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Billy Graham: 1918–2018

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Published: 24 February 2018 (GMT+10)

In January last year, I was honored to speak in Peniel Baptist Church in Palatka, Florida, USA. Adjacent to the current church building stands the historic, original and typical small white ‘Americana’ chapel. As I was given a tour of this old church building, the historic plaque standing outside was explained to me. During his seminary training, Billy Graham gave his first sermon here and was ordained in that building.

Peniel-Baptist-Church-Billy
Historic Peniel Baptist Church in Palatka, Florida, USA.
Scott-Gillis-Peniel-Baptist
Scott Gillis, COO, CMI-US, ‘preaching’ from the same pulpit from which Billy Graham gave his first sermon

On the 21st of February, 2018, Billy Graham passed away at the age of 99. “The Evangelist to the World” spoke to over 215 million people that attended his more than 400 “Crusades” in more than 185 countries and territories, reaching millions more through TV, video, film, the internet and 34 books. He also gave personal counsel to numerous U.S. Presidents and leaders around the world. It would not be a far reach to say he was the most influential preacher of the 20th century.

Charles-Templeton

In the 1940’s, Billy Graham was also a friend to Charles Templeton, a fellow evangelist considered at the time to be more prominent. Like Billy, Charles repeatedly preached to tens of thousands, but inside, a growing doubt about the historical account of the Bible was taking a toll. Charles pleaded to his friend:

“But, Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world wasn’t created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s demonstrable fact.”1

Templeton cited the alleged millions of years in the geologic column and ‘survival of the fittest’ as specific reasons for his apostasy. Yet the Bible’s account of the global catastrophic flood better explains the massive sedimentary layers and the fossil evidence of the creatures that succumbed to this monumental deluge. Without hearing an effective defense for the historical account of the Bible, Charles Templeton eventually rejected the Christian faith he had once boldly preached. Before his death in 2001, he recorded the reasons he rejected the Bible, and God, in his book Farewell to God. You can read more about the profound story of Charles Templeton.

One undeniable legacy of Billy Graham’s ministry is the many millions of people who heard the message of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ at his crusades. He had a passion for spreading the Gospel to as many people as possible. But today, many Christians do not regularly share their faith. We can learn from Billy Graham’s life in this regard. And as we have discovered in our ministry to churches around the world, when people understand the Bible is reliable from the very first verse, they feel more confident in sharing their faith.

Billy Graham’s historic influence in bringing Christianity into the spotlight is undeniable. With the passing of Reverend Graham, we encourage every believer to build on that legacy. Get equipped with the answers to the foundational questions that those, like Charles, are asking, and confidently ‘preach’ the Gospel to our family and friends.

To find those answers, go to CREATION.com.

References and notes

  1. Templeton, C., Farewell to God, McClelland & Stewart, Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, p. 7, 1996 Return to text.

Helpful Resources

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Readers’ comments

Grace K.
To Douglas R.
To say that Billy Graham is responsible for the decay in American society over the past 70 years is ludicrous. I have a question for you Douglas R.
What is your legacy?
Ken P.
Thank you for your comments on Billy Graham. He certainly was a man of God, used of God to bring the Good News of the Gospel to millions. Was he perfect? Was his understanding of God, redemption and the Bible perfect? He would have been the first to admit that he was not! That is why he needed a Saviour! We come to Jesus the only Saviour because we are in absolute need of him and the redemption that he purchased for those who believe. If we think that our perfect understanding of the scriptures is going to get us favours with God, we are severely mistaken, we must come to him as sinners, desperate and knowing our complete inadequacy rather than with our great wisdom (John 5:39)! Yet having said all this I am thankful the Bible is God's word, we can trust God and His word! I commend CMI and their stand on the Biblical account of creation. When we compromise it in one place it easily becomes compromised in other places. It is clear the Bible teaches creation happened some 6000 years ago, true science confirms this as pointed out by CMI and the work of honest scientists. Yet believing this will not save you or me, only Jesus can (John 14:6)!
Pieter F.
Such heartbreaking all these negative criticismson you tube and in your article by some "christians?"We clearly read in Mat 7:7 Judge NOT, so that you may not be judged. When Billy Graham visited South Africa in 1973, I attended. His message was on John 3:16. I was thoroughly blessed, and likewise the crowds who streamed forward afterwards. I followed him all these years
and I just knew the Bible was what he preached.
No one is perfect, we all make mistakes. Love is supreme. Thanks.
Lita Cosner
Yet John 7:24 says, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment."
Norman S.
For the pragmatic objective of gaining a wider audience, Graham compromised endlessly. He largely invented “ecumenical evangelism,” which has done so much to build the apostate “one world church.” He turned thousands of converts over to wolves in sheep’s clothing in heretical churches. Refusing to obey Jude 3 and earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, he pampered and praised every type of false teacher, including theological modernists who deny Christ’s divinity, virgin birth, and resurrection, and Roman Catholics who trust Mary to get them into heaven. For example, in his 1959 San Francisco Crusade, Graham honored the notorious Episcopal Bishop James Pike by having him lead in prayer. In an article in Christian Century, Pike declared that he no longer believed the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. Refusing to obey Acts 20:27 and declare all the counsel of God, Billy Graham narrowed his message to a pathetically small element of truth and focused on the “positive.” He promoted all sorts of unscriptural things, including Pentecostalism, Christian rock music, and corrupt Bible versions, such as the Today’s English Version, which twists every major text dealing with Christ’s deity. By 1966, Graham said belief in the virgin birth is not an essential doctrine and claimed that it is possible that Adam was an “ape-man” (United Church Observer, July 1966). By 1988, Graham told U.S. News & World Report that theology no longer meant anything to him: “World travel and getting to know clergy of all denominations has helped mold me into an ecumenical being. We’re separated by theology and, in some instances, culture and race, but all that means nothing to me any more” (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 19, 1988) From an article by David Cloud.
Grace K.
Referring now to Jan's message (N.L.) I have heard people say that Billy Graham said there were many roads to God (besides Jesus) but I have never heard him say this. As a matter of fact, his "message to the world" recorded on, I believe it was, his 99th birthday, says what I have always heard him say, and I quote "Jesus is the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through him."
Lee K.
Billy Graham's preaching was used by God to bring thousands to Christ. When another Christian has similar results, I will be willing to listen to their nit picking criticisms concerning Billy Graham's theology. Thank God he didn't follow his friend down the path of a faithless walk, even though he himself had questions of Genesis. I once had questions about the Genesis story until a sister in the Lord set me on the right path.
Dan C.
Actually, I was surprised at the number of comments that were somewhat negative. I was mostly supportive of the message of salvation that BG preached, but not of his method. Early in his ministry, he decided to compromise the message by including non-believers in the administration of his crusades. No doubt there were conversions in his crusades, but to send those converts back to churches that were not true to the Word, to me, is expressly forbidden many times in scripture. Listening to the press fawn over him these past couple of weeks, I'm reminded of Jesus' words in Luke: "Beware when all men speak well of you."

Douglas R.
Millions of people believe in the historical Christ because of Billy Graham, but a great number of other people were turned off by Billy Graham's methods and preaching. But what happened to our country during Billy Graham's tenure?

When he started preaching there was prayer and the Bible in public schools. There were few businesses open on Sunday. There was far more fear of God among the average American and respect for the Bible. There were no gay rights or marriage; marriage and the family unit was of great importance; militant feminism had not taken hold; soldiers were free to share their faith, there was no Planned Parenthood and American babies were protected by law; America had never lost a war. But during Graham's career there was a falling away from God that has grown progressively worse from the 50's through the modern day. Today, it is said, that leaders of Sodom and Gomorrah might blush at the wickedness displayed in our towns at gay pride parades and on television and movies and the internet.

But what of the millions who followed Graham. Is there's a vibrant Christianity? Let's look at the churches. Sectarianism has grown stronger and stronger. Division in the churches is rampant and strong. Pastors are fired every day and replaced with those who will "itch the ears" of the congregants. Morality and godliness is at an all time low. Adultery, fornication, abortion, gay pastors, and politics played within are commonplace. The born again experience has been replaced by the altar call and a rote prayer. Repentance is hardly mentioned and barely taught. Heresy is widespread. The love of money prevalent in pastors, even as in Graham. The praise of men is coveted, while Christ is rarely glorified. Lip service is key.

No, Graham does not have a good legacy.
Andrew M.
Much as all men speak well of Billy Graham, there are serious concerns about his message. This is not limited to the unbiblical phrase "repent of your sins" requiring sanctification as a condition of salvation by faith, but also his stance on creation. He was firmly in the "don't care" camp as far as theistic evolution goes. He's quoted as saying, "I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. … whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God." Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man, 1997. p. 72-74
John P.
It seems to me the whole Graham family are godly people. Billy's son Franklin is involved in Samaritan's purse and Billy's grandson Will is conducting evangelism tours in Australia. He preached Creation happened 6000 years ago in his crusade in Alice Springs
Dan M.
Unfortunately Charles Templeton swallowed the humanist bait, hook, line and sinker! It is not settled! It is not reasonable to believe in long ages with all the counter evidence presented by the creationist community. Charles said it is fact but the fact is it is a matter of trust along with observation and reason.
Atheists have ruined the faith of many with that same bait of long ages but can’t explain the most rudimentary questions about origins. How did it all begin? Why is the universe so fine-tuned and rationally understandable? How did random chemical reactions form the incomprehensible DNA code along with its chirality structure? We do know DNA has a remarkable resemblance to computer code created by intelligent beings.
The jury may be out for some, but it was a mistrial!
Raul A.
I don't think Graham was 'confidently' preaching the Gospel, nor authentically.
D'Arcy M.
I would be great to know why Billy Graham did not follow Templeton. Why did Billy still preach for decades with such convicted and convinced faith while Templeton rejected it all? I have read many articles on the internet about Billy's death but this is the only one I know of that shows how the thinking about Genesis turned some or many Christians away from the faith and anything about Templeton.
Jan V.
Sorry to be negative, but if you believe that there are more roads to heaven except by Jesus, Billy Graham is your friend. He was a compromiser and certainly not an example for me.
Andrew N.
If the first 11 Chapters of Genesis are not historically accurate ie. if they are untrue, exactly what did Dr. Billy Graham think we need to be Saved from?
Bernard G.
When we reason, we must start with God and His word as our presupposition. Begin first with God as our ultimate foundational authority a.k.a worldview (Proverbs 1:7 and Colossians 2:3). If we start with our fallen intellect, then like Templeton; a fossil over here wrongly interpreted and some sedimentary layers over there incorrectly evaluated and boom, say hello to apostasy! In fact, when Eve disobeyed in the garden, she did not (yet) have a fallen nature and still she managed to come to the wrong conclusion. Eve reasoned – “God said this, the serpent said that, but I will decide, I will be the lord of my own reasoning”. How foolish (Psalm 14:1) is the one who loses his soul (Mark 8:36) for all eternity because he did not start his reasoning with the fear of the Lord, but rather on human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20).
Henry H.
It should be noted, however, that Graham himself vacillated on belief in creation and permitted the acceptance of evolution. He wrote in “Personal Thoughts of a Public Man”, 1997,
"I don't think that there's any conflict at all between science today and the scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we've tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren't meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. ... whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God."
How different could it have been for Templeton if Graham had been able to defend a literal creation account to his friend? As CMI and affiliates have long pointed out, the gospel of Jesus Christ is compromised without the firm foundation of belief in the Genesis account of creation and the fall. Because of the prestigious position so many in the church place Graham (as your article also is a case in point), Graham’s inability and reluctance to defend Genesis has left the faith of many on shaky ground. Let us be careful then on the legacy we attribute to Graham.
Philippus S.
I would never have thought to mention Charles Templeton and Pastor Graham in the same article, but then Pastor Graham was God send, Templeton not.
We know Pastor Graham Spirit is in Heaven, and with deep sorrow we know Templeton not. How sad is to loose a soul that once knew the truth and lost it.
Mat 18:7  Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 

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