Could Billy Graham Stand in Alan Jacobs’ Great Day?

Jacobs is a smart fellow and should have enough sense to beware of crowds. If the group is running one way, to paraphrase Glenn Loury, “head for the other.” Right now, group-think is decidedly against any evangelical who supported or voted for Trump.

I did not vote for Trump nor am I an evangelical. So I am a neutral in all the Trump- and evangelical-bashing.

Jacobs recently attributed Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s folly in coddling up to the current POTUS to the poor education he received from his father, Jerry Falwell I:

Point the first: Jerry Falwell, Jr., though not a pastor and holding no advanced degrees in Bible or theology, graduated from two institutions founded by his pastor father for the express purpose of offering seriously Christian education: Liberty Christian Academy and then Liberty University. (JF Jr.’s college major was Religious Studies.)

Point the second: As is evident from the statements that French discusses in his post, Jerry Falwell, Jr. shows no evidence of having even the most elementary understanding of what the Bible says and what the Christian Gospel is.

The problem, as discerning readers will already have noted, is how to reconcile these two points. How could someone raised as Jerry Falwell, Jr. was raised, educated as he was educated, living as he now lives, say that Jesus “did not forgive the establishment elites”? Could he really not know that Jesus said of those establishment elites who killed him, “Father, forgive them”? And this is not an isolated incident. Quite often in recent months JF Jr. (like a number of other evangelical leaders) has made statements that clearly contradict some of the best-known passages in the Bible.

Notice what happens if you apply these standards to Billy Graham. Did his “decisionism” actually express the gospel faithfully? You don’t need to read white papers from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to know that the greatest evangelical of all time may have not used the best of methods or theology to reach the unconverted or lukewarm. Just listen to Tim Challies:

Last weekend Billy Graham preached at what may be his final crusade, preaching before up to 82,000 people at a time. A headline at proclaimed the crusade a great success, indicating that some 12,000 people made decisions for Christ. In a previous article I expressed concerns with Graham’s ecumenism and the fact that Roman Catholic counselors would be present at the event and any people who made decisions and indicated they were from a Catholic background would be directed back to their Catholic churches. Today I’d like to examine the idea of the “decision” that weights so heavily at these crusades.

If you were to do a survey of church history, reading books and documents from the first century all the way to the early nineteenth century, you would find no mention of “decisions for Christ.” Similarly one would find no reference to the altar calls which are the culmination of every modern evangelistic crusade. Those elements, which are found in nearly every evangelical church today, were inventions generally attributed to evangelist Charles Finney who lived from 1792 to 1875. He emphasized the need for a decision, usually made by “coming forward” to approach the altar. Becoming a believer became synonymous with making a decision and proving that decision by taking physical action. It is important to note that this system is entirely foreign to the Scriptures.


By the way, Billy Graham’s theological education was not exactly first-rate, but it didn’t prevent him from preaching his entire life. Nor did it raise questions about the institution where Alan Jacobs used to teach — Wheaton College — which in 1943 granted Graham a degree in — wait for it — anthropology.

In addition to Jacobs’ fastidiousness about Falwell’s theology is the professor’s distaste for the Liberty University president’s politics. Just say Donald Trump and you’ve said all you need to.

But just how reassuring were Billy Graham’s political ties during his long career? What would Jacobs’ have written about Billy Graham conducting worship services in the Nixon White House? And it went beyond worship:

Rev. Billy Graham, the Montreat-based, world-renowned evangelist, long ago addressed some of his troublesome interactions with President Richard Nixon, but disclosures about their behind-the-scenes connections have kept surfacing.

Now, formerly classified and otherwise hidden parts of the daily diary kept by Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, have added even more to the record on Nixon and Graham’s tight relationship.

Last week, on the day before Graham celebrated his 96th birthday, the Nixon Presidential Library posted most of the previously unreleased parts of Haldeman’s “candid personal record and reflections on events, issues and people encountered during his service in the Nixon White House,” as the library describes the diary.

The records add a new level of detail on how Nixon and Graham consulted and bolstered each other during contentious times, with dissent over the Vietnam War sweeping the country, the Watergate scandal erupting, and both men sizing up their standing in national debates.

Most of the records came in the form of audio recordings, which can be heard below.

They expand on how Graham advised Nixon to make more effective speeches, clinch his 1972 re-election bid, address the nation’s spiritual woes and conduct matters of war and diplomacy.

“I talked to Billy Graham during the day,” Haldeman, who ultimately became the key conduit between the preacher and the president, noted in one newly released tape from May 8, 1971, the day Nixon made a major address on his decision to expand the war in Southeast Asia.

“And he said to tell the president to get tough, that that’s what people wanted.”

The point here is not to besmirch Billy Graham. If you were an evangelical you had to scratch your head a lot. Instead, the point is to wonder about the bar that critics of evangelicals like Alan Jacobs are now raising for the likes of Jerry Falwell II. Old Life holds no brief for Mr. Falwell’s mix of religion and politics. But some can wonder where the critics were in the days of Billy Graham.

As the Church Lady used to say, “isn’t that convenient.”

20 thoughts on “Could Billy Graham Stand in Alan Jacobs’ Great Day?

  1. I read Jacobs’ piece over the weekend, and as disconcerted by it. Yes, peoples’ political standards have shifted with Trump. Yes, many who abhorred Clinton and hounded Obama have exhibited double standards. But who can deny the moral climate has shifted so seismically that everyone is simply trying to make sense of it. I may not agree with Falwell, but I assume he is a smart and decent guy. Just like I assume Trump may at moments be a very likable if inconsistent guy.


  2. Some outside the Church are very well aware of Graham’s mixing of religion and politics. And they legitimately point to some horrible things Graham said when he mixed the too.

    What both Falwells and Graham illustrate is that other loyalties can blind us to justice issues that are clearly taught in the Scriptures.


  3. The sower threw the seed all over the place, on highways and byways where it was not even a 1% chance of growing.

    I don’t see a condemnation for the sower doing the task assigned.

    But the sower didn’t run into snarky blog posters, their judgment apparently would be more righteous than a Diety.


  4. “My personal faith is personal to me, but I will not let it interfere with how I govern.”

    “To some, he is an opportunist, adapting himself to the latest political movements”

    Billy Graham says he models himself less on Jeremiah–the ”weeping prophet” of the Old Testament, who castigated the backsliding leaders in Jerusalem and warned of impending judgment–than on Jesus and Paul, neither one of whom ”led a demonstration against Rome.”

    Jeremiah, he says, ”is not my role. My role is good news.” And he adds, ”Why should I go over and start a fight in an area in which I may be able to do some good if I don’t? I’m a clergyman.” He says he did speak out privately in his conversations with officials at the very highest levels of the Soviet government–adding cryptically that there are things behind his trip that can’t be revealed for ”maybe five years.” Is this the same Billy Graham who, in 1954, equated communism with Satan and wrote that ”either communism must die, or Christianity must die”?


  5. D.G.,
    Then let me rephrase my response since you seem to be an overly concrete thinker. All of your personal accusations are made to distract people from the subject being discussed.


  6. D.G.,
    Your blogpost is not discussing me and the way I present and I am commenting on your blogpost. So you are still changing the subject by attacking me. Now is your way of changing the subject an illustration of the fruit of the Spirit or the works of the flesh? Or does the answer to that question matter so long as you hold to Westminster standards the way that you do?


  7. D.G.,
    Who said the post was about me. Reread my last comment:

    Your blogpost is not discussing me and the way I present and I am commenting on your blogpost

    Your last comment is simply creating a strawman. And thus you are changing the subject with that strawman and other comments.


  8. D.G.,
    You were talking about me, I was talking about how you change the subject. Sometimes game playing is nothing more than a sign of disrespect. And if you are happy showing disrespect to a fellow believer, then…


  9. D.G.,
    Understand that. But let’s focus on the problem that we Christians sometimes have mixed loyalties that sometimes pull us away from the Scriptures


  10. you don’t have to be famous to make a deal with God, turn from your sins
    and know in your heart that you will go to heaven

    Dr. Schuller: “What I hear you saying is that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into a human heart even if they’ve 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, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was 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.'”


  11. “did not forgive the establishment elites”?

    Cannot help but note that every single reference to this I locate is in a piece of online journalism attacking Mr. Falwell. I’m beginning to think maybe some putz made it up. (Recall The Washington Post once published an article attributing to his father an organized boycott of Teletubbies. The boycott was imaginary and Falwell Sr. was organizing nothing.


  12. Jacobs is a smart fellow

    And not adverse to the games people play when they’re trying to make a point. Academics aren’t typically square shooters, and he’s not an exception.


  13. The earth is Trump’s and the fullness thereof, except in our hearts and in our churches . And the Reformed missionary rescued from Turkey will sit in the same oval as Kanye.

    Falwell Junior said he had known Trump personally since 2012, and talked to him “all the time”. He added: “I usually tweet something similar to what he tweets a day or two before him. We think alike.”

    Not speaking for Hillsdale College, Falwell Junior identified four key issues for conservative evangelical Christians: “Support for the state of Israel; strong national defense; traditional family values; and pro-life. America’s prosperity is
    essential to the Christian obligation to help the poor.”


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