Killing Billy: Attacking the Reverend’s Hope

That didn’t take long.

Last week I watched Billy Graham on TV.

Billy Graham.

When my wife and I were growing up, Graham was the standard by which all other ministers were measured. The same was true for the generation before ours. And the one before that one. Throughout those years, whenever a minister started to gain national attention, the media wondered aloud if he was, “the next Billy Graham.”

When I was in college I got to see him live at the Georgia Dome. His message was simple. I don’t remember any of his points or illustrations. I just remember him presenting the gospel. And I remember the people who responded to Graham’s plea to repent and believe in that gospel. There were hundreds of them.

I don’t think that I had heard him for more than a minute or two since that night in Atlanta. When I found out that he was having another TV special, I made it a family affair. My kids sat quietly as they listened to the man who a few minutes before they didn’t even know existed. One of my kids wept loudly after witnessing Graham’s gospel presentation and the change Jesus brought to two people featured in the special.

It was a good moment for our family.

Leave it to the Internet to ruin a perfectly good family moment. I guess I shouldn’t blame it on the Internet. Just a few of the people who use the Internet.

When I was in seminary, every class had that one guy. The guy who thought he knew more than the professor. The guy who raised his hand, not to ask a question, but to display his intelligence to the rest of us. The guy who thought anyone who disagreed with him was a (insert: liberal, subscriber of New Age philosophies, spawn of Satan, New York Yankee fan).

Well, that guy graduated, got himself a website and used it to publish his heavily footnoted paper revealing that one or two of the hymns we sang in church last Sunday was most certainly written by a spawn of Satan.

People from this guy’s tribe were outraged by the special they saw on TV. For them, Graham’s gospel was inadequate, mainly because of one phrase he used.

“God loves you.”

Man, it was as if Billy Graham took a hit off of a crack pipe and gave twerking lessons.

Here’s a verse that keeps coming up in the tribal critiques of Graham.

As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:13 (ESV)

But should this verse and others like it keep us from preaching God’s love? In my next sermon, perhaps I should say, “There are some in here that are loved by God. You sir, on the third row, probably are not one of them. Please leave. And throw away your New York Yankees hat on the way out.”

Or maybe I should just take Graham’s approach. An approach that he got from the Apostle John.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)

The Bible teaches election. It tells us that those who are saved were chosen by God, in his grace, before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1-2). But it does not tell us exactly who all of those chosen people are. To borrow from a well-worn phrase, God hasn’t painted a yellow stripe on his elect. Therefore, the best approach is to preach the gospel to any whoever we come across and trust the results to Jesus.

My fear is that some of those who are critiquing Graham’s special aren’t doing so out of a concern for sound theology. Rather, they’re just defending their tribe. Had one of their preferred preachers or theologians produced the exact same special and thrown in a quote from a Puritan, everything would be just fine.

We must be careful here. We need to continually examine our hearts to see if we are more devoted to a particular minister of the gospel than we are to the gospel itself. Do we love a Jesus who uses imperfect instruments like you, me, John Calvin and Billy Graham or do we prefer a Jesus who checks with us first before deciding who he will use? An honest answer reveals the true nature of our heart.

If Jesus had his own TV special today, there would be plenty of religious people who discounted his message for not being “gospel-centered” enough.

I can hear them now.

“He talks too much about social issues.”

“Enough about money.”

“What’s with all of the stories? Get to the point, Jesus!”

I can hear them now because I read responses like that in the Bible from religious people who opposed Jesus for not meeting their standards.

So they killed him, rejecting his message in favor of their own.

And if we’re not careful, we can do the exact same thing.