace of God reach the unevangelized, i.e., those who have not heard the gospel of Jesus Christ in its explicit, apostolic form? As is well known, the “exclusivist” answer is “No!,” apart perhaps from some extraordinary vision or dream of Christ in the unevangelized person. You can read this post from Kevin DeYoung for a clear presentation of this position.

Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology

As we saw, Shedd disagrees. In his Dogmatic Theology, he teaches that the “heathen” are capable of a “broken and contrite heart” under the ministration of the Holy Spirit: “It is certain that the Holy Ghost can produce, if he please, such a disposition and frame of mind in a pagan, without employing, as he commonly does, the written word” (vol. 2, p. 709). Not only does Shedd disagree with exclusivism — although, we should remember that “exclusivism” and “inclusivism” were coined later and are not without problems — he is also adamant that the Westminster Standards, and scholastic Calvinism as a whole, are also opposed to exclusivism.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, X.3, states: “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word” (emphasis mine). This is the clause in question. Who are those “incapable of being outwardly called”? In his Dogmatic Theology, Shedd refutes those who teach that this only pertains to “idiots and insane persons,” i.e., those mentally incapable.

Shedd’s Calvinism: Pure & Mixed

In the year before his death, Shedd published Calvinism: Pure & Mixed, a strident defense of the Westminster Standards against those in the Presbyterian Church (Northern branch) who sought to modify the doctrine of election. It is far beyond the scope of this post to evaluate the merits, or demerits, of Shedd’s overall thesis. For our purposes, it is valuable because Shedd defends here, near the end of his life, the same position that he promulgated in his earlier systematic theology.

Shedd formulates the question in this way: “Does Scripture also furnish ground for the belief, that God also gathers some of his elect by an extraordinary method from among the unevangelized, and without the written word saves some adult heathen ‘by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost’?” (p. 59). He must first deal, once again, with the question of “idiots” and “maniacs” who are not capable of the outward call. Shedd is forceful. He believes it is “remarkable” and “incredible” to say that the confession is talking about the mentally incapable — because they are not “moral agents” and cannot therefore be “classed with the rest of mankind.” As he puts the matter:

It is utterly improbable that the Assembly took into account this very small number of individuals respecting whose destiny so little is known. …[They] are contrasted with ‘others not elected, who although they may be called by the ministry of the word never truly come to Christ’; that is to say, they are contrasted with rational and sane adults in evangelized regions. But idiots and maniacs could not be put into such a contrast. The ‘incapacity’ therefore must be that of circumstances, not of mental faculty. A man in the heart of unevangelized Africa is incapable of hearing the written word, in the sense that a man in New York is incapable of hearing the roar of London. [pp. 59-60]

So, the incapacity must be that of “circumstances.” And thus Shedd distinguishes “two classes” of those who are saved: the evangelized and the unevangelized. But he emphasizes their commonalities, namely the same operation of the Holy Spirit upon their hearts. In this way, he continues:

Consequently, the Confession, in this section, intends to teach that there are some unevangelized men who are ‘regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit’ without ‘the ministry of the written word’, and who differ in this respect from unevangelized men who are regenerated in connection with it. There are these two classes of regenerated persons among God’s elect. They are both alike in being born, ‘not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’. They are both alike in respect to faith and repentance, because these are the natural and necessary effects of regeneration. Both alike feel and confess sin; and both alike hope in the Divine mercy, though the regenerate heathen has not yet had Christ presented to him. As this is the extraordinary work of the holy Spirit, little is said bearing upon it in Scripture. But something is said, God’s promise to Abraham was, that in him should ‘all the families of the earth be blessed’ (Gen 12:3). St. Paul teaches that ‘they are not all Israel which are of Israel’ (Rom 9:6); and that ‘they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham’ (Gal 3:7). Our Lord affirms that ‘many shall come from east and west, the north and the south, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 8:11). Christ saw both penitence and faith in the unevangelized centurion, respecting whom he said, ‘I have not found so great faith no, not in Israel’ (Matt 8:5-10). The faith of the ‘woman of Cannan’, an alien and stranger to the Jewish people and covenant, was tested more severally than that of any person who came to him in the days of his flesh, and of it the gracious Redeemer exclaimed, ‘O woman, great is they faith!’.

…That this work is extensive, and the number of saved unevangelized adults is great, cannot be affirmed. But that all the adult heathen are lost is not the teaching of the Bible or of the Westminster Standards. [pp. 60-61]

And all God’s people say —

Amen.

He continues for a couple of pages more and cites Zanchius and Witsius (and the Second Helvetic Confession, once again) as witnesses to this common understanding among “the elder Calvinists,” as he likes to say.

Billy Graham Being His Awesome Self

And how is Billy Graham relevant to all of this? On a few occasions, Reverend Graham expressed his inclusivist beliefs or, at least, heavy leanings in that regard. He is definitely not a strict exclusivist, yet somehow he was motivated to preach the gospel to more people than anyone in human history. One such example is an interview he gave with Larry King on CNN:

I love, love, love Billy’s answer to that question. The person who uploaded the video did not, which is sad. The liberating love and unfettered freedom of God is something joyous. Praise God!

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Image: Billy Graham Crusades in India

 

Johnny Cash and the Gospel

November 29, 2015

Cash

Johnny Cash did gospel music right. If you observe the whole corpus of his contributions to the gospel side of country music, he manages to capture and hold together the sentimental and the prophetic. That is remarkably rare.

I have selected eight performances, not in any particular order. The first is from San Quentin State Prison and the last is a performance with his mom on The Johnny Cash Show. In between, there are a couple Kris Kristofferson songs. There is a harrowing song about drug addiction. There is a performance at a Billy Graham Crusade. There is so much good stuff here.

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“He Turned the Water Into Wine” (San Quentin State Prison, February 24, 1969)

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“The Junkie’s Prayer” (January 6, 1971)

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“Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” (Grand Ole Opry, August 20, 1962)

There is also another rendition (in color) that is well worth watching.

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“They Killed Him” (December 1984)

This was written by Kris Kristofferson, who appears at the beginning of the video. The first verse is about Gandhi, the second is about Martin Luther King Jr’s “dream of beauty that they’ll never burn away,” and the final verse is about Jesus Christ.

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“Why Me, Lord?”

This is another Kris Kristofferson song. You’ll also want to see both of them talking about another of Kris’ songs, “To Beat the Devil.”

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“It Was Jesus” (Town Hall Party 1958)

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“One of These Days I’m Gonna Sit Down And Talk To Paul” (Billy Graham Crusade, Tallahassee, FL, 1986)

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“The Unclouded Day” (The Johnny Cash Show, May 13, 1970)

Johnny Cash performs, with his mom on the piano, the first song that he ever sang in public. This is such a beautiful moment.

There is also a DVD of a 1973 documentary / personal journey of Johnny Cash in the Holy Land: The Gospel Road.

The Gospel Road

Thielicke on Billy Graham

February 3, 2015

Thielicke-Helmut

I have previously blogged, a while back, an excerpt from Helmut Thielicke on his experience at a Billy Graham crusade: “Billy Graham among the theologians.” Here is another quotation from Thielicke, which I recently came across in Pollock’s biography of Graham:

I saw it all happen without pressure and emotionalism (contrary to the reports which I had received up until now)….I saw them all coming towards us, I saw their assembled, moved and honestly decided faces, I saw their searching and their meditativeness. I confess that this moved me to the very limits. Above all there were two young men — a white and a black — who stood at the front and about whom one felt that they were standing at that moment on Mount Horeb and looking from afar into a land they had longed for. I shall never forget those faces. It became lightening clear that men want to make a decision….

The consideration that many do not remain true to their hour of decision can contain no truly serious objection; the salt of this hour will be something they will taste in every loaf of bread and cake which they are to bake in their later life. Once in their life they have perceived what it is like to enter the realm of discipleship. And if only this memory accompanies them, then that is already a great deal. But it would certainly be more than a mere memory. It will remain an appeal to them, and in this sense it will maintain its character indelibilis.

[Quoted in John Pollock, The Billy Graham Story, p. 119]

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Image: Helmut Thielicke (source)

A Billy Graham-ism

December 3, 2008

At the close of Billy Graham’s first London Crusade a Church of England clergyman said that Billy had set Christianity back a hundred years. Hearing of this Graham said, “I am disappointed. I had hoped to set it back two thousand years.”

(HT: Wade Burleson)

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Today is Billy Graham’s 90th birthday. The BGEA has been celebrating with a campaign to get testimonies across the globe related to Graham’s ministry. His health has been deteriorating, not surprisingly, over the last few years, but at present there is nothing critical in his health condition. His beloved wife, Ruth, married for 63 years, died last year.

Here are a couple posts I have done on Rev. Graham:

Billy Graham among the theologians

Billy Graham, contra fundamentalism

For those not familiar with Billy Graham, especially his work within evangelicalism against fundamentalism and intellectual sectarianism, then you should read The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism (Baker Academic 2008) by Garth Rosell, Professor of Church History at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Rev. Ockenga helped establish Fuller Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Seminary, the National Association of Evangelicals, and (with Graham) Christianity Today.

Billy Graham

For those who know Emil Brunner’s admiration for the American free church model (and evangelical personalism), then you will find this very amusing:

The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth once stood in the rain to hear Graham preach in Basel. When he told Graham that the sermon from John 3:3 was good but should not have stressed the must in ‘you must be born again,’ Graham begged to differ (and was soon gratified to hear another great theologian, Emil Brunner, affirm his position). But then Graham closes this account concerning Barth with these words: “In spite of our theological differences, we remained good friends.”

[Mark Noll, American Evangelical Christianity: An Introduction, Blackwell 2001, p. 47]

Another important theologian, Helmut Thielicke, also attended a Billy Graham crusade, but with certain preconceived notions which put Thielicke in an ill disposition toward the popular preacher. However, after coming under the preaching of Graham, Thielicke experienced an awakening of a sort. He explained in a letter to Graham:

The evening was a profound “penance” experience (poenitentia) for me. … When I have been asked now and again about your preaching, I have certainly not been too modest to make one or two theological observations. My evening with you made clear to me (and the Holy Spirit will have helped in doing so!) that the question should be asked in the reverse form: What is lacking in me and in my colleagues in the pulpit and at the university lectern, that makes Billy Graham so necessary?

In Thielicke’s autobiography, Notes from a Wayfarer, he recounts the situation:

My meeting with Billy Graham, who was at that time holding his huge evangelization crusades in Los Angeles stadium, was of great importance to me. I at first had reservations about accepting his invitation to sit next to him on the balustrade.

When I then did indeed do so on the insistence of my friends, I kept my eyes wide open critically. As the people came forward in their thousands to confess their faith, however, I was aware only of calm meditation on the part of his crew and detected no expressions of triumph. His message was good solid stuff. His warmhearted, unpretentious humanity made a great impression on me.

Afterwards I wrote him a thank you letter in which I confessed that whenever I had previously been asked for my opinion of him I had said that I felt that many essential elements were lacking in his proclamation of the Gospel; he advocated an individualistic doctrine of salvation, and even this took place only in relation to the initial stages of faith. Although I had now personally experienced his message, I did not feel compelled to revise the objective side of this criticism, but I had resolved to modify the question in which I raised my criticism; it now ran: “What is lacking in my and the conventional Christian proclamation of the Gospel that makes Billy Graham necessary?”

I found the answer he gave me extremely significant. I was, he said, completely right in my criticism. What he was doing was certainly the most dubious form of evangelization. But what other alternative did he have if the flocks that had no shepherds would not otherwise be served? This answer gave him credibility in my eyes and convinced me of his spiritual substance.

Graham would take Thielicke’s constructive criticism to heart, as exhibited in his later emphasis on continuing discipleship and the importance of the local church, the latter which caused him much criticism (from fundamentalists) as he worked with local mainline Protestant churches and Roman Catholics whenever his crusade would come to a town.

One of the many reasons why I love Billy Graham:

I thought the Reinhold Niebuhr reference at the end was interesting. For those who don’t know, Niebuhr criticized Graham for preaching a too simplistic gospel and not in tune with modern sensibilities. Well, I’m glad to see that Union Seminary has done so much good for the health of the church in America (note: that was sarcasm).

Also of interest, Billy Graham was subject to gross libel from Christopher Hitchens on C-SPAN last year. Here’s an adept rebuttal from TIME magazine with great insight into the character of Rev. Graham:

“Why Christopher Hitchens Is Wrong About Billy Graham”