An older, humbler, Billy Graham

August 14, 2006 | By | 15 Replies More

Billy Graham, now 87, recently gave an extended interview to Newsweek reporter Jon Meacham.  The interview contained a few surprises that brightened my day.

First, Graham indicated that Christians need not be Bible literalists:

The new interviews with NEWSWEEK, however, reveal a more intriguing figure than either his followers or his critics might assume. He is an evangelist still unequivocally committed to the Gospel, but increasingly thinks God’s ways and means are veiled from human eyes and wrapped in mystery. “There are many things that I don’t understand,” he says. He does not believe that Christians need to take every verse of the Bible literally; “sincere Christians,” he says, “can disagree about the details of Scripture and theology—absolutely.”

Graham also expressed some humility on whether good and decent non-Christians will be barred from heaven:

A unifying theme of Graham’s new thinking is humility. He is sure and certain of his faith in Jesus as the way to salvation. When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: “Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won’t … I don’t want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have.”

Not that these humble common sense admissions made any big headlines (I didn’t see anything about Graham’s interview on any other media outlet).  I suppose the media can’t sell much advertising by airing tolerance. To sell more of their expensive commercials, they will have to find some other televangelist to condemn all those gays, liberals and non-Christians to hell. Get those ratings up, you know.

In the meantime, Graham’s statements have some Christian talk radio hosts all worked up.  I heard it with my own ears on the way home from work tonight.  Here’s how I cynically interpreted what I heard on the AM dial:  Let’s see . . . how can we spin Graham’s statements 180 degrees?  If all good people can simply go to heaven WE MIGHT BE OUT OF OUR JOBS!!  On tonight’s show, for instance, radio host Paul McGuire actually argued that the Newsweek reporter inaccurately reported Graham’s words.  Such dejection.   Now we can’t be assured that all those gays will roast in a literal fiery hell for eternity!  If God’s not going to roast the bad guys, life will lose all meaning! Let’s pass a “Defense of Heaven Act.”  We simply CAN’T share heaven with the bad guys!  If they are happy, I’m NOT!

I’m not getting my hopes up too high, but, really, how nice not to hear a prominent religious leader calling on that big bodyguard, God, to condemn all others who happen to be different.  It’s an innovate approach for most conservative religions. It’s called TOLERANCE and HUMILITY.  It’s called “Maybe we don’t know everything after all.”

Actually, Billy Graham has been practicing tolerance for quite a few years, which has really been pissing off many fundamentalists.  Graham’s been on the receiving end of some really nasty stuff.  See here and here and here.

It’s been quite a summer.  Remember Pat Robertson admitting that global warming might be a man-made problem and that maybe we should be doing something about it?

God apparently works in mysterious ways . . . 


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Category: American Culture, Good and Evil, Media, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (15)

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  1. Jennifer says:

    I read the article, too, and I also found it quite refreshing. Wisdom comes with age, doesn't it?

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    Gosh. Billy Graham has admitted ignorance about heaven…Pat Robertson has admitted that global warming might be real…people in the Bush Administration have admitted that Iraq is going poorly…could the ultra-conservative movement in America finally collapsing under the weight of its own wrong thinking? We can only hope so.

  3. Shrommer says:

    I believe that one can put their faith in Jehovah for salvation and be saved thus by grace and faith, with Jesus being the one who pays the price for their sin, even if that person has never heard the name of Jesus. I believe that this is how someone like Adam or Eve could be saved by believing in God's promise of the Messiah.

    The salvation found in Christ is for all men, regardless of their level of knowledge. If one could be saved in the Old Testament without knowledge of the complete Gospel, then someone can likewise be saved in New Testament times without knowing the specifics.

    I also believe that for most if not all of these people, God will get them the Good News message about Jesus in some way, shape, or form, and when they have more revelation about Jesus they will gladly take it on board and grow in knowledge. God is good. He will lead us to all truth, guide us to pastures and living water, and work so that we may increase in knowledge and understanding to become mature and effective in the faith. He wants all men to know His great deeds, and will not hide the death and resurrection of Christ under a bushel.

    The name "Jesus" means "Yahweh saves" or "Salvation in Jehovah", and the name Jehovah or Yahweh simply means "I am that I am". If someone believes that there is One Great Eternal Holy Spirit who loves us and makes Himself responsible for our salvation, then this person believes in their heart. This is a way of believing in the name of Jesus.

    "Abraham (before the time of Christ) believed God, and it was credited to Him as righteousness." "The just shall live by faith." These two are the most repeated references that Scripture makes to itself.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Shrommer: There are many folks out there (I'm one) who have a hard time accepting the Bible as an historical account of supernatural occurrences. Your account requires blind faith in the authenticity and accuracy of an ancient and highly problematic book and THEN blind faith in the stories therein. If you take the time to browse the posts at this site, you'll find dozens of reasons for doubting your (sincerely offered) account.

    I just don't want you to be disappointed if your post fails to ignite a vigorous discussion. It's already been done elsewhere and often at this site.

  5. gatomjp says:

    I don't think Shrommer expected nor wishes to ignite a discussion. Shrommer was merely explaining things to us so that we would finally "get it" and stop all this atheistic nonsense.

    Shrommer, could you clarify something for me? I have never understood why a substitute sacrifice was necessary. God could have forgiven us our sins any way she wanted. Why torture her own son first? It seems unecessarily cruel for a supposedly loving god to do.

  6. Shrommer says:

    One, I do not practice blind faith in books. The Jewish people have passed on their history from generation to generation, and if it were a work of fiction, they would have put a stop to belief in it long ago. The only way it could have been accepted by the grandkids as history is if the grandparents remembered the actual events, and the only way it could have been accepted by the great-great-grandkids is if the grandparents recalled their grandparents actually having lived through those events. This is entirely different from a Greek or Roman mythology which nobody telling the story ever claimed to have lived through firsthand. Belief in Jewish history does not require blind faith, but is does require a little reasoning and thinking for it to make sense.

    Two, the Bible is not one book, but a large collection of books and letters. It is very logical for someone to study the books and perhaps accept 22 of them as authentic history while rejecting 44 as fiction. It is not an "all-or-nothing" proposal to either believe the whole Bible or reject all of it. Some of the books do not even claim to be historical.

    Those are my two comments in response to Erich.

    For gatomip, I was neither trying to ignite a discussion nor trying to get anyone to stop being atheist. I was explaining how a Christian like Billy Graham or myself can believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet still agree that the labels do not matter, nor is knowledge of all the Biblical doctrines required. In fact, I believe one can be saved by trusting in one great being who loves us and takes responsibility for saving us, even if that person has never seen or heard of a Bible or of Jesus' life story.

    I'd like to read Clark Pinnock's book with Wideness in the title, something like The Wideness of God's Mercy, and I think that his book will round out my thoughts on this.

    I don't get hung up on whether the substitute sacrifice was necessary or not. God loves us and wanted to save us, and this is apparently the way he went about it. If there were other ways to do it, that is up for discussion, but I am not God and I do not claim to know the best way or ways to save mankind. "It's above my paygrade" is I think how Obama would word it. God is God and I am not. Job 40:4 – "I place my hand over my mouth." Job thought he knew a lot of theology, but God put him in his place.

  7. Mindy Carney says:

    I'm curious about something, Shommer. You mention that someone who believes in God can go to heaven even if he never heard of the name Jesus.

    What if this good, compassionate, loving and kind person has heard of Jesus but does not believe he is the way, the truth and the light? Believes in God, but not Jesus as the Savior? Or doesn't believe in God at all.

    I know it is very hard for many Christians to believe, but most atheists are good people, possessing all of the qualities mentioned, like compassion and kindness, that Christians tend to believe are the sole property of the religious. Many Christians are willing to admit that people of other faiths might also be good people, and, like you, say that those who have never, ever heard of Jesus can't be held responsible for that knowledge.

    I'm curious about those people who practice no religion at all. Who are good people – productive citizens, warm and loving parents, good friends, compassionate and caring of the poor or downtrodden – but simply don't believe in Jesus. Sounds to me like Billy Graham is saying that he wouldn't be surprised if his God would welcome them with open arms. You?

    Seems like if God *is* real, he'd have some fun welcoming all the atheists and agnostics in and saying "Told YA!!!" with a mischievous, yet still holy, grin.

  8. Shrommer says:


    Jesus' words in the verse you are quoting is that he is the way, truth, and life. Many scholars see this as pointing to "the way" for the Hebrews who were seeking the way to live and to please God, the "truth" for the Greeks, who put an emphasis on philosophy, and the "life" for the Romans who sought adventure and civilized pleasures.

    The name Jesus means "Yahweh saves" or "Salvation in the I AM". I don't think that anyone can be saved without faith in that truth, and I don't think Billy Graham believes that either. If having faith in Jesus / believing in Jesus includes the idea of believing that Salvation is in Jehovah, then nobody who does not believe in Jesus will be welcomed with open arms by God into heaven. If having faith in Jesus must mean only that they know the story of Jesus of Nazareth, then people without faith in Jesus can be welcomed into heaven.

    Micah 6:8 says that God has shown us what pleases Him: to do justice/righteousness, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. Walking with humility before God means that we believe that He is, and believe that He rewards those who seek Him. We can't say we are walking humbly with God if we are doubting His character, and claiming to know better than Him or claiming to act better than He.

    Anyone who walks humbly with God and is seeking God will eventually discover that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, just as any apple tree will eventually bear apples. If someone wholeheartedly rejects Jesus as the Son of God, knowing the truth about Him, this person is not really walking humbly with their God, is not doing the right thing, and does not really love mercy.

    I think that there are plenty of people who are rejecting a popular portrayal of God or of Jesus, which they have learned from their culture, who would or will actually bow and worship Jesus if/when they meet him face to face and know who He actually is. One of Satan's great deceptions is to put a mask on Jesus and drag his name through the dirt.

    Some people think they reject Jesus because they embrace tolerance, without realizing that Jesus is the epitome of tolerance. Jesus loves and accepts everyone who comes to him, but he can't throw a welcome party for those who choose to stay miles away or who reject the invitation. To ask Jesus to welcome you into His kingdom without accepting His invitation is to be completely unreasonable. Tolerance means that you allow people the freedom to reject you and to turn down your invitation, but that also means that those people don't get to join the party.

    Jesus tolerates the choices of those who wish to stay in the dark where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, even though it breaks his heart. To place your trust in human goodness is to reject divine goodness.

  9. Shrommer says:

    I wonder where you get the idea that most Christians tend to believe that compassion and kindness are the sole property of the religious. The Christians I know believe that all mankind is created in God's image, with compassion and kindness, but that all mankind has fallen into sin and needs forgiveness from a God who goes out of His way to forgive.

    Do atheists show compassion and kindness by warning people of hell and telling people about God's love? No. Neither do most religious people. Do atheists show compassion and kindness by giving a drink to the thirsty or taking a bullet for someone else? Of course.

  10. Mindy Carney says:

    OK, Shrommer. Whatever you say. I don't believe it, so I guess I'm doomed. I'll accept that, but thanks for the sermon.

    I realize that *most* Christians do not believe they are the sole dispensers of compassion and kindness in the world. To hear some, though, one would think that is the case.

    I also don't believe that anyone who seeks God will ultimately find Christ as the true path. I know far too many deeply religious people who believe in God but are not Christian to believe such a statement.

    I'm glad you are happy in your faith. I am fine in my own.

  11. Shrommer says:

    Thank you, Mindy, for your thoughtful reply. I wonder if Erich and gatomjp will get back to me. It took me nearly two years to get back to them, so I'm in no hurry.

    Neither you nor I have any way of knowing if you will one day trust in Christ. I know a lot of people who have become disillusioned with faith in mankind and began to look elsewhere.

    I couldn't help but notice that you mention two different things as if they were the same. That is, it is one thing to seek God, another to believe in God. Believing he exists is often as simple as being amazed by nature, or a religious upbringing. For Satan, (in the Christian worldview of Satan,) God is a spiritual person that Satan comes in contact with and knows firsthand, but that doesn't turn Satan into a seeker.

    A seeker's prayer could be something like, "God I know you don't exist, but just in case you do, I want to know you."

    If those deeply religious people are seeking God, I believe they'll find Christ, but it doesn't often happen overnight. Give it time.

    And by the way, a lot of religious people are Christians, and their religion and belief system won't save them either. It's not until they put their trust in the One who Saves, and no religion can save. Many Christians need to be seeking God, or they will be in for a rude awakening on the last day.

    So that sums up where I am on this main topic: I agree along with Billy Graham that there may be people who aren't Christians by religion, yet are saved, and I believe that there are people who are Christians by religion, and are "doomed". It's not about what you believe, but in whom you trust.

  12. Shrommer, this is gatomjp. Since we last spoke I have shed my internet anonymity and now go by my real name.

    In response to you I will say this…

    I see more clearly now what you were trying to say about Graham’s message. However, whether it is your intent or not, your posts come off as very preachy simply because of your underlying assumptions. That is what I was referring to in my post.

    Your assumption is that I need to be “saved” from something. Quite the contrary. I am not in need of saving but that is something that most believers cannnot seem to accept.

    What believers most often mean by “saving” is “saved from death”. That’s fine for them, but I am not egotistical enough to think that I deserve to live forever nor desperate enough to accept questionable mythology to assure me that I will.

    Though well-meaning, your tone is unintentionally patronizing. Please respect the 47 year journey it took me to get to this place and don’t assume that I will eventually “find Christ”. I’m not looking for Him. I don’t need Him.

  13. Mindy Carney says:

    Actually, Shrommer, I do know that I will not eventually find Christ. Been there, done that, don't believe it. I'm sorry if that disappoints you.

    I do believe in God. I simply don't define God in the Judeo-Christian tradition, nor by the parameters of any other religion. I believe something exists which we do not yet understand.

    My life is filled with love. That is what matters. I wish you the same.

  14. Shrommer says:

    Yes, in my 2007 post I tried to use "I believe" several times, to show that I am not trying to tell other people that this is the way things are, but rather to tell other people that I agree with Billy Graham's quotes in the topic article, posted by Erich, it looks like. My intention was to explain how my thinking works which makes me concur with Billy Graham, who is a preacher.

    I do not like that the Christian talk radio show hosts got all worked up about Billy Graham's statements, and I think that they should take a more humble and "wide" approach. I guess if I sound like I am preaching, I am preaching to the Christian talk radio show hosts to show them why Billy Graham is perfectly justified in what he is saying. They don't seem to have a Christian world view, but rather a very narrow religious world view which pits Christianity against the rest of mankind. That is not the approach that Billy or I take, and I don't believe it is the biblical approach either.

  15. Shrommer says:

    The book I mentioned before is called "A Wideness in God's Mercy", by Clark H. Pinnock. If you know any Christians who are "calling on that big bodyguard … to condemn all others who happen to be different", and who need that dose of tolerance and humility from someone with a biblical worldview (because they slam the door on anyone saying the same thing from an atheist world view), please recommend this book to them.

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