Imagine my surprise, disappointment and chagrin when I went online to read the New York Times a few days ago and encountered an op-ed titled “Billy Graham’s Missed Opportunities” (Feb. 21, 2018). The author, David Hollinger, is professor emeritus of history at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of several well-received works of history. As this op-ed makes clear, however, Mr. Hollinger is utterly clueless on matters of the faith, just like the moribund late 20th and early 21st century mainline Protestantism he so aptly represents.
So, just what are Billy Graham’s missed “opportunities”? Hollinger identifies Billy Graham’s traditional, biblical Christian faith, the doctrines of the Reformation (“salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone”), based on Sola Scriptura as “quite parochial.” He scolds Billy Graham for discouraging efforts “to revise traditional Protestantism” in light “of modern science and scholarship.”
Thank God Billy Graham defended the Gospel rather than surrendering to modern intellectual prejudices and smug assumptions of academic superiority.
What other “opportunities” did Hollinger identify Billy Graham as missing?” Billy Graham insisted that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not a “white man’s” Gospel, but the everlasting Gospel of life for every living soul on earth. Hollinger lamented this fact, bemoaning Graham’s unwillingness to promote “less conversion-centered modes of interaction with the peoples of the globe.”
Hollinger then commends the theological pied pipers of modern mainline Protestantism “who have long articulated and ably defended many variations of the old faith that accommodate what modern science and scholarship have discovered about our world.” Such denial of scriptural authority, cultural accommodation, and revision of basic Christian doctrines are precisely what has enervated and eviscerated once great historical expressions of the Christian faith: Anglican, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist, and even some expressions of Lutheran and Baptist denominations.
When the Ten Commandments become the “Ten Suggestions,” your demise has commenced and will accelerate.
The growth pattern of the mainline Protestant denominations has resembled nothing so much as the downward flight path of a falling rock since the rise and dominance of such synergistic and destructive accommodation to the spirit of the age in the 1960s.
Hollinger’s critique of Billy Graham reminds me of an experience I had early in the George W. Bush presidency. I was in a West Wing waiting room, preparing for a scheduled appointment with the president and some of his staff. A group of Methodist activists were waiting there as well to see someone else in the West Wing. One young woman informed me, with some exasperation, that President Bush “wasn’t really a very good Methodist.”(I assume because he had not embraced the theological and doctrinal flaccidity of much of modern Methodism). I expressed both astonishment and disagreement with this unsolicited assessment, offering my own view, replying, “really? I think John Wesley would embrace President Bush and his theology. I’m not sure how pleased he would be with yours, however.”
The culmination of Hollinger’s critique of Billy Graham is perhaps the most revealing. He excoriates Billy Graham and his dedicated Evangelical followers as “racist, sexist, imperialist, chauvinistic, homophobic and anti-intellectual.”
Why would he make such accusations? Simply because Billy Graham led his followers to believe in “a supernatural, unchanging deity revealed in the Bible,” to affirm that “God’s Word was unchanging” to insist that “faith in Jesus was the only road to salvation.” I am overjoyed that Billy Graham and his devoted followers (of whom I am one) plead guilty to the charge of never abandoning the timeless truth that Jesus saves, and that “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5).
How old fashioned! How much like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul, not to mention Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley and Edwards.
As I read Hollinger, and some other commentators’ critiques of the incomparable Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist the Christian faith has known since the apostle Paul, a clear image formed in my mind. I envisioned a pack of spiritually clueless Pekingneses yapping at the heels of a saintly serene Great Dane.