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12.2: Billy Graham and Evangelical Piety

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    There are many varieties of the way of devotion in Christianity, some more formal and less spontaneous than others, some taking a certain interpretation of certain biblical passages that leads them to different doctrinal views than others, some combining devotion with other ways in a manner differentiating them from other Protestant traditions. In current Protestantism, the most widespread grouping of traditions centrally emphasizing the way of devotion is known as Evangelical Protestantism. As such, it does not indicate a denomination, and many Protestant denominations have congregations that are more Evangelical than other congregations within the same denomination. What it does indicate is an emphasis on each person coming to develop and cultivate a personal, devotional relationship to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and on the imperative to evangelize-namely, to share the Gospel with others so that they too can come personally to experience salvation in Christ. An important third emphasis is on the vital importance of the Bible as Divine Revelation-above all, as revelation of the Gospel but also as a source of divine guidance for every aspect of life. This has led many to suppose that Evangelicals are Fundamentalists, but this is not so. Virtually all Protestant Fundamentalists are Evangelicals, but there are many, perhaps most Evangelicals, who are not Fundamentalists.

    The excerpt chosen to represent the way of devotion in Christianity is by Billy Graham, internationally known Evangelical leader and revivalist of the twentieth century. His background is Baptist and Fundamentalist, and the early years of his ministry were much more conservative than he is today. Unlike Fundamentalism's concern to draw sharp, exclusive boundaries between "true Christians" and "false Christians," as Graham's ministry matured over the decades of the midcentury, he deliberately chose to identify with the broad mainstream of Evangelical Christianity and to enter into inclusive, ecumenical rapport with members of all of the mainstream denominations of Christianity. (This has resulted in the more extreme Fundamentalist groups repudiating Graham.) Probably no one widely recognized leader better represents that mainstream today than Graham. The excerpt is taken from the chapter, "Turning On," of his book, The Jesus Generation, published in 1971.6 Although Graham has pointed out that some of the illustrations in The Jesus Generation are now dated, this excerpt contains a concise summary of basic evangelical convictions.

    We get dirt off our bodies by turning on the water in the shower. We get the darkness out of a room by turning on the light. We get our automobiles to run by turning on the switch. The "hip" generation popularized the phrase "turning on" to describe the drug experience. Smoking pot, dropping acid, or shooting heroin, they turned on for a high and got into their trip.

    To become a Christian, you must "turn on" to God by placing your full faith in Christ as Savior and confessing Him as Lord. And the wonderful thing about it is that it works.

    I once conducted a crusade in a city that was having one cdsis after another with its restless young people. One night I disguised myself and attended a rock festival in order to discover what attracted so many-thousands. Next day, I reported that I had been present and publicly invited the entire hippie set to attend our services. They responded by the hundreds, and when I invited them to receive Christ, scores came forward. Recently, one of them wrote to me.

    "I came to the crusade because I thought you were a regular guy," he said. "To those of us who attended it was to be just another experience, something to relieve our boredom. But as you spoke, I began to hear another voice, and I knew what you were saying was 'truth.' When you asked us to come forward if we wanted to receive Christ, I rose almost spontaneously and walked down the aisle! Standing there, I felt more alive than I'd ever felt in my life. Everything I had searched for or longed for seemed to materialize in that one moment. I stayed on with my old friends a few more weeks, but presently I gravitated to those who had shared my spiritual experience. All of us began to pray regularly and to study the Bible. I am now attending seminary, studying for the ministry. I expect to spend the rest of my life spreading the thrilling news of God's love and forgiveness with all that will listen."

    This young man had been "born again." He had been "turned on" spiritually. Jesus Christ works like that, channeling His revolutionary power into the lives of those who put their faith in Him. He talked frequently about drastic changes, but always they had to start in the heart. This is why He insisted on conversion and new birth. "Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children," He said, "ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

    The shape of things to come has been apparent in our crusades for several years now, as a vast majority of our audiences included more and more young people, and as many thousands of them have marched across football stadiums and down the aisles of great indoor arenas to discover a new life. Their identity crisis is over! They have found what they were looking for by turning on to Jesus....

    Not long after my own conversion, I read a tract entitled "Four Things God Wants You to Know." Campus Crusade for Christ, which has played a major role in sparking the new "Jesus Revolution," has expanded these four items into a beautifu II ittle booklet and given them away by the hundreds of thousands. Literally, it has helped countless young people to get "turned on" spiritually. [In a later book, Graham states clearly, "I do not believe ... that there is a tidy little formula, or a recipe which has the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. However, I do believe these [kinds of summaries] have provided little handles which help people to understand how to receive Christ."7]

    The first law is that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. God loves you! Most young people have heard or perhaps memorized John 3:16, the most familiar verse in the Bible. In one modern version it reads: "For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him should not be lost, but should have eternal life."

    Young people talk a lot about love. Most of their songs are about love. "All You Need is Love," "I Can't Live in a World Without Love," "The Glory of Love," "Man Without Love," "Love Can Make the Poorest Man a Millionaire" are recent examples.

    "The supreme happiness of life," Victor Hugo said long ago, "is the conviction that we are loved." "Love is the first requirement for mental health," declared Sigmund Freud. The Bible teaches that "God is love" and that God loves you. To realize that is of paramount importance. Nothing else matters so much.

    And loving you, God has a wonderful plan for your life. Who else could plan and guide your life so well? He, the Shepherd; you, one of His sheep. A young woman who came forward in one of our meetings told us how God had once seemed so far away; but now in Jesus Christ, He was always near at hand in every situation. "The will of Christ for me," she explained, "is wonderfully simple and simply wonderful."

    The second spiritual law is that you must acknowledge you are a sinner-by nature and by practice. This sinful nature separates you from God and makes it impossible for you to experience either His love or His plan for your life. David, the great king of Israel, once wrote: "I was shaped in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me." Isaiah the prophet expressed the same idea, "All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way." Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived, explained that man's instinctive behavior when he excluded God, is invariably disastrous. "There is a way that seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." Jesus made it clear that the easy, popular way is the wrong way, "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction and many (the majority) there be that go in thereat." But "straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth into life and few there are that find it" (Matthew 7:13, 14). Paul argued to the Romans that the defilement of the human race was universal. "They have all gone out of the way" and "the way of peace they have not known ... for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Not only does our sin make us come short of God's expectations, but it separates us from God. Isaiah taught, "Your sins have separated His face from you."

    Youth senses this guilt, this alienation, this separation from God, and wonders what causes it. A reader wrote to "Dear Abby": "When a kid goes wrong, which factor is more responsible, his heredity or his environment?" Abby replied, "It's a toss-up." The Bible says exactly that! We are sinners both by heredity and environment; both by nature and by nurture; both by instinct and by practice....

    Because we are sinners, we often feel lonely, and unloved. A social scientist once polled the people of this country and discovered that at any time during the day about 135,000 Americans are saying "I'm sick and tired of everything!" In his first chapter, the prophet Isaiah described the sins of ancient Israel and noted the results: "The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint." Look around! Listen to youth today. The Rolling Stones have made "I Can't Get No Satisfaction!" one of the most popular modern songs. The title speaks for itself. Sin brings no satisfaction. Inger Stevens won the Golden Globe Award as the best televised actress during the sixties and began the seventies by taking her own life. "Sometimes I get so lonely I could scream," she had said. That's alienation! The feeling is shared by the youth of every country in the world.

    So why not quit beating around the bush! Why not call our problem by its real name, which is "sin." Sin is selfishness-it's a transgression of God's laws-it's coming short of God's moral requirements-and of these we are all guilty. Let's face it, admit it, and forsake it! That is called repentance. jesus said, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." That word repentance is used in the New Testament more than seventy times.

    The third spiritual law is that jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin. Only through Him can you know and experience God's love, forgiveness, salvation, and plan for you. "For at the very time when we were still sinners, then Christ died for the wicked," wrote Paul. john said, "In this was manifest the love of God toward us that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." jesus did not say that he was a way. He said: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by me!"

    Sometimes we miss the significance of the cross on which jesus died, stumbling over its simplicity. Its uncomplicated meaning is that jesus Christ has paid the price of our sins. By taking our place and our punishment, He gave us the gift of forgiveness, cleansing, and everlasting life.

    All the religions of the world are simply men looking for God. But Christianity is not merely one more religion. In Christianity, God is searching for man-and revealing Himself to man. That is why God has placed in man's heart a restlessness and a frustration-until he finds God! God's search for man led to the cross where His only Son suffered and died--died for you. This sounds foolish to modern ears. And to the ancients as well. When Paul went to the pagan city of Corinth, he said: "The proclamation of the cross is foolishness unto them that perish." But then he added: "The foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (I Corinthians 1:25). In that ancient city, the cross of Christ was a stumbling block to the Jews, and to the Gentiles it was idiocy. Intellectual Corinthians preferred a system of philosophy predicated on the ability of man's mind to unravel the divine. They wanted something their minds could grasp. So Paul tells us that "the natural man receiveth not (cannot understand) the things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:14). Nor must you understand all God's mysteries in order to find Him and receive Him and know Him. A doctor writes a prescription which we cannot read for the treatment of a disease that we do not understand, and we gladly pay a sum which may seem unreasonable because we rely on his knowledge and have faith that he will make us well. Before the cross can have any meaning at all, the Spirit of God must open the mind. So long as weremain separated from God, the Scriptures teach, our minds are covered by a veil. To such a one-to an "outsider"-the cross must appear as a ridiculous symbol. To those of us who have experienced its transforming power, however, it represents the only cure for sin-the basic ill of humanity. The cross is the focal point of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. His death upon it was no afterthought with God. When Christ took our places, our sin was laid on Him-and sin cannot be in two places at the same time. My sin was laid on Christ and, therefore, I have no sin charged to me. My sin is now Christ's burden. He has taken its load off me. He has become the sin bearer. Though I was indebted to God, Jesus paid off my debts. I will never suffer the shame of judgment or the terrors of hell, "As far as the east is from the west," said the psalmist, "so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103: 12)....

    Are you saying, "I don't understand any of this. It sounds ridiculous!" Listen! If a man were drowning and I threw him a life belt, would he say, "I'll not put this belt on until I know whether it's made of rubber or cork of if the material is strong enough to hold me"? No man in danger of drowning talks like that. No man who is ignorant of Christ is capable of comprehending the mystery of the cross as long as he is separated from God.

    The Bible says that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. You are a part of that world. God wants you to be reconciled to Him-and He has provided a way in the person of Jesus.

    The fourth spiritual law requires that you must openly accept Christ as your Savior and Lord. Only then can you know and experience God's love and plan for you.

    Throughout one's youth, one struggles constantly to be "accepted." We want to be accepted by our parents, by our teachers, by our peers, and by our girl friend or boyfriend. To gain this acceptance, you will do almost anything. In the beginning of the letter written to the Ephesians, Paul exults in the fact that, as believers, God has "destined us-such is His will and pleasure-to be accepted as His sons through Jesus Christ." Think of it-sinners such as you and I accepted by God! No wonder John Newton, the slave trader, after his conversion wrote, "Amazing grace, that could save a wretch like me."

    To "turn on" spiritually, you need only to open your heart to Jesus Christ and ask Him to come in. He says: "Here I stand knocking at the door; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and sit down to supper with him and he with Me." How beautiful! How simple! How thrilling! ...

    We are supposed to do more than admire Jesus. We are to "put Him on." As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "Put on the new nature ... created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness! The likeness to God that we had at the first, the likeness that we lost by sin, is created again in us when our lives are joined to Christ."

    Paul the apostle often spoke of the Christian as being "in Christ."

    That is a Christian person's true identity.

    Having done this, now I know my past-it is sinful but forgiven-and where I come from; I came from God. I know what went wrong; I tried to play God instead of being satisfied to be a real man. I know my future; my destiny is Heaven. And I know the present; I live in the here and now having Jesus always within me, His Holy Spirit to guide, teach, and lead....

    Right now, thousands of young people are confronting the living Christ. You can too. Would you like to pray the short prayer we pray in our crusades with those who come forward to receive Christ?

    Oh Lord, I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. I am willing to turn from my sins. I receive jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I confess Him as Lord. I want to serve Him from this moment on in the fellowship of His Church. In Christ's name, Amen.


    Reprinted by permission of the author from Billy Graham, The jesus Generation (Grand Rapids, Ml: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), pp. 139-147, and 149.


    You may have already noticed how Graham includes personal stories of the devotional religious experience of Christians in what he writes, which also reflects his preaching style. Sharing such personal testimonies is not unique to Graham, but is a pervasive feature of Evangelical Christian preaching and religious life generally. Other stories Graham cites include the following.8

    One dark night, in the ancient city of Jerusalem, Jesus turned to one of the bestknown intellectuals of his time and said, "I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). In those words Jesus told us of both the necessity and the possibility of new birth-of spiritual transformation. Since that time untold millions throughout the ages have attested to the reality and the power of God in their lives through being born again....

    I think of the great Dutch Christian, Corrie ten Boom, who is now in her 80s. Her story of courage in the midst of Nazi persecution has inspired millions. She tells of an experience when she was only five years old when she said, "I want Jesus in my heart." She described how her mother took her little hand in hers and prayed with her. "It was so simple, and yet Jesus Christ says that we all must come as children, no matter what our age, social standing, or intellectual background." [Graham here is quoting from ten Boom's autobiography, The Hiding Place.]

    Corrie ten Boom, at the age of five, had been born again.

    I have had countless people tell me, in person and by letter, how they were born again and their lives were changed. A man from Milwaukee wrote, "Tonight my wife and I had come to the brink of ending our marriage. We felt we could no longer stay together under the conditions in which we were living. Both of us admitted that we thought we no longer loved each other. I no longer enjoyed her company nor appreciated my home life. We made bitter statements about each other. We could make no compromise, nor could we agree on how to improve our marriage even if we were to try.

    "I believe it was God's will that I turned on the television and listened to your message about spiritual rebirth. As my wife watched with me, we began to search our hearts and felt a new life within us. I prayed that God would come into my heart and truly make me a new man and help me begin a new life. Our troubles seem rather slight now."

    Both this man and his wife were born again....

    . . .[P]eople frantically pursue all sorts of promised cures for the renewal of their inner lives. Some people hunt for renewal at the psychiatrist's office. Others search for spiritual renewal in exotic oriental religions or processes of inward meditation. Still others seek for inner peace and renewal in drugs or alcohol. Whatever the path, however, they eventually come to a dead end. Why? Simply because man cannot renew himself. God created us. Only God can recreate us. Only God can give us the new birth we so desperately want and need.

    Joel Quinones was a living example of a person whose mind was under attack. I met him in San Diego and heard his amazing story.

    Joel was first thrown into prison at the age of eight for trying to kill a sadistic man who had beaten him and burned him with cigarettes. When Joel was released, he came out a bundle of hatred and from then on did everything he could to show his scorn to society. As a result Joel found himself in San Quentin at the age of nineteen and spent the next eleven years there. He was turned over to the prison psychiatrists, who examined him, gave him shock treatments, and finally diagnosed him as "criminally insane."

    Joel was placed in with the incorrigibles. When they were fed, the food was placed on what appeared to be a large shovel with the handle long enough to push it under two separate security doors. "You don't even feed a tiger that way," Joel told us, "but that's the way they fed us."

    After all those years in San Quentin, it was decided to get rid of the undesirable aliens, and Joel, along with a number of other Mexicans, was taken across the border and turned loose. He had a godly mother, a cook at a Bible school, who had been in the courtroom when Joel had been convicted for the first time. She had said to him then, "Joel, this isn't the end. Jesus has work for you to do."

    When he was released in Mexico, his mother was there to greet him. Putting her arms around him, she said, "Joel, you need the Lord Jesus; you need to ask Him to forgive your sins, to give you a new heart and a new life."

    Joel struggled with this, but before the Lord was finished with him he was a transformed person. He went to Bible school, married one of the graduates, and is today a prison chaplain in Mexico. He has won so many prisoners to Christ that he is busy trying to build a halfway house, a "City of Refuge" to which these prisoners can come for rehabilitation before returning to normal life.

    Sin had affected Joel's mind, but the transforming power of Christ had given him new gifts.

    Captain Mitsuo Fuchida was the Japanese naval air commander who led the bombing attack on Pearl Harbor. He relates that when the Japanese war prisoners were returning from America he was curious as to what kind of treatment they had received. An ex-prisoner he questioned told him what made it possible for those in the camp to forget their hate and hostility toward their captors. One young girl had been extremely kind and helpful and had shown such love and tenderness for them that their hearts were touched. They wondered why she was so good to them and were amazed when she told them it was because her parents had been killed by the Japanese army! She explained that her parents had been Christian missionaries in the Philippines at the beginning of the war but when the Japanese landed they were forced to flee to the mountains. They were later found by the Japanese, accused of being spies and put to death. But before they were killed they had asked for thirty minutes of time to pray, which was granted. The girl was convinced that her parents had spent that thirty minutes praying for forgiveness for their executioners, and because of this she was able to allow the Holy Spirit to remove the hate from her heart and replace it with love.

    Captain Fuchida could not understand such love. Several months passed and one day in Tokyo he was given a leaflet as he left a railroad station. This told the story of Sergeant Jacob DeShazer who was captured by the Japanese, tortured, and held prisonerofwarforforty months. While in prison camp he received Christ through reading the Bible. God's Word removed the bitter hatred for the Japanese from his heart and replaced it with such love that he was compelled to return to tell the Japanese people of this marvelous love of Christ.

    Captain Fuchida bought a Bible and began to read. He faced the scene of the crucifixion of Christ and was struck by Jesus' words "Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Jesus prayed for the very soldiers who were about to thrust the spear into His side. In his book From Pearl Harbor to Golgotha Captain Fuchida tells how he found the source of this miracle love that can forgive enemies, and how he could now understand the story of the American girl whose parents had been slain and the transformation in Jake DeShazer's life.


    How to Be Born Again, Billy Graham, 1977, Word Publishing, Dallas, Texas. All rights reserved.



    This page titled 12.2: Billy Graham and Evangelical Piety is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dale Cannon (Independent) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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