Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Billy Graham on Who Goes to Heaven

[This is from a story on Billy Graham in the August 14, 2006 edition of Newsweek, which I read on line. Graham's comments are hard to interpret, but he is clearly not an exclusivist on salvation. Apparently he thinks members of other religions may be saved. He seems to think that they are saved through God's love shown in Jesus, however. (The reporter asked about "good Jews, Muslims, etc," which betrays the reporter's perspective that people are saved by religious "good" works and not grace (see Ephesians 2:8). Graham is not reported to have challenged this "good Jew, etc." idea. Perhaps he did, but it was not mentioned. These stories are always heavily edited.)

But if Graham thinks that Jews, Muslims, etc. can be saved, this would make him a very liberal inclusivist. More conservative inclusivists--such as Millard Erickson or the late Sir Norman Anderson--who aver that if anyone is saved apart from their knowledge of the gospel it must be that they forsake their own religion as a path of salvation and cast themselves on God's mercy as best they understand it from general revelation. What Graham says puts him closer to John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, or Brian McLaren--not the best theological company to my mind.]

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." Such an ecumenical spirit may upset some Christian hard-liners, but in Graham's view, only God knows who is going to be saved: "As an evangelist for more than six decades, Mr. Graham has faithfully proclaimed the Bible's Gospel message that Jesus is the only way to Heaven," says Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross. "However, salvation is the work of Almighty God, and only he knows what is in each human heart."


David Anderson said...

I think Billy and Bush have both dropped the theological ball. I praise Billy for his faithful preaching of the gospel over the years, but this isn't the first time he has been a little unclear about the gospel when asked directly. I am not denoucing him or his work, I am just zealous for people not to misunderstand the gospel. (And maybe he was clear but it was edited out)
My desire is that more Christians would be like Paul in Romans 3:21-26, the heart of the gospel. We CAN know who is and who isn't righteous before God. It is those who are trusting in the righteousness of Christ imputed over them for their justification. (i.e. Romans 1-8) Those who are not, are not saved and are not in Christ. Any other way is another gospel and it is anathema. There are plenty of theological doctrines that Christians can agree to disagree on, but the gospel and how we are made right before God isn't one of them. The world needs more clarity, not more fog.

Douglas Groothuis said...


I agree entirely. It is noteworthy that Graham laments that he didn't have more education. He has said this before also.

Tom said...

Let me point out that there is nothing in the Newsweek article that suggests that Billy Graham is a salvific pluralist ("all roads lead to God") or even that he's a Christian universalist (Christ's atonement on the cross really did reconcile *all* things to himself). What he says is only that God is the final judge of a person's salvation. He takes himself to be in a position to judge no person.

As for David's claim that "We CAN know who is and who isn't righteous before God" all I can say is I don't think so. If David has a list, I'd like to know just who is on it.

We do our best to understand the gospel in light of our understanding of Scripture, but is it really so clearly wrong (either epistemologically or theologically) to think that we might not have things quite as well figured out as we'd like to think, and that God might not choose to save even those who haven't (in this earthly life, anyway) satisfied the criteria we understand the Scriptures to lay down for salvation? Why not hope that the umbrella of God's grace is larger than we currently see?

Douglas Groothuis said...


What David is arguing is that we if one trusts in Christ, then we can know they are saved--by Modus ponens. Of course, the debate is whether the if can be render "if and only if," which is the exclusist position. The biblical evidence points in that direction, since the imperative is to make the gospel known to the lost. Even Cornelius, the exemplary God-fearer, needed to know the gospel before he received the Holy Spirit (Acts 11).

Faith in Christ is a sufficient condition for salvation, but it is also necessary? It seems so from my reading of Christian Scripture. That is, in the NT period and not addressing those who die in the womb or as young children. Abraham believed and is was reckoned as righteousness long before Jesus came.

And many who claim to have received the righteousness of Christ prove that they haven't by their lack of fruit (although we cannot be the final judges of this). But we are to test our own and other's faith by their acts and beliefs. That is a central theme in 1 John.

So, Tom, I do hope that some might be saved outside of hearing and believing the gospel, but I find very little evidence to support that hope. I do read in "The Heavenly Man" by Brother Yun that Jesus directly appeared to some Chinese who converted. That is, they received the gospel without a human messenger. If so, that opens up the possibilities for more to be saved than if a human needs to bring the message.

Of one thing I am certain. God's elect will be brought into his eternal kingdom, just as God planned before the foundation of the world. Christ's atonement is definite: none for whom he died will fail to receive salvation.

Jo Jo said...

It is Jesus Christ that saves us not education. Training the mind helps us understand the scripture, one of which is Thou Shalt Not Judge. Maybe in Mr. Graham's later years he has found the wisdom in this and has the understanding that God knows in full and we know in part (1 Cor 13:11-13). All will be revealed in the end. No one can know the heart except God, therefore there is no possible way we can tell who is righteous or not righteous before God. We can search our own hearts and know what God says about the covering of Jesus' blood and our salvation, but let us not start pointing out who and who will not be in heaven, somethings must still be left to God. We are called to preach the truth and salvation. Let us continue to walk in humility before him.

Douglas Groothuis said...

1. No one said education itself saves anyone. That is a moot point. The issue is the value of education regarding tough intellectual issues.

2. I can say that someone who worships a false God and rejects Jesus is not righteous before God. He who denies the Son, denies the Father, says The Apostle John.

3. Moreover, given good fruit (doctrinal and moral) in someone's life, I can assess their salvific status, as 1 John encourages us to do.

Jo Jo said...

1. We both agree on this as I said in my post: Training the mind helps us understand the scripture. I was commenting on the statement of how there were 'laments' going around on Graham's education. I was more wondering if in his later years he had found increased wisdom in the value of less judging. Education does not always grant more wisdom. As you said, though, this is a moot point because it is an opinion and can be argued indefinitely.

2. Yes, this I also agree with. But we do not have a chance to talk with anyone who has stood before the Son after death that might then get to accept his love and forgiveness. As I read your comments I saw that you might also hope this to be true. It is one of the things I was speaking of that we might come to know in full later. I would not suggest this as doctrine and I would not counsel anyone to wait and see. ;) But this is another thing I will entrust to God's love and mercy and not make an absolute on. I believe this is the attitude Graham was approaching it in also.

3. I thought this might be one of the scriptures that were being thought of without being mentioned earlier. You will know the tree by it's fruit. I truly have a hard time with this by just experience. How long must we look at the tree I wonder? I have personal experience with this, I was a church secretary for 14 years and some trees looked wonderful for up to 10 beautiful years and hid a rotten heart of amazing sins, some even stealing and adultery before anything was discovered. It was not done out of a moments weakness or desperation, but planned manipulation. They did not just fool me, but even trained, highly educated people. I'm sure many other trees are successful in hiding their diseased roots much longer than this. Let's just stop and think of other stories that we have heard in the news and close to home. I'm sure we go, "oh I would have known, I would have seen," maybe we shouldn't be so sure. So what are we to do? Maybe, God is the judge of the forest he is growing and this in the end, too?

Thank you for commenting on my post, I am truly honored by your time spent. =)

Anonymous said...

JoJo, where are you getting Thou Shalt not Judge from the Bible? Jn.7:24; Icor.2:15; Matt.7. It is the way you judge, which is by scripture. The word of God teaches don't judge hypocritically; it never says "don't judge at all". The proclaimation of the scriptures is that the spiritual man judges all things. True that we don't know everything because Gods ways are so high and we are like grasshoppers to Him according to Isaiah, and that some scripture is hard IIPt.3:16; but when it comes to salvation though the knowledge of scripture lining a life up through right judgments we can know they are saved or not. And a person will automatically do so if they desire to see souls saved; they will look for opportunities to preach the word. Col., James, IJn. are great books to read to know. A Christian knows that when they were born from above that that was an awesome experience passing from death to life; which is undeniable. They don't treat it like a flu shot saying, "oh, I did that back in the day". Many professing Christians treat salvation like so, which makes me push forward to IICor.13:5 to encourage them to make sure and question to see if they really are trusting in Christ or works; the truth will come out. Jesus said in Matt.12:34 that what comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart; it is plain to see that we can know someones heart by silently listening or asking questions and hearing answers. You will "KNOW" them by their fruits, evidence will come out. If we say it won't we make God out to be a liar according to IJn.. When you aren't sure someone you care for isn't saved, pray for wisdom to know, and read for discernment with prayer, and pray for that person that Gods Will will be done in their lives, and ask God to bring them to repentance if they need to turn from some sin in their life; you can't go wrong there.