Evangelist Franklin Graham spoke Monday in Chattanooga on the premise that his rally in a park along the river is going to make a biblical analysis of the U.S. cultural decline and the ugly fruits of dechristianization and propose godly remedies.
by David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM
But he makes an argument much like that his father, Billy, might have made. The senior evengelist focused his life’s ministry almost entirely on a self-directed conversion of the individual sinner, ignoring important rediscoveries about reformation doctrines that elsewhere are revitalizing the ideal of Christendom and Christian civilization.
The event touted in billboards draws about 2,000 people with strong appeals to emotion and the promise of salvation freely offered by God to the individual. A rock band, the Afters, give a popular flavor to the gathering with its thundering technical effects and appeals to emotion. A frantic waving of hands in the air during the musical prelude indicates nearly everyone present is a practicing Christian, palms open to the sky as a sign of waiting for blessing from above.
Though heir, the Rev. Graham’s spiritual estate is not richer conceptually than that established by his dad, who plowed over and over again a single furrow and whose field has been invaded by pests.
National scope teased, but avoided
The younger Graham teases his listeners with an opening prayer that seems to scale up to the event’s name, Decision America.
“Father, I pray that you would forgive the sins of our country, that you would heal our country, that you would bring us together spiritually, morally, politically at every level. But Father, it’s not going to happen unless we repent of our sins as a nation and turn to you and to your son, Jesus Christ.” He prays for “this community, the political leadership of this community, for the state, we pray for the governor, for all those in leadership here. *** We pray for the president, for all those in authority in Washington,” including the federal congress. “We pray that you bring unity and healing to all our politicians. We thank you for your church.”
The Christians in the throng respond to the prayer not with a bellowing of old-fashioned amens, but with applause.
Mr. Graham, however, does little work to build upon his petitions to God — to exhort his listeners, for example, to make exodus from broken progressive totalitarian structures such as state-run warehouse schooling and to build a free market and godly alternative to the stifling and dehumanizing status quo. He takes no time to suggest that welfare reform starts not with a correct view of the poverty of national compulsory charity, but with aid to the neighboring divorcee with three kids and a car that hasn’t had an oil change in 49,000 miles.
Rather than name six, even seven, things the Lord hates about the United States, of which its people ought to repent, Mr. Graham leaves that enumeration to the members of the public.
He invites them to pray among themselves over the sins of “the nation”; they do so, in a quiet burbling of voices from which it is impossible for one to overhear particlars.
True in the 1960s, true today
Mr. Graham’s talk is much like his father’s, bent upon the individual soul. His presentation is strong, vigorous, contrasting the dolorous fruits of the fall — abortion, cheating on one’s spouse, thievery, pornography (hit twice) — with the promise of forgiveness and life eternal in God’s graces.
He lays out the plan of salvation. “God wants to forgive you, he wants to heal your heart. You can have a new life and a new beginning, and tonight I am going to give you an opportunity to open up your heart to say yes to God and to invite his son Jesus Christ into your life.”
Mr. Graham compares the non-believer to a person flying an airplane without instrumentation, suggesting that as pilots in a fog don’t know up from down, so, too, are human beings disoriented and set to crash when they reject God.
He cites the encounter between the Lord Jesus and the blind man, Bartimaeus, who cries out for Jesus to heal him, as recorded in the 10th chapter of Mark.
He attacks the poison of political correctness that has infected the house of God. “Many Christians today are in churches that are in a spiritual fog, and they don’t know it. They are being blinded by the godless, corrupt culture of tolerance and political correctness. It has destroyed our churches. Christians are trusting in their feelings today instead of trusting in the God of the Bible.”
The instrument God gives people his the holy Word, the 10 commandments, which Rev. Graham insists “are the same, yesterday, today, tomorrow, a million years from now. His standards are the same.”
He scoffs at the idea that God is a God of only love, who promises everyone to be happy. “God is a God of love — but He is also a God of judgment.” Watch out, he warns; others will get hurt if you don’t “pay close attention to God’s plan.”
He warns against the love of pleasure, of drugs, illicit sex and adultery, homoexuality — “Yes, it’s in the church.” Porn is “a huge problem in the church. Many Christians have lost holiness and purity in their lives” staring at it, he laments. “We need to take sin seriously. You see, there is a judgment, and God is going to judge all sin.”
While the human condition brings hopelessness, Mr. Graham says, God by His grace lifts up sinners. Here, Mr. Graham is matchless in his discussion of God’s gracious condescension to mankind’s decrepit race, lost to sin, begrimed inside and out. A man is saved by God’s grace through faith alone, he explains.
Mr. Graham is a partisan in a great divide in protestant theology — that between Calvin and Arminius. He follows Arminius, like his dad, holding that men choose God, not vice versa — rejecting the sovereignty of God whom the Bible repeatedly declares chooses His own children (see, for example, Romans 9). From this important hop over a fence into bypath meadow flow other steps off the Christian pilgrim path, such as a low view of the law of God and a reluctance to abandon the idea of pluralism and neutrality.
What are the national sins?
Mr. Graham is unclear as to his audience. If its members are churchgoing Christians, why speak to them as if they know not God and have no walk with Him, and who must make a conversion? If his audience is comprised of lost souls, how can Mr. Graham say God loves them? Indeed, the lost state is one in which God withholds His love and a chastening hand, as to sons, but grants the wicked their heart’s desires, and the resulting misery, riches and pride in this life and eternal damnation in the next. If speaking to the lost, Mr. Graham’s focus should be on sin and its fruits — and its holy condemnation and the promise of forgiveness. If to Christians, Mr. Graham’s speech needs to rush beyond the elementary things of the faith, the repeating of the simple doctrines that are the milk of the gospel fit for infants.
Or does it?
Mr. Graham in the hourlong event does not thrust the gospel into the nation’s problems. He borrows from the new testament, with its emphasis on the individual, and lays aside the old, with its political, legal and cultural mandates.
Of penal systems and courts he calls for no reform. For the conception of the modern state, he offers no healing directive. For the wickedness of human law he does not propose common law-oriented biblical standards to overthrow them. For education he offers no principles of reconstruction and an absolute end to the industrial state model. For the poison of property controls called zoning, he offers no tender for property rights that keep housing prices within means of the poor. For civil asset forfeiture statutes that create the state highwayman program, he doesn’t demand an end. For abortion, he says nothing about nullification and the duty of lesser magistrates such as sheriffs to oppress “abortion doctors” and destroy their evil companies.
Against commercial government and its oppression of the right of travel and trade, he says nothing that hasn’t not been said by conservatives. Of judicial supremacy he has no complaint, and so everyone agrees all statutes pertaining to marriage have been vacated by federal court judges’ opinion, as are cities vacated of all life by a neutron bomb while the structures remain standing.
If the Christian church is corrupt, it may be because it keeps its members baby Christians. Christians have not been made to care that Leviticus tells how to attain blessing and avoid judgment.
Invitation to Christ
The Rev. Graham is right about the necessity for personal regeneration, and that labor is a loving and charitable one. “I want you to know tonight that God loves you and is willing to forgive you. But you’ve got to be willing to accept Him by faith. And if you are willing to do that tonight, God will forgive your sins and heal your heart. And you can leave here tonight, forgiven, and know that your soul is secure in the hands of almighty God. But it’s a choice you have to make. No one else can make it for you. Only you can do that.”
Now what? The Grahams have been saying the same thing since the 1960s, and because Christians have written about little else, vandals have taken over America. What about America? What exactly are the national sins? Some listeners may wonder.
Mr. Graham will be in Clarksville May 18, Jackson May 19 and Memphis May 21.