Billy Graham’s Methods and Doctrine

Our last installment provided evidence that Billy Graham loves to be a great mixer with modernists and ecclesiastical liberals, in fact, that he himself disclaims. Fundamentalism and insists he is a Liberal. The emphasis of the previous article was primarily on the ministry of Graham, while his doctrine was not particularly pin-pointed. Most of Graham’s’ critics take him to task chiefly for his methods, rather than for his teaching: Fundamentalists contend that Graham is wrong in the former; but right in the latter. He is basically right and scriptural in doctrine, they say. It is just that he uses shockingly unscriptural methods. Therefore, Fundamentalists do concede that Graham preaches the Gospel. “I think we must agree that Billy Graham preaches the simple Gospel of salvation.”¹ The trouble is that some Fundamentalists are not satisfied merely that “he preaches the true Gospel;” they want him to go farther, to identify and denounce “those who preach a false gospel,” because he “fails to get across the fact that the gospel which he preaches is the only true gospel.”² Agreed, say others, that Billy Graham is a preacher of the gospel; it is hismethods that are not to be condoned “simply because the gospel is proclaimed and saving fruits accrue therefrom.” This last quotation appears in a pamphlet where Graham is not specifically mentioned, but where the reference more than likely includes him.³ There are some Fundamentalists who, agreeing with the above, still have doubts as to what Graham believes. They say, “The statement is usually made that ‘Billy preaches the Gospel.’ And it is admitted that he can and does preach the Gospel, for he certainly knows what the Gospel is.” But these Fundamentalists “wonder whether he believes it himself,” since he employs “liberalistic methods.”4 They make it plain that what they attack in Graham is not his preaching. “Let it clearly be understood that Dr. Graham in his campaigns preaches the Gospel. So far as I know, his preaching does not partake of modernism . . .”5 

Although this is the general thrust of most of the criticism made of Billy Graham, there is more to it than that he is simply a little off on his “evangelistic methodology.” But there is the added charge that he does not go far enough, even in preaching the gospel. For, “people continually say that Billy preaches the Gospel. As I have stated, it is plain that he does not preach the whole Gospel—or anywhere near the whole Gospel.”6 People are slowly coming to the realization that Graham is not to be recognized as the true prophet of this generation. The majority of his severest critics do not think he has as yet abandoned the gospel; but many feel, however, that he has “abandoned, completely abandoned the distinctive, glorious, intolerant position of the everlasting Gospel . . .”7 (ital. added), whatever that is supposed to mean! How is it possible to abandon the position of the gospel without abandoning the gospel? The position of the gospel is a firm, eternal stand on the truth of God’s Word. Then, if that is the position of the gospel, doesn’t a man abandoning that position abandon his stand on the Word of God? And if he does that, doesn’t he abandon the gospel? Another eminent critic of Graham confirms this, saying, “God’s people are waking up to the fact that Billy Graham has abandoned the historic Protestant position.”8 He was raised a Presbyterian and was taught to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is as plainly evident as it can be that he has abandoned the historic Reformed position that is so beautifully expressed in the Westminster standards. This means also that he has by that very fact abandoned the position of the Calvinistic Baptists as expressed in their Philadelphia Confession, which is but a mild form of the Westminster Confession. Therefore it is no surprise to read that his evangelism “is not the evangelism of the New Testament.”9 Graham does not stand the test of the Calvinistic confessions, nor, as we shall see, the test of Scripture. Then isn’t it high time that people who call themselves Reformed cease holding with the world this modern flatterer as the world’s greatest preacher of the Word of truth? 

It is a lamentable fact that Graham cooperates with modernists. This causes many to wonder whether he is a true believer, after all. “True believers will never join hands with the modernists of the twentieth century to do the work of God or to confuse the church of Jesus Christ.”10 This herein reviewed position of Fundamentalism, namely, that although “Graham’s methods are questionable, his doctrine is acceptable,” leads to the following reasoning and inference. 1. Billy preaches the gospel. 2. Billy is no believer. 3. Therefore, Billy is a Balaam. Now the latter was a false prophet who was compromised by the enemies of Israel, but who nevertheless, as far as the record goes, preached nothing but the truth (Num. 22:38). But does Graham preach the Scripture truth? Let us see. 

“Thus because we are made in God’s likeness,” Graham avers, “we can know Him.”11 The “we” here refers to all men in the world, including the most fallen sons of Adam. That men are made in God’s likeness means that even now, after the ruin of the Fall, they stillretain the image of God. This is not the biblical doctrine that man not only lost the image of God, but in his fallen state is turned into the image of the devil (John 8:44). Graham says such a man “can know” God. If he refers to the savability of the reprobate, he is wrong. But even the elect by nature are incapable of knowing God, they lack the ability to know Him (II Cor. 3:5). For Scripture not only teaches that the world through its wisdom does not know God (I Cor. 1:21), but also that in its natural state it cannot know Him (I Cor. 2:14).

Pointing out that man is not a machine or a robot (Reformed language has it that he is not a senseless stock and block), he states that Adam “could choose whether he wanted God’s friendship and fellowship or not,” and that God “wanted man’s love and fellowship because man chose to love God” (ibid., p. 63, ital. added). God wanted man’s love, nor because He willed and sovereignly ordained to have it (Job 23:13 withI John 4:19), but because of man’s decision to requite God’s love. The sovereign and everlasting love of God is made to depend for its fruition and realization upon the caprice of man, and man’s vacillating love for Him. The covenant and its relation of friendship then does not depend upon the determinate counsel and eternal purpose of God, but on the indeterminate will of man. In the covenant, as Graham has it, God is not a Sovereign-Friend, but a would-be companion, and man is not a friend-servant, but “alittlegod.”12 (Decision, March 1966, p. l), i.e., an absolute sovereign in his own invulnerable, impregnable and inviolable bastion of free will. 

Referring to Christ’s resistance to the devil, which, by the way, was the triumphant act of One who could not sin, the inference is drawn “that it is possible for man to resist the temptations of Satan”13 But how in the world is it possible to lay down the principle of Christ’s peerless and sinless person and work only to conclude therefrom the possibility of man, mere man, fallen man’s resistance to temptation! Why no natural man does any good (Rom. 3:12), is because he cannot (Jer. 13:23). The Reformed have always believed that man was not merely partially disabled by the Fall, but completely ruined, so that he is “incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness” (Heid. Cat., Q. 8). Consequently man is not merely weakened, but is “without strength” (Rom. 5:6). From the perfect example of a Man not able to sin overcoming all temptation and sin, it is not possible to infer that a man not able not to sin (i.e., one who can do nothing but sin) can “resist the temptations of Satan.” 

In defense of Graham it is said that “he is following the Canons of Dordt (II, 3, 5) in calling men to repent and believe.” Graham follows the Canons of Dort about as much as Pike holds the deity of Christ. When Graham calls on men to believe, he at the same time tells them that they can believe. He admits that man is dead in sins, but he is dead something like that man who fell among thieves—only half-dead, or ninety-nine and forty-four one-hundredths per cent dead, so that despite his deadness, he can still believe!14 Man is devoid of spiritual life, but his spiritual death does not affect his will, leaving the will with native powers it can bring into operation, which enable man to believe or not to believe, as he may choose. “We can accept or reject God—that is our privilege” (sic!).15 “If you are willing . . . you can do it now . . . It is up to you. You must will to be saved. It is God’s will, but it must become your will, too.”16 Graham under cover of teaching man’s responsibility to believe comes in with his error of man’s ability to do so. Then he comes with an innovation the Reformed have always rejected because it elevates the fictional powers of free will as having a basis in reality (Canons of Dordt, IV, R. III). For this is contrary to the biblical declaration not only that the natural man will not come to Christ (John 5:40), but that he cannot come (John 6:44), and that he, accustomed to doing nothing but evil (Gen. 6:5), cannot possibly do anything good (Jer. 12:23). 

While the truth of total depravity is the first of the Five Points of Calvinism, it is by no means first in Graham’s “theology,” for in his latest book, where by the way, he comes out about as clearly as he has ever done on what he believes, he does not get around to it until after 73 pages. There he says, “Thus man is described as being totally depraved. This does not mean that man is totally sinful . . . without any goodness at all.”17 But “the true doctrine having been explained,” we reject “the errors of those who teach that the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet” do that “which is pleasing to God” (Canons, IV, R. IV). Scripture confirms this last statement. “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness init, but wounds and bruises and putrifying sores . . .” (Isa. 1:5, 6).

1. Rev. Robert Dunzweiler, “Billy Graham—A Critique,” Faith Theological Seminary, P.O. Box 74, Elkins Park, Philadelphia, Pa., 19117, 10C, (p. 15).

2. ibid., p. 37

3. “Cooperation in Evangelism,” by John Murray, Bible Truth Depot, Swengel, Pa., (p. 24).

4. “A Ministry of Disobedience,” Christian Beacon Press, Collingswood, N.J., 35c (p. 20).

5. ibid., pp. 29, 27.

6. ibid., p. 68

7. ibid., p. 38

8. ibid., C. McIntire, (p. 53).

9. ibid., p. 54

10. ibid., p. 40

11. “World Aflame,” by Billy Graham, Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., 1965, p. 61

12. “Decision,” March 1966, 1. p. 68

13. “World Aflame,” p. 68

14. ibid., 109. p. 109

15. “Decision,” March 1966, p. 1

16. “World Aflame,” 156, 159f.

17. ibid., p. 73.