Learning from “The Cross-Billy Graham’s Message to America”

November 15, 2013

Watching Dr. Billy Graham’s recent message[1] has motivated me to write again about sound gospel ministry that is based fully on all that the Bible says. To that end, I share this assessment of his message.

Biblical Aspects of His Message

Dr. Graham’s message has many biblical aspects to it. The following are things that stood out to me:

1. A moving, proper emphasis on God’s love for sinful mankind

“The Cross expresses the great love of God for man.”

2. A necessary testimony to both Jesus and God the Father that distinguishes them from each other

3. A valuable underscoring of the exclusivity of Christ as the only way of salvation and the only hope for ending the misery of living a sinful life

He quotes John 14:6, and the message makes this truth plain in other ways as well, including through two moving testimonies from people whose lives have been delivered from hopeless entrenchment in sin.

4. An appropriate confrontation of every viewer with the reality that the leading causes of the world’s greatest problems are spiritual in nature

5. A clear declaration that all humans are sinners and worthy of hell and judgment

“The Cross was the most terrible form of execution by the Romans for criminals, and Jesus endured all that in our place because of our sins. We deserve the Cross. We deserve hell. We deserved judgment and all that that means.”

6. An inescapable testimony to the Cross and to the Resurrection

 “In that terrible moment, He and God the Father were separated.”

 “The Cross and the Resurrection of Christ offers forgiveness of sin.”

7. A strong exhortation and challenge  to receive forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith

“The Cross and the Resurrection of Christ offers forgiveness of sin, offers a whole new life, and offers you eternal life, if you come to the Cross by repentance and faith.”

Given that the message has these many biblical aspects to it, some may wonder what could possibly be wrong with such ministry.

Unbiblical Aspects of His Message

Although there are many important aspects of this message that are biblical, it also has many key aspects that are unbiblical.[2] The following are some of the main criticisms that I have of his message:

1. A declaration that God has directed him to friendship with some who belong to a system of belief that has led to the martyring of millions of Christians

“As I look back over my life, it’s full of surprises. I never thought that I would become friends with people in different countries all over the world. . . . I see how God’s hand has gathered me. . . . God has done this.”

These statements are made as various pictures are shown at that point in the video, including one of Dr. Graham meeting a high-level religious official of Roman Catholicism.

A sound understanding of biblical teaching about separation (2 Chron. 19:2; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; 2 John 9-11) informs us that such a declaration has no place in sound gospel ministry.

2. A besmirching of the holiness of God (cf. Rom. 12:1-2) by using someone (Lecrae Moore) to testify how he was saved who now employs a depraved worldly means of communication (hip hop) to present the truth to others. The presentation of how and where Moore “ministers” undercuts the call to repentance presented elsewhere in the message.

3. A complete lack of testimony to the infernal role of Satan in bringing about the problems of the world and of all the people in it (cf. Gen. 3:15; Acts 10:38; I John 3:8)

4. A disproportionate emphasis on the Cross

Unlike the gospel preaching of the apostles that highly emphasized the Resurrection, Dr. Graham and the others who testify in the video spend far more time talking about the Cross than they do about the Resurrection. In fact, Dr. Graham’s testimony to the latter is limited to the word “Resurrection” early in the message and to two brief sentences toward the end of the message.[3]

5. A highly objectionable and erroneous explanation of what happened when Jesus died

“And when Christ died on that Cross, He became guilty of lying, He became guilty of slander, He became guilty of jealousy, He became guilty of the most filthy, dirty sins. Christ took the hell that you and I deserve.”

Yes, Jesus Christ took the penalty for our sins, but Scripture presents no evidence that He became guilty of committing any sin!

6. A lack of biblical testimony to the bodily resurrection of Christ and its significance for all men

It is tragic that Dr. Graham did not take advantage of such an excellent opportunity to communicate clearly and emphatically to potentially multiplied millions of viewers that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead. He does not mention anything about those who saw Him after He arose (1 Cor. 15:5-8), and he does not testify that those witnesses heard Him, touched Him, and ate and drank with Him (cf. Acts 10:41).[4]

Instead of spending so much time focused on testimony to the Cross, Dr. Graham should have used some of that time to provide vital testimony that would have made it impossible for any attentive and honest viewer to come away with a deficient understanding of the nature of the Resurrection of Christ (e.g., Christ only rose spiritually). He also should have borne clear testimony to what God has proven to all men everywhere through His raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).

7. A problematic model prayer

At the end of his message, Dr. Graham asks people to follow him in praying to God. He begins that prayer in this way:

“Dear Heavenly Father, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe that you’ve died for my sins and rose from the dead.”

God the Father did not die on the Cross! The apostles never taught people to pray this way. This is not a biblical way to pray.

Discussion

Dr. Graham’s video message presents many biblical truths that God could use in the lives of unbelievers. It is highly questionable, however, that a lost person with little or no biblical background would understand the truths communicated properly so that he would be genuinely saved.

Lacking sufficient and proper testimony to key truths and presenting an emotionally moving message, the video has significant potential for resulting in false professions. Lost people, however, who have had other exposure to the gospel that has given them a proper understanding of the key aspects that this message does not communicate could be genuinely saved through God’s use of their viewing this video.

Believers who view the video and invest the terminology communicated with proper biblical meaning will likely find the video to be stirring in spite of its serious flaws. For believers who have not had thorough training in biblical evangelism, the video has the potential of misleading them concerning how key biblical truths about salvation should be presented.

Conclusion

In spite of the many flaws in this video message, may God graciously see fit to use the truths that are properly communicated to work in the hearts of many needy people who are lost and need salvation from their sins. From both the biblical and unbiblical aspects of this message, let us who already know Him learn better (and put into practice) how we should properly communicate God’s saving truth to lost people.



[1] The Cross-Billy Graham’s Message to America (a Youtube video)

[2] The points in this section follow the order of what is presented in the video. They are not arranged in any particular order of increasing or decreasing seriousness.

[3] Lacey Sturm, another key person in the video, actually bears more testimony to the Resurrection in the excerpt from one of her songs shown in the video than Dr. Graham does in his entire message.

[4] Moore and Sturm also do not bear testimony explicitly to the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Rajesh

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