Dr. Rick Patrick, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, Alabama posted a piece on the SBC Today blog entitled “25 Traditional SBC Heroes.” Patrick named as the top contender for the number one hero among traditional Southern Baptists the Rev. Billy Graham. While one might quibble whether Graham deserves the no.1 hero seed, few would question whether Graham should make the hero lineup for traditional Southern Baptists.
Within the comment thread, however, some extreme Calvinists (and perhaps others not so extreme) actually raised the question as to whether Billy Graham was a Calvinist himself. At first, I thought it was just cantankerous extreme Calvinists doing what cantankerous extreme Calvinists do best–bickering. That is, always inserting petulant argument into a tame discussion. I was wrong. They apparently were serious! So Calvinists are now claiming Billy Graham just may be “Reformed”? That’s a surprise!
Of course, not a single one of them offered a slither of evidence to indicate why they raised the question as to whether Graham might fit on their side of the soteriological ledger. No. They just insisted we needed to produce the evidence as to why Graham should be on the other side. Pretty convenient, I’d say. They make assertions with neither argument nor evidence but insist on others making both argument and presentation of evidence. That’s the kind of petulant wrangling I referenced above from some of these cantankerous extreme Calvinists. They come across as just wanting to pick a verbal fight.
Even so, several in the thread offered some tangible proof Graham hardly fit the profile of a “Reformed” evangelist (here’s a video linked in the thread). What’s interesting is, it’s hardly possible to find a pattern of thought that Billy Graham is anything other than an “Arminian,” especially from Calvinists themselves.
- John Gerstner: “Significantly, he [i.e. Billy Graham] also says that a “person cannot turn to God to repent or even to believe without God’s help. God must do the turning.” One can see from this that Graham is Arminian and not Pelagian…Graham goes on to make his Arminian thinking quite clear.” (R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997), 201.
- R.C. Sproul:
(R. C. Sproul, Chosen by God (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 16.
Those are just two well known Reformed believers who consider Graham an Arminian. We could also name Reformed organizations like Chalcedon or popular Reformed bloggers like Tim Challies and Michael Horton (also a popular Reformed theologian) who view Graham as Arminian. Hence, why these extreme Calvinists would even doubt it makes it appear even more evident they apparently wanted to bicker.
More indicative of Graham’s non-Reformed views are his own words in his books. Below are a few quotes which seem to strongly suggest Graham would find no theological home among the extreme Calvinists who raise the question as to whether Graham is Reformed (all embolden added):
You can go on being miserable, discontented, frightened, unhappy, and disgusted with yourself, or you can decide right now that you want to be born again. You can have your sinful past wiped out and make a new start, a fresh start, a right start. You can decide now to become the person that Jesus promised you could be. The Key to Personal Peace loc 453
Here are some guidelines from the Bible that will help you be born again by accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior: Ibid, loc 459
You may say, “I really want to be born again, but how do I begin?” I would suggest that you make a list of all your sins. Ibid, loc 477
Only God—the One who created us—can recreate us. And that is precisely what He does when we give ourselves to Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit, loc 814-815
We therefore have everything we need to decide for Christ, but we still have a responsibility to respond to the call and conviction of the Holy Spirit. Ibid, loc 899
The indispensable condition of the new birth is repentance and faith, but repentance and faith itself does not save. Ibid, loc 908
This made the holy Jesus represent sin for the whole world. Ibid, loc 1057
No interval of time falls between regeneration and baptism with the Spirit. The moment we received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we received the Holy Spirit. Ibid, loc 1170
A transformed life is the greatest of all miracles. Every time a person is “born again” by repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ, the miracle of regeneration is performed. Ibid, loc 2878
Therefore, in loving grace God sent His Son to bear our sins and to take the penalty and judgment that we deserved. However, God requires something of us. We must confess our spiritual poverty, renounce our sins, and turn by faith to His Son, Jesus Christ. When we do that, we are born again. He gives us a new nature. He puts a little bit of heaven down in our souls. Our lives change. Contentment, peace, and happiness come into our souls for the first time. The Enduring Classics, loc 534-536
If our commitment is genuine, God works in our hearts to regenerate us. Then we have truly been converted—we have been born again by the Spirit of God! Ibid, loc 1374
It is absolutely the first step toward happiness. There is no use reading the rest of this book until you are absolutely sure that you have repented of sin, received Christ by faith, and been born again. Ibid, loc 1387
Man apart from God is spiritually dead. He needs to be born again. Only by God’s grace through faith in Christ can this new birth take place. How To Be Born Again, loc 131
All you have to do to be born again is to repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. Ibid, loc 2407
Thus, repentance is first, and absolutely necessary, if we are to be born again. Ibid, 2481-2482
Believing is your response to God’s offer of mercy, love, and forgiveness. God took the initiative and did everything that was needed to make the offer of salvation possible. Ibid, loc 2496
Faith in Christ is also voluntary. A person cannot be coerced, bribed, or tricked into trusting Jesus. God will not force His way into your life. The Holy Spirit will do everything possible to disturb you, draw you, love you—but finally it is your personal decision. God not only gave His Son on the cross where the plan of redemption was finished: He gave the law as expressed in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount to show you your need of forgiveness; He gave the Holy Spirit to convict you of your need. He gives the Holy Spirit to draw you to the cross, but even after all of this, it is your decision whether to accept God’s free pardon or to continue in your lost condition. Ibid, loc 2515-2516
If you are willing to make this decision and have received Jesus Christ as your own Lord and Savior, then you have become a child of God in whom Jesus Christ dwells. You do not need to measure the certainty of your salvation by your feelings. Believe God. He keeps His word. You are born again. You are alive! Ibid, loc 2633
Given the above, it’s really a surprise to find Calvinists who claim that Billy Graham just might be “Reformed” after all.