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 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.

Bam!!

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.”

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Would Ron Sider Trust Richard Nixon?

Ron Sider comes out for Hillary over Trump and appeals to statesmanship:

Do we evangelical Christians trust Donald Trump to be a wise statesman leading the world to avoid conflict and war? The US president is the leader of the democratic world and the commander of the world’s largest military. A wise, thoughtful president who listens carefully to the best-informed advisers is essential if the United States and China are to avoid catastrophic conflict in the next decade or two.

Trump has absolutely no experience in foreign affairs or global diplomacy. He has repeatedly demonstrated arrogant, impulsive decision making. I can’t trust him to control the nuclear trigger. In August, 50 of the nation’s most senior Republican national security officials issued a public letter saying Trump “lacks the character, values, and experience” to be president, and added that Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history” and would “put at risk our country’s national security.”

I don’t understand why Richard Nixon doesn’t haunt anyone who thinks of backing Clinton. It’s not like paranoia and secrecy worked out that well for the Republican president. And now baby boomers have come to terms with Watergate?

Notice these parallels:

Not even Clinton’s harshest critics could claim that Servergate (or Chappaquadata, or whatever it may come to be called) constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor. But it does connote a reflexive wariness about her enemies – a wariness that sometimes seems to border on paranoia – that has long dogged Clinton, and that struck at least a few old Nixon hands as familiar.

“This is like the Nixon tapes, in a sense,” said Ken Khachigian, who was a young speechwriter on Nixon’s White House staff and is now a grizzled veteran of California’s Republican political wars. “Everybody wanted access. We resisted, and then they were eked out in death by a thousand cuts. Finally they were expropriated and now belong to the archives.”

And that doesn’t even capture the hi-jinks that went into Hillary’s recent physical collapse.

Which also is reminiscent of Nixon:

It was 1960, and Nixon was preparing for the nation’s first televised presidential debate. The debate became a case study in political image-making, with Kennedy looking healthy and vital while Nixon was waxen, sweaty and haggard.

“He was sick during the debate,” Scalettar said.

Only the doctor and Nixon’s advisers knew that Nixon was suffering from a serious infection — the result of a knee injury on a campaign trip to Greensboro, N.C. …

Nixon had a staph infection, which brought on septic (poisonous) arthritis. And he refused to take time off from the trail because he had promised to campaign in every state.

Scalettar wrote that the illness, Nixon’s failure to rest and recuperate normally, his loss of time due to illness and his appearance “seriously impaired his effectiveness as a campaigner.”

He’s convinced that Nixon’s medical secret contributed to his narrow loss to Kennedy — by slightly more than 100,000 votes — that November 56 years ago. Coming clean about how sick he was right before that debate may have severely altered the course of American history.

It doesn’t add up to support for Trump. But are Americans ready for another constitutional crisis?

Wire View (not W-w)

In addition to listening to NPR’s reports on the Confederate Flag controversy, we also listened to the Diane Rehm show for part of the drive across Ohio. Her guest on Monday was Evan Thomas, the author of the new biography of Richard M. Nixon. This was a great interview and sounds like a brilliant book. The reason is that Thomas doesn’t flinch from Nixon’s despicable side. But he also finds Nixon to be a fascinating and a remarkable political figure. In which case, Nixon’s wickedness doesn’t put Thomas off. In fact, it’s the mix of bad and good that makes Nixon such an intriguing character. In other words, Thomas is not too good for this world.

Of course, the mix of bad and good is also what makes The Wire arguably the best motion-picture production ever made. Every character is honorable and selfish, commendable and despicable. That mix is what is characteristic of human existence. And I would also argue that it even characterizes the lives of saints; I don’t say this as an excuse for Christians to do evil; I say it to prevent saints from pride. (And let me be clear that I don’t recommend The Wire to all people; if you have trouble with nudity and crudity — you may want to lay off Shakespeare, opera, and the Bible — stay away from The Wire.)

This is a way to raise questions about Matt Tuininga’s piece (where comments are closed) about the forgiveness offered to Dylann Roof by the families of his victims. I am not sure why anyone would feel compelled to comment on those tragic deaths. Unless one of us has insight into Roof’s character or the African Methodist Episcopal Church or black Protestantism, it seems to me that white Reformed Protestants should simply pass by and let others do the conversing. But Matt did not make that call:

These brave Christian men and women of Charleston are enacting Jesus’ life and death in the most breathtaking way. Pray for them. Learn from them. This is the Gospel in action. This is Christian ethics in its purest form.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

For one thing, I’m not sure that the gospel and ethics should be so closely identified. I believe the gospel is about what God does in Christ for sinners and ethics has something to do with the way the redeemed respond to God’s grace in their lives by following God’s law. So granting forgiveness to Roof is analogous to what God does in the gospel, but taking up the cross and losing our life is a form of what we do. Which is it? Forgiveness or ethics?

For another, I’m not sure that Matt can make a case that the self-denial taught by Christ should take the form of the forgiveness granted by the AME families. I can well imagine a Christian not granting forgiveness (especially if not requested) and arguing that the lex talionis still applies — an eye for an eye, a life for a life. That rule doesn’t give Christians permission to practice vigilante justice. But it does allow a believer to hope that the criminal justice system will convict and punish a murderer. That’s not vindictive if God himself is going to judge all people by their works on judgment day.

And so I wonder if Matt had a better sense of the conflicted nature of human existence — the Wire View — maybe he would have been less prone to tidy up this tragedy with such a happy ending. This is an event with repercussions yet to come and it seems to be very dangerous to take away from it reassurances about how good Christians are (not to mention no consideration of differences between Calvinists and Wesleyans about sanctification, though, perhaps, this is not the time to bring those up).

He Was a Coach, Not God

Joe Paterno was three years younger than my father and JoePa outlived dad by almost two years. I admired both men greatly, partly because of their decency which may have been responsible for their moral naivete. Recently Angelo Cataldi became indignant over Paterno’s remarks to the Washington Post that even if the report to him about Jerry Sandusky’s antics in the shower were more specific, the head coach wasn’t sure what he would have done because he did not know what man-rape was. Angelo could not imagine someone being that ignorant in the ways of the world. I can. My parents and parents-in-law were of the same generation as JoePa, the so-called “Greatest,” a demographic of Americans not reared on HBO and totally lacking in knowledge of gentlemen’s clubs and lap dances. Of course, Angelo knows all about the black side of sexual conduct because his regular guests are strippers and he admits to surfing for porn in off hours. But that doesn’t prevent Angelo from being outraged over JoePa’s innocence. This is where we are culturally — those who know the perversions tarnish the reputations of those who don’t. (And can anyone imagine the human resources officers at Penn State calling in JoePa at the age of 75 to attend a seminar on man-boy relations?)

My dad died a Penn State fan but it took him a while to warm up to the Nittany Lions’ head coach. The problem was JoePa’s reaction to the 1969 National Championship game. To put that incident in perspective, I resort to a story at ESPN:

The Nittany Lions went 5-5 in 1966, and Paterno responded not only by designing a new defense, but by shifting his best talent to that side of the ball. In the third game of the 1967 season, Penn State almost upset No. 3 UCLA, losing 17-15. The Nittany Lions fell to 1-2. However, they didn’t lose another game until 1970.

Penn State won the last seven games of the 1967 season, tied Florida State, 17-17, in the Gator Bowl, and went 11-0 in each of the next two seasons. In 1968, Penn State finished second to undefeated, untied Ohio State. In 1969, the Nittany Lions finished the regular season ranked third behind No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas, who played on Dec. 6. President Richard Nixon not only attended the game, but after the Longhorns won, 15-14, with a dramatic late-game touchdown, he declared them national champion.

In his career at Penn State, Paterno, a Republican, befriended almost every Republican president. He gave a nominating speech for George H.W. Bush at the 1988 Republican Convention at the Louisiana Superdome, the same building where Penn State had won Paterno’s first national championship six seasons earlier. The Penn State media guide included photos of Paterno with Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

But after the 1969 season Paterno had little regard for Nixon. Paterno’s most famous line regarding a president came in his commencement address at Penn State in 1973, as the public had begun to realize that the Watergate scandal had reached the Oval Office.

“How could Nixon know so little about Watergate and so much about football?” Paterno asked. A year later, Nixon resigned from the presidency.

In 1973, the Nittany Lions went 12-0 but finished only fifth in the nation. Disgusted with the polls, Paterno declared that “the Paterno Poll” had named Penn State No. 1 and had national championship rings made for his players.

That kind of self-congratulations did not sit well with Jay Hart. Nor did Paterno’s dismissal of Nixon. Although my parents had not voted for Nixon in 1968, they were law-abiding Americans who respected the president as something that came with being a citizen.

Over time, the Harts warmed to JoePa and Penn State. How could you not with a coach that played by the rules, worked to make his students study and graduate, and won on top of it all? JoePa had a work ethic, sense of duty, and integrity — despite coming from the wrong Christian faith — that even fundamentalist Protestants could admire.

I am sad that JoePa is no longer among us. My father and I shared too many good times cheering on the Nittany Lions for me not to think that I have embarked on an era of life, begun by dad’s death and now underlined by JoePa’s, that will be marked by the absence of the Greatest Generation. They certainly had their faults. But they were better than we are. For that reason I am glad that JoePa will be spared further assessment by that Generation’s ungrateful, disrespectful, and morally bankrupt children.