Billy Graham on Conversion


What does Billy Graham say? He says that Christ did “provide man with salvation” (Peace With God, p. 40). By these words he does not mean that Christ actually affected salvation for any, but rather that God made “it possible for us to have access to Him.” The Cross, then, in Graham’s conception is not an atonement; Christ’s death does not atone; it merely provides for atonement. The Cross does not save any; it merely makes possible a salvation for all. You see, the Arminian, to maintain his heresy, must destroy the atonement. For either the atonement is saving and not a mere provision of saving grace, or it is no atonement. Imagine an atonement which does not atone, but merely, like a reservoir, stores up what is necessary to atone!

What, further, does Graham mean by this? He means that God “wanted to do something for man. He wanted to save man…How…?” For “God could not freely forgive man’s sin,” for then He would have been caught in the impossible position of lying, for He had said, “…in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” So in some men’s going lost, God saves His veracity by pointing out that He only said that He wanted to save men, not that He would save men! But how does this save God’s face? He wanted to but wouldn’t! How does this save His sovereignty, to say nothing of His omnipotence? For He is not able to save all, which He really wants to do (p. 86). The God who worketh all things according to His own will and saves, not by man who willeth, nor of man who runneth, but by Himself who hath mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardeneth—this almighty, independent, self-sufficient God is limited, hindered, even disappointed and frustrated by man’s “free” will?! But the impossible, the unthinkable is swallowed and regurgitated to the masses by Graham.

What does Graham say about conversion? This: “Biblical conversion involves three steps, two of them active and one passive. In active conversion, repentance and faith are involved. Repentance is conversion viewed from its starting point, the turning from the former life. Faith indicates the objective point of conversion, the turning to God. The third, which is passive, we may call the new creation or regeneration” (p. 107). “These three take place simultaneously” (p. 114). You see immediately that according to Graham’s philosophy conversion has its starting point not in the sovereign grace of God, where actually every part of our salvation originates, but in the initiating act of man. Man sets the experience of conversion in motion. Man, negatively, turns from a life of sin and, positively, man, in faith, turns to God. So that the second step of conversion, that of faith, is also as much an autonomous act of man as conversion. Now Graham does say that these three steps take place simultaneously, which might appear, at first glance, that he does not make regeneration take a back seat to the other two graces of salvation. But closer scrutiny reveals that regeneration, in his estimation, is a tertium quid, a third rate element of salvation. Of necessity, according to Graham “theology” (Arminianism), regeneration must come logically in a place subordinate to both conversion and faith. For only if a person turns to God in faith will he be regenerated. Graham consciously rejects the scriptural teaching of regeneration the cause of faith and faith the effect of regeneration. The simple truth is, “as many as (1) received Him, and (now) (2) believe on His name, were, sometime prior to either and with a view to both (1) and (2), born of God” (Jn. 1:12, 13). No Arminian yet has ever gotten this Scripture straight.

But Graham makes it even plainer that he intends the Arminian conception of conversion. He conceives of it as a “voluntary change in the mind of the sinner from sin to Christ.” By a “voluntary change” he means not only that it is “man’s turning from sin to Christ”, but that it “all depends on free will.” (Radio broadcast, 5/24/64). Almighty God is therefore made to depend upon puny man.

But worse than this, Graham completely denies eternal, unconditional election and in doing so he puts natural, unregenerate man on a throne antithetical to God’s. It is possible, in his dreamy reveries, for man to deny God’s election from before the foundation of the world, to refuse to have his name written in the Book of Life. The latter proud man will refuse because he particularly rebels against the idea of having his name placed in the book of God’s eternal decree from before the foundation of the world, without first consulting with man to secure his permission for such use of his name. The best that the Lord may do, then, under the circumstances, is to rely upon His foresight of man’s faith, of man’s turning to God and on that basis, man-centered as it is, write man’s name in the Book of Life. “We can refuse to be chosen. We can refuse God’s call” (ibid.). The elect can, negatively, refuse to be elect and, positively, choose to be reprobate. In fact, to begin with, no man is either elect or reprobate by any divine, eternal, unconditional, independent, sovereignly free (God or) decree. Election is not something predetermined by the eternal counsel of God’s decree of predestination. Man himself decides his own election or rejection. “Man has a moral independence in himself. He therefore is free, even from God, but man needs God’s help” (ibid.). For we are commanded, “Turn ye…make you a new heart.” But we are “too weak (note: not dead spiritually in sins) to turn of ourselves” and so need the help of the “Holy Spirit to move us” (ibid.). Now this is rather interesting: man is too weak to turn of himself, yet he is a sovereignly free individual who suffers not from moral impotency because of his own innate moral independence. When you get right down to it, right down to Graham’s low-slung Semi-Pelagianism, man is “almighty” man. Two almighties, admittedly, do not make things easy in the same world, hence “almighty” man must cooperate with almighty God. This he can do and does do for “the free will with which we choose is God’s gift,” and “conversion is the merging of the divine with the human” (ibid.). Salvation is, then, of necessity, not all of God, but partly of God and partly of man. Man has something of which to boast before God. “Salvation is of Jehovah” as long as man gives God a chance!

Truthfully, conversion presupposes the prior work of regeneration. The change which first takes place in the mind and heart of the sinner is not one that is voluntary, but one that is regenerative, a principal change which removes man out of death into life (Jn. 5:24). In regeneration, man is born from above. In conversion he becomes conscious of his regeneration. In regeneration, the renewed man has spiritual life, lives in newness of life. In conversion the renewed man becomes active in his new life. Regeneration is the work of God whereby the elect but spiritually dead sinner is born again and so made to pass out of death into life. Conversion is the work of God whereby the elect, regenerated sinner is turned from the way of sin to the way of righteousness. It is not the dead, natural, would-be autonomous man who converts and turns to God, but the man reborn, with the new life, he repents, turns to God, confesses and forsakes his sin. He must have a new heart before he can love God. He must have a new life before he can walk in God’s commandments (Ezek. 37:25-27). He must have the gift of faith so that he can believe. He must also be granted repentance before he can repent (Acts 11:18, refs.). He must have a new will before he can will the will of God (Phil. 2:12f). He must be regenerated in order to be converted. The dead must be quickened before they can turn to God.

Regeneration is not in the least partly the work of man, nor the result of any help from man or any cooperation with God, but is wholly the sovereign work of God alone. Man is passive, not active, in regeneration, just as the dead are passive in the divine work of resurrection. In conversion, man is not first, nor is his turning to God first of all his work. God must first turn man, activate man, then man can turn and act (Lam. 5:21). Regeneration is God’s work. Conversion is also God’s work. Man’s turning in conversion is the fruit of God’s work.

To illustrate evidence of regeneration in a man’s life, Graham tells the story of the “man who used to hitch his horse in front of the saloon”, but after being born again he “hitched in front of the Methodist Church”…he “changed hitching posts.” But this better illustrates “a man of the street” leaving his old, stark Pelagianism for a more refined “semi-Pelagianism” or modern Arminianism, the religion of Methodism. This better illustrates the natural man becoming a religious natural man. Today, for a man to park his car outside and to frequent the tap-room would not be as dangerous as parking it outside and frequenting the Methodist Church. For the one might contribute to the destruction of the body, but the other, a front for Arminianism, socialism and pro-Sovietism, is destructive of the soul.

In the view of the Graham ministry of error, to what is the converted man converted? The Charlotte Observer, reporting on Graham’s “sermon” at the Roman Catholic Benedictine Belmont Abbey College under the headline, “Billy Wins Catholics to Billy”, said, “Baptist evangelist Billy Graham may not have won any Catholic converts to Protestantism…but he won a number of them to Billy Graham.” As a sample of audience reaction, “in the college administration building a priest remarked, ‘He (Graham) comes so close to the catholic line. He walks right up to it and then backs off’” (ibid.).

But Graham’s yoking himself up with such modernist unbelievers as Bishop Kennedy, Bishop Pike, E. Stanley Jones, et al. and now we expect that he will in his Alabama campaign yoke himself in some way with that modernist neo-orthodox Martin Luther King—all this leads us to believe that Graham is not too interested any longer in converting sinners and heathens to Christ, but is more interested in syncretizing the various shades of religions into the false ecumenical church. “…the ecumenical council and the reforms started by the late Pope John have brought a new dialogue and a new understanding that might bring a great Christian revolution…What is happening in the ecumenical revolution is of interest to people all around the world—to Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Buddhists” (ibid.).

Notice the laudation of that antichrist, Pope John, the word “dialogue” instead of “controversy” (or “debate”), the work “revolution” instead of “reformation”. This language is not that of a preacher or of an “evangelist” but that of a leftist. Surely Billy Graham and the great central current of the Christian church have come to the parting of the ways.