Billy Graham is, undeniably, a prominent revivalist. That is not the same as saying he is an eminent preacher. Strictly, a preacher represents a true church, is called and sent by such a church, and labors both out from and with a view to the church. Billy Graham does not necessarily do any of these things. Nevertheless, he is prominent, we do not say eminent, as a public figure. To be prominent means to be conspicuous in position, character or importance. Graham is so in all these respects. But “eminent” is a richer term. It means to be outstanding, distinguished, dignified, rising above others, high in rank. Many inventors became rather prominent; a few became eminent. Of the two servants of God, Barnabas became possible a man may be prominent in a secondary position who could be eminent in a primary position. Graham is a prominent revivalist. He could be an eminent preacher. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a reformationist who preached unequivocally from a Calvinist platform, and was of such great eminence that he was known as “the prince of preachers.” Graham is not in the Spurgeon league. He is to be classed and viewed as Toplady viewed John Wesley.
It is therefore somewhat surprising that one Graham-critic refers to him as “The Pastor’s Dilemma.’ What is meant by a dilemma is a predicament in which one is forced to choose between two mutually exclusive possibilities, both difficult, both unfavorable, both undesirable, both of great disadvantage. The dilemma which Graham and his ministry are said to create the pastor is not whether to co-operate with his crusades or not. Rather, “it is whether to keep silent or not” about his methods and doctrine. Now view this in the light of a classic illustration of a dilemma. In ancient Greece, a mother seeking to dissuade her son from entering politics, put before him this dilemma. “You should not enter politics because justice will make men hate you, and injustice will make the gods hate you.” The son rebutted this dilemma with another of an opposite conclusion, answering his mother, “I ought to enter politics because injustice will make men love me, but justice will make the gods love me.” So we might say, in the eyes of some, the pastor’s dilemma in this connection is, “You should not get caught in the Billy Graham issue, because criticizing him will lead to embarrassing controversy, stir up animosity against you, rob you of your friends, and decrease your sphere of influence, while remaining silent concerning him is tacit agreement with his pronouncements and policies, will mark you as a compromiser, unfaithful to your Master and calling, and brand you as one afraid to expose error.” To this it may be answered, “I ought to expose myself on the Billy Graham issue because silence will gain me only weak, vacillating, hence untrustworthy friends and influence; but speaking out will mark me a faithful, fearless servant of Christ adhering to biblical principles.” For the Calvinist pastor and the Reformed believer there is in this connection no dilemma. It is purely and simply a matter of Isaiah 8:20, “To the Law and to the Testimony! if they speak not according to this Word, surely there is no morning for them!” (ASV).
That Graham creates no dilemma for us ought to be quite evident from his Pelagian language and anti- Calvinistic preaching. Says he, “When we reach the age of accountability’ (whatever that is — RCH) we “are faced by the choice between good and evil” (World Aflame, p. 71). We regret it, but it must be replied to this remark that here we have an innovation and an error, for man fallen, totally depraved as he is and dead in trespasses and sins, cannot choose good. He can choose only evil and that continually. Nor is it true, as Graham often presents it, “that the will of itself is able to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all ammner of good which may be presented to it” (Canons of Dort III-IV, R.3.). Graham ought never to speak like this, for it is contrary to the declaration of Scripture that “no man can come to” Christ (John 6:44), that being born again is “not of the will of man, but of God’ (1:12f), and that “it is not of him that willeth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Nevertheless Graham unceasingly harps on his favorite Arminian string of “free will.” He speaks of man in his unfallen, paradisaical state enjoying fellowship with God. In the same breath, not yet considering the fall, he states, “God did not create man to be a puppet or a robot. He gave us (that “us” means all fallen men — RCH) a will of our own, so that we can live any way we want to. We can accept or reject God — that is our privilege. . .we are ‘little gods’. . .” (Decision, March 1966, p. 1). While it is true that God “does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and its properties” (Canons, III-IV, 16), still the will of men is “incapable of saving good, prone to evil. . .in bondage thereto, and. . .neither able nor willing to return to God to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation” (ibid., 3). So that “man could have no hope of recovering from his fall by his own free will” (ibid.). Nor is it true at all that we can live any way we want to, so that we can will “to be regenerated or not, to be converted, or to continue unconverted” (ibid., la), or so that we “can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God” (ibid., R. 4) while unregenerated or unconverted. For to live any wicked way he wants to is peculiar to the unregenerate and those that are cursed of God. But to be able to live and want to live unto God “is peculiar to the regenerate and those that are called blessed. Ps. 51:10,19 Mt. 5:6” (ibid.). Strange, very strange, though, to think it a privilege to be able to reject God! Does Christ have that privilege? Do the angels in glory have that privilege? If not, do they have less privilege than mere men? Then what fleshly pride to boast that we are all little sovereigns! O that philosophy of Almighty Man! The Word of Truth teaches that it is only the corrupt generation of Adam in its unregeneracy which claims, “We are lords!’ (Jer. 2:31).
But this great evangelist, who does so much good in reaching the unchurched with the “gospel!” is in the habit of ascribing great ability to the spiritually dead, totally depraved sinner, and tragic helplessness to the Almighty sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords. Says he, “For centuries mankind has been on an incredible journey taking him across every generation and through every conceivable experience in his search for God” (World Aflame, 89). Notice, he does not think of man in search for a god, but in search for God. This is a flat denial of the insistence of Scripture that “there is none. that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). But Graham is not careful to avoid contradiction of Scripture. “Ever since man’s separation from God in the garden of Eden, man has been trying desperately to find his way back to paradise” (ibid., 89). Man, indeed, has been trying to find his way, but not back to paradise. Fallen man is a monster with a vicious nature. His heart is where his feet ought to be, on the earth. His heels are kicking against heaven, where his head ought to be uplifted. His face hangs downward, toward hell; his back is to God; his hands are groveling and muckraking in the things of earth, while his mouth swills in the swine-trough of the world. He seeks his way back to paradise the way Mr. Formalist and Mr. Hypocrisy proceeded in the narrow way, not as having entered through the Strait Gate, but as having climbed up some other way as a thief and a robber. The end of all such as continue in sin’s delusive dream is to die like Turn-Away who went everywhere with his head hanging down like a thief caught in the act, and went by the back door to hell. Graham does not even begin to approach such a view of man in his preaching. What he has to say of and to man is most flattering to the carnal mind.
But in order to continue discussion, suppose the nonsense that lost and dead man is trying to find his way back to God. What must he do to find God? He “must ‘tune in’ ” on God (ibid., 94). This means that you must “let Him enlarge your capacity to love your neighbor. Let Him take you into a new dimension of living. He can change your life, if you will let Him” (Decision, June 1966, p. 9). This statement is made just after saying that Christ “has not abdicated his sovereignty in the affairs of men.” For a Christ who has done so “is not the Christ of the Bible. He is too weak and too small” (ibid., p. 8). But is not a Christ who “can, if you let Him” a “weak, emaciated, impotent Christ of 1966 (who) bears little resemblance to the Christ we find in’ Scripture? Furthermore, what sort of god is he who “somehow, some way. . . spite of his sin” (WA, 93)? “who sought to bring about a reconciliation,” who “is using every means possible to reach us, to try to break through to us” (Decision, March 1966, 14, ital. added)? Graham himself does not have complete respect for the god he finds himself representing. We wish Graham would forsake his semi-Pelagian conception of God along with his free will philosophy. For his doctrinal aberrations put him outside the line of the true church. It places him in conflict with Jesus, who denied free will: John 5:40. He conflicts with Paul, who denied it: Romans 9:16; with Luther, who denied it in his book, “The Bondage of the Will”; with Calvin, who denied it in his “Man Despoiled of Free Will” and “A Refutation of the Objections Commonly Urged in Support of Free Will”; he conflicts with Toplady, who denied it in his “Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England,” and conflicts with Jonathan Edwards, who denied it in his monumental “Freedom of the Will.’ ‘ We mention all this conflict, not because we need the support of such great men, but because they were severely scriptural in their anthropology. Therefore Graham is flatly in conflict with Scripture which teaches that the spiritually dead sinner has no natural ability to good, and therefore cannot of himself repent and believe the Gospel, though he is responsible to do so. Billy Graham teaches, and this is where he ruins anything good he may ever preach, that in the final analysis, salvation depends on the free will of man. The issues of eternity hang on the decision of the individual man. So the truth is perverted and God is robbed of His glory. Graham does not understand the great truth taught in Psalm 37, “The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord!”