Graham, Fundamentalism and Free Will


In our previous exposes of Billy Graham, we pointed out that the best that can be obtained from him in the way of a doctrinal statement is a one-point, single article creed which lays claim to the deity of Christ. On the basis of his lone-article creed, Graham assays to have fellowship with anyone who will accept it and rally to his cause.

Now the ancient heretics known as the Marcionites held the deity of Christ, but denied His humanity. Apollinarius, another heretic, granted the deity of Christ, but denied His complete humanity—He had no human mind or spirit. Nestorius, an even worse heretic, also taught the deity of Christ, but then thought of Him, so his teaching was interpreted, as two persons. Cyril, who opposed the heretical Nestorius, strongly declared the deity of Christ, but conceived of His humanity as absorbed into the divine. Eutyches, a still wilder heretic, followed the line of Cyril and fathered the strange view that the human and divine natures at the incarnation were blended, forming a third which was neither human nor divine. The Monophysites posited the deity of Christ, but denied His human will. The Sabellians, ancient Unitarians, acknowledged the deity of Christ, but denied any personal distinctions in the Godhead, the same sole person being, at once, or at different times, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Surely a little knowledge of history reveals that it is worse than inadequate to require as a basis of Christian fellowship merely “the deity of Christ.” For the man who says he accepts such a nebulous article of faith may be any one of a half dozen or more brands of heretics and not a Christian at all. We would like to learn that Graham preaches, as he was taught by his mother from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, that “the only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who being the eternal Son of God, became man and so was and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever.”

The newspapers had reported Graham as saying that “verbal inspiration of Scripture is only a theory and not a matter of great importance for Christian faith.” Did he really say this? Or was it erroneous reporting? If he never said it, has he ever publicly repudiated the incorrect news report? Has he slighted those churches which have agonized for the truth and sacrificed all their earthly possessions for the sake of maintaining the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Scriptures as having wasted their efforts on a matter of no great importance for the Christian faith? Or has he taken a stand with the churches faithfully defending this indispensable position? This is a knot easily untied. Graham is not on the side of verbal, plenary inspiration.

Graham claims that although he is not a Fundamentalist, neither is he a Modernist. This sounds rather like Brunner and Barth who vehemently repudiate Fundamentalism, Romanism and Modernism. Yet the latter make it clear, without any misunderstanding, that they are adherents of the radical school of biblical criticism, which does not accept certain books of the Bible as an historical source and regards other parts of Scripture as legendary. This thin casuistry merely dresses Modernism in dissimulated garb. Most laudable is the unequivocal way in which Dr. J. Gresham Machen expressed himself relative to the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. “The term fundamentalism is distasteful to the present writer and to many persons who hold views similar to his. It seems to suggest that we are adherents of some strange new sect, whereas in point of fact we are conscious simply of maintaining the historic Christian faith and of moving in the great central current of Christian life.” Yet Machen felt that he had something in common with Fundamentalists which he did not with Modernists. “Do you suppose, gentlemen, that I do not detect faults in many popular defenders of supernatural Christianity? Do you suppose that I do not regret my being called, by a term that I greatly dislike, a ‘Fundamentalist’? Most certainly I do. But in the presence of a common foe, I have little time to be attacking my brethren who stand with me in defense of the Word of God. I must continue to support an unpopular cause.” He made his stand even more commendably patent when he said: “Nevertheless, thoroughly consistent Christianity, to my mind, is found only in the Reformed or Calvinistic Faith; and consistent Christianity, I think, is the Christianity easiest to defend. Hence, I never call myself a ‘Fundamentalist’. There is, indeed, no inherent objection to the term; and if the disjunction is between ‘Fundamentalism’ and ‘Modernism’, then I am willing to call myself a Fundamentalist of the most pronounced type. But after all, what I prefer to call myself is not a “Fundamentalist” but a ‘Calvinist’—that is, an adherent of the Reformed faith. As such I regard myself as standing in the great central current of the church’s life—.” Has Graham ever been so clear-cut, so heartwarming as to exactly where he stands? We prefer Gresham to Graham.

The latter, we pointed out, asserted, “I have not bargained, parleyed or compromised my concept of the Christian faith.” There are two words in this statement which deserve underscoring—“my concept”. The remark is no answer to the thousands of Christian people who have their doubts as to where Billy stands doctrinally. It is rather an insult to their intelligence and to their genuine concern for the cause of God and truth. For Jacob Harmensen or “Pastor” Russell would not hesitate to make the same utterance. If Graham is no compromiser of the historical, orthodox, Protestant and Reformation position, then why has he sat on the same platform with such liberals as E. Stanley Jones, John S. Bonnell and Gerald Kennedy? Why has he praised the Pope, puffed Pike and preached in cooperation with Romish priests?

From Graham’s own statements, as found in the books he has written, he reveals that doctrinally, theologically and practically he is an Arminian. Now Arminianism is not a kind of unique expression of the truth, nor does it contain the truth. It is a system of error shot through with the lie. It is the Arminian who attempts to conceal the fact that he holds to a tissue of lies. Last March a Methodist (Arminian) minister wrote that when he is asked, “Are you Calvinistic or Arminian?”, he answers, “Where Calvinism is true to the Word, I am Calvinistic and where Arminianism is true to the Word, I am Arminian. But if they depart from the Word, I depart from them. What truth they taught is only truth when it is true to the Word of God.” This is sly, presumptuous, question-begging. In Calvinism, not one point has ever been proved to be untrue to the Word. What would have to be regarded as an untruth could not be Calvinism. On the other hand, Arminianism in no point is true to the Word of God. The five points of Arminianism are departures from the Word. Calvinism alone is true to the Word. Arminianism is faithful to its own standard, humanism.

With reference to the doctrine of original sin, Graham avers that “we still imitate him” (Peace With God, p. 48), i.e., old Adam in his primordial error. This sounds much like, not the Christian, but the Pelagian idea that our original sin proceeds only from imitation (Belgic Confession, XV), rather than from the inheriting of a vicious, vile and abominable nature from disobedient Adam.

On the freedom of the will, Graham teaches that man has a “gift of free choice” (ibid., p. 9). We believe, as Scripture teaches, that man had a free will, a will whereby he was able to choose the good and love God, but also choose the evil and serve the devil. Not that his will was neutral, but that it was good, yet mutable, with power to turn from God to sin. But now after the fall and the total depravity of man’s nature resulting there from, man no longer has such a free will. The only freedom he may be said to have is freedom to act according to his nature, and since his nature is inclined to all evil and incapable of any good, he is free only to choose evil and sin. Graham denies this biblical conception of freedom. What does he mean by freedom of will? It “is meaningless if there is only one possible path to follow” (p. 44). This is actually an absurd claim. Man’s freedom is meaningless if he only has one possible path to follow? Not at all! Man could throw himself over the precipice, breaking on the rocks below every one of the two hundred bones of his body. Spiritually he did this. But once man is on that path to destruction, can he turn himself to some other “possible path to follow”? Can he leap back up to the top of the precipice? Does he have the choice of mounting up those insuperable walls or to remain where he is, broken and helpless? Man was free to deprive himself of his excellent gifts (knowledge, righteousness and holiness) by willfully spilling them out like water on the ground. But is he free to gather what he has spilled or splashed on the ground? Now that man since the fall of Adam has put himself on the broad way to destruction, there is plainly one and only one possible path to follow and that is the way of death. For this reason, no man will ever be saved by any dependence on the will of man. Salvation is “not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.” God must snatch the sinner out of the midst of his fall into the pit or he will continue his accelerating descent until he lands in hell.

But Graham, like Erasmus, is enamored with the conception of man’s will. “We have a chance to choose between the Devil’s clever promises and God’s sure Word” (p. 48). The slaves of sin, in the snare of the devil and taken captive by him at his will, can choose God and His sure Word? The butler and the baker in prison had the chance to choose between the dungeon and the free air of Egypt? They had no choice but to rot in their cells until Pharaoh chose to remove them! “Can the Ethiopian change his skin? Or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do (choose) good, that are accustomed to do (choose) evil” Jer. 13:23. The depraved sinner is aptly depicted in the sight of God in the figure of Lazarus dead and buried. Did he have a chance to choose between the death of sin, in which he was, and the life of righteousness? Men dead through trespasses and sins are no longer posse non peccare, able not to sin, as was the case with Adam in his rectitude. Men are since Adam’s fall born non posse non peccare, not able not to sin, i.e., they are able to do nothing but sin. For “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

“The same two paths,” Graham insists, “that God set before Adam still lie before us” (p. 49), i.e., we have “freedom to choose or reject, freedom to obey God’s commands or to go contrary to them… (p. 44). Never is there a moment when you cannot deliberately choose to go with one or the other” (i.e., with the Trinity of God or the trinity of evil, p. 61). Here is positive proof that Graham is a thoroughgoing Arminian and one who is therefore far from the Calvinistic position. Rank Arminianism has it that the will of man is such that he “is able to will and to choose or not to will and not to choose…good…This is an innovation and an error,” the error “that the unregenerate is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good…”, the error that “it therefore remains in man’s power to be regenerated or not. For this is nothing less than the denial of all the efficiency of God’s grace…and the subjecting of the working of the Almighty God to the will of man…” (Canons of Dort, III, IV, R, 3, 4, 8). In these quotations you may be sure Arminianism is honestly represented and Billy Graham is squarely in line with that representation.

As proof that man has this neutral, sovereignly free will, a will in complete equilibrium, Graham appeals to Heb. 11:24-27 and teaches that Moses was free to choose to become an Egyptian or remain an Israelite, free to choose affliction with the people of God or to choose the pleasures of sin, free to choose the reproach of Christ or to choose the treasures in Egypt, free to forsake Egypt or to forsake the true God. Now it is true that man “by the fall did not cease to be a creature endowed with understanding and will,” nor is there anything that “takes away their (men’s) will and its properties” (Canons III, IV, 16). But it is also true that the will is fallen, broken, ruined, averse to God and all good, inclined to all evil and incapable of any good. Graham, however, regards the will as in no need of recovering from its fall. It needs no restoration in the Last Adam to be able to turn to Him. It is in enough working order as it is in the first Adam. In itself it never has been corrupted, only hindered. Then there is no need for the “regenerating Spirit” to “infuse new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, He quickens”. But the human will, fallen, un-renewed, is, according to Scripture, “evil, disobedient and refractory” until “He renders it good, obedient and pliable…” (ibid.). In this light we should view Moses, the man of God. As such, he had before him life and death, with the divine admonition, not to choose between life and death, but to choose life! He had before him the reproach of Christ and treasures of Egypt, with the divine exhortation, not to choose between Christ and Egypt, but to choose Christ! This he did, not because he had the power to “obey God’s commands or to go contrary to them,” but because by the grace of God he was enabled to believe with the heart and love the Saviour (ibid., 13).

The Word of God states that “salvation is of the Lord,” that He begins it and continues it unto the day of Jesus Christ, that then it depends, not as Graham puts it, on would-be autonomous man, but on Him “who works in man both to will and to do and who produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also” (ibid., III, IV, 14). Graham teaches that the unregenerate is not really or utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life (ibid., R. 4). For Graham it is not in the final analysis the power of God’s omnipotence which infallibly bends man’s will to faith and conversion, but the inherent power of man’s own will nodding in God’s favor. But the Adamic will is corrupt, inclined and determined to that which is evil only, yet freely serves the law of sin. Our renewal is only “that His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:3). Calvinism has the rating: Infinity; Grahamism: Zero!