This article originally appeared in the January 4, 1974 issue of Christianity Today.
Christianity Today is indebted to Dr. Billy Graham for this significant interview in which the distinguished evangelist relays personal impressions of the status of the Christian impact upon our generation and of spiritual trends throughout the world. No evangelist in Christian history more than Dr. Graham has proclaimed the gospel of Christ to multitudes on a world scale by mass meeting, radio and television. He expressed the following views on the eve of his evangelistic crusade in Charlotte, North Carolina. Questioners included distinguished members of the Board of Directors of Christianity Today, Dr. Harold John Ockenga of Boston's Park Street Church and Dr. Robert J. Lamont of Pittsburgh's First Presbyterian Church, and Editor Carl F. H. Henry.
Dr. Henry: Do you sense any worldwide moving of the Holy Spirit today?
Dr. Graham: Yes, I do. Most everywhere, Christian leaders have told me that it is easier to win people to Christ than ever before.
Dr. Henry: Any particularly noteworthy areas?
Dr. Graham: I think that possibly in Latin America I have sensed the greatest spirit of manifestation of what I call genuine revival in the Protestant church. The Protestant church in Latin America has suffered a certain amount of persecution from various sources. This has brought about the emergence of a strong, virile, and dynamic leadership that I have not sensed in any other part of the world.
Dr. Lamont: What of the missionary witness?
Dr. Graham: I found practically no extreme liberalism in Latin America. There is no modernism. The Gospel is preached by most of the denominations in its purest form, compared with other mission fields I have visited.
Dr. Ockenga: Do you see Latin America as a promising field for a reformation in our century?
Dr. Graham: I couldn't answer that. I do know that Catholicism in Latin America takes a different thrust than it does in the United States. A Catholic theologian recently told me that unless there is a reform within the Catholic church, in many countries there will be a revolt against the Catholic church, and that only the Protestants and Communists would profit by it. In many countries one senses anti-clericalism. I think that there is something new in Latin American countries. Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, perhaps even Mexico might be Protestant within another generation.
Dr. Ockenga: Have you any particular anxiety about the course of foreign missions today?
Dr. Graham: I am alarmed over the thought prevailing in some denominational missions that they should not penetrate any further into Hinduism, Buddhism, or other religions. The idea is that we should peacefully co-exist—hold what we have, and evangelize as we can. Pioneer missions is something some denominational leaders are no longer interested in. To do pioneer missions work a man not only has to have a dedication but he has to have a message. Unfortunately, a lot of our seminary graduates today just don't have the message.
Dr. Lamont: As far as your appraisal of the new independent indigenous churches is concerned, is there any marked evangelical leadership in these younger foreign churches?
Dr. Graham: I would say that in the overwhelming. majority of the places I've visited, at least in many cases, nationals are more evangelical than the missionaries.
Dr. Henry: You have spoken of the comparative ease with which converts are now being made and you have said this happens in many religions today. How do you discriminate the presence of the Holy Spirit in this general religious moving? What are the criteria of the presence of the Holy Spirit?
Dr. Graham: I think there is a hunger of the soul and an inquiring of the mind after some philosophy, some ideology, or some religion that will satisfy. The talk of scientists about annihilation of the human race is penetrating the thinking of the world. Many people are beginning to reflect on the possibility of racial suicide and they wonder, "What have I to hold on to? What do we have that can save us?" I think that's one element. But I also feel that beyond that is the sovereign presence of the Holy Spirit in penetrating power that perhaps is using this religious inquiry in allowing an acceptance of the Gospel all over the world, perhaps in such scale as we have not seen before in history.
Dr. Ockenga: Could you elaborate on that point?
Dr. Graham: I think that we are seeing on the one hand this tremendous spiritual emphasis and religious interest, and on the other hand materialism is gaining in many different ways. When God does great work, powers of evil also rise.
Dr. Lamont: The Bible says wickedness shall grow worse and worse. But at the same time, is it not possible that the church is going to grow better and better? Don't you think that at the same time it's possible for the saints to become more sanctified?
Dr. Graham: I am not sure that I would say that in America saints are more sanctified. I'm not so sure but what they are less sanctified. I think that television, for example, is having a detrimental effect on Christians. I think that they are no longer sensitive to sin. I think that television has brought the night club into the home, along with violence and sex—things that Christians looked upon 10 years ago with abhorrence. They have gradually become desensitized, and I can cite case after case in which Christians now watch television without feeling any twinge of conscience.
Dr. Henry: Do you mean that the secular thrust has penetrated more deeply in America than the spiritual thrust?
Dr. Graham: The spiritual thrust, it seems to me, has been almost numerical. There is this great influx into the churches and this great interest, but so much of it is superficial.
Dr. Henry: What would you say is the greatest need of the Church today?
Dr. Graham: I believe that the thing that we are missing today is not organization, it is not facilities, and it is not communication. The great need in the world today is for Spirit-filled men who really produce the fruit of the Spirit. I had a Hindu student say to me in Madras, "I would become a Christian if I could see one." And when he said that to me he was looking at me. That was one of the greatest sermons ever preached to me.
Dr. Lamont: Last year, the growth in American church membership failed to keep up with the population increase. What is your comment?
Dr. Graham: The increase in population over the increase in church membership was small. In my opinion, there is no indication of a trend here. I don't think there should be any discouragement over this at all.
Dr. Ockenga: As population increases and Christianity vies for the additional people with other major religions, we'll probably have fewer Christians proportionately. How do you reconcile this with your viewpoint of a greater hunger for spiritual things?
Dr. Graham: Well, the job of the Christian Church in the proclamation of the Gospel is not necessarily to win the world, but to confront the world with the Gospel of Christ and to give the world an opportunity to receive or reject him.
Dr. Ockenga: Does the Bible teach, in your opinion, that the whole world is going to be converted?
Dr. Graham: No. I think the Bible teaches to the contrary. The Scripture says that the cup of iniquity will become so filled that the only alternative is judgment.
Dr. Henry: What spectacular gains are evangelicals making today and what can we look for next?
Dr. Graham: The growth of Bible schools and colleges, and accreditation of our academic efforts are evidence of great strides being made by evangelicalism. Then there is the tremendous discussion about evangelical theology. Ten or fifteen years ago evangelicalism was almost dead. It was in a rut. Now great discussions are going on and liaison is being established between various shades of thought within evangelical circles. I think Fuller Theological Seminary is an evidence of that. I think that Christianity Today is an evidence of that. I think perhaps our crusades are additional evidence.
Dr. Lamont: How about the large denominations?
Dr. Graham: I see evangelical wings within the denominations having a revival. There is unquestionably a new emphasis on evangelism.
Dr. Henry: Do you find any evidence that in the Protestant churches there is a new note of authority—a note of authority sounded afresh? What rediscovery of the Bible do you sense in the pulpits of America?
Dr. Graham: I feel that there is in process a return to biblical preaching. I would say that the greatest emphasis at the moment is probably being given to the social concern of the Old Testament prophets such as Amos and Hosea, that in studying those Old Testament prophets some of our brethren have come up with the realization of judgment. I think we are hearing a note of judgment being preached today a little more, perhaps, than we did before. And I think the lordship and the centrality of Christ and the Cross is being emphasized in the pulpit today. But probably not the substitutionary aspect of the Cross that we would like to see; sometimes the Cross is held up as a sentimental thing to which we are to come. But I feel that there is a great shallowness in preaching today, and I feel that the Church is lacking in great preaching. For example, when they have a conference in any of our great interdenominational meetings, you will notice how often they have about the same list of speakers. At least, they are trying to get the same speakers, because there are so few great preachers in America today. And I think one reason is because the minister today seldom does any creative thinking. He's not studying. And many of our seminaries are not emphasizing the need of preaching. We are turning out administrators. We are turning out personal counselors, particularly along lines of psychological counseling. I think our need is to return to great preaching, great Bible preaching! And I think that people will come to hear great preaching.
Dr. Henry: Do you sense within the organized church a drive toward ecumenism as fully as a move for evangelism?
Dr. Graham: The emphasis on the ecumenical movement, it seems, is primarily in the hands of the leadership of the denominations. I do not think there is very much ecumenicity on the parish level. I think that the minister down in the grass roots is becoming far more interested in evangelism of one sort or another—perhaps not using my definition of evangelism but some sort of evangelism. And I think he recognizes that there is a need within his own congregation and in his community. To many, evangelism is the penetration of the Christian influence within the social structure of a community.
Dr. Henry: In Germany after World War I, spiritual leaders were saying that unless we bridge the gap to the university mind and to the laboring forces with the Gospel, it was dubious that any significant Christian advance would be registered. How do you feel about that?
Dr. Graham: I feel that is absolutely true. And I think we are making practically no spiritual penetration into the laboring class.
Dr. Henry: Does the destiny of Christianity in our generation hang in any significant way upon the layman?
Dr. Graham: Wasn't the Early Church primarily a lay movement, and haven't we perhaps made a tragic mistake in this distance that we have built up between the laity and the clergy? And haven't many churches made the mistake of depending on the minister to do their work for them, when actually all laymen are called to be workers? Many laymen feel that their job is to sit in the pew on Sunday and perhaps contribute a few things, when actually their job is also to be ministers.
Dr. Lamont: If you were a pastor of a large church in a principal city, what would be your plan of action?
Dr. Graham: I think one of the first things I would do would be to get a small group of eight or ten or twelve men around me that would meet a few hours a week and pay the price! It would cost then something in time and effort. I would share with them everything I have, over a period of a couple of years. Then I would actually have twelve ministers among the laymen who in turn could take eight or ten or twelve more and teach them. I know one or two churches that are doing that, and it is revolutionizing the church. Christ, I think, set the pattern. He spent most of his time with twelve men. He didn't spend it with great crowds. In fact, every time he had a great crowd it seems to me that there weren't too many results. The great results, it seems to me, came in his personal interviews and in the time he spent with his twelve.
Dr. Lamont: Would you say that Khrushchev's conversion is an impossibility?
Dr. Graham: No! No man is beyond the mercy of God.
Dr. Lamont: Ought Christians to pray for him?
Dr. Graham: Yes. We are to pray for all men.
Dr. Lamont: How best can Communist leaders be reached with the Gospel?
Dr. Graham: Through prayer.
Dr. Lamont: Would you like to go to Russia to preach?
Dr. Graham: Yes.
Dr. Lamont: Is there any prospect?
Dr. Graham: There is no contact at the moment.
Dr. Ockenga: Has there been a shift of emphasis in your preaching?
Dr. Graham: I have preached a great deal of judgment, and still do, but I would say there has been a shift toward emphasis on other aspects of the Gospel. Especially has there been a shift to the Cross which I believe is central. In fact, now I feel that if I preach any message on any subject in which the Cross is not central, I have not truly preached the Gospel.
Dr. Ockenga: Would you name another aspect of the Gospel in which you are now placing emphasis?
Dr. Graham: Within the last year, I have been emphasizing the cost of discipleship. I care less and less how many people come forward—whether anybody comes forward or not. The important thing is whether I have made clear the Gospel and the cost of following Christ. We're saved by grace, but discipleship also means making Christ the Lord of our daily lives and this costs dearly. And I believe that one of the emphases needed in evangelism is to spell out the cost of following Christ. Many people fail to count the cost. Yet it seems to me that the times that I have preached and made it more difficult than any other time, that is the night we have our greatest response.
Dr. Henry: What has heartened you most?
Dr. Graham: During the past year, the tremendous response which we had in California was unprecedented in all our travels over the world.
Dr. Henry: Numerically? Is that what you mean?
Dr. Graham: Yes, in a way. Everywhere we went the crowds came. The people came forward, as if they had been waiting. This is to God's glory.
Dr. Lamont: What is the largest numerical response you have seen in America?
Dr. Graham: At our San Antonio rally in July, some 3,000 came forward. That was the largest number to come forward at an American meeting.
Dr. Ockenga: What does that signalize?
Dr. Graham: That signalized to me that television has given us a penetration that radio has never accomplished.
Dr. Henry: What are you hoping for next?
Dr. Graham: I'm giving some thought to taking less time in a crusade and going to some cities for just a week, so that we can get to more cities now, while this great harvest seems to be ready. Invitations for such meetings seem almost unlimited but the decision to accept must be of the Holy Spirit. For this I request your earnest prayers.
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