Thoughts from Billy Graham

August 08, 2006

Newsweek's cover story in the current issue is a fascinating and rich piece on Billy Graham. It includes some insightful remarks from Graham that all Christians should reflect on. Here are some highlights:

As his days dwindle, the man whose heyday was consumed with preaching and with presidents is increasingly reflective. In interviews with NEWSWEEK in recent months, Graham has made it clear that partisan politics and the culture wars feel far away. He will not offer opinions on stem-cell research, for instance, and he has stopped giving political counsel to the powerful, a habit that began with Eisenhower.

... Graham believes both the right and the left in America have sometimes gone too far, elevating transitory issues when, in Graham's view, the core message of the Gospel, and the love of God "for all people" should take priority: "The older I get, the more important the eternal becomes to me personally." His mind is on the heavenly more than the temporal, on the central promises of Christianity more than on the passing political parade.

... He is an evangelist still unequivocally committed to the Gospel, but increasingly thinks God's ways and means are veiled from human eyes and wrapped in mystery. "There are many things that I don't understand," he says. He does not believe that Christians need to take every verse of the Bible literally; "sincere Christians," he says, "can disagree about the details of Scripture and theology—absolutely."

... While he believes Scripture is the inspired, authoritative word of God, he does not read the Bible as though it were a collection of Associated Press bulletins straightforwardly reporting on events in the ancient Middle East. "I'm not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and tittle is from the Lord," Graham says. "This is a little difference in my thinking through the years." He has, then, moved from seeing every word of Scripture as literally accurate to believing that parts of the Bible are figurative—a journey that began in 1949, when a friend challenged his belief in inerrancy during a conference in southern California's San Bernardino Mountains. Troubled, Graham wandered into the woods one night, put his Bible on a stump and said, "Lord, I don't understand all that is in this book, I can't explain it all, but I accept it by faith as your divine word."

... Belief in mystery is crucial to the Gospel Graham has preached for so long—a Gospel centered on the story that, for reasons unknown to the human mind, God chose to effect salvation through the execution and resurrection of his son. "As time went on, I began to realize the love of God for everybody, all over the world," he says. "And in his death on the cross, some mysterious thing happened between God and the Son that we don't understand. But there he was, alone, taking on the sins of the world."

... In interview after interview, he underscored that he was going to discuss only the Gospel—a public hint that the man who had not shied away from the arena in past years had rethought his role. "I think the Lord led me in that decision, and that's where I am now," he says. "I spend more time on the love of God than I used to."

... If he had his life to live over again, Graham says he would spend more time immersed in Scripture and theology. ... "The greatest regret that I have is that I didn't study more and read more," he says. "I regret it, because now I feel at times I am empty of what I would like to have been. I have friends that have memorized great portions of the Bible. They can quote [so much], and that would mean a lot to me now."
There is a lot of wisdom there for the rest of us to reflect on. If only more Christian leaders today would follow the example of Graham.