TWO EYE-WITNESS REPORTS ON THE
You are about to read two articles on the San Diego Billy Graham Crusade1 of May 8-11, 2003. These reports do not focus on the usual criticisms regarding Graham's meetings. They do not criticize the music. They do not criticize the lack of separation and ecumenicism. Dr. Cagan and Dr. Waldrip have strong convictions on those two issues, but they do not deal with them very much here, since these questions have already been discussed at great length for the past forty-five years - beginning with the New York Crusade of 1957, when Dr. Noel Smith, Dr. John R. Rice, Jack Wyrtzen, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., and other Bible-believing leaders broke with Graham. The ecumenical lack of separation and worldly music have been carefully dissected and discussed during the last four decades - so nothing much more is presented on these subjects.
Instead, Dr. Cagan and Dr. Waldrip focus on Billy Graham's sermons. This is a new approach, but a needed one. Cagan and Waldrip show that Billy Graham's sermons are an outgrowth of the theology and methods of Charles G. Finney, the nineteenth century evangelist who changed the meaning of salvation from Biblical "conversion" to the empty "decisionism," which stopped historical revivals and ultimately helped to empty the churches. We give a detailed account in our book Today's Apostasy of how Finney changed the basic meaning of conversion, a paradigm shift that ruined true evangelism, destroyed the churches - and stopped true revival, as a direct result of Finney's "decisionist" idea of conversion.
Billy Graham's sermons are a direct outgrowth of Finney's "decisionism." Please note that the term we use is not "easy believism," which we think is a misleading term. For an in-depth discussion of "decisionism" please order Today's Apostasy by sending $15.95 to P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Please ask for the book by name.
Finney's "decisionism" has become so universal that today very few people notice how it has ruined true evangelism. The destructive tendencies of decisionist preaching will be discussed by Dr. Cagan and Dr. Waldrip.
The decisionist preaching of Billy Graham has resulted in tens of thousands of unconverted people who think that they are saved. This makes these multitudes of people extremely hard to evangelize, because it hardens them against real conversion. That's the first result of Graham's type of preaching.
The second awful result is that almost no one is "converted" from a non-Christian background. James Dobson pointed out that "80 percent of church growth results from transfers of memberships."2 I think Dobson's figure is a little low. It is probably closer to 90 to 95 percent. But even using Dobson's figure, this means that eight out of ten who go forward in a Graham meeting already consider themselves Christians and "saved." So what you have is just a shuffling around of evangelicals. Very little "new blood" is added to the evangelical gene pool. For instance, do Muslims become Christians at Graham's meetings? Do Orthodox Jews become Christians? Do many practicing Buddhists or Hindus become Christians? I'd like to see the statistics - hard, honest statistics. The sad truth is that Graham's message converts an almost infinitesimally small percentage of people who did not already consider themselves Christians before they ever heard him preach.
The third awful result of Graham's meetings is that almost no one is added to the churches. Dr. William G. McLoughlin, Jr., Professor of History at Brown University, gave a detailed analysis of Graham's crusades. He showed, for instance, that 75% of those who came forward "were active church members already," and "only a tiny number of previously unchurched people were still attending a few months later."3 Dr. Robert Ketcham of the GARBC (Regular Baptists) showed from hard-core statistics that only 13 previously unchurched people were added to the churches of San Francisco from a lengthy Billy Graham crusade.4
One pastor from central California announced that twenty people came to his church as a result of last year's Fresno Crusade. As all of us know, preachers tend to inflate their figures by about 40 to 60 percent - or more. This probably means that it was really twelve people who "went forward" in the Graham meetings. Four of them had probably been coming to his church already - which leaves eight. Six of the eight had probably already been attending another evangelical church - which leaves two. Both of those two have probably fallen away completely - which leaves none. Actually, if you listened to the testimonies of the six that transferred from another evangelical church to his, you would probably find that all six were still lost - which means that Billy Graham's Fresno Crusade, in reality, didn't add a single convert to his church. Yet people call Graham's evangelism "awesome." As P. T. Barnum put it, "There's a sucker born every minute."
Graham's Finney-like "decisionist" evangelism just doesn't get people saved! A group of 300 preachers were told this, and they shouted it down as untrue. They scrambled and came up with 20 people they knew who went forward in Graham meetings. If this number (twenty) is not inflated, that means it takes 15 churches to know one person who went forward in a Graham meeting - and we aren't even sure that one is really converted! Remember, this is not only for one crusade. These preachers were talking about Graham "converts" over a fifty-year period! Three hundred preachers only knew of 20 people who had "gone forward" in fifty years of Graham's evangelism! Yet they do not see the irony of how tiny that number actually is! William Martin points out that "Graham supporters typically defended the crusade with anecdotes rather than statistics."5
Dr. Christopher Cagan has a Ph.D. in mathematics from UCLA, and taught math for a number of years in the university. Dr. Cagan is now a professional statistician. He says, "Why hasn't there been more of a positive impact on [American] society after fifty years? Statistics prove that very few people have joined the churches as a result of Dr. Graham's crusades. Numbers don't lie."6
The fact is this: Billy Graham's main contribution is negative - more than any other person, Billy Graham has confused hundreds of thousands of Americans into thinking that they are saved, when they are actually lost - and bound for Hell.
After fifty years, and 1.46 million US professions,7 Graham "converts" should be everywhere! But you only know of one or two, and they, in all likelihood, are not genuine. Why? Because Graham's Finney-style decisionist evangelism is a failure - that's why. It doesn't work. We need to go back to the methods of those who preached before Finney, particularly to those in the 18th century.
Friday evening, May 9, 2003
Report on the San Diego Mission
by Dr. Christopher Cagan
I attended the San Diego Billy Graham Mission at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California on the evening of Friday, May 9, 2003. The capacity of the stadium was 65,000, but it was not full. The next day, the San Diego Union Tribune reported an attendance of 46,000 (May 10, 2003, page A-22). The newspaper also reported that 2,150 people had gone forward at the invitation (ibid.). However, I doubt that many people were converted during the event, if anyone at all.
The Billy Graham meeting was an emotional, rather than an actual, event. I mean by this that nothing really happened. It was merely an emotional spectacle that did nothing to change the actual statistics of the churches that participated.
The thirty or forty people in the rows around me were almost all men. Many of them looked like motorcycle bikers and wore leather jackets. Some of the jackets had mottos about Jesus or symbols of crosses. One of the jackets had a Christian motto and a cross, but also a skull and crossbones! Another one of these men wore a knitted skullcap with a white picture of a human skull knitted into it. These people all shouted and applauded at the event, and no doubt considered themselves "saved" and "born again" before the meeting. However, almost all of them went forward at the invitation!
The event began with Cliff Barrows, who introduced country electric rock music from Dennis Agajanian, who said he had been working with Billy Graham since 1975.
After Mr. Agajanian sang with his band, a lady from the Graham executive council stood up to lead in prayer with her arms extended and the palms of her hands upward.
Then Cliff Barrows led the audience in singing "No Other Plea" and "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" as they played a video about the American military forces, showing sailors and airplanes. San Diego is a city with many sailors and Marines. Later Billy Graham said that the show was being broadcast to ships and military units in Iraq and throughout the world.
Cliff Barrows introduced Major General Robert van Antwerp to give his testimony. He spoke like a decent man and a gentleman. His only remarks about his conversion were "and then I came to Christ." Then he said that Jesus met him and began to change his relationship with his family, and that 500 people in his division had been baptized during the Desert Storm war in 1991. He spoke little about what Jesus had done for him on the Cross - it seemed like he and the others who spoke took that for granted, and assumed that everyone knew all about it, when it is really the center of salvation.
Then Cliff Barrows introduced Nicole C. Mullins, a Black contemporary Christian singer who sang, backed up by a rock band. I could not understand the words of her song. Then a local pastor came to take an offering. Cliff Barrows led the audience in singing "Because He Lives."
Then George Beverly Shea sang "I'd Rather Have Jesus," which he sang very well, although he is 94 years old.
Then Billy Graham stood up to preach. He was helped to the pulpit by his son, Franklin Graham. He began, in his characteristic fashion, to put everyone at ease. He said there were people from many religious backgrounds there - Catholic, Protestant, "many religions."
Then he told a joke, which I had heard him tell before, about a Baptist who watched a Catholic priest bless three horses, that went on to win their races. The Baptist bet everything he had "for his church" on the fourth horse, which the priest had ministered to, but in the middle of the race this fourth horse died. He said to the priest, "You blessed three other horses and they won; but you blessed this fourth horse and it died." The priest said, "You're not a Catholic." The Baptist answered, "No, I'm a Baptist." The priest responded, "You'd have known the difference between a blessing and Last Rites." Everyone laughed. As is typical of Graham, when he "covers all bases," this put everyone at ease, making Catholics comfortable, if not Baptists, but certainly it did not bring anyone under conviction of sin or prepare them for conversion. The effect was exactly the opposite!
Then Graham told how President Bush had landed on an aircraft carrier, and then said that he himself had landed on a carrier during the Vietnam War. He thought he had died and gone to Heaven, but when he saw the sailors he knew he wasn't there! (There was much applause.) Then he reversed himself, to make everyone happy, and said, "But a lot of sailors are going to Heaven."
Finally Graham began his sermon, which lasted 20 minutes according to my watch. He talked about the Prodigal Son, but did not use the words "Prodigal Son." Instead, he told it as a story about a young man who was restless and bored at home, and wanted his inheritance now. He occasionally used Bible words, but never asked anyone to open a Bible. I couldn't see anyone other than myself who had a Bible with them anyway!
He told of how the young man ran off from his father and lost his money, and said that some people leave their wives or run away and it doesn't work. He spoke of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and said there was rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents.
The young man rebelled, passing through his teenage years. Then Graham said that we have 1.3 million young teenage runaways on the streets (which his organization is trying to help). Graham said the young man is a picture of us all - everyone is running from something. He quoted from Isaiah about "why do you spend your money on that which is not real food, that which does not satisfy." Then he said, "Come to God." His first method of salvation was "repent," and his second was, "Come to God." He would go on to give three more ways to be saved in this sermon!
He spoke of the depression of the young man and said he came to himself and realized what he had done. He saw an alternative, to come back to his father's house.
Then Graham presented a third apparent means of salvation: he started to change his life and said he was sorry. "That's why we give an invitation to come and receive Christ," said Graham, presenting a fourth plan of salvation.
The father, a picture of God in the parable, had been watching, hoping his son would come back. When the young man came back, the father didn't judge or condemn him, but just loved him and welcomed him.
He said, "One day God will judge. Today is the day of grace. And salvation is because of what Christ has done on the Cross." But Graham did not explain that Christ died on the Cross as a payment for sin to satisfy God's wrath and holiness; presumably he assumed that everyone already knew that, Christians and people from "many religious backgrounds."
He said, "Jesus loves you. He gave His life on the Cross. He was beaten, carried the Cross, and fell down - and a Black man from Africa carried the Cross. He was crucified and mocked. The only way we can have forgiveness is through the Cross." But Graham still did not explain the atonement - although he alluded to it in about two sentences.
For those two sentences Graham sounded like a fundamentalist, when he said that Jesus went to the mercy seat in the holiest, where the high priest had gone; Jesus went once and offered His own Blood for once and for all. He said on the Cross, "It is finished." And God raised Him from the dead. I wish Graham had explained this part of the sermon more carefully and spent more time on it. It might have helped someone if he had. But he only spoke on the atonement for about two sentences.
But then he alluded to Romans 10:9-10, "If we confess and believe" and said "The Holy Spirit is speaking to you. You may be on a ship, in Iraq, in KoreaYou can give your life to Christ where you are." He told the people to repent now and not wait, because they might not be able to repent later.
He then told a story (which I have heard him tell before) of a young man who had graduated and asked his father for a car as a gift and was given a Bible. The young man became angry and left his father and never saw him again. He returned for his father's funeral and saw the Bible. He opened the Bible and at the end found a check for the price of the car, dated the day of the graduation. Graham said, "The young man ran away too late and couldn't meet his father. The Father is waiting to welcome you." Then he talked about the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln.
He told people, "Get out of your seat, and come into the loving arms of the Father, receiving Jesus Christ into your heart" (a fifth way to be saved). "You're not sure, you're not satisfied that Jesus lives in your heart. Make that commitment. You come."
Twenty minutes had elapsed. People started coming forward. The audience began to cheer and whistle. How a person could be convicted of sin in that environment is beyond me. The invitation was not serious, but rather one of celebration, even as people came forward. The choir sang "Just As I Am" over and over again. Over two thousand people went forward in waves. I saw people talking to each other as they went forward. Again and again there was great cheering and whistling as people came.
I had never seen this before in an evangelistic meeting, not even at previous Graham meetings. But this was not a meeting for Biblical salvation, for conviction of sin and the forgiveness of it. Instead, this was a purely human event of "pumping people up" to "get with it" and "get jazzed up" with the group (my words). There was no seriousness in an invitation that should have been very solemn and serious. The crowd cheered and whistled as people went forward, just as people do at a sporting event when a goal is scored, and just as they do at a rock concert after the group sings a song.
Almost all of the thirty or forty "rowdies" around me, who had sung the songs, shouted, and certainly considered themselves Christians, went forward - including the man with the skull and crossbones on his jacket, and the man with the skull on his skullcap.
Graham said, "Many of you are lonely. You're searching for something" as people came forward. He said, "You've wandered away, God loves you, God invites you to come back."
Although he briefly mentioned the Cross, and even the Blood of Jesus, Billy Graham did not present a clear statement of how to be saved, and I doubt that anyone experienced true conversion that night out of the 2,150 people who came forward. I'm sure that almost everyone who came at the invitation considered themselves already Christian before they came. I'm sure almost everyone who came did so for a rededication, or out of the general enthusiasm with the applause and cheering during the invitation. Who wouldn't join in such a triumph? It was like people cheering when their team wins a basketball game or a baseball player hits a home run. I saw row after row of people in the audience come forward, followed by more cheering and applause. There was no sense of conviction of sin, forgiveness, humility, or the atonement - only of general jubilation, as more and more people joined in and were welcomed with cheers. It was very much like a sporting event or a motivational seminar, where the speaker tells the audience to join in and get excited about what he is saying. There was no sense of sinners having offended God, only of His welcoming love. As person after person made the human act of coming forward, they were cheered on by the whistling, applauding crowd.
Graham did not preach to the people that they were sinners, deserving of the wrath and punishment of a holy God, who could be forgiven only by the Blood sacrifice of Jesus. Instead, although he briefly mentioned the Cross and even the Blood, Graham essentially preached a humanistic message, telling his audience that they had wandered away and needed only to come to God. This human act of coming forward was all that was needed. The message and the invitation were not Christ-centered, not sin-centered, and not atonement-centered. It was pure humanism, telling people to come forward.
While hundreds of people were still coming, Graham led them in a prayer to pray out loud - in their chair, for many of them: "O God, I'm a sinner. I'm sorry for my sins. I'm willing to turn from my sins. I want to receive Christ as Saviour and confess Him as Lord. Tonight I want to follow Him and serve Him in the fellowship of the church. In Christ's name, Amen." But many people who came to make their decision couldn't hear the words of this prayer, much less pay attention to it and come to Christ, because they were walking down the stairs, talking one to another, or doing something else. That didn't seem to matter as long as people came. There was more and more triumphal shouting, cheering, and whistling during the invitation.
I don't expect the churches in San Diego to grow very much from these thousands of "decisions." I don't expect anything in San Diego to change. This is because I don't believe that much if any real work of God was done in this great human celebration. I think that few if any were converted - perhaps not even one person. Because Billy Graham's message, and his audience's response to it, was not about Biblical salvation. It was not centered in sin, judgment, wrath, Hell, atonement, and Biblical conversion. Instead, it was centered in a human turning to God, with only a very brief mention of Jesus and the Cross.
The San Diego Mission was indeed a great celebration and a time of human encouragement and motivation. But it was not a meeting that had much to do with conversion and salvation through the gospel of Christ! That's why I can't support Billy Graham, or this type of evangelistic preaching. Although he mentions the Cross, in fact he preaches salvation through the human effort of "coming to God" (not Christ!), and making a "decision" or "commitment." And that's what thousands in the audience did. But I doubt that anyone was truly convicted, forgiven, atoned for, and saved Biblically. I don't believe anyone there was thinking about those things in any Biblical sense. This meeting was a sad repetition of the "evangelism" that has come down to us from Finney's decisionism of the 19th century. Graham's preaching was not at all like that of Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, or Asahel Nettleton, in the days of true revival - before Finney ruined evangelism.
Saturday evening, May 10, 2003
Report on the San Diego Mission
by Dr. John S. Waldrip
"Boring." "Powerless." "He reminds me of this waiter." Those comments were made by a young person in my church who accompanied me to the Saturday, May 10, 2003 edition of the Billy Graham Crusade in San Diego. I had never been to a Graham Crusade. Because of Graham's advanced age, I realized I would never have such an opportunity again, so I asked the young man to go with me. We were sitting in a restaurant afterwards, grabbing a bite to eat before returning home. Our waiter was a good one, a really good one. Intelligent, articulate, everything you would want in a waiter. "In what way does Billy Graham remind you of this waiter?" I asked the young man from my church. "He finds out what you want and gives it to you," said the teenager.
Knowing that his sermons are thoroughly scripted, that he preaches from a prepared manuscript instead of preaching extemporaneously, we know that what Billy Graham says in his sermons he means to say, he has planned to say, he has reflected on. I would like to make some observations.
1. He was careful to say nothing that could possibly offend anyone. I specifically recall that he mentioned Buddha, while making a statement about Buddha that no Buddhist would disagree with.
2. He touched on the subject of repenting from sin, while carefully avoiding all but the most superficial explanation of what repenting from sin is. My own dealings with young people have shown me that you must be extremely pointed in your applications if you want to go beyond a young person's mind and actually affect his heart.
3. He evoked sympathetic reactions from his audience instead of seizing upon the opportunity he had to more fully reveal their condition before a Holy God, even getting applause and cheers when he mentioned that the tornadoes in the Midwest had resulted in one-third the number of fatalities suffered in the war in Iraq.
4. He invited his audience to do a number of things in order to get saved, such as receive Christ, come to Christ, come to the cross, ask Jesus into your heart (numerous times), thus mixing what the Bible does declare with that which the Bible nowhere declares.
5. There was nothing of the heart in his sermon, meaning that there was no reaching of the hearts of the audience.
Graham supporters will always explain the shortcomings of their champion in one way or the other. They had an explanation when he turned his back on fundamentalists to consort with liberals half a century ago. They had an explanation when he declared from the Kremlin, before the fall of the Soviet Union, that he saw no evidence in that country of religious persecution. They had an explanation when he began to cooperate with Roman Catholic priests. They had an explanation when, during a crusade in Canada, he invited his audience to "come and reconfirm your confirmation" (a Roman Catholic rite). They even had an explanation for Graham's denial that Jesus is the unique Saviour, in a TV interview with Robert Schuller.
But what will they say about the service I attended? It was just pathetic. How do you explain having multiplied thousands of unconverted young people in front of you and not preaching the gospel clearly, but using the valuable time he had to evoke sympathy and elicit cheers? The word that kept running through my mind as I took it all in was "pathetic." The man does not preach sermons that are useful in bringing the lost to Jesus.
Click on here for report on Fresno, CAlifornia crusade of October, 2001.
1The word "crusade" was changed to the British term "mission" about a year ago, apparently out of political correctness.
2James Dobson, Ph.D., Focus on the Family newsletter, August, 1998, p. 2.
3cf. William G. McLoughlin, Jr., Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (New York: Ronald Press, 1959), pp. 514-522.
4R. T. Ketcham, "Facts Concerning Billy Graham" in "Graham's 23 Years of Change" by D. A. Waite (Collingswood, NJ: The Bible For Today, 1971), appendix III, page 3.
5William Martin, A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story (New York: William Morrow, 1991), p. 184.
6Dr. Christopher Cagan, Preaching to a Dying Nation (Los Angeles: Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle, 1999), p. 64.
7Telephone conversation between Dr. Hymers and Erik Ogden of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, May 12, 2003.