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Q&A: Billy Graham's Warning Against an Epidemic of 'Easy Believism'
Image: Kevork Djansezian / AP

In the heydey of his crusade ministry, Billy Graham would travel across the globe to preach to stadium-sized audiences. Now, though confined to his home in the mountains of western North Carolina, the mass evangelist is still able, using modern technology, to continue proclaiming the gospel. November marks the beginning of the "My Hope America with Billy Graham," campaign, a video evangelism course designed for individual and small group use. In conjunction with the launch of My Hope America, Graham has released what may be his final book, The Reason for My Hope: Salvation. CT asked Graham about his thoughts on the present state of Christian belief and his confidence, amidst theological and cultural confusion, in the core gospel message.

Do you call yourself an evangelical, or a Christian, first? Why?

What really matters is how God sees me. He isn't concerned with labels; he is concerned about the state of man's soul. The Bible tells me that I am first a sinner. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). But because of the saving grace Jesus has extended to me, and my repentance of sin, I am his child—having been saved by the blood of my Savior on the cross. At that moment, I entered into a life-changing relationship with him. Those who read The Reason for My Hope will see clearly from Scripture how to be saved and how to live the Christian life.

Jesus Christ is my Lord and Master. I have repented of my sin, turned my life over to Christ, and seek daily to obey his Holy Word. I am his follower. Before my conversion on November 1, 1934, which I tell of in the book, I always thought myself a Christian. It wasn't until I was confronted and convicted of my sin that I realized that Christ makes a difference in the lives of those who not only claim his name but obey his Word. If there is no change in a person's life, he or she must question whether or not they possess the salvation that the gospel proclaims. Many who go to church have not had a life-changing transformation in Christ. Those outside the church expect followers of Christ to live differently, yet today many in church are chasing after the world—not to win them, but to be like them. This is very dangerous and the Bible gives account to the tragic result.

In the New Testament, when people heard the truth Jesus taught and received his glorious gift of forgiveness and hope for eternal life in Heaven, others who observed the change in their lives called them Christians—Christ followers (Acts 11:26). Just as Jesus came willingly to rescue mankind from sin, I willingly serve him and seek to glorify him with my life because I am a child of the King. Being called a Christian should identify us with the demands Christ makes on those who belong to him. He tells us to count the cost of following him.

My preaching is that of an evangelist and I wholeheartedly believe in the fundamental teaching of the Holy Scriptures. This is the foundation of my book. My hope is that people will read it. My desire is that readers will comprehend the privilege and responsibility of living the Christian life. When Jesus becomes our Master we set aside our way and walk his way. It is not always easy but enormously productive and challenging, because those who follow him become shining lights in a very dark world. This is why the Christian has hope. The reason I have hope for the world is because Christ died for the whole world and is calling the lost and weary to come to him. Jesus said he had "come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).

Why, according to the title of your book, is salvation the reason for your hope?

As I approached my 95th birthday, I was burdened to write a book that addressed the epidemic of "easy believism." There is a mindset today that if people believe in God and do good works they are going to Heaven. But there are many questions that must be answered. There are two basic needs that all people have: the need for hope and the need for salvation. It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible. Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil's lie. To those who say you can have Christ without giving anything up, Satan is deceiving you. While I am no longer able to stand in the pulpit and deliver a sermon from the Bible, God laid on my heart a burning desire to put this message in book form—a message that resonates within me every time I switch on the news. When I visit with people from all walks of life the question is asked, "What is happening in the world?"

Many politicians and government leaders have asked me this question. Countless students on university campuses have begged to hear the truth. I have always explained that Almighty God is the architect of earth, the Creator of mankind, and has fashioned the soul. He is the Beginning and the End and the Giver and Finisher of Faith. All answers lie within the revealed Word of God. Salvation is God's gift to the world, but the gift of God's love and forgiveness must be accepted on his terms—not ours. Gifts are never forced; they are offered and received. Many today say that the idea of redemption is antiquated. I write in the book about Hollywood, and even professional football, loving stories of redemption. Why? A film critic stated that people want to overcome what troubles them from within. Christ is the only source that can remove the despair within our hearts. This is the reason for my hope, that people everywhere will open their hearts to Christ's salvation—the redemptive gift that offers peace and the certainty of eternal life.

Why do you think God has seen fit to give you additional time on earth before calling you home?

Traveling around the world and preaching for over 70 years did not give much time for reflection. But no matter where I was in the world when I came home, Ruth was always here waiting. We enjoyed those moments, and she and I always found time with the Lord together, rejoicing with answers to prayer. I miss that fellowship with her. She was a prayer warrior and loved to sit and talk about the Bible. She's been in Heaven six years now and I believe the Lord has given me this season of life to consider all that is still left to do and to be faithful to the message of Christ while I still have breath. Whether we preach from a pulpit or sit in quiet contemplation, there is always much more to learn as we seek the face of the Lord. Looking back there are times I was not as strong as I should have been, but my heart and my ministry have always been rooted in God's Word. The message I preach is anchored on what "the Bible says."

I try to spend my days encouraging others to serve Jesus Christ wholeheartedly, praying for those who labor in his name, and asking that many more answer God's call to preach the gospel truth, declaring what the Bible says. It is truth. His word is life.

How did you select the topics and illustrations that speak so specifically to people's needs?

This book addresses many issues and concerns that weigh heavy on my heart, and while I have written over 30 books, I believe this book focuses on matters that are on the minds of people everywhere. There are so many religions in the world, and I have never witnessed as much confusion as there is today about where to find truth. We have people preaching that God is a God of love, not of wrath. We have people proclaiming that Heaven is real but Hell is only a figment of imagination. As research was done for this book, my heart ached to hear story after story of people bragging that Hell will be one continuous happy hour; high profile comedians joke that they are happy to know they will one day go there.

This book is written to sound a warning—a loving warning from Heaven—that Heaven is created for those who humble themselves before God and Hell is created for Satan and those who serve him. Christ came to turn mankind away from the hold Satan wants to have in people's lives. Jesus Christ is the answer for the world—he is the anchor of the soul—he is the God of hope that came in human form to rescue us from Satan's grip. A seminary professor once made a profound statement to his students: "Never preach Hell without tears in your eyes." My message is to proclaim that we are all sinners in need of a Savior and ask each one this question: Have you ever been saved?

In your book you pose the question: Who would refuse rescue from tragedy? Why is this?

It seems unreasonable that a human being would refuse rescue from a sinking ship, but people actually have because they didn't really believe they would drown. Likewise, the world is full of people who do not believe dying in their sin will send them to Hell, so they refuse to be rescued by way of the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have known many intriguing people and write about some in the book, like American war hero Louis Zamperini, who was rescued out of the Pacific Ocean only to be captured by the enemy during World War II. But he found out later that a greater enemy was master of his soul, and he wasn't willing to be rescued from alcoholism until he came face-to-face with the enemy and was rescued by the saving love of God.

Just as I began working on the book, the Costa Concordia went down off the coast of Italy. Such terror that strikes human hearts is indescribable. Suddenly people begin to realize that the good life cannot save. They cry out to be rescued but the people around them are also in despair, unable to help. Where does one turn? This is the state of our world, and the only One who can save is the One who was born for that sole purpose, as the Christmas story tells us. The Virgin Mary will bring forth a Son conceived of the Holy Spirit, and his name will be Jesus, "for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).

The Bible is still the best-selling book of all time, yet people refuse to believe. They refuse to accept the greatest gift that has ever been offered to mankind. Why? Because it calls for the confession of sin and the complete surrender of one's selfish ways. It calls for repentance of sin against God. Many would prefer to live it up for a short time on earth in hope that there is no Hell to suffer in the afterlife. They believe Satan's lie that there is no life after death. But Jesus spoke of Hell much more than he spoke of Heaven. This is why I have spent my life calling out to the people of the world: Come to Jesus just as you are, and he will receive you and strengthen you each step of the way.

You write that "Sin is in." What do you mean by that?

In the 21st-century society, people have given sin a makeover, calling sin a mistake. God calls it iniquity. It is a disease of the soul. Society generally wants to campaign against disease, raise money to eradicate it. But the disease of sin is celebrated and glorified by society and especially in the pop culture of the day, ignoring the toll it takes in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms. Society may boast that "sin is in," but the truth is that sin is in you, me, and everyone.

Secular media carry stories frequently about men and women who commit horrific crimes, and mankind demands that a penalty be paid. Yet, mankind resents God demanding that a penalty be paid for sins committed against Creator God. God shows Himself the loving Father that he is by sending his own sacrifice, his only Son, to die in man's place, paying the penalty for the sin that the Bible says "easily ensnares us" (Heb. 12:1). Many people who transgress God's laws resent their sin being judged by a righteous God. We reject the idea of our own transgressions, but when it comes to transgressions as in common sports language, we accept the rules; in fact, we love them. If we are rooting for our team and the opposing team commits a transgression, we cheer. This is what is in the heart of man, but I can assure you that God does not cheer from the sidelines when we go out of the bounds of his law and commit transgressions (sins) against him. His heart is grieved. Sin is poison and destroys. Salvation is the antidote that purifies.

Society today is obsessed with technology, something you write about in detail. Is there a biblical view of technology?

The Bible declares that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecc. 1:9). Nothing surprises God. He enables his creation to tap into the resources he has given to us on earth. We have certainly watched the plethora of communication capabilities explode as we moved into the 21st century. I have always loved the art of communication, and there is no question that my preaching ministry benefitted greatly by utilizing amplification and magnification in arenas and stadiums around the world. Television and radio enabled the gospel to reach far corners of the earth, as the Bible predicted. But while God allows blessing to come from such grand inventions like wireless and mobile devices, Satan has also used technology to cleverly advance his deception. There are generations today that take pride in their ability to communicate instantly through Facebook or Twitter but are unable to communicate face-to-face. People are finding solace sitting in front of computer screens willing to talk to total strangers about anything and everything through electronic communication, but don't believe God could ever hear their cries of loneliness, grief, and pain.

A Harvard University president once told me that what young people desire the most is "to belong." Multitudes are willing to belong to just about anything except God. The human race has always been on a quest for truth and acceptance, yet men and women are unwilling to accept the One who is the truth. Instead they are turning to a new fad—designer religion—faith blending, a little Christianity, a little Buddhism, and a little New Age. This is a trick of the Devil, who loves to mix some truth with his lies. The Bible warns about this and tells us that we must hold fast to truth and fight for the faith. "In latter times some [will give] heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons…having their own consciences seared" (1 Tim. 4:1-2).

But technology is a gift from God when it is used to proclaim the gospel. This is why I am excited about My Hope, an evangelistic program developed by our ministry that has been used around the world. Through every means of reliable communication, we are proclaiming the Good News that God loves sinners and calls men and women everywhere to repent and turn to him, receiving true hope that comes from God. I have been preparing for several months to deliver this message through My Hope America, a television special that will be seen in homes across the nation the week of my 95th birthday. I cannot think of anything I would rather do to celebrate another year of life than to proclaim God's truth. My prayer is that all Christians will open their homes to their family and neighbors who need Christ and tune in to see what God is doing in these days that may seem dark, yet are full of hope.

This is the message of the book, and it is the message of our upcoming television special this November. "Hope and change" has become a cliché in America the past several years. In the book I write about the disappointments Americans have experienced when hope and change promised by men failed. But there is no disappointment in the God of hope. The Bible says that it is in Jesus, God's Son, that the world can have hope and that the "God of hope" can fill us with joy and peace in believing this great truth through his power (Rom. 15:12-13).

Sixty years ago, you awoke in the middle of the night with a dream to start Christianity Today magazine. CT is still in circulation, now reaching millions of people along with a host of sister publications. Is that surprising and encouraging to you?

I give God thanks and all the glory for every avenue that carries his message into hearts and minds. Christianity Today has been kind to me and the ministry God has given to us. I am grateful that CT is supporting My Hope this fall. I appreciate the opportunity to share about this book that is so much on my heart.

It is always a joy to read articles that lift up Jesus Christ and point people to the cross, and I encourage the editors, writers, contributors, researchers, and the board of directors to always keep Christ at the center of everything. Let's honor him and him alone.

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The Reason for My Hope: Salvation
Thomas Nelson
2013-10-15
224 pp., $9.98
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Q&A: Billy Graham's Warning Against an Epidemic of 'Easy ...