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 Pastors.com 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.”