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Posts Tagged ‘False Conversion’

I Am the Captain of My Soul: Billy Graham

Billy-Graham-300x198by Tom Nettles

(This post is the latest installment in a series on Billy Graham. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)

Graham’s focus on human experience vis-à-vis biblical authority and as an apologetic for the Christian faith provided the bands of attachment to him and his ministry from two directions—both moderates and conservatives found resonance in his emphases. Similar effects of affirmation arose from a third area of emphasis, the autonomy of the human will. The entire work of God for salvation finally was suspended on the capacity-to-decide resident within the human will. In a sermon on slothfulness, Graham closed, “Eternal life is within reach of everyone. The savior is as near as your yielded will, or He is as far away as you want Him to be. Your own stubborn, slothful spirit is your greatest hindrance to letting Him come into your heart.” [Seven Deadly Sins, 40] Anger also finds its cure in the power of the will. “The first step then in finding victory over unjustified anger is to want to get rid of it,” Graham rightly advised. The solution, therefore, already resides within. “The will comes to the fore and says, ‘I will do something about his unruly temper of mine.’” In Graham’s anthropology, like Finney and those that followed in his wake, the human will had been unaffected by the fall. Both the “stubborn, slothful spirit” and the “unruly temper” were in the control of the human will and would yield to the force of a person’s decision to throw them off.

 

 

 

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The Anatomy of a Hybrid Constituency: Billy Graham

Billy-Graham-300x214by Tom Nettles

(This post is the latest installment in a series on Billy Graham. See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

Billy Graham’s strong affirmation of biblical authority, his clear proclamation of the objective truths of the gospel, and his perseverance in the calling of evangelism gave him comprehensive credibility among evangelicals, including conservative Southern Baptists. Accompanying these strong traits, however, were a few convictions that gave some of the main-line, more liberal-leaning Protestants, and the more moderate wing of Southern Baptists, room to approve of Graham and, thus, find a point of positive contact with their conservative detractors. The two religious persuasions that proved to be a bridge to an uncomfortable unity were the priority of religious experience and an affirmation of biblical truth that transcended any critical engagement with supposed difficulties in the biblical text.

It could be suggested that Graham’s experiential persuasion of Christianity’s truthfulness is simply a rock-solid engagement with the Reformed doctrine of the internal witness of the Spirit—or as Jonathan Edwards expressed it as “sensible” knowledge of sin and of the excellence of Christ. By the same token, one could look upon Graham’s unswerving commitment to the message of the Bible as another application…

 

 

 

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The Bible Says: Billy Graham

Billy-Graham-Reading-Bible-234x300by Tom Nettles

(This post is part of a series on Billy Graham. See Part 1 and Part 2.)

In the Billy Graham Museum at Wheaton, the last three figures highlighted before Graham are Charles Finney, Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Sunday. In many ways, Graham saw himself as the heir and steward of their tradition. Though like them in some broadly recognizable ways, he forged his own way forward and developed his own way of relating to a public he hoped would hear his presentation of the gospel.

Billy Graham did not press theological exposition in his preaching to the extent of Charles Finney. Finney lived in an age of metaphysical musings on doctrine and brought his personal reflections to the pulpit. In order to overcome the lingering power of Jonathan Edwards’s grand vision of absolute human dependence on the divine, Finney had to try to match the metaphysical cogency of the missionary to the Indians of Stockbridge. Graham, on the other hand…

 

 

 

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Shaping an Icon: Billy Graham

Billy-Graham-300x181by Tom Nettles

The resolutions of Graham and his team for integrity and tenacity soon bore fruit both for evangelistic success and public notice. Mel Larson, in commenting on the Los Angeles crusade of fall 1949, captured both of these elements when he observed, “Revival flowed through Billy Graham during that time until the entire world was conscious of it.” Graham and his team had been in Grand Rapids, Des Moines, Charlotte, Augusta, Miami and other places prior to Los Angeles. There, however, the impact was startling and etched the visage and name of Graham on the consciousness of American Christianity. Writing in 1950, Mel Larson continued his appraisal of Graham by saying, “Nothing perhaps has gripped the thinking of religious—and secular—American as did the revival campaign in Los Angeles in the autumn of 1949.” At the end of that Crusade official statistics, reported that 3000 people professed faith in Christ for the first time and another 3000 made a renewal of commitment. There had been a total of 72 meetings in a large tent that had accommodated 350,000 during that time. One crowd was estimated at 15000 with 6000 of those standing on the outside. One of the most remarkable events of the crusade was the conversion of Stuart Hamblen. Also deeply moving and poignant stories attended the conversion of Harvey Fritz (a radio personality with a deeply embedded violent and dangerous temper), Louis Zamperini (a World War II hero who endured the ravages of a Japanese prison camp), and Jim Vaus.(an underworld figure).

 

 

 

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Blest Be the Tie that Binds: Billy Graham

Billy-Graham-239x300by Tom Nettles

Given the two theological trajectories of the mid-twentieth century SBC and the increasingly noxious relationship between them, what commitment kept them for so long willing to work together? The glue that provided adherence was an experiential kind of evangelism. Both on the mission field and at home, the call to decide for Christ, with a focus on the individual autonomy suggested by the personal character of salvation, was a common idea. On the domestic scene a man had come to prominence who seemed to be able to bring together wildly different viewpoints through that very purpose–concentration on the personal experience of a decision for Christ. For the conservative this vindicated a style of transactional evangelism; for the moderate it vindicated the personal quest for existential significance and the sanctity of individual conscience.

 

 

 

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Billy Sunday, Part 4: Spiraling Manward

Billy-Sunday-300x226by Tom Nettles

(See also Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series.)

Sunday’s suspicion of theology led to a heightened emphasis on the effectuality of decision. He adopted Finney’s insistence on immediate conversion under the living voice of the preacher. While he was more theological than Sam Jones, he still focused on human gumption as the vital turning point of decision. To those that would not immediately respond he badgered, “Now own up. The truth is that you have a yellow streak. Own up, business men, and business women, and all of you others. Isn’t it so?” “And you tell me you can’t make an instant decision to please God,” he exclaimed in pointing to the call of Matthew. “The decision of Matthew proves that you can. While he was sitting at his desk he was not a disciple. The instant he arose he was. That move changed his attitude toward God. . . . You can be converted just as quickly as Matthew was.” The key was to make a public move.

 

 

 

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Billy Sunday, Part 3: Jack Rabbits and Creeds

Billy-Sunday-190x300by Tom Nettles

(See also Part 1 and Part 2, of this series.)

Among the public impressions that gave Billy Sunday such popular appeal was his vigorous support of Woodrow Wilson’s war effort. The money, at least it was so reported, that came in from the ten-week New York campaign in 1917 all went to the war to end all wars. In addition, 100,000 conversions were reported.

He handled his money well, with the help of “Ma” Sunday, and became highly solvent financially, but was never accused of any misdealings with the money. In addition to a large contribution to the war on Germany, sometimes he would give the entire offering from a campaign to some local charity. He dressed well and dressed his family well. His home in Winona Lake, Indiana, was adequate, but modest. Nevertheless, his income was many times that of the average person to whom he was preaching and newspapers often sought to generate disdain for him on that account.

Sunday, though not primarily bent toward political and cultural issues, nevertheless was clear on where he stood on many of the stirring issues….

 

 

 

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