Friday, December 7, 2012

What's Going on with Billy Graham?

Towards the end of the most recent presidential election cycle, it was reported that Billy Graham had removed Mormonism from his website's cult directory.  This happened reportedly after Graham met privately with Mitt Romney, presumably for the purpose of securing Graham's nomination.  Knowing that Graham maintains sway over many evangelicals, it makes sense that Romney didn't want to be portrayed to them as being a member of a cult.  Thus the removal.  I posted briefly about this incident when it occurred.

Unfortunately (for the gospel) it turns out that the negative speculation surrounding this event was well founded, as this statement from Franklin Graham confirms that the motivation for the removal of Mormonism from their "cult page," and now the subsequent removal of the cult page altogether, is to not offend people or call them names.  Franklin Graham says that he can't see preaching the gospel and name calling (which is what he considers labeling certain beliefs and people as "cults") going together.  He has therefore removed the page.

Graham says, "If I want to win people to Christ, how can I call them names?"  Like what?  Mormon?  Is that derogatory?  No, it simply describes who the people are and the belief system they ascribe to.

Graham's website defined a cult as "any group which teaches doctrines or beliefs that deviate from the biblical message of the Christian faith.  It is very important that we recognize cults and avoid any involvement with them.  Cults often teach some Christian truth mixed with error, which may be difficult to detect."

To be sure, religious groups classified as cults according to the definition above are not a part of orthodox Christianity, and therefore do not have any eternal, effectual, salvific value.  Or, in other words, they don't save.  Wouldn't you think it'd be important to have a clear idea of the identity of such groups?  I would.  But apparently Franklin Graham seems to think that such distinction amounts to "name calling."

Billy Graham's media representative chimed in by saying "Mr. Graham's calling is not to pass judgment, but to proclaim the biblical truth that Jesus is the only way to heaven, allowing every individual and group to fall along that plumb line."  What's ironic about this statement about a commitment to not judging people, and citing Jesus as the only exclusive way to God is, in and of itself, judgmental.

Moreover, the Bible is replete with instructions to call out those who do not preach and/or teach the truth, and to have nothing to do with them.  It even calls out false teachers by name at points.  Why?  Because these false teachers and false religions were leading people astray and into hell.  Isn't that worth calling a spade a spade?  Isn't that worth a potential offense?  I think it is.

But more than that, it must be understood that the gospel is, by its very nature, offensive.  You don't need to call anyone names or single anyone out.  The gospel does that all by itself, and it does it very well.  But still, Graham's media rep said that if Graham were to do or say something that would alienate an audience, he wouldn't be able to reach them.  In my opinion, the gospel itself alienates an audience.  In fact, the Bible tells us that it is foolishness to those who are perishing.  Of course it alienates!  Of course it divides!  That's what it is designed to do.  If the gospel is designed to offend the hard-hearted sinner, then any attempt to soften that offense is unwise and unloving.  To pretend that we have to repair bridges or water down the truth so as not to offend is anti-biblical.

The problem with what the Billy Graham folks have done is not so much a relational or PR problem, but a shift in understanding of the purpose and nature of the gospel.  Moreover, it's a bait and switch method of evangelism that seeks to befriend people and find commonality with them so as to win their friendship before giving them the hard news of repentance and faith.  It's dishonest.

God knows the great work that Billy Graham has done through his obedience to the Great Commission.  It's a shame to see his ministry lose its integrity.  But then how do we explain Franklin Graham?  He's also done some amazing work, which my own church just participated in through Operation Christmas Child.  Hopefully we can chalk this and other recent Billy Graham blunders to his old age.

John MacArthur aptly commented on the situation thusly: "We have no right to redefine salvation in our own terms in order to be popular or in order to be accepted.  True and historic Christianity has never been confused about what it means to be a Christian."

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