A great example of warm, evangelistic conversation:
Monthly Archives: February 2018
Many young people today do not know the name of “Billy Graham.” But those of us who grew up in the 20th century knew of Billy Graham as probably the greatest evangelist who ever lived. He was easily the most influential Protestant evangelical leader in the 20th century. ChristianityToday, the magazine that Billy Graham helped to found, has an extensive tribute to his remarkable legacy. Last year, I read historian Grant Wacker’s biography of Graham, so I offer my review and personal reflections below. Losing Billy Graham is like losing your pastor. Billy Graham was America’s Pastor.
I was 21 years old, walking towards the main arena in Champaign/Urbana, at the tri-annual Urbana missions conference, then held at the University of Illinois. This would be the highlight evening for some 18,000 college students, where we had the opportunity to listen to the world famous evangelist, Billy Graham. By this time in Graham’s ministry in the 1980s, he had shared the Gospel before millions of people around the world, having an impact on world evangelization, far greater than any other human in history.
Not only that, but Billy Graham had managed to forge a remarkable alliance of like-minded believers, all united around a common cause of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others, calling these people to have a living, vital relationship with the Lord, and upholding the Bible as God’s Word of Truth to humankind. What made this so remarkable is that this alliance spanned across multiple denominations, race barriers, nation borders … you name it, Billy Graham transcended them all. Every church and ministry I had been affiliated with looked up to him as a grandfatherly type of figure.
As an aside, a few years after this Urbana missions conference, I would attend a seminary that Reverend Graham helped to found. Furthermore, for nearly the past twenty years, being involved in my church’s music ministry, I have enjoyed a warm friendship with Ted Cornell, who himself was involved in the music ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, traveling with the Graham team for crusade meetings all over the world.
I had been truly impressed with Billy Graham. Now, at this Urbana conference, it would be my first time to see the man preach, in person, aside from watching him on television.
But I soon experienced a moment of anxiety, on that December evening.
As I was crossing the sidewalk by the arena, packed with other college students, an older gentleman approached and stopped me earnestly, “Please take this and read it.” It was a small pamphlet, and the message was direct and to the point: Billy Graham was a “false teacher.” Graham did not insist, that all inquirers for the Gospel, who came forward to give their lives to Jesus at Graham’s crusades, receive water baptism as adults. Graham had substituted baptism, as taught in the Bible, with “coming forward” to the front of the preacher’s podium. This was a grave theological error, according to the pamphlet.
I was puzzled, having grown up in liberal Protestantism, with very little exposure to so-called “fundamentalism,” prior to my years in college. I had dedicated my life to Christ, a few years earlier in high school, and all of my spiritual mentors spoke highly of Billy Graham. Graham taught of having a personal relationship with Jesus, in a manner that eluded my experience in mainline, liberal Christianity.
Most of my mainline Protestant friends still liked Billy Graham. They just did not care that much for his “evangelical” message.
Now, as a college student, I was confronted with a jarring claim that this well-respected man, perhaps the most well-respected man in all of evangelical Christianity, was really a “compromiser” in disguise. Having defended Graham in front of my mainline church peers, and alternatively resisting ridicule from my atheist acquaintances, I felt angry, and a bit confused, by this pamphlet. I promptly dumped the pamphlet in the trash, and proceeded into the arena to hear the popular evangelist speak to a captivated crowd.
Did this man with his pamphlets not have anything better to do?
Listening to Billy Graham preach that evening was incredibly inspiring. He represented what “real Christianity” was all about, from what I knew… at least the “evangelical” kind of faith that I had experienced. Graham either directly spoke of or alluded to the central tenets, or fundamentals, of Christian faith as I understood them. They included having confidence in the Bible as the very Word of God; a belief in the Virgin Birth, signifying the incarnation of the Son of God; a belief in the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, and His atoning work on the Cross to deal with sin; a trust in the work of the Holy Spirit, to give new life to the believer; and an expectation of the Second Coming of Christ. I left the arena that night invigorated and emboldened in my faith.
There were no protestors out on the street, as students poured out from the arena, after the event. The man who gave me the pamphlet had disappeared. But I kept thinking about him. As I went to bed that night, I wondered. Could I have misjudged the “pamphlet man?” Was he trying to “save” me from some errors of Graham’s preaching, that I knew nothing about, or was this merely the Evil One’s subtle attempt to try to confuse me? What was that episode with the “pamphlet man” all about? Continue reading
“History cannot be deduced by science, only explained by it.” So reads a promotional ad for the anniversary showing of the film Is Genesis History?, featuring Del Tackett, creator of “The Truth Project.”
A common apologetic argument today, for some Christians, insists that science can not tell us anything reliable about the past. Instead, we must look to the Bible for God’s revelation of history, and not to science, for answers concerning the age of the earth, and human origins.
For those unaware of other alternatives, this might at first seem reasonable. This approach seeks to honor and defend the Bible as God’s Word. After all, the Bible is under attack in our culture, and if modern science is to blame, we need good reasons to refute such godlessness. Christian parents are rightly concerned about worldly influences on their kids, and so the message of Is Genesis History?, hopes to stem the tide against encroaching unbelief.
But is this apologetic argument consistent with what Scripture itself teaches? Is science not to be trusted, when it comes to our knowledge of the past, and our ability to reconstruct natural history? Does science, with respect to the past, only function to explain history, as revealed by the Bible? Let me give you two biblical reasons why the usefulness of this apologetic has difficulties.
First, the concept of fixed laws of nature, transcending present, future, and the past, is actually grounded in the Bible. For example, God ties his everlasting, constant commitment to His people, with the very laws of nature that He created, as He said thousands of years ago:
- ” Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.“(Jeremiah 33:25-26 ESV)
The fixed laws of nature, that transcend time and undergird the practice of modern science, are reliable. Why? Because God is reliable to keep His covenant with His people. He gave us Jesus, a descendant of Jacob and David, as our King and Savior, through the nation of Israel. He has proven Himself reliable by continuing to build His covenant people over many, many, many generations, even today.
True, we can not travel back in a time-machine to observe previous events. But if the Bible teaches that God’s fixed laws of nature are trustworthy, would it not be reasonable to assume that events from the past should be consistent with what we observe today? Here are a few examples, demonstrating that we are constantly looking to science as a means of understanding the past.
When astronomers see distant starlight coming in from outer space, they are seeing light that was generated millions of light years ago. Unless one is willing to accept some untested hypothesis of millions-of-years old light being generated in midstream, or of light that travels at different speeds in different directions, or to suggest some other, hitherto unknown law of physics, it is extremely difficult to conclude that the universe is somehow less than 10,000 years old.
When archaeologists are digging for evidence, they are looking at layers of soil that correspond to ages in the past, as clues to understanding that past. Dendrochronologists measure tree rings as a means of understanding past events. Forensic scientists analyze DNA and other criminal evidence, from long ago, in order to solve cold cases. Most scientists, whether they be non-Christians or Christians, practice their craft today, with the hope that they can reasonably create a convincing historical narrative. But if you inherently distrust science, as a tool for reconstructing history, then science will have limited value for you.
Second, the Apostle Paul taught that pagans, who have no Law of Moses, effectively, no Bible, are without excuse when it comes to having a knowledge of God, as revealed in creation.
- ” For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”(Roman 1:19-20 ESV)
Paul is quite confident that by examining creation, even in looking at the evidence for the original creation event in the past, we are given a reliable testimony as to who this Creator really is. If the pagan, or anyone else, fails to recognize this, it is no fault of God’s. It is due to our failure to acknowledge what God has revealed in nature.
Paul is giving the first century, biblically-illiterate pagan, as well as anyone living today, no escape route, whereby someone could plead, “Well, if only I had something like the Bible, a written Word from God, to tell me the real history of the universe, then I would know for sure that there is a Creator.”
Read the whole passage, Romans 1:18-2:29, to get the whole context, and tell me if you think Paul is saying anything differently. Then read Romans 10:14-18, where Paul recites the same theme, yet again, where even if someone has not heard the Word of special revelation, they still have the witness of natural revelation, as when Paul quotes from Psalm 19:4. In other words, Paul appears to be teaching that natural revelation, which is the domain where science operates, bears a witness to the truth of God, independent of, but nevertheless, consistent with, special revelation, the domain of where we study the Holy Scriptures.
Granted, if natural revelation, as we study it through the disciplines of the sciences, can not tell us anything reliable about the past, then yes, this apologetic argument, popular among Young Earth Creationists, makes good sense: You then only need to read the Bible in order to find out the real history of the universe (assuming the Bible is being correctly interpreted). Science only comes in, after the fact, to explain the details of that history. What more could be commendable to the Christian?
However, just be aware of the implications. This line of reasoning is built on a philosophical presupposition as to how we are to understand God’s revelation in nature, and it has some problems. First, it goes against the grain of how most scientists, including non-believers and believers in Christ, across all sorts of disciplines, daily practice their craft. Secondly, it also chafes against several passages in the Bible, noted above. You tell me: Should a Christian follow a philosophical presupposition, where scientific evidence about the past, on its own, is irrelevant, and ironically, its biblical basis is shaky?
On the positive side, a Young Earth Creationist will have confidence in the Bible, as God’s special revelation. Even an Old Earth Creationist, can say “Amen” to that.
But when it comes to God’s natural revelation, all bets are off: Is God’s revelation in nature to be trusted? A Young Earth Creationist can never be completely sure.
Just something to think about.
Have you ever heard of this philosophical presupposition before, that “history cannot be deduced by science, only explained by it?” Well, a Christian DVD making the rounds today, that many of my homeschooling friends like, Is Genesis History?, popularizes this very idea. The film will also be in theaters, February 22, 2018. You also hear it in statements like this: “You can not trust carbon dating! The Big Bang is really just a ‘big bust!‘” If you do decide to see the film, you might want to also think about some of the alternative Christian views profiled here on Veracity, that the movie does not discuss. Explore this and other topics above, by clicking on the links, or read other articles on Veracity, by going to the search box on the blog, type in something like “creation,” or “creationism,” and click go!
Richard Wurmbrand was a Lutheran pastor in Romania. The Communists threw him into prison for fourteen years. They tortured him, trying to persuade him to reveal the identities and locations of secret Christian believers. However, even solitary confinement in an underground cell did not force him to break his faith.
I am listening to the audiobook version of Tortured for Christ, and the story is riveting. Wurmbrand’s story is now coming to film, and if enough people buy tickets in advance (by February 26), local movie theaters will show the film on Monday, March 5.
Some Christians in America “think” they are being persecuted, but this is prejudice, not persecution. Real persecution of Christians, like what Wurmbrand went through, is going on all over the world. Voice of the Martyrs, the organization that Wurmbrand founded after leaving Communist Romania, in 1964, for the United States, is dedicated to raising awareness of Christian persecution across the globe.
It was the year 410 A.D. The Visigoths had come down from the north, sacking the city of Rome, the capital of the world’s greatest empire. People all over the Mediterranean were in shock, as they heard the story of the ruins and dead corpses laying in the streets. This was the “9/11” event of their day.
The pagans blamed the Christians, and they had their reasons…… Pardon some of the anachronisms, but I can imagine their rant…..
“Within a few decades, these Christians had gained the political power of the emperorship. Rome’s centuries of pagan gods were then officially abandoned by the government. Now these Christians had messed up everything. They had put a bunch of ‘Bible-thumping’ idiots into power, offending our pagan moral sensitivities, and leaving the empire vulnerable to their northern enemies.
The once-great empire was now on the verge of total collapse, no thanks to these ‘Bible thumpers.’ These Christians are to blame for our troubles!”
….. so thought the pagans, in their mockery.
Most Christians were unable to effectively respond to these charges. After all, Christianity had finally ascended to the top echelons of Roman society, and now it looked like the whole Roman world was falling apart! The Christian community provided the perfect scapegoat for Rome’s collapse.
Yet one man, the venerable bishop of Hippo, in North Africa, Saint Augustine, rose to the challenge. In his monumental work, City of God, Augustine instead laid the blame for Rome’s troubles on the moral dissolution and steady ethical decline that had plagued pagan Roman culture for century after century. To this day, City of God remains one of the greatest classics of Western culture, and a high watermark for Christian apologetics.
Augustine’s defense of the faith, however, came with a twist. Put in today’s terms, Augustine appeared to have “gone liberal.” But Augustine would not have seen it that way at all. After some reflection, Augustine came to believe that many Christians had misinterpreted the meaning of the “millennium,” the 1000-year reign of Christ, described in Revelation 20:1-6. Augustine, once a confirmed believer in a literal millennium, had basically flip-flopped, and changed his mind. But why?1