The John Meacham article in Newsweek (August 14, 2006), “Pilgrims Progress”, has been discussed elsewhere in the blogosphere, so I am not sure what else I can really add to the discussion that has not already been said, but here it goes. For a couple of excellent postings on this subject, I will point you to TeamPyro (“The ‘It’s not for me to say’ dodge”) and Provocations and Pantings (“The Billy Graham School of Ecumenism”).
I find the statements that Billy Graham has made in the Newsweek article very disheartening. Some could argue that it is partially due to his age and failing health. But that argument will not stand since Graham has been making these kinds of statements for many years now. While it could be argued that he is just trying not to be offensive or controversial in hopes that people may be won to Christ, compromise never produces the fruit that we desire. Compromising or withholding the truth is never taught in the Bible. The truth was always proclaimed without compromise, even in the face of hostility. Compromise ultimately creates confusion concerning the truth of the Gospel. The confusion concerning where those outside of the Christian faith stand is extremely dangerous, and does nothing to point those people to the message of saving faith. The Bible is crystal clear on the fact that Jesus is the only way of salvation.
The following quote outlining the “spirit of moderation” captures the essence of the propensity towards compromise.
'“… Graham's spirit of moderation, of concern for both sides, is welcome not only overseas but at home, for Americans seem hungry for a ceasefire in the culture wars. In a Pew Research Center survey released last week, 66 percent of all Americans want a "middle ground" on abortion. Six out of 10 white evangelicals also support compromise; meanwhile, 44 percent of white evangelicals—the highest figure recorded in five years of polling—back stem-cell research.”'
Since when does it matter what the majority want? This so-called ceasefire that Americans seem to long for is simply a desire to wallow in their sin and believe whatever they want to believe. Spirituality is popular today with multitudes of “seekers” desiring some sort of “experience”, often veiled in a thin veneer of Christianity. But proclaim that embracing the gospel requires repentance and adopting a biblical worldview is simply intolerable. Consequently, there are multitudes that adapt the title of Christian, but bear virtually little if any resemblance to the biblical portrait of what a Christian is supposed to be. I am not one that is keen on Christians embarking on a quest for political activism, leveraging political means to bring in the kingdom of God. But avoiding the extreme of political activism does not mean we need to avoid voicing our views on things that oppose biblical teaching, which includes moral issues facing our society. I still believe that Christians as individual citizens need to speak out and act responsibly at the voting booth, casting their vote according to their conscience molded by a biblical world view. Compromise in these areas under the banner of tolerance and diversity makes us just as guilty as the world. The message that Graham and others who embrace a strategy of compromise are actually sending the message that one supposedly can believe in the gospel and act contrary to biblical principle. This simply allows people to walk in self deception. Perhaps some of the desire for compromise on the part of evangelicals may be more driven by disenchantment with the harshness of political activism, and a desire to soften the view of evangelicalism as a rigid and heartless. But compromising the truth is never the answer. Embracing tolerance is a gross overreaction and will undermine the clarity of the gospel message. We must also remember that it is inevitable that the world will not respond positively to the gospel. (Matthew 5:11; 10:22, John 17:14, 1 Corinthians 2:14) Any attempt to make it palatable to people’s tastes will nullify the power of the message of saving faith. Too much of evangelicalism has bought into the notion that it is imperative that everyone like us.
Billy Graham claims that he is led to spend more time on the love of God, in contrast to others who are more “politically active”. But embracing the love of God includes embracing the truth of God’s Word and proclaiming it to others. 2 John is pretty clear on this point.
1The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth,
2for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:
3Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
4I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father.
5Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.
6And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.
(2 John 1:1-6; NASB)
I would agree that becoming too wrapped up in political causes distracts the church from the mission to proclaim the message of saving faith and making disciples. Making people simply comply with law does not bring them any closer to God. However, people need to be made aware of the error of sin. This awareness should drive them to seek the forgiveness made available through the work of Christ on the cross. Avoiding confronting the culture with a biblical perspective on crucial social issues does little to produce awareness of man’s sinful nature.
'A lot of things that I commented on years ago would not have been of the Lord, I'm sure, but I think you have some—like communism, or segregation, on which I think you have a responsibility to speak out." Such proclamations, however, should not be "the main thing," and he admits he has no perfect formula: "I don't know the total answer to that."'
So does this mean that only the evils of communism and segregation are worth speaking out against, but issues such as abortion and gay marriage are less evil?
The comment that Billy Graham does not feel it is his calling to confront the culture is a weak excuse for compromising the truth. On the other hand, his son Franklin has been outspoken on certain issues in our day. Most notable is his bold proclamation concerning Islam. This is despite the fact that he too, does not make it the primary focus of his ministry.
'Asked whether he thinks such observations are helpful, the younger Graham said: "It's not the calling of my life to preach against Islam. You're a reporter; you ask me, and I answer the question. I don't go on television or into stadiums and make Islam or gay marriage or the right to life my theme. But in the work that I do I come up against belief systems all over the world. I see much of the damage that is done in the name of religion. In the Balkans, Milosevic would have Orthodox priests bless the troops before they would rape and kill. Man's heart is evil and wicked until it is changed by Christ."'
I think that Franklin’s response is fair. While he does not make issues the primary theme that he preaches about, he is not afraid to strive to be truthful concerning issues in our day either. But observe the comments from his father and his sister.
'"I'm sure there are many things that he and I are not in total agreement about," Graham says. "I'm an old man, he's a young man in the prime of life." Anne Graham Lotz, after expressing her deep respect for her brother's life and work, said: "When Daddy was my brother's age, he was saying some pretty strong things, too, so you have to remember that experience and the living of a life can soften your perspective."'
So does that mean that Franklin will soften and compromise with age? Let’s hope not!
I am not criticizing the basic message of the gospel that Graham has preached at the crusades over the years. But the compromising, careless statements made outside of the crusades has a tendency to send a confusing, mixed message that distorts the clear message of the gospel.
But the following comment toward the end of the article I think points to the root of the problem.
'If he had his life to live over again, Graham says he would spend more time immersed in Scripture and theology. He never went to seminary, and his lack of a graduate education is something that still gives him a twinge. "The greatest regret that I have is that I didn't study more and read more," he says. "I regret it, because now I feel at times I am empty of what I would like to have been. I have friends that have memorized great portions of the Bible. They can quote [so much], and that would mean a lot to me now."'
Graham regrets not having spent more time studying Scripture and theology. We could all wish that he had. But this should also serve as an admonition to all of us, not to neglect the study of Scripture and sound biblical theology.