Today I was showing Celeste a video of Woody Allen interviewing Billy Graham in the 70’s. We started talking about whether or not Billy Graham’s evangelicalism had won the day over the fundamentalists who were against him in the 1950s-1980s. Billy Graham was quite controversial for his time. He was willing to meet with presidents who weren’t known to be evangelical, and he was very nondenomenational and downplayed theological details which some felt compromised the gospel.[
Those critical of Billy Graham felt he was not paying enough attention to the fundamentals of the faith. He was watering down the gospel to get crowds to fill up the many football stadiums that he preached at. Graham started in the Fundamentalist movement, but was ostracized eventually by it for welcoming and partnering with Catholics and more liberal Christians to his crusades in the 1940s.
There has been a shift today in evangelical culture. Today Billy Graham’s evangelicalism is not to the evangelical liberal side for being too willing to reach out to contemporary culture, but to the center or even right in evangelical circles. Today evangelicals write books on creation-care (environmentalism) and they are taking on high-church practices and devotional tools. They are thinking about urban farming as a means of ushering in the kingdom on earth and spending a lot more time thinking about how to minister to the poor than how to hand out tracts.
Billy Graham might wish that todays evangelical’s spent more time sharing the ‘good news’ with their neighbors. He might be concerned that they have taken St. Francis’ popular saying “preach the gospel, and use words if necessary” a little too far, never explicitly sharing their faith in word, but only in deed.
There is no doubt in my mind that evangelicalism has at times been too gnostic in its focus on understanding doctrine precisely and correctly, sometimes to the detriment of living out the gospel in real difficult ways. Comfortable evangelicalism, with occassional forrays out on the weekends to distribute tracts or have an awkward difficult conversation with someone we didn’t know well about the eternal state of their soul was the norm for many evangelicals growing up.
While there is certainly a problem with not being ‘able to give an account of the hope that lives within you’, there is even a bigger problem with having an account of the hope, but not much actual empirical evidence in the way you live you life of the commitment you have.
May God help us to balance our lives with our words. And thank God for Billy Graham!