An Attempted Reformed Defense of Billy Graham (2)

As I promised, I now return to what I characterized as “philosophy” in Dr. Jerome De Jong’s explanation of total depravity. 

I have already shown that De Jong’s explanation is not Billy Graham’s. 

But Dr. De Jong’s presentation of total depravity is itself a denial of that doctrine. For consider that his presentation is on the very surface of it a contradiction in terms. The doctor holds that total depravity does not mean that every sinner is as bad as he can possibly be. This in itself presents some insoluble problems. For either total means indeed partial, or the totally depraved man is as bad as he can possibly be. For how can there be a worse or a more complete degree of badness than total? Moreover, there is the problem of a so-called “natural good” which is, after all, riot good. What kind of “goodness” is this? Is it sin? Then it is not goodness. Is it truly goodness? Then man’s depravity is not total. Or does: Dr. De Jong mean to suggest that there is a relation of “man to man” that does not at the same time involve the “man to God” relationship? Moreover, presupposing now that this “natural good” is indeed real, how is it possible that from a naturally corrupt (totally depraved) tree there can come forth good fruit? 

In this same connection Dr. De Jong falls into the same error as did the Synod of 1924. He quotes only the first part of Canons III, IV, Article 4. If he had only paid attention to what the second part of this article says, he would never say that the totally depraved Sinner is not as bad as, he can possibly be. For in the second part of the article, we read this: “But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saying knowledge of God, and to true conversion;that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.” (italics mine, H.C.H.) 

Dr. De Jong also appeals to Calvin’s “Institutes” in this connection. He makes a very incomplete quotation from Book II, Chapter III, 3. If Dr. De Jong had Quoted Calvin in context and quoted the complete paragraph in question, it would have become very evident that while Calvin speaks of a certain common grace (by no means the same as that of 1924), he never attributes any good to the mere natural man. It would also have been evident that Calvin never teaches that “not every sinner is as bad as he can possibly be.” It would also have been evident that Calvin is explaining how and why not every man commits all possible sins. The latter, of course, is a patent fact; but it is by no means the same as saying that not every man is as bad as he possibly can be. It would also have been plain that Calvin in no instance detracts from the truth that man is by nature “wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness.” It would also have been evident that Calvin and Canons III, IV, 4 (including the second and crucial part which Dr. De Jong failed to quote) are in full agreement. It would also have been evident that Calvin is exactly dealing with some examples which “seem to teach us that we should not consider human nature to be totally corrupted,” but that he does not accept this suggestion. 

However, I will leave it to Dr. De Jong to correct his own misquotation of Calvin. Any of our readers may check up on the above statements in the Allen translation of the “Institutes,” Vol. I, pp. 315, ff. 

Besides, of course, it must be remembered that while Calvin is an illustrious authority on Reformed doctrine, all that Calvin writes is not authoritative doctrine as are the statements of our confessions.

But Dr. De Jong has more objections. 

In connection with what I wrote about Graham’s doctrine of depravity, I wrote the following: “Graham with all his supposed doctrine of total depravity must leave room for what he writes a bit later in his book, p. 76: The need for spiritual rebirth is evident to the most casual observer of, human nature. Man has fallen. Man is lost. Man is alienated from God. Man’s recovery must begin at the point of his fall. He chose self rather than God. If he is to be recovered, he must choose God over self. Man lives under the sentence of death.This condemnation can be lifted only if man, by a free act of his own will, makes a complete reversal of his original choice. (emphasis supplied, H.C.H.) I submit that this italicized statement is worse than Arminianism: it is rank modernism! It is surely utterly contrary to the truth of the Word of God as it is set forth in Canons III, IV, B, 4 . . .” 

Concerning this the doctor writes:

This, of course, is not modernism. I agree it is surely not the way I would state it. It emphasizes man’s responsibility, which we need to emphasize, but it does seem to place too much on the lost sinner. However I would suggest to the professor that he should not have stopped reading yet.

Over against Dr. De Jong’s above position, I would point out: 1) That Dr. De Jong does not even characterize this as anti-Reformed and Arminian. He makes it a matter of degree of emphasis. 2) That this is indeed modernism. For: a) There is no Christ in it. b) It teaches that man simply by an act of his own free will,—an act which is the complete reversal of his original choice,—can lift his condemnation. This makes salvation nothing but a modernistic “operation boot-strap.” c) It passes by the Scriptural truth that God Himself lifted the condemnation from all His elect at the cross, and that there is no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus.

Next, Dr. De Jong quotes some aphoristic and partial statements of Graham which would seem to prove that I should have read farther. Now let me assure De Jong that I have read Graham’s entire book; and I found nothing to change my opinion of Graham’s false doctrine. But let me also deal with the statements of Graham which he quotes. The first is this: “Salvation is an act of God. It is initiated by God, wrought by God, and sustained by God.” (page 108, “World Aflame”) 

Concerning this statement, first of all, Dr. De Jong writes: “I submit to you, professor, doesn’t that sound pretty Reformed? I don’t know that I could improve on these statements very much.” 

To De Jong’s question my answer is as follows:

1) Statements such as the above are not necessarilyReformed. 

2) It must always be remembered that Graham makes this salvation which is an act of God, initiated, wrought, and sustained by God, completely dependent upon man. 

3) If De Jong had not stopped quoting here, hisMissionary Monthly readers would know that in this very connection Graham is thoroughly Arminian, and that he really means that salvation is only a possibilityinitiated, wrought, and sustained by God. For on pages 108 and 109, in the very next paragraph, Graham writes:

The second important thing about

John 20:31

is that the effect of faith in Jesus Christ is “life.” “And that believing ye might have life through his name.” The result of a well-placed faith of this specific nature is described as “life.” The Bible describes man as alive physically, but dead spiritually. A dead man needs life. The whole human race is described as being “dead in trespasses and sins,”

Eph. 2:1.

This means they are dead to God. They are incapable of producing divine life. This can be done only by God. They are capable only of believing and receiving. (Mark well: dead men can do this! H.C.H.) . . . . This life was made available to all humanity by Christ’s death on the cross; He said: “I am come that they might have life,”

John 10:10.

This is the life you can have now, This is “Christ in you, the hope of glory,”

Col. 1:27.

Now apart from the fact that Graham is utterly reckless here in quoting Scripture (John 10:10 refers only to “the sheep”), it is evident that Graham does not really believe that God initiates, works, and sustains salvation, nor that salvation is an act of God. On the contrary, salvation is only a possibility wrought by God, available to the (contradictorily) dead sinner who is capable of believing and receiving. And if Dr. De Jong cannot improve on these statements, he should learn anew the a-b-c of the Reformed faith. 

The same is true of the following (mis-) quotation from p. 149:

The word “conversion” means simply “turning.” From the beginning of the Bible to the end, God pleads with man to turn to Him . . . . However, it is impossible for man to turn to God to repent, or even to believe without God’s help! All you can do is call upon God to “turn” you . . . The Bible never asks man to justify himself, to regenerate himself, to convert himself, or to save himself. God alone can do these things. (italics supplied by Dr. De Jong)

Also the above is supposed to be Reformed, according to Dr. De Jong,—in fact, so Reformed that De Jong could not improve on it very much. However: 

1) Even the above quotation is far from Reformed. God does not “plead” with men to turn to Him; Hecommands them to repent. God does not merely helpmen to repent and believe. This means that man repents and believes with God’s assistance. The Reformed truth is that God works faith and repentancesovereignly and efficaciously. Nor is it true that man can call upon God to turn him. The regenerated, converted child of God can indeed pray, “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned.” But the natural man is incapable even of calling upon God to turn him. Nor is it particularly Reformed to say, “God alone can do these things.” It is Reformed to say that God not only can do these things, but that He surely does them, accomplishes them, in all His elect. 

2) But again, Dr. De Jong omits a significant statement in this quotation and indicates it by “. . .” This statement brings out Graham’s Arminianism in this connection very clearly. It is this: “When a man calls upon God, he is given true repentance and faith.” As always, Graham always gives man the deciding vote in the matter of salvation, you see.

Finally, Dr. De Jong quotes a few general statements about Graham’s doctrine of Scripture, the atonement, the deity of Christ, and the resurrection. Concerning these, the following: 

1) These statements are very general, not specifically Reformed. 

2) Graham may teach the inspiration of Scripture; but he does not bow before the authority of Scripture in his teachings. If he did, he could not teach the false doctrines which he teaches. If he did, he could not violate the Scriptures as he did recently in the Soho district of London, and say: “I am here to tell you that God loves every one of you!” Scripture gives no one a mandate to say this. 

3) It is not specifically Reformed merely to say that Christ “stood in the guilty sinner’s place.” It is Reformed to say that Christ stood in the place of elect sinners, and of them only. 

4) It is indeed possible to point to many aphoristic statements of Graham which are in themselves true. Butt the current teaching and “preaching” of Graham are contrary to the truth of the gospel. 

In the light of De Jong’s defense of Graham’s doctrine, and in the light of the statements which Dr. De Jong calls Reformed, I cannot accept his statement that he accepts “unequivocally and without apology the position of the Reformed Confessions.” 

And again, if Dr. De Jong accepts, as he says, “as from God, the work of the evangelist Billy Graham,” I can only conclude that Dr. De Jong himself is not Reformed and that he leads his congregation in the direction of ecclesiastical suicide. 

For as between Graham’s doctrine and the Reformed faith, it is “either . . . or,” not, “both . . . . and.”