Yesterday we talked about Billy Graham’s controversial associations and the impact that controversy had on your dad, Pastor John. Billy Graham also said some troubling things as he got older about there being more than one way to be saved. What was said, and more importantly, how should we think about our heroes as they age and as they become more likely to say things that are simply wrong?
When to Stop
I hope somebody muzzles me when I start saying things that I have contradicted all my life long. In Billy’s case, I did listen to a couple of those instances. They revolved mainly around his speaking of the possibility of being saved without hearing of Christ and the possibility of finding a way to God in another religion.
I think those statements were very out of character and out of sync with a lifetime of proclaiming a pretty edgy gospel with regard to the necessity of believing in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Frankly, I think we should chalk up our heroes’ aged lapses to their weakness rather than to their heterodoxy.
I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. I think he spoke carelessly, and I think it would be wise for his friends to put their arms around him and draw him away from those situations. I think that happened pretty much right after he spoke. He hasn’t done too many interviews since then, I don’t think, at least not ones that couldn’t be edited.
So I hope those who are responsible for me when I am old will discern when I am no longer as responsible as I should be with what I say.
A Lifelong Message
I think if you look at Billy Graham’s whole life and the ministry he had all over the world, it was predicated on the necessity of faith in Jesus in order to be saved. I think this is his legacy.
The simple, fathomless gospel of Jesus, the Son of God who came into the world to die and rise again so that everyone who believes might escape the wrath of God and be forgiven and justified and have eternal life — that is the crystal-clear, resounding message that came out of Billy Graham’s mouth over and over again.
I don’t know of anybody who has called people, with greater clarity and effectiveness, out of darkness into light than Billy Graham has, at least not at his level of influence. So I think, in answer to your question, we should be careful not to nullify a man’s life work by some statements he makes when he is old.
As we close this little three-part series of podcasts on Billy Graham, any final comments to share about him?
There are people in the world whose ministry is such that you try to account for it in human terms and you can’t. As I look at Billy Graham, I would say the reason for Billy Graham’s stunning fruitfulness is that the hand of God has been on him. I think that is key to his influence.
He had a spiritual presence about him — an aura of the presence of God — a forcefulness owing, I don’t think, to any ego strength, but to God. He had a candor about him, a clarity, and a guilelessness that unsettled the Johnny-Carson-type adversaries.
He would sit down with people who you know in their hearts did not like what he preached, and he undid them. His demeanor, his spiritual demeanor I think, put a lid on their vileness so that somehow his presence restrained evil.
There was a kind of peacefulness about him. He had a kind of unflappability or spiritual aplomb. I watched it, and to this day I watch it. And I say, “Oh, Lord, I know I cannot be a Billy Graham, but, oh, would I love some of his gift.”
Learn from Heroes
So imitation in one sense is futile. You can’t ever be your heroes. But you can love their gifts. You can admire the grace of God in their lives. You can realize each of us has a “measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7). You can lay down envy and lay down covetousness. You can receive from God whatever he has given you and just give yourself to being you with all your might for the glory of Jesus and pray for your own anointing. We need anointing.
I just read this morning in 1 John, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you” (1 John 2:27). You have received the anointing, and the anointing teaches you all things: “you have no need that anyone should teach you.”
Now I don’t think that means you don’t need to read your Bible. I mean, John wrote a letter to say that they don’t need a letter. What he means is when you have the Holy Spirit and you have the word of God, then the Holy Spirit gives you what you need. He provides a power and an insight and a presence so that you are not a second-hander anymore. I think we should learn from Billy Graham.
Ask God for that.