In Missionary Monthly (June, 1966) Dr. Jerome De Jong once again reacts to my criticism of Billy Graham’s doctrine. And, in answer to a question which I posed to him in my editorial of March 15, 1966, he attempts to agree, both with Dr. Graham and with our Reformed confessions. In attempting to do so, however, he minimizes Billy Graham’s denial of total depravity and he misquotes, and thereby corrupts, the Canons of Dordrecht. By doing this, as well as by making some partial quotations of statements by Graham, Dr. De Jong succeeds in making it abundantly clear that he wants to defend Billy Graham at the expense of the Reformed truth, and that therefore he rather recklessly is ready to sing Kom Susser Tod (Come Sweet Death), as he suggests, in the face of the imminent danger of ecclesiastical suicide.
Before proceeding to reply to the doctor on this matter, however, I must remind him of two items.
The first is that in all fairness he owes an answer to several prior questions which I raised in my editorial of February 1, 1966, which was written in reply to his rather vitriolic attack on my criticism of Graham’s doctrine of regeneration. If Dr. De Jong wishes to answer questions, he should follow the rule of “first things first.” The second item is that Dr. De Jong should be more careful with his quotations. Both in his previous article and in the article presently under discussion he misquotes me by quoting me only partially. And in the present article he misquotes Calvin, misquotes Graham, and misquotes our confessions,—again, by making partial quotations. There is nothing wrong, of course, with partial quotations, provided that it is indicated that the quotations are only partial, and provided that key statements are not deliberately omitted. On my part, I am very willing to discuss this matter of Graham’s, anti-Reformed doctrine with anyone and to defend the proposition that no Reformed man can consistently support Graham, that no Reformed church can do so without committing ecclesiastical suicide as a Reformed church. But such discussion must be on a fair basis; and Dr. De Jong should not attempt to destroy my arguments by omitting key elements from quotations.
The reader will recall that I raised this entire question of Graham’s teaching concerning total depravity in connection with his doctrine of regeneration. I claimed (Standard Bearer, Nov. 1, 1965) that Graham “denies the Biblical truth of regeneration and the absolute necessity of the new birth by making the new birth something that is in final analysis dependent on man.” In this connection I pointed out Graham’s denial of total depravity. Graham teaches that man must have and can have the willingness to yield to God and to decide to be reborn before he is regenerated. At that time already I quoted from our Reformed confessions to prove that this was a denial of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. For all of our confessions insist that regeneration is solely the work of God, that it is the strictly divine exception to total depravity, that natural man in no way contributes to or can contribute to this work of regeneration, and that, in fact, natural man cannot even show a willingness or a longing for the new birth. All this I proved by extensive quotations both, from Graham and from our Reformed confessions. And in this connection I stated that “for Reformed churches to lend their support to the teaching and preaching of Billy Graham is nothing short of ecclesiastical suicide.” The latter was a very clear statement. For if Reformed churches support the teaching and preaching of Billy Graham, they are supporting the teaching and preaching of Arminianism. Arminianism stands diametrically opposed to the Reformed faith. This is historical fact; and this is doctrinal reality. Hence, if Reformed churches support Arminianism, they are supporting that which is opposed to their historical and doctrinal existence. And what is that but suicide?
To all this Dr. De Jong chose to give no direct answer. For he never answered my argumentation. Instead, he ignored my argumentation and proof and engaged in a sarcastic and vitriolic attack on me, while he defended Graham. To this I replied in the Standard Bearer of February 1, 1966, at the same time asking De Jong several questions which have to this date gone unanswered.
Then, in the March 15 issue, I criticized Graham’s doctrine of total depravity, quoting from his book, “World Aflame,” and pointing out, with proof from our confessions, that though Graham uses the term total depravity, he does not at all hold to the Reformed doctrine bf total depravity. Again I pointed out that Graham must, deny the totality of depravity because he wants to proclaim a natural man who can choose for God, can yield himself to God, even before he is regenerated.
Now what does Dr. De Jong do in his reply?
In the first place, he attempts to modify Graham’s doctrine. Commenting on my quotation: from “World Aflame” with respect to total depravity, he states:
However I think that what Graham is trying to say is that although every sinner is totally depraved and enslaved by sin and is subject to eternal condemnation as a result not every sinner is as bad as he can possibly be. It is true that he is spiritually corrupt but there remains some natural good—on the horizontal level (man to man).
I make bold to say that if De Jong has read Graham’s book, and if he ever listens to Graham’s radio speeches, he knows very well that this is not Graham’s doctrine. Graham teaches that the natural man (who, according to him, is supposedly totally depraved) is able to yield to God before he is regenerated. Though he is supposedly dead in trespasses and sins, he can nevertheless be willing to yield to God. Graham is not concerned with the so-called “horizontal level (man to man),” but with the relation of man to God. This is Graham’s book. This is also Graham’s “evangelism.” I have heard him say that God is willing to save men, but that God is powerless to save, helpless, unless man is first willing to accept and make a decision for Christ.
Moreover, even that bit of philosophy about the natural good of natural man on the “horizontal level (man to man)” is just exactly that,—philosophy. It remains one,—although Dr. De Jong does not mention common grace in so many words,—of the Second and Third Points of 1924. Even the reference to Calvin’s “Institutes” and to Canons III, IV, 4 remind one of this. But about this later.
In the light of the above, De Jong’s conclusion as to Graham’s doctrine of depravity cannot stand. That conclusion is as follows:
On this basis if Graham means, as I believe he does, that man is totally depraved but not as bad as he can possibly be on the human plane, I agree with him. If he is saying—I do not believe he does—that man is bad but not wholly lost then I agree with professor Hoeksema since we both accept our Reformed Standards.
Dr. De Jong has adduced no proof that Graham means to say what De Jong is trying to make him say. Graham himself says that total depravity “does not mean that man is totally sinful, hopelessly and irreparably bad, without any goodness at all.” Graham himself says that sin only “has infected the totality of man’s life,” that sin only “darkens” man’s intellect, that it only “enfeebles” his will. Graham himself teaches that regeneration is a possibility for all men, conditioned upon man’s willingness to yield to God. Graham himself would never say what our confessions say about total depravity; nor would he ever say that regeneration as the unaided and unconditional work of God is absolutely and sovereignly first, before any willingness and any yielding to God on the part of the sinner.
That brings me to my second point of reply to Dr. De Jong. My critic refers to the fact that I adduced as proof Heidelberg Catechism 5 and 7 and Canons III, IV, 3. But here is a case of misquotation by partial quotation. For, in the first place, Dr. De Jong neglects completely to mention that I also cited Canons III, IV, 1. Secondly, even in referring to my proof from the Heidelberg Catechism, 7, and Canons III, IV, 3 Dr. De Jong omits the most crucial point. For in the Catechism the only exception to being “wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness” is our being regenerated by the Spirit of God. Graham does not believe this. And in Canons III, IV, 3 Dr. De Jong omits the words: “and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation.” Because Graham does not believe this, as I have proved, he does not really believe the doctrine of total depravity. Thirdly, Dr. De Jong completely neglects to mention my quotation from Canons III, IV, B, 4, which precisely condemns the very error that Graham teaches, namely, “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 hunger and thirst after righteousness and life,” etc. Also this Graham does not believe; if he did, he could never teach that the natural man could show any willingness to be regenerated or to yield to God.
My space for this issue is used up. I will continue my reply next time, D.V.
Meanwhile, let me remind Dr. De Jong that he must not try to take a “both . . . and” position. It is “either . . . or.” That is: either our Reformed confessions or Graham’s doctrine. He must choose; and I suspect that he has chosen.
Let me also recommend that he pay close attention to the articles on Billy Graham by my colleague, Rev. Harbach.