When You Think Billy Graham You don’t Think Lent

But such are the fortunes of evangelicalism that the people running the magazine that Billy Graham (trans-denominational) helped to found with Carl Henry (Baptist), and J. Howard Pew (anti-Communist Presbyterian) are fully comfortable with Anglicanism, and so have posted another article recommending Lent. In this case, telling points mount to show how poorly Lent fits with Christian piety:

heightened devotion is fruitful for a season, but cannot be sustained indefinitely. The Christian calendar offers a sustainable rhythm of which Lent is a part, and the fasting of Lent gives way to the feasting of Easter. Fasting and feasting are interconnected disciplines that teach us to love the King and his coming kingdom. In Lent, we learn to confess our sins, practice self-denial, and take on the humility of Christ. In Easter, we learn to rejoice, exult, and feast in Christ’s victory. As historian William Harmless explains, “In these two liturgical seasons Christians drank in, by turns, the ‘not yet’ and ‘already’ of New Testament eschatology.”

Repentance is fruitful for only part of the year? Moderation is something to observe but only for a time? Imagine if American Christians were moderate and humble the entire year. They wouldn’t binge or purge on American greatness or heinousness depending on which of their favorite presidential candidates was in the White House. Indeed, encouraging the idea that restraint and repentance are only for a while and not for all of life nurtures antinomianism: “I wouldn’t do this during Lent, but the other 325 days I will.”

If Lent is not supposed to lead to those thoughts (which I assume it’s not), then why not make Lenten practices year round? Because repentance and moderation can’t be “sustained indefinitely”? So people practicing Lent are Snowflake Christians? They don’t have the stomach for life-long dying to sin and living to Christ?

Aaron Damiani concedes that “Many Christians choose to keep or modify their Lenten disciplines for the rest of the year, as they have established helpful routines.” So now you have churches divided between full-time Lenten Christians, and ones who only observe Lent in late Winter and early Spring? Christians who truly sanctified and some who aren’t? Not only does this allow a culture of spiritual superiority to gain traction, but it also violates the rules of the liturgical calendar. Who sings Lenten hymns during Advent (oh, the hay that evangelicals make of tradition)?

Then there is the argument that Lent and the church calendar evoke the Jewish liturgical calendar (have you heard that Jesus fulfilled all of the law?):

It’s important to remember that the Christian liturgical calendar developed in part out of the rhythms of Jewish practice. The Old Testament indicates seasons of both heightened devotion and celebration, including Levitically led “sabbaths, new moons, and feast days” (1 Chron. 23:31) and “seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts” (Zech. 8:19). Fasting and feasting were part of the “architecture of time,” in which Jesus participated as an observant Jew.

So what does Father Damiani do with Apostle Paul:

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Col 2:16-17)

Here‘s what Calvin did:

The reason why he frees Christians from the observance of them is, that they were shadows at a time when Christ was still, in a manner, absent. For he contrasts shadows with revelation, and absence with manifestation. Those, therefore, who still adhere to those shadows, act like one who should judge of a man’s appearance from his shadow, while in the mean time he had himself personally before his eyes. For Christ is now manifested to us, and hence we enjoy him as being present. The body, says he, is of Christ, that is, IN Christ. For the substance of those things which the ceremonies anciently prefigured is now presented before our eyes in Christ, inasmuch as he contains in himself everything that they marked out as future. Hence, the man that calls back the ceremonies into use, either buries the manifestation of Christ, or robs Christ of his excellence, and makes him in a manner void.

In other words, Lenten Christians are still holding on to a piety that clings to outward and physical attributes of unseen realities (heard of faith vs. sight?). They are incomplete Christians. They demand outward expressions of spiritual realities. They forget that Paul also wrote:

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor 1:22-25)

Oh by the way, Paul’s contrast between the visible and invisible, between the external and internal, is why the Confession of faith contrasts Old Testament and New Testament worship this way:

Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations. (7.6)

The comparison of Lent to the Old Testament is epic fail.

But remember what Calvin went on to say about Colossians 2. The rejection of the church calendar and other external ways of commemorating salvation doesn’t mean that Protestants throw out the sacraments:

Should any one ask, “What view, then, is to be taken of our sacraments? Do they not also represent Christ to us as absent?” I answer, that they differ widely from the ancient ceremonies. For as painters do not in the first draught bring out a likeness in vivid colors, and (eikonikos) expressively, but in the first instance draw rude and obscure lines with charcoal, so the representation of Christ under the law was unpolished, and was, as it were, a first sketch, but in our sacraments it is seen drawn out to the life. Paul, however, had something farther in view, for he contrasts the bare aspect of the shadow with the solidity of the body, and admonishes them, that it is the part of a madman to take hold of empty shadows, when it is in his power to handle the solid substance. Farther, while our sacraments represent Christ as absent as to view and distance of place, it is in such a manner as to testify that he has been once manifested, and they now also present him to us to be enjoyed. They are not, therefore, bare shadows, but on the contrary symbols of Christ’s presence, for they contain that Yea and Amen of all the promises of God, (2 Corinthians 1:20,) which has been once manifested to us in Christ.

I understand the appeal of Lent over the Anxious Bench. The followers of Billy Graham needed to graduate to something more meaningful, something more historical. How about the Reformation? How about the Bible? It replaces the altar call with the Lord’s Supper and gives us fifty-two Easters a year, fifty-two feast days with six days every week to prepare.


12 thoughts on “When You Think Billy Graham You don’t Think Lent

  1. Even if you think that Nevin is the “lesser evil” when compared to the “anxious bench”, does that mean we should ignore the internal aspect of the Mosaic and Abraham covenants? Were they not also “administrations” of “the one covenant of grace? Why suggest that the WEEKLY external rituals of the new “administration” are superior to the ANNUAL external rituals of the Mosaic “administration”? What if we don’t want to have 52 Easters a year? Doesn’t the “regulative principle” give us individuals who are called out to believe the gospel the liberty to have NO EASTER?

    John Williamson Nevin—We will not allow ourselves to be put out of course in so solemn an argument, by any catchword of this sort addressed to popular prejudice. The Liturgy avoids the ambiguous phrase; and we will do so too; for the word regeneration is made to mean, sometimes one thing, and sometimes another, and it does not come in our way at all at present to discuss these meanings. We are only concerned, that no miserable logomachy of this sort shall be allowed to cheat us out of what the sacrament has been held to be in past ages; God’s act, setting apart those who are the subjects of it to His service, and bringing them within the sphere of His grace in order that they may be saved. We do not ask any one to call this regeneration; it may not at all suit his sense of the term; but we do most earnestly conjure all to hold fast to the thing, call it by what term they may.


    Nevin–“The college was organized on the principle of representing the collective Christianity of the so-called evangelical denominations; and in this view proceeded throughout, practically, on the idea, that the relation of religion to secular education is abstract and outward only- -the two spheres having nothing to do with each other in fact, … in the end of what should be considered a right general human culture. The common delusion by which it is imagined so widely, that the school should be divorced from the Church, and that faith is of no account for learning and science. We had religion in college, so far at least as morning and evening prayers went; and we were required, on Sundays, to attend the different churches in town, But there was no real church life, as such, in the institution itself. ”

    Nevin—“Miserable obstetricians the whole of them…I came into their hands in anxious meetings, and underwent the torture of their mechanical counsel and talk, One after another, however, the anxious obtained “hope;” each new case, as it were, stimulating another; and finally, among the last, I struggled into something of the sort myself, a feeble trembling sense of comfort–which my spiritual advisers, then, had no difficulty in accepting as all that the case required. In this way I was converted, and brought into the Church–as if I had been altogether out of it before–about the close of the seventeenth year of my age. My conversion was not fully up to my own idea, at the time, of what such a change should be; but it was as earnest and thorough, no doubt, as that of any of my fellow-converts.”


  2. Nevin—“It was based throughout on the principle, that regeneration and conversion lay outside of the Church, had nothing to do with (water) baptism and Christian education, required rather a looking away from all this as more a bar than a help to the process, and were to be sought only in the way of magical stroke from the Spirit of God (what Dr. Bushnell has named the ictic experience), as something preliminary to entering the true fold ….To realize this, then, became the inward strain and effort of the anxious soul; and what was held to be saving faith in the end, consisted largely in BELIEVING THAT THE REALIZATION WAS REACHED. And so afterwards also, all was made to turn, in the life of religion, on alternating frames and states, and introverted self-inspection, more or less–under the guidance of some such work as Edwards on the Affections.”

    Nevin—“Princeton divinity students so far as they had appeared among us in Shippensburg had a certain air of conscious sanctimony about them which seemed to be rebuking all the time the common WORLDLINESS of these old congregations … I was duly impressed…”



  3. mcmark, Deut 30 is not in the New Testament and Jesus fixes that.

    When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes[a] and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. 7 The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. 8 You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. 9 Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.


  4. Without denying the external aspects of the new covenant, I agree with John Owen that anybody in any age who will be justified before God has that grace by means of the mediator of the new covenant.

    John Owen Hebrews 8:6-13)—This Sinai covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, OR perished for ever, BUT MOT BY VIRTUE OF THIS SINAI COVENANT. IT…. was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the new covenant promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law to Adam. …No man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect.



  5. Ali, you heard right. The altar call is the popish mass of the conversionist. Now to get Prots to condemn it the way they do the mass, i.e. most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of his elect (with every eye closed, head bowed, and hand slipped in the air).


  6. Don’t those folks at least hesitate over the complete absence of times & seasons from the New Testament church?


  7. Ali, ever heard of the Heidelberg Catechism?

    Q 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist?
    A: Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.

    Q 89. What is the mortification of the old man?
    A: It is a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.

    Q 90. What is the quickening of the new man?
    A: It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.

    Conversion is sanctification.


  8. Instead of Lutheran Lent and Passion Plays, maybe you should be thinking Martin Luther King 24/7…

    “Normativity is seeking creative ways to express your cross-cultural convictions not just on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, but every Sunday.” https://www.raanetwork.org/denominational-diversity-cultural-normativity/

    mcmark–Do you hear the regulative folks telling us that they “preach the resurrection every Sunday”? Those preachers are not telling the truth. Most of them don’t even preach about resurrection day when they do funerals.

    John 6: 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.

    John 11:23 “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her. 24 Martha said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

    Matthew 22: 31 Now concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read what was spoken to you by God: 32 I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?[j] He[k] is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

    William Tyndale—“When More proveth that the saints be in heaven in glory with Christ already, saying, “If God be their God, they be in heaven, for he is not the God of the dead;” there he stealeth away Christ’s argument, wherewith he proveth the resurrection: that Abraham and all saints should rise again, and not that souls were now living in hell or in purgatory or in heaven; which doctrine was not yet in the world. With that doctrine More taketh away the resurrection quite, and maketh Christ’s argument of none effect.” An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue (Parker’s 1850 reprint), bk. 4, ch. 4,


  9. When I think of Billy Graham, I think of Nixon and the Viet Nam war.


    There was a secret letter from Billy Graham, dated April 15, 1969, drafted after the Christian evangelist met in Bangkok with missionaries from Vietnam. These men of God said that if the peace talks in Paris were to fail, Nixon should step up the war and bomb the dikes. Such an act, Graham wrote, could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam.

    Franklin Graham knows that Trump is not Obama lite–for the love of the covenant children of Israel, Trump would maybe even bomb Syria.


  10. Lent does not lend itself to turning gospel into law and penance.

    from the Trinity Hymnal 261 (to be used for Lent)

    O break, O break hard heart of mine
    My weak self-love and guilty pride
    His Pilate and His Judas were
    Jesus our Lord is Crucified


    Pilate was Pilate and Judas was Judas and it is not the gospel that condemns me or anybody –,we are already condemned by the law

    Lutheran Jack Kilcrease— “of the whole human race, only a very small number was actually present at the crucifixion. To say to a sinner that, hypothetically, he would have killed Jesus may very well be true, but it does not solve the problem of how this sinful attitude is manifest in the sinner’s own life….Such a hypothetical makes one’s sin into an abstraction….By exercising a kind of purely civil righteousness, the sinner might very well have not wished Jesus dead….’

    Not all sin is unbelief of the gospel. Not all sin is a reaction to grace. Sin against God’s law is still sin, even for those who never hear the gospel. And sin against God’s law is still sin, even for those who are justified and who will never be condemned because of that sin.

    The cross is not what condemns. Good news for the elect, the gospel is not what condemns the non-elect. Rejecting the cross is not what condemns the non-elect, because we are all already condemned in Adam . The false gospel which says that Jesus Christ died for every sinner is not gospel. The false gospel turns a supposedly universal death into guilt for those who don’t meet conditions which supposedly make that death effective.

    John 3: 14 As Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that as many as who believe in Him WILL HAVE LASTING LIFE .. 17 For God did NOT send His Son into the world IN ORDER TO CONDEMN the world

    Paul Helm—“We may note that one thing that the Amyraldian proposal does is to weaken connection between the plight of the race in the fall of Adam. For now the responsibility of each of the non-elect comes simply from hearing and not receiving the message of grace.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.