What do they have in common?
"Not much," you'd think. Okay, they both talk funny. But that's it.
Popular conceptions have the former as the straight-shooting, simple "The Bible says" evangelist, and the latter as the sophisticated, well-spoken, ultra-scholarly academic clergyman.
Well, here's something "Rev."* Graham said in a recent Newsweek interview with Jon Meacham:
A unifying theme of Graham's new thinking is humility. He is sure and certain of his faith in Jesus as the way to salvation. When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: "Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't ... I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have."Nor is this the only time Graham has expressed such notionsand worse.
Now here's something Right Hon. "Rev." Dr. Wright said in an interview:
Q So we won't all be saved?(H-T to CraigS, an admirer of Dr. Wright's who nonetheless expresses concern about Wright's unclear position on universalism, and provides further quotation as grounds for concern.)
A According to the New Testament there is a real possibility…
Q No according to you … I want you to tell me.
A … I'm sorry - I'm a Christian theologian - therefore the New Testament is where I must start. And yes I'm affirming this. That there is a real possibility of loss but just at the point where we think the New Testament is going to say 'Bang - there it is. We're going to tell you who's in, who's out,' there are hints and vague suggestions, that actually yes, there will be those who will look God in the face and say 'Sorry that's not for me and I'm going to go the other way,' and that God will ratify that decision, because we are human beings with the dignity of making those decisions - that there are many others who are being drawn towards the light, many others who are being wooed into the love of God. And that it's not up to me to say exactly where that line is drawn on a page. I do believe that there is a real possibility and actuality of final loss, but that immortality is this strange, new gift. It's not that, as Plato said, we've all got an immortal soul and we're all just going to carry on. No, that's not the Christian belief. The Christian belief is that God promises this as a fresh gift to be received gratefully....
At this point, everyone knows what I'm going to say. Right? Some are already really angry about it, and already know how they're going to blister the comments section. Well, don't be so sure.
Both of the interviews contain other statements by both men that range from good to very good. And I don't, by these two interview, judge the entire ministry or career of either men. (Though, candidly, it's awfully hard to have read Iain Murray's excellent but depressing Evangelicalism Divided and not see Graham's remarks as further points along a decades-long path. But I digress.)
And do I object to either man saying "I can't guess every aspect of God's judgment in every case"if that's what they're saying? Absolutely not. I've often said, and with great sincerity, that I couldn't be happier that those decisions are not mine to make. I couldn't be happier that they are God's provenance alone (Psalm 50:6; John 5:22).
Here's my problem: it's the "It's not for me to say" dodge. What's that? It's where someone asks you point-blank
- "So if someone lives a good life, gives to charity, and never hurts a flywill he go to Hell forever when he dies, just because he didn't believe in Jesus?"
- "So what about good, moral Jews, or Moslems, or Buddhists, who live good lives, are just and kind and lovingthey go to Hell if they're not Christians?"
- "So what about folks who never hear the Gospel, but they're not like headhunters or rapists. They go to Hell forever?"
- "My mother wasn't a Christian, but she was a really good mother and loved me. Is she in Hell?"
And you feel the pressure. You know how you'll look and sound if you fall into his trap. So... you have the temptation to hedge. You have the urge to just wiggle a little, just apply an itty-bitty touch of verbal lubricant, and slip the noose you think is hanging in front of you.
Now, one would hope that if someone has put himself forward, and thrust himself into the spotlight as a spokesman for Christianityas, say, Billy Graham, and N. T. Wright, and Joel Osteen, and T. D. Jakes have doneone would hope, I say, that they'd be ready not to dodge the hard ones.
But it sure looks to me like Graham and Wright have given in to the temptation. They punted, where God spoke plainly. Billy Graham certainly gave his interviewer that impression. Here's what Meacham writes, in hardy praise of Billy Graham:
But more recent years have given him something he had little of in his decades of global evangelism: time to think both more deeply and more broadly. As he has grown older, Graham has come to an appreciation of complexity and a gentleness of spirit that sets him apart from many other high-profile figures in America's popular religious milieu—including, judging from their public remarks, his own son Franklin Graham, and men such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
Others relish the battlefield; Graham now prizes peace. He is a man of unwavering faith who refuses to be judgmental; a steady social conservative in private who actually does hate the sin but loves the sinner; a resolute Christian who declines to render absolute verdicts about who will get into heaven and who will not....
You give answers like this because you want to be liked. You want to be everybody's friend. You want to be admired by all. You don't want to be mocked and scorned. You want to be well-thought-of. By men. And you've forgotten how deadly that motivation is (Proverbs 29:25; Luke 6:26; James 4:4).My sputtering readers are still sputtering. "So... so what are you saying?! You're ready to say who's going to Heaven, and who's going to Hell?"
Wellof course I am. Aren't you?
In fact, I'm not just "ready"I'm obliged. At worst, it would be craven, rebellious, cowering unbelief to know my Lord's standard of judgment, and not to affirm it.
Beyond that, it would be loveless, and would paint me with the blood of my hearers, whose admiration and applause I would win at the cost of their souls (Proverbs 24:11-12; Ezekiel 3:18; 33:8; Acts 20:26-27).
Now, I'm not ready nor able to read off a list of names, and I'm not prepared to predict the end of every specific circumstance. But here is what I am ready to do:
I'm ready to tell my questioner that allall natural-born sons of Adam, without exceptionhave sinned, fall short of the glory of God, are without excuse, and can justly demand nothing of God but His eternal wrath and the fires of Hell (Romans 1:20; 3:9-20, 23).
I'm ready to tell my questioner that, whatever excuse he may try to apply to a tribesman who never hears the Gospel, it will not work for him, nor anyone else within hearing (Matthew 11:22, 24; Luke 12:47; John 15:22).
I am ready to tell my questioner that the only hope God holds out is personal, conscious faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), through faith in whom alone we can find forgiveness and reconciliation to God by grace alone (Ephesians 2:4ff.).
I am ready to tell my questioner that his hearing of the word of the Gospel from me serves to heighten his guilt before God if he rejects it, if he refuses to repent and believe in Christ (Luke 12:47; John 3:36; 12:48; Romans 2:4-5).
I am ready to tell my questioner that what the Bible says, it isn't saying to the other guy; it's saying it to him, and to me and besides, he won't do the other guy any good by going to Hell with him.
No, it isn't for me to saybut it is for God to say, and it is for me to affirm what He has said, boldly and plainly.
And honestly: suppose I ever get too sophisticated, or too educated, or too popular (bwahhhh hahahaha), or too feeble to be willing to say that much, just that plainly. In that case, please, someonegently, firmly, love God, and love souls, and love me enough tell me to stop talking where people can hear me. Give me something else to do, where I won't obscure the Gospel issues, and bring damage to the cause of Christ.
*It's not the men, it's the title that bugs me. Don't ever call me "Reverend."