Wednesday, February 21, 2018

In Praise Of Imperfect Theology: Remembering Billy Graham

The big news of the day across even most of the secular press is the death of evangelist Billy Graham. Almost immediately the praise started flowing in, some over the top, but most celebrating the life of this most well known of evangelicals and rejoicing in his joining with Christ in glory. When a famous person dies they are often immediately trumpeted into the Kingdom even when every bit of evidence would show them to be an unbeliever. It is nice today to have someone pass on that I am as sure as I can be about any famous person is now in a "better place".

On the other hand some people took the occasion of his death as an opportunity to criticize Billy Graham.

As I consider myself to be an armchair theologian, it seems appropriate to point out that with the passing of Billy Graham I had some criticisms of him when he was alive as well. If I had ever had the opportunity to sit down over coffee with Billy and talk theology, I bet we would have had some pretty heated arguments.

I criticized Graham for meeting with Mitt Romney and the removal of mormonism from the list of cults at his ministry webpage. I criticized Billy Graham for saying that any criticism of your pastor is a sin. I think he was a little too chummy with politicians. I strongly disliked the way his name was used as a marketing tool or as a way to add false credibility for men like Tullian and Boz Tchividjian.

I was critical of his Arminianism as I was for many other famous preachers who preach to large crowds with altar calls and sometimes overly emotional appeals. I find revivalism to be a bit too close to manipulation for my taste and I am certain that a significant, perhaps overwhelming, percentage of those who "made decisions" at his crusades over the years were in fact not regenerate and likely walked away from the faith they never had once the emotional high wore off.

On the other hand...

There are no theologians alive or dead with perfect theology. Some great ones have had some pretty deeply flawed theology ( looking at you Martin Luther). The only person is agree with 100% of the time is the bearded guy in the mirror and sometimes I am not so sure about him.

Billy Graham may have had some problems with his theology but my criticisms of him were as a brother speaking to a brother. As I was looking back over my search for his name on my blog I ran across a post from 2010 where I quoted Frank Turk, who made a great statement about Billy Graham that I recalled today:
With Augustine, I’d object strongly to his view of his the eucharist; with Aquinas, I’d object to his Platonism aristotelianism (thx, Bobby) and his extra-biblical musings; Calvin wants to baptize babies, and ultimately advocates for Presbyterian ecclesiology; Jerome was, well, Jerome – a monastic with a high view of Mary and a low view of marriage; Wesley – Arminianism; Billy Sunday & Billy Graham & Chuck Colson – the manner and mode of Ecumenism, up to and including a tacit disregard for the still-evident distinctions between Protestants and Catholics.
But here’s the thing: I think we are compelled to call all of these men Christians -- and I’m not speaking in some broad sociological sense, either. Some of them may be bad Christians – doctrinally bumfuzzled or worse: doctrinally indifferent. Some of them may be misguided – as I think Aquinas was – for intellectual or sociological reasons. But they are Christians.
Amen to that. I love John Calvin but if I were to have taught in Geneva some of the things I believe the Bible teaches about baptism and the church when he was there, I might have shared the fate of Servetus. I love John MacArthur but I think he is way off on dispensationalism. I wish John Piper would steer clear of some of the racial virtue signaling. R.C. Sproul was flat out wrong about "infant baptism". Mark Dever has a number of serious flaws in his ecclesiology which are part of the 9 Marks ministry teaching on the church. My brothers in the Church of Christ are likewise deeply wrong on baptism but I still consider them brothers even when some of them would say I am not their brother because I disagree with their understand and application of baptism. Most Christians I have known personally throughout the year were caught up in Arminianism, were theologically disinterested and clung to the institutional mode of the church that kept them spiritual infants.

Billy Graham could be accused on being willing to go too far to make a disciple to the point of making false disciples, although I am sure not intentionally. He also did more in a year of his life to reach the lost and make much of Jesus Christ than most pastors, theologians and social media geniuses do in their lifetime. He probably did more to reach the lost with the name of Jesus on a decent afternoon than I ever have. I am certain that many, many people were reached for Jesus and came to saving faith through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit under the preaching of the Word by Billy Graham because I believe God sovereignly uses flawed theologians and pastors and evangelists. Good thing he does because being flawed is one thing everyone from Paul and Peter to Calvin and Luther to Piper and Mohler to Billy Graham and me have in common. 

So today is a day to remember a man who committed his life to the Gospel in his own weak and inadequate way. Some day soon he will hear these words all believers long to hear: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’. Well done brother. I look forward to seeing you again in glory.


Jim Kiesow said...

I've sort of given-up on theology. I like what Paul said in one of his letters, reminiscing about determining to know nothing among that particular group, but Christ and Him crucified.

Jim Swindle said...

Thank you for these thoughts! We need to remember that all Christians--including you, including me--are perfectly forgiven, but also imperfect at best in our understanding of the Lord and his will.