Billy Graham died on the 21st February 2018, at the age of 99. He was, beyond question, one of the most influential men in modern history. It has been estimated that he preached to something in the region of 200 million people, in at least 180 countries and territories of the world. And hundreds of millions more heard him via radio, TV, film, etc., so that some estimates of the numbers he reached go as high as 2.2 billion people. Millions think of him as a wonderful Christian and the world’s greatest preacher.
But is this correct? The Bible says, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). Let us examine the doctrines and conduct of this man, to test the fruits which he produced.
His False Arminian “Gospel”
There is much we could say about the false Arminian “free will gospel” which Billy Graham preached. He always spoke of making a “decision” for Christ – he believed man’s will is free to choose to follow Christ or not. This is why he held his famous and utterly unbiblical “altar calls” so beloved of Arminian preachers everywhere. Instead of the biblical truth that the new birth is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit of God (Jn. 1:13), in which the person is entirely passive, and that only when one is born again is he able to repent and believe in Christ, Graham reduced this mighty work of God to a man’s own choice, whenever it suits him, to “make a decision” for Christ. Putting the cart before the horse, Graham (like all Arminians) claimed that when one “decides for Christ”, then he is born again. Salvation is thus placed in the hands of fallen, impotent, sinful man, not God. It was, and is, nothing but a lie.
It is claimed that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, were converted at his crusades in this way; but this is simply not true. Numerous examples could be given, but here is just one, so representative of all the rest:
At the Graham crusade in Singapore in 1978, 20 000 “decisions for Christ” (as Arminians call them) were recorded. But only 18 months later, when a survey was conducted of the progress of those who had recorded a “decision”, 62% of those 20 000 were first-time “commitments”, and only 49% of them (some 6076 people) ever attended a “follow-up” class or a church. Only 1336 of them completed a follow-up course, and another 850 lost interest before they could be baptized or join a church. Thus, a mere 18 months after the crusade, only 486 people had continued as professing “Christians”! And what’s more, many of those 486 were attending non-Evangelical churches!
Were, then, those 20 000 “decisions” genuine conversions? Certainly not. How could they be? No one is truly converted by “making a decision” for Christ. No sinner, dead in sins (Eph. 2:1), can “decide” to give himself spiritual life. A dead man can do nothing. Regeneration is God’s work, not man’s. Those who “decide”, who “go forward” or pray a repeat-after-me “sinner’s prayer”, fall away because they are not irresistibly drawn to Christ by the Father, for salvation (Jn. 6:44). They have decided, but God has not drawn them.
And here is something else: Graham was not above staging his “altar calls”! His organisation was known to have thousands of its own workers “come forward”, to create the impression of spiritual conviction, and to spur others to “come forward”! Many of those who responded to his call, then, were “plants” in the audience, members of his own team!
Whenever the subject of Billy Graham comes up, someone, somewhere, is bound to object and say, “But I know someone who was truly converted at a Billy Graham crusade!”, or even, “But I myself was converted at his crusade!” To which we answer: it is of course entirely possible that some people were truly converted while attending a Graham crusade, just as happens at times at other Arminian evangelistic meetings. But it needs to be clearly understood that in such cases, any true conversions which occurred were solely because it was God’s divinely appointed time for their conversion. It was in fact in spite of, and not because of, Billy Graham! People have been converted in all kinds of places. God is sovereign in His doings. Just because a man was converted while sitting in, say, a Roman Catholic cathedral during the mass, does this mean he was converted because of the priest, or because of the mass? By no means! It was God’s sovereign time. He may have simply been sitting there, having previously been a Papist but now under deep conviction of sin because the Lord had opened his heart to the truth of the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit moved him to repent of his sins and trust savingly in Christ right then and there. The outward circumstances of time and place were irrelevant. It was God’s appointed time. It is the Lord who saves, and no other.
Besides, the Lord has used many unregenerate instruments, even many wicked instruments, as He sovereignly pleases, throughout all history – again, because He is entirely sovereign. Even a wicked man, a man still dead in sins himself, whose preaching is decidedly unscriptural for the most part, may at times say certain true things according to the Gospel! Things which in His sovereignty the Lord may use in the life of one of His elect, at that time. For example, even a false minister may at times say something like, “You are a sinner, dead in your trespasses and sins, bound for hell, whose only hope is to call upon the Name of the Lord for salvation” – and hearing this, an elect soul may indeed cry out for salvation. The Lord who made use of Balaam’s ass, and even of Balaam himself (who said some things which were the truth of God, even though he was a false prophet-for-hire), is free to use any instrument He chooses.
But this in no way whatsoever means the blessing of God is upon the work of a false preacher! The blessing of God is upon His own Word, sovereignly applied in His own time. For those few who may have been converted while just happening to attend a Graham crusade, instead of saying, “I was converted under the ministry of Billy Graham” (which is simply not true, for he had no true ministry), they should say, “I was converted to Christ when the Lord, in His sovereignty, worked in my heart while I just happened to be at a Graham crusade.” In precisely the same manner, a man may say, “I was converted while in my garden shed”. God is sovereign.