Thursday, August 10, 2006

Two Cheers for Billy Graham:

It's nice to see a little bit of "freethinking" from orthodox Christians these days.

After more than six decades spent preaching the Gospel – the truth that we can only be saved by God's grace through faith alone in Christ – Billy Graham now says non-Christians in other faiths (false religions) and secular humanists may be going to heaven.

In a profile of Graham in the current issue of Newsweek, managing editor Jon Meacham asks the 87-year-old evangelist whether those who belong to religions that reject Christ as savior (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) and secularists will be saved.

"Those are decisions only the Lord will make," Graham replied. "It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there [in heaven] and who won't. ... I don't want to speculate about that."

Hear, hear.

The article to which I linked, on the other hand, was written by a fundamentalist, critical of Graham's remarks:

Meacham hails Graham's conversion (so to speak) on the primary issue of salvation as an enlightened ecumenism, when it's really nothing more than age-old universalism – the erroneous idea that all roads lead to God and we're all going to get to heaven one way or another. This is the "I'm all right, you're all right" philosophy of the world.

And that "age old" universalism, I might add, has a rich tradition in this country. Indeed, most of our key Founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin) were, or probably were universalists. And that thought was so powerful, it even encouraged orthodox Christians like Benjamin Rush to eventually accede to the notion that salvation was for all.

A quotation of Rush's that I found in James H. Hutson's fine book of quotations:

At Dr. Finley's School, I was more fully instructed in these principles by means of the Westminster Catechism. I retained them but without any affection for them 'till abut the year of 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher's controversy with the Calvinists in favor of the Universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of Universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Revd. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient calvinistical, and newly adopted Armenian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White,Chauncey, and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of these authors future punishment, and of long, long duration.


Jim Babka said...

Jon, I could be wrong, but I don't think that last quote says exactly what you think it says. Calvinists believe in a five point doctrine with the acronym, TULIP.

U = Unconditional election, which basically means you're chosen, so deal with it.
L = Limited Atonement, which basically means not everyone is chosen, and if you're not, too bad.
I = Irresistable grace, which means you have no choice, God draws you, so you're elect.

What it sounds like here is that Ben Rush was denying these three concepts, particularly unconditional election. Rush apparently believed Christ died for all (real Calvinists don't believe that).

In the late 1700s, if you opposed Calvin's Five Point theology and you emphasized that "God was not willing that any should perish" and that
"every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord," you were called a "Universalist."

Lending further credence to this idea, Rush claims to have "newly adopted Armenian principles," and was convinced by Fletcher, as in John Fletcher, a close associate of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, both Arminians. Elhanan Winchester was a preacher who converted from Calvinism and advocated Arminianism. Paul Seigvolk's writing got Winchester to question Calvinism.

Some Universalists believed that perhaps after death Christ would become evident. I wouldn't be surprised if this is Billy Graham's new view. It's called Openess Theology.

Jonathan said...

I've been reading up on Chauncey and he clearly was a Universalist. Plus, I don't see how Rush's last line can be interpreted as anything other than universalism, more specificially the notion that the "unsaved" will be punished for a long-time, but still temporarily, but eventually be redeemed.

"I always admitted with each of these authors future punishment, and of long, long duration."

Jeremy Pierce said...

Calvinists do not say "and if you're not, too bad". That assumes hard determinism, and Calvinists are compatibilists. Calvinists say, "and if you're not, then that's your fault" because human freedom and God's sovereignty are taken to be fully compatible.

Openness theology is the view that God does not know the future. This is not Graham's view, and Graham is not a universalist either. Graham explicitly stated only that he does not know for sure exactly which individual people will be saved. Since this has always been his position, it's irresponsible journalism to call this a conversion, even if that term is put in scare quotes. Graham has never thought that he had epistemic certainty about any individual's salvation. He has been very clear on what the criterion of salvation is, and that is trusting in Jesus for salvation that cannot be acquired in any other way. I saw no statement from him that went back on that. What he's hesitant about is whether he can state with confidence who has done that. That's not universalism.

Meacham was reading into Graham's statements what he wanted to see there. GetReligion had several posts on how irresponsible that article was (starting about a month ago).