11 December 2012

Franklin Graham's people play the "call" card: a cautionary tale

by Dan Phillips

In The Pastoral Call, and How There Isn't One, we accomplished two things:
  1. We drove a Bibley stake through the heart of a cherished and unsupportable tradition.
  2. We warned against its inherently disastrous dangers.
And now, as if ordered from a catalog, Franklin Graham and Co. come along to illustrate precisely what I'm talking about.

I'm not happy about it. For starters, long ago I wanted to be supportive of the universally-beloved icon Billy Graham... but then I read this, and watched videos like this, and heard him preaching to inmates in a prison that God had given them "the most precious gift of all" which, it turned out, was not Jesus Christ, but "free will," and the ability to "decide to become a better person" — and it became pretty tough to do.

But Franklin Graham has made statements and taken stands over the years that gave me hope that this apple fell a healthy distance from the tree.

Until this.

We read in this story that Franklin Graham was "shocked" (shocked!) to find that the organization's web site had a page labeling Mormonism as a "cult." They took the page down, and it's down for good. Why?

Graham explained, “[W]e’re calling people names. If I want to win people to Christ, how can I call them names?” Then BG media rep A. Larry Ross followed up with “Mr. Graham’s calling [N.B.] is not to pass judgment, but to proclaim the Biblical truth that Jesus is the only way to heaven, allowing every individual and group to fall along that plumb line.”

Other BG reps said “We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign,” and “If [Billy Graham] would do something that would alienate an audience, he wouldn’t be able to reach them.”

Well, so much could be said about that, couldn't it? I'm going to pick only one aspect, which I just developed at some length in connection with expounding and applying Titus 1:9. Larry Ross tells us, "Mr. Graham's calling is not to pass judgment."

Let's say I'd like to dispute that. (Readers: "I'd like to dispute that." Yes, thanks, you're all very helpful.)

This is pretty important, right? Ross is claiming that Graham has a note from God, against all Scripture, excusing him from calling damning heresy "damning heresy." It is a "call" that actually cancels Scripture. Or it surely seems to.

So yes, I dispute that.

But this "calling" must be a very powerful and persuasive thing, mustn't it, to compel a man in such a public and influential position to take such a stand? It must be compelling, thunderous, huge.

So, I'd like to see it. Is that too much to ask? So where can I go to examine Franklin Graham's "calling"? Perhaps Graham misread it. If so, I'd like to help. Or if God has cancelled out what He previously said (such as in, oh, Eph. 5:11b, Titus 1:9 [et passim], and Jude 3), I really need to know it. All pastors really need to know it.

Or did God just issue an exemption for Franklin Graham? Again, if Christians are expected to support him (even to the tune of $00.01) as an evangelist, we need to know when, where and how God issued this "calling" that cancelled His holy, inerrant, unchanging and abiding word. After all, how can an "evangelist" call people to repent if he can't explain what they need to repent of and why they need to do it. Otherwise, one is reminded of the joke.
QUESTION: What do you get when you cross a Jehovah's Witness and a Unitarian?
ANSWER: Someone who goes knocking door to door for no apparent reason.
But I would bet that Ross' adept playing of the "C" card (Calling!) didn't raise a dozen eyebrows among readers. Which is a tragedy, a tragedy to be billed to Charismatics and sloppy mystical non's alike.

But that's the desired effect, of course. "Oh, that's his calling? Okay, all right, I guess we're done here."

Underneath this lies perhaps a more fundamental question is: what is Franklin Graham? Is he a pastor? Of what church? Is he an evangelist? Under the authority of what church? If this latter, do the elders of his church know enough Bible to call him aside, rebuke and correct him, call him to (wait for it) repentance?

Because I don't know any other authoritative call of God, and any other binding template for all Christian leadership, than that which we find in the Word of God. This is a calling that is out-there, that is open to examination and analysis, and that is morally binding.


An example of this is Titus 1:9, which I translate thus: "holding fast to the faithful word according to the teaching, in order that he might be able both to exhort by healthy doctrine, and to reprove those who contradict." See there a twofold exercise of the leader's powerful ability in Scripture: "both to exhort by healthy doctrine, and to reprove those who contradict." Not either/or; but both/and. It's God-given, it's non-negotiable, and it's out there for all to see.

So while we might like to prance forth, preaching (select parts of) Jesus, love, joy, puppies and wonderfulness, and just forget about sin, error, shipwreck, apostasy and damning deception, we just do not have that option.

It isn't our calling.

Dan Phillips's signature



80 comments:

DJP said...

Next up, DV: a post on the whole concept of "notes from God."

Solameanie said...

Hi, Dan. I have to issue a chagrined "amen" to your post here. I, too, had higher hopes for Franklin in the wake of some of Billy's disastrous statements on Larry King and other venues. In Franklin's TV appearances thus far, he had seemed a lot stronger and much more uncompromising when it came to biblical truth, especially dealing with Islam.

But the actions of BGEA and Franklin in regards to Mormonism are inexplicable and sad. It goes much in line with what a late, high-profile pastor and conservative political activist is alleged to have said when asked if he presented the Gospel to the head of the Mormon church on the way to a political rally. The reply was reportedly along the lines of, "Oh, no! If I had done that, that would have destroyed the political consensus and unity that we are trying to build on moral issues."

Shameful if true, and I have no doubt that it is.

Kerry James Allen said...

Back in the distant seventies, criticizing Billy Graham was the "third rail" that you dared not touch because of "all the good he did."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_rail

I'm assuming the same spirit and comments will arrive shortly, but for those who bring them, we've heard them before. Please don't bother playing the "all the good Franklin does" broken record.

Maybe another apple named Tullian next, Dan?

Tom Chantry said...

I love how this post concluded. For two weeks you hammered on the misunderstanding of "calling," and it was all good stuff. But then you came to this:

Because I don't know any other authoritative call of God, and any other binding template for all Christian leadership, than that which we find in the Word of God. This is a calling that is out-there, that is open to examination and analysis, and that is morally binding.

A lot depends on ecclesiology, doesn't it. It is one of the great, pressing issues of our day.

Cathy M. said...

I've been listening to this series, and I can hardly believe how perfectly this situation illustrates your point. ("Notes from God," I SO want to remember this line!)

D'you know what I find really strange? A pastor who rejects the doctrines of grace, but claims a spurious "effectual call." I really think it becomes a type of delusion where they tell a story (and there's always a story) so often that they begin to believe it.

DJP said...

Good morning, one-star hater!

Add "Mormon enabler" and "mystic" to the list.

Solameanie said...

Hats off to Tom for pointing me back to the actual theme of Dan's post - the "call." I probably shouldn't have de-railed things into a discussion of Franklin etc.

Thinking of the places in Scripture where "calling" is used (and how) makes me think in general of just how un-Bibley a lot of our thinking is. Really trying to live out the notion of Semper Reformanda these days. BTW, I know a couple of recently published DJP books that help in that area. ;)

Jeremiah Halstead said...

Every once in a while I am tempted to one-star a post, just to throw off your accounting so far. Other than mischeif, I give five stars. I have been thinking on this since this whole fiasco happened and wondered if warning people about cults is name-calling, wouldn't calling people sinners fall in the same category?

Frank Turk said...

We have a calling at TeamPyro to bring this sort of stuff into the light of day.

Now what?

Frank Turk said...

Kerry: What are you saying?

jmb said...

"So while we might like to prance forth, preaching (select parts of) Jesus, love, joy, puppies and wonderfulness"

That's a different gospel altogether.

"That's a different gospel."

DJP said...

Turk: hm, calling vs. calling.

Maybe it's a this kind of situation?

Robert said...

I know that you'll get there after a while, but Titus 2:15 gives a strong command about this:

"These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you."

I remember this from Phil's message at The Shepherd's Conference back in March. Of course, he was dealing with a different, more raucous crowd, but the same principle applies. Thank you for taking up this charge in your work as pastor. May God raise up faithful men to keep reforming and bring us back to the faith handed down once for all.

Robert said...

Emphasis mine on the Scripture cited in the previous comment. I know that's basically a given, but you never know...

Marla said...

Two words: political expediency. *sigh*

Billy Graham started out preaching the gospel earnestly. However, all the access to the political higher-ups have produced a watered down message that is more palatable to the masses (and talk show hosts). All this emphasis on "choices" eclipses God's sovereignty. In my experience, eventually that is the big stumbling block. We have to do, do , do[something] so God can work...
Sooner or later bad theology leads you into a hole.

Frank Turk said...

DJP: I'm agreeing with you. I'm saying that what are those people who disagree with you going to do when they discover we have a calling -- at least as far as they would see it?

Marla said...

(That isn't to say we shouldn't make good choice -- Just that God accomplishes things in spite of us many times.) We need to keep our focus on God and His purposes, and the we 'get to' work with Him.

I don't have the pithy gene.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

I get the very vivid image of Frank disarming his opponent Jackie Chan style and aiming the opponent's own weapon at him. I belly-lauged at that, you know, like when you're watching a movie and the bad guy thinks he has the advantage, and you find out quickly he doesn't. Excellent reversal!

Nash Equilibrium said...

I read the Graham backtracking on the whole Mormon/cult thing when it happened, and I had a different take on it, as follows:
1) By "calling" I thought he was talking about the calling that all Christians have, to reach the lost, not the so-called calling of being a pastor (which I agree with you on) and
2) I think removing the word "cult" altogether was OK, because it is an imprecise term that means various things to various people, for instance JW's consider Christians to be in a cult. I think he should have replaced "cult" with "unBiblical religions" or something like that, which would be equally damning and yet more precise as to WHY Mormonism is to be avoided. Or at least, for those who care about eh bible it would be damning.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

That is, Frank vs the "callers", not Frank vs DJP... just to be clear.

GAHCindy said...

Yep, Jeremiah, of course! That is why the only culturally recognized sin these days starts with a 'j' and ends in 'udgment'. And it looks like the Grahams are fine with that.

Dan said...

Nash, yes, that is how I viewed it also. "Cult" has become a wax nose of terms being used one way in academic circles and another in apologetic/polemical circles. However, I don't know how much I like "unBiblical religions" either.

~Dan

DJP said...

The better one-or-two-word term for such false religions, then, being ____?

Daryl said...

"hell-deserving"?

Robert said...

DJP,

If he is a pastor, then his words give him away as having ducked out on his responsibilities. He is not really much better than Joel Osteen in this regard, I think. I mean, that whole line about judgment is the same excuse Osteen uses for his method of "preaching"...I use the word loosely because he really just gives pep talks to people while blaspheming.

Robert said...

Didn't Paul say that people bearing a false gospel are to be called anathema? Can we use that instead of cult?

DJP said...

Anathema-groups?

DJP said...

Anathemats? Anathemalts? Anathemoids? Anathemocities?

I like that: Anathemocities.

Used in a sentence: "Damning perversion of the Gospel marks Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses and other anathemocities."

Dan said...

I like "Anathemoids" but I think they're going to be in the next Star Trek movie.

We should have a poll.

DJP said...

Oh, right! "You will be assimilated. Evangelism is futile."

Robert said...

DJP,

You could always write to the RCC and see what they would call you for teaching that sinners are saved by grace alone. Surely they have to come up with some kind of term for Christians that really describes them...irony of all ironies.

David Regier said...

Blue Öyster Anathemocities

Tom Chantry said...

I now realize that you were saying "anathemacities," but at first I thought I had read "anathemacite." As in, the opposite (I suppose) of "anthracite." Anthracite is the hardest form of coal, having the least impurities. It's opposite, Anathamacite, is any doctrine which proves soft and crumbly because of its myriad impurities.

Or something like that.

Daryl said...

Blue Öyster Anathemocity, David, Blue Öyster Anathemocity.

Daryl said...

Judas "Celibate member of Anathemocity"...or something like that...

Nash Equilibrium said...

How about Hemorrhites?

Rhology said...

Good stuff.

Signed,
The Guy Who Just Had To Explain His Calling To Ministry In His Seminary Application And Sort Of Gave Them What They Wanted To Hear

Kerry James Allen said...

Frank, the other apple you asked about is found here:

http://headhearthand.org/blog/2012/12/11/tullian-keeps-digging/

But be careful,apple seeds contain cyanide.

trogdor said...

I was thinking Anathemagician, so you can imagine them saying in a Bullwinkle voice, "Hey Rocky, watch me pull an endorsement from James MacDonald out of my hat!" Which is the same place Joseph Smith supposedly pulled his theology out of. Which is a whole lot more sanitary than the place it sure seems like he pulled it out of.

Michael Coughlin said...

I will comment later. I don't feel led to do so at this time.

Michael Coughlin said...

What about anathematics? It sounds like mathematics so maybe lots of people will shy away from it and believe the gospel?

rfb said...

"To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

Kerry James Allen said...

Do we wear an anathemat suit when we wade into this stuff?

rfb said...

And if there is no light in them, they are useless.

"The boy's Eustace, my Lord," hooted the Owl as loud as it could. "Useless?" said the Dwarf irritably. "I dare say he is."

rfb said...

anathematics?

That plainly does not add up.

Robert said...

Yes, we're the anathemaniacs...and we're crazy to the max...

If only I knew the words to the theme song for animaniacs, I could put in the names (N.T. Wright, random "prophet" for LDS, Rick Warren, etc.) and describe each of them. And then a video, too...that'd be epic.

Solameanie said...

"You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile."

You know, considering what lies ahead in terms of apostasy, those words may be more eerily chilling than we think.

Halley Comet said...

I got nothing.

DJP said...

Crud. And now you won't be back to comment again for another eighty years!

)c:

Jared T. Baergen said...

Good catch, DJP.

The arbitrary "calling" of God.... Nice!

This reminds me of the charismatic lady I met the other day who handed me a "gospel tract" (technically it was a poem she wrote), claiming that the Holy Spirit inspired her to write it, and I needed to read it.

One of these days I might have to write an article or a book debunking all the charismania. I just know it's what I'm 'called' to do......

Until then, teampyro has done a far better job at it than I ever could. Thanks for helping shape my thinking on these issues! Really enjoyed your sermon on Titus 1:9, btw.

DJP said...

Thanks, Jared, that's very encouraging.

Jared T. Baergen said...

DJP:
Hey, you've done all the work; I'm just the recipient :)

Quick question: When are you going to exposit Jeremiah 23:25-38? I think that this passage is right up your ally, and very much on topic. Yes?

DJP said...

Never. Because "exposit" isn't a word. :^P

More seriously: you're right, that is a weighty, apposite passage.

Jared T. Baergen said...

DJP:
And that's why I'm going to college soon... :P

A. said...

Thank you so much. Great article. Too many are blinded & diverted from truth by men with "good intentions".

p.s. Is there a way to make your links open in a new tab rather than taking me away from you article?

DJP said...

Thanks, A.

Depending on your browser, usually if you middle-click the link, a new window will open without taking you out of the window you're in. If you Shift-click the link, a new window opens.

Michael Coughlin said...

Or if the author throws a target="_blank" attribute in the anchor tag that'll do it too...Can I like that comment?

Lambie said...

Hey, why don't you do one on your calling.

Tom Chantry said...

Never. Because "exposit" isn't a word. :^P

You know, I had no idea, but you're right. The OED lists exposition, expositions, expositive (who knew?, expository (of course), expositorial (nice!), expositress (dang! needed that one the other week!), and expositure (no way!) But no exposit, which just seems odd, but there it is.

DJP said...

You're welcome.

Bill Honsberger said...

"My calling's better than yours - My callings better than yours"

Why? Because I just know it thats why!

The evangelical burning in the bosom is alive and well!

I am amazed and so thankful for the Lord's patience...

Tom Chantry said...

...and, of course, expositor. Not sure how I missed that one.

DJP said...

Bill-

"Top... mystics."

Jared T. Baergen said...

Chantry:

I don't feel so bad now. Although, two of my dictionaries actually do have the word exposit—"to clarify the meaning of and discourse in a learned way." I guess it's an adopted made up word or something. Time to go back to old Webster. I wonder if he has any interesting definitions for the word "calling" in his (original) timeless dictionary...?

Michael Coughlin said...

Try "expose."

DJP said...

Try "do, perform, deliver or offer an exposition."

DJP said...

And don't even get me started on using "exegete" as a verb.

Or "impact."

But I digression.

Stephen said...

Well, I googled it, and I can safely exegete that "exposit" destinated from the same Latin root that gifted us the modern word "posit," which I dare speach is a sophisticated logical term. Similarly, I am visioning why Dan is part of the group that the Oxford Dictionary calls the "disapproval" of making "somewhat inferior" verb forms from nouns that have already impacted our vocabulary.

Tom Chantry said...

Bill Waterson - he of "Calvin and Hobbes" fame - called it "verbing."

Which is just brilliant. Think about it.

Jared T. Baergen said...

So, I officially derailed the entire meta due to my poor grammar. Shoot me now or later, Dan, but I hijacked your post from any further queries or rambling. Yup.

Uhh.....

Did anyone look up the word "calling" in Webster's yet?

NoLongerBlind said...

And now for something completely different, how's about the Illinois Anathema Bandits......(wonder if anyone will get that)

=8^)

trogdor said...

If we all stop using 'impact' as a verb, that would make a nice Xmas gift for Dan.

semijohn said...

I don't understand. I was sure that 71 comments would include some serious dissenting viewpoints. In all (or almost) all seriousness, how about just "Not truly Christian groups". I know that's three words. Admittedly, if its "Blue Oyster Not truly Christian groups", it might need more cowbell. BTW, Dan, I had a seminary class with "another apple" once. That might give you another clue as to what semi means.

semijohn said...

Excuse me, its four words.

Bill Honsberger said...

DJP - Uh how about "double secret mystics"?

Solameanie said...

Dan, since we live in a postmodern, Humpty-Dumpty sort of age, "exposit" can be a word if we want it to be. No more. No less. And Webster's will add it to the list in about 20 years.

DJP said...

That thought was at the back of my mind as well.

Daniel said...
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Daniel said...
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Barbara said...

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exposit

ex·pos·it transitive verb \ik-ˈspä-zət\

Definition of EXPOSIT

: expound
Origin of EXPOSIT

Latin expositus, past participle of exponere
First Known Use: 1882