Q& A: Will Graham on Preaching Hell and Why He Doesn't Believe in Mass Evangelism
William (Will) Franklin Graham IV is the grandson of Billy Graham and the son of Franklin Graham. CT contributing editor Christine A. Scheller interviewed him when he was in Red Bank, New Jersey, on March 25 preparing for the May 20-22 Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration that will be held at the historic Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove. Graham is an associate evangelist at the evangelistic organization his grandfather founded and assistant director of The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He preached his first 3-day Celebration in Leduc, Alberta, Canada in 2006. Graham and his wife, Kendra, live near Asheville, North Carolina and have three young children.
Last year Harvard professor Robert D. Putman published a book called American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. He and his co-author found that Americans' doctrinal commitments are weakening and they don't believe God is going to send "Aunt Joanie" to hell. How do you preach the gospel to a generation that questions the eternality of hell?
I always go back to the Bible. It's what the Bible says, and oftentimes as Americans— and this is not just in religion, it's in a lot of things—we try to design stuff, today we call it designer religion: "I'll take a little bit of this and take a little bit of that" and so on, and we kind of come up with our own little religion. We try to make our own God, our own idol in a sense. This is what our God is going to be: he's going to be more compassionate, no more hell. But always I go back to this is what the Bible says; not this is what Will Graham says, but this is what God is saying through his Word.
But you have a generation that is not biblically literate and doesn't necessarily respect the authority of the Bible the way society did in the past. And people like Rob Bell are communicating that it hasn't always been clear that Christians believe in the eternality of hell. The fact that CNN, ABC News, and all these other secular outlets reported on it tells me that Bell is tapping into something.
I can't speak for what Rob Bell talks about, but most people I come across still believe in hell. Now the idea of what hell is, that's changing, but there are a few things we do know that the Bible says. One, that there is a place called hell. Just as heaven is real, so is hell. The whole reason God came to search out man was to save us from hell. The Bible says hell was never created for man. It was created for Satan and his angels that rebelled against God. Since man has decided to rebel against God, they were going to spend eternity in hell totally separate from God.
I was watching Bugs Bunny with my kids—you know, good cartoons, the old ones—and Yosemite Sam went down to hell one time and there was a guy with a pitchfork and horns. We don't know what Satan looks like. As a matter of fact, he's known as Lucifer, the Angel of Light. He's probably something beautiful, so we have a lot of misconceptions about hell, but hell is very much a real place. We know it's a place of utter darkness. It's not going to be one big party like on TV. What I found out, even as a pastor, is that when you preach from God's Word, God will speak through his Word to people and it's always relevant. So even to this generation, I still preach the Bible.
Are people still responsive to the kind of preaching your grandfather did?
Oh yeah! People come up and say, "The years of mass evangelism are dead," and I say, "I don't believe in mass evangelism," and they're like, "That's what you guys have always done." I say, "No, we don't. We do personal evangelism, but we do it on a massive scale." Does it work in all contexts? No, but it still does. I was just in India. I had two crusades over there earlier this year. We saw a number of people come forward. The only one we did in the United States last year was in Auburn, Alabama, and it ended up being the largest event I've ever done in the United States.