Review: Billy Graham: The Pastor’s Dilemma

Billy Graham: The Pastor's Dilemma
Billy Graham: The Pastor’s Dilemma by Erroll Hulse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author was a supporter of the Graham crusades at one time and even worked for the crusade as a counselor, which meant he was one dealing with people who came forward at the events. Over time he began to have some concerns and wrote this brief book. The book is a dispassionate and discerning look at the crusades and raising questions about them on a biblical basis.

The author uses a number of different facts about the crusades, raises concerns in three particular areas, and answers the objecting replies to those concerns. While he is considering the Billy Graham crusades specifically, I noticed that the points he raised and examples he used are typical of all such crusades though most don’t reach the scale Graham reached. Let’s briefly look at the author’s three concerns.

1. The results
For or any such meeting to be successful there has to be results. There have to be measurables like the attendance and the number of conversions. Less tangible things such as excitement or sense of God’s presence are also reported. Hulse cites statistics that show during the most “successful” years of the Graham crusades, evangelical churches were actually declining in membership and not increasing. What was happening to all those people that were reported to be converted? The author mentions some of the follow up that was done that found very few of them even attended church after the crusade, fewer joined a local church, and few maintained a profession of faith and gave any evidence at all of being converted.

I think Hulse started here because it is the ultimate apologetic given any time any question is raised about such a crusade. The replies and defense were often that Billy Graham had the power of the Spirit with him and that thousands were being converted. If we boil that cabbage down, it means, “It works and that’s all that matters.” The worst sort of pragmatism is one that’s primarily concerned with what works and not what is right or what is biblical.

2. The doctrine
For any such crusade to go on being successful and to keep getting to that next level, doctrine has to be moderated, compromised, or set aside. Doctrinal precision cannot be maintained while seeking a broader appeal. The defense is that the crusade is just going to focus on the Gospel because that is what is most needed. I appreciated how Hulse dealt with this for the most part.

The problem with that approach, though it may sound good, is that you can’t just focus on the Gospel and maintain the Gospel purely. Even the Gospel has a context. You can’t just lift it out of the Bible and separate it from everything else. The Gospel is a part of the great commission that Jesus gave to his church. His church is to preach the Gospel to every creature, baptize the believing disciples into the local church, and go on to teach them to observe all things that the Lord has commanded, i.e, the Bible cover to cover. Paul said he was free from the blood of men because he had preached the whole counsel of God to them.

So, a crusade that just focuses on the Gospel is moving away from the Bible and not toward it. How can a movement away from the whole counsel of God be considered a revival? It is reported that Billy Graham, at least at a time, insisted on not calling his crusades a revival, but saying that he hoped they would start a revival.

3. The cooperation
The last component to a growing crusade is the necessity of cooperating with an increasingly diverse cast of characters. In Graham’s case, he increasingly worked with modernists and even Roman Catholics, though he vowed in his earlier days he would never do such. Hulse cites some statistics that show the Catholics certainly benefited from Graham’s later crusades in terms of gaining people. Doctrinal clarity is stifled and eventually the crusades are partnering with those who are in error and even those who are false prophets preaching a false gospel.

I could go on but I do recommend this book. All Scripture is given by inspiration and is sufficient and is the standard by which we measure all things. Experience does not ever trump Scripture. The Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture and if something truly is his work, then it will not contradict his word.

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