Should Dr Billy Graham Now Be Considered a Heretic?





Some Fundamentalist Ministers - Mainly in the United States - Now Consider

the World-Famous Evangelist to Be a Heretic - Is That Accurate or Fair?



S ome American fundamentalists are now saying that Billy Graham should be considered a heretic because of televised remarks which he made to Dr Robert Schuller a few years ago. Dr Graham - allegedly - stated that Jesus is not the only way to salvation. What did Dr Graham possibly mean, and where does UK Apologetics stand on this issue?

The conversation occurred between Dr Billy Graham and Dr Robert Schuller, who is the pastor of the 'Crystal Cathedral' in Garden Grove, California and founder of the Hour Of Power television programme. The interview was broadcast on May 31, 1997 in the United States on Schuller's show, apparently subtitled "Say 'Yes' To Possibility Thinking." Billy Graham's actual words in the interview are no secret and remain widely available on 'You Tube.' The comments go like this:

Dr. Schuller: "Tell me, what is the future of Christianity?"

Dr. Graham: "Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there's the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time."

"What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they're saved and they're going to be with us in heaven."

Dr. Schuller: "What I hear you saying is that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into a human heart and soul and life even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?"

Dr. Graham: "Yes it is because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, have never heard of Jesus but they've believed in their hearts that there is a God and they tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived."

Dr. Schuller: "This is fantastic. I'm so thrilled to hear you say that. There's a wideness in God's mercy.

Dr. Graham: There is. There definitely is."

The comment has been made that Dr Graham's comments cannot be contained within the BGEA's (that is, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's) own strongly evangelistic statement of faith. Since that time, what might be termed the extreme right-wing of American Christian fundamentalism, has come to quite openly reject Billy Graham as being a meaningful evangelical Christian voice. Those who now reject Dr Graham also often point to areas of his former active ministry which raised eyebrows in certain quarters such as his willingness to work with liberals and Catholics. He also had an apparently very friendly meeting with Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) back in 1981.

However, my understanding is that Dr Graham has since confirmed that he continues to believe that salvation is only found in Jesus Christ, and the BGEA has also confirmed this to be their position. This being so, we obviously need to look at the comments made to Dr Schuller a little more closely.

Okay, let us look at this and let us also attempt to be fair and even-handed in our analysis. The subject here is plainly not Dr Schuller himself but I don't think we can avoid making just one or two comments about this man and his ministry in passing.

Fundamentalists who now reject anything coming from Billy Graham are possibly guilty of confusing the hard-line, black and white, theological fences which they themselves insist on working within, with philosophy. The comments were philosophical. Sometimes we all have to stand back and say, 'okay, this is what the Scripture appears to say, but how is it best explained/how does it hang together in the bigger world of philosophical ideas and concepts.' If we say that we will never do that, we will immediately lose the power to communicate, to convict and to have a pastor's heart. Since the Apostle Paul himself clearly occasionally looks at Jesus' teachings from a philosophical point of view in his epistles, none of us can reject this approach.

Dr Schuller

First of all with regard to Dr Robert Schuller, lamentably UK Apologetics does not consider this man to be a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as originally delivered to the saints. Rather we have carefully (but very sadly) noted that this gentleman preaches a self-help 'pull yourself up by your own bootstraps' message strongly rooted in the 'positive living' teaching of Norman Vincent Peale. He appears to believe that success in this life is a strong indication of whether one is a true Christian. He preaches triumphalism in human endeavour and success. It is no good anybody expecting me to be impressed with such things as the 'crystal cathedral,' I am only impressed where preachers are faithful to Scripture - even if they have a congregation of no more than 25 people! Of course one has sadly noted that where one deviates from the plain and straightforward message of the Gospel, bringing in such humanly-appealing touches as successful living, triumphalism and wealth, congregational attendances may well go through the roof, but that does not interest me, and, may I suggest that it does not impress our Saviour!

Dr Graham: Unwise Alliances?

First of all let us deal with the charge that Dr Graham has had some (though actually very few and restricted) alliances with liberals and Roman Catholics, even having a meeting with former Pope John Paul II.

My understanding is that the main purpose of such meetings was always to ensure the success of his former evangelistic campaigns. Regarding the office of pope, we all need to recognise that - like it or not - the pope is the undisputed leader of several million Roman Catholics in this world. If we refuse to note this fact we are indeed being most foolish! We should respect the office of a man who is the leader of millions of people who, from their point of view, faithfully follow the Lord Jesus Christ. On that basis, I respect the pope; I also respect the fact that Pope Benedict XVI has become the major voice questioning the immorality of the West, speaking out on such issues as abortion, the western over-reliance upon wealth and the widespread easy acceptance of homosexual life styles. So, of course, we should respect him for boldly speaking out in those areas! - I may say that I know of no major Protestant leader who is speaking out on such issues.

Having said that, I do not agree with papal doctrines! When I see the pope sitting on a throne in splendour, I cannot see anything in the New Testament to justify such presumption! Moreover, I have no doubt at all that Dr Graham would agree with me there. So whilst we Protestants can never feel common cause with several Roman Catholic doctrines, it remains the case that the pope has some real world-wide authority and I believe that some respect should therefore be afforded to his office.

Dr Graham's generally good relationship with Catholicism in the past has meant that local Catholic priests often recommended that their congregation members attended his evangelistic meetings - is that not a most impressive fact?

In 1984, Dr Graham preached in Vancouver around a month after Pope John Paul II had been there. Commenting on the Pope's message, Dr Graham said, "I'll tell you, that was just about as straight an evangelical address as I've ever heard. It was tremendous. Of course, I'm a great admirer of his. He gives moral guidance in a world that seems to have lost its way." Again, one can - and frankly should - take Dr Graham's point about the strong messages which have come from the last and present popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But nothing in any of Graham's comments ever suggested doctrinal agreement, and of course there will not be doctrinal agreement between Dr Graham and any pope.

With regard to Dr Graham's wish to cooperate with liberal churches, again, the purpose was to get those who were sadly conpromised by liberal theology - both leaders and lay members - to attend evangelistic meetings in which they might hear the Gospel fearlessly expounded - perhaps for the first time in years; can that ever be anything other than entirely good? I don't think so.

Dr Graham's 1997 Comments to Dr Schuller

Since Dr Billy Graham has confirmed that he continues to believe that salvation is only possible through the Name of Jesus Christ, we need to look at his comments more closely.

I think that Dr Graham's many years of service for the Gospel (even if you and I might question certain Finneyite tactics which were often employed) should surely mean that we should be scrupulously fair in our discussion of this matter.

One fundamentalist website which I checked out screamed, "Graham now believes that the knowledge of the name of Christ is not necessary for salvation - that is heresy!" My first reaction upon reading those words was, I'm afraid, to have an ironical smile spread across my face. Why? Because the Holy Bible itself makes it abundantly clear that a specific knowledge of the name of Jesus Christ is not necessary for salvation. After all, all the saved of the Old Testament are indeed saved yet - almost certainly were not aware of the name, 'Jesus Christ,' nor 'Jesus of Nazareth,' nor were they aware of the details of our Saviour's life, for they lived well before His time. Nevertheless, people as varied as Abraham, Moses, Jethro, Joshua, Caleb, Rahab, Gideon, Jeremiah, Daniel and all the others are only saved through the blood of Christ. So we see that the efficacy of Christ's supreme sacrifice has power to save those who lived and died prior to that sacrifice occurring as an event in world history. It logically follows, therefore, that a specific knowledge of Jesus and of the details of His life has no power to save in itself. Are we going to say that knowledge of an event in human history has the power to save? Of course not: God calls and His people respond; it is about divine election and grace. Within those people one may find a varying degree of knowledge. For those who have lived since the passion of Christ has occurred, the Name of Christ and many of the details of His life will be known; now God expects to see an active and productive faith and a willingness to grow in knowledge.

Nevertheless, we can never state that a person can never be saved if that person lived and died without knowing the Name of Christ! If Graham is a "heretic" for believing that, then Holy Scripture itself is also heretical! Similarly, most evangelicals (including myself) believe that children who die in childhood as well as the mentally handicapped are saved; most such will never have heard, or certainly not comprehended the name of Christ our Saviour!

Now let us take careful note of what Dr Graham stated,

"Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there's the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time."

"What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they're saved and they're going to be with us in heaven."

Dr Graham's final comment was,

...I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, have never heard of Jesus but they've believed in their hearts that there is a God and they tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived."


So Was This Heretical?

So, firstly, there is no question that Billy Graham - like most of us - believes that Jesus Christ is the only 'passport' to heaven. His comments appear to show that he does not picture any group as being 'saved' apart from 'the body of Christ.' This is not, therefore, religious pluralism ('all religious roads lead to salvation'). If one should suspect that, that is to be too careless in the consideration of his precise words. Rather, the big question would be: how wide and loose might his definition of this 'body of Christ' be? The answer would seem to be rather a lot wider and broader than most typical American fundamentalists - but not necessarily all that wider and broader than many modern evangelicals, in Britain and many other countries.

When Dr Graham states that some who are "outside the Christian groups" could be included in Christ's body, he could either mean that:

a. Non-Christians can be included,

or, much more likely,

b. That some presently non-Christian people are included because they are 'elect believers' who are presently on a journey which will finally culminate in their coming to Christ.

Even though one might be critical of point 'a,' we should just recall our opening point in which we noted that - technically-speaking - the saved of the Old Testament were not Christians, yet they are certainly saved believers.

Graham further stated his belief that some (presumably non-Christians) may well truly love Christ "whether they're conscious of it or not." Sounds controversial, but let us never forget the testimony of certain missionaries who discovered native peoples who already seemed to have the love of God in their hearts and were fully submissive and obedient to as much of God that they understood at the time and who, upon learning of the name of Christ, immediately accepted Him without a problem (there are several books which reveal these occasional experiences of missionaries, including Don Richardson's 1984 book, Eternity in Their Hearts).

A.H. Strong wrote,

"...The patriarchs, though they had not knowledge of a personal Christ, were saved by believing in God so far as God had revealed himself to them; and whoever among the heathen are saved, must in like manner be saved by casting themselves as helpless sinners upon God's plan of mercy, dimly shadowed forth in nature and providence. But such faith...is implicitly a faith in Christ, and would become explicit and conscious trust and submission, whenever Christ were made known to them." (Systematic Theology, Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1947, page 842).

Dr Graham further stated that he did not believe that there would be a future "great sweeping revival" and I tend to agree with him there. I think that age has come and gone. God is not bound to work in such a manner again in the future.

But perhaps the most controversial part of these comments is Dr Graham's belief that,

"...God is ...calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God..."

Bearing in mind that as we have already established - and as Dr Graham and his BGEA have since confirmed - the great evangelist does not support pluralism (all religions lead to God), we may see that his support, rather, is for inclusivism, actually, what both Neal Punt and myself have, in the past, called 'Evangelical Inclusivism.' This is much broader than the narrowest Calvinistic Exclusivism but far less broad that Pluralism. In short, God can add any He wishes to the Body of Christ - He is not confined by any of our denominational doctrines, restrictions nor parameters! Yet we must note that Dr Graham insisted that all such people who may have a place in the body are only called "for His Name," so - again - these will be Christ's people; so, most assuredly this is not Pluralism. So, according to Dr Graham, God is calling - for the name of Christ - Buddhists, Moslems - even perhaps some atheists (who may have been put off God by dreadful examples among established religiosity). But since pluralism is being rejected in the overall thrust and tone of these comments, it seems plain that Dr Graham is saying that these people are on a journey which will culminate in their final conversion to Christ, even maybe upon their deathbeds! Dr Graham only stated that these dispirit religious people are being "called by God," he obviously did not infer that their journeys are yet complete!

So while many have accused these comments of amounting to Pluralism, in my opinion, they plainly do not; they amount to Inclusivism, a more open point of view which may however be contained within all the great creeds of our Faith. The body is plainly Christ's body - not the body of any other deity! UK Apologetics agrees with Billy Graham that there will be a final wideness and broadness in God's mercy. This is not to open a door to liberals nor to true heretics, simply to recognise that God Alone is the One Who Calls and Elects and He retains the power to surprise us.

J.N.D. Anderson asks,

"Does ignorance disqualify for grace? If so, where in Scripture do we have the exact amount of knowledge required set out? For assurance, no doubt, knowledge is required, but for grace it is not so much knowledge as a right attitude towards God that matters." (Christianity and Comparative Religion, Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1977, page 99).

We should therefore conclude that nothing which Billy Graham stated in his brief televised chat with Robert Schuller amounts to heresy. Plainly he was making a statement of support for theological inclusivism which, like Jesus in His ministry, seeks to include - rather than to exclude - those who thirst for the waters of God - even if their understanding is presently stunted or confused. Fundamentalists who now reject anything coming from Billy Graham are possibly guilty of confusing the hard-line, black and white, theological fences which they themselves insist on working within, with philosophy. The comments were philosophical. Sometimes we all have to stand back and say, 'okay, this is what the Scripture appears to say, but how is it best explained/how does it hang together in the bigger world of philosophical ideas and concepts.' If we say that we will never do that, we will immediately lose the power to communicate, to convict and to have a pastor's heart. Since the Apostle Paul himself clearly occasionally looks at Jesus' teachings from a philosophical point of view in his epistles, none of us can reject this approach.

I do not say that Billy Graham will never make heretical comments (although I think it unlikely), what I do say is that he should not be rejected nor branded a heretic on the basis of his now famous 1997 televised comments when talking to Dr Schuller.
Robin A. Brace. February 1st, 2011.


UK APOLOGETICS