Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Christ can fill that cosmic void in your heart"

Just to prove that nothing is all bad, Trinity Broadcasting, which airs some truly odd and even grossly heretical programming, has started to re-broadcast Billy Graham Crusades from down through the years on Saturday nights. From the time I became a Christian myself (I remember well the night and circumstance I asked Jesus to fill the void in my own heart- in a flash I recognized that only He can fill it, only He can bridge the infinite gap, the gulf between myself and the Father), I have been an admirer of Dr. Graham. You know the preaching is good, Spirit-filled, when it holds a five year-old enraptured and prompts him to start asking serious existential questions.

Privileged as I am to lead our parish RCIA program, I frequently get the question, "Which Bible should I buy?" After warning them away from truly bad versions, like the New World Translation and paraphrase translations, I quote Dr. Graham: "Buy the one you're going to read."

Television preachers often prove to be charlatans. This should shock nobody because they become just like rock stars and, thinking themselves above it all, eschew accountability, worrying about and preaching against the motes in the eyes of other people while pridefully ignoring the beam their own, all the while raking in cash, living an opulent life-style, and generally suffering from what can only be described as a messiah complex. This phenomenon is nothing new. It even goes back to radio days, as Sinclair Lewis' 1926 novel Elmer Gantry, which was made into an award-winning film in 1960, clearly shows. One of the reasons I admire Billy Graham so much is that he has always taken being accountable seriously. He has, what my Evangelical brothers and sisters call, a true heart for the Lord. Dr. Graham is now ninety-two years-old.

Despite being a very public figure, he has always strived to live a simple and quiet life, taking only a modest salary from his multi-million dollar ministry. With Dr. Graham it is never just a show. Graham even overcame his early anti-Catholic bias. In fact, during the ministry of Cardinal O'Connor, when the Billy Graham Crusade came to New York City there were Catholic counselors waiting to talk to Catholics who turned their life back to Christ at the event. Here's a brief clip from his crusade in Milwaukee in 1979 that is appropriate for addressing the transformation today's Gospel call us to. He reminds us that we need help, that is, God's grace to move from image to likeness.

It is my prayer that you hear from the pulpit or ambo in your church this morning something equally inspiring, challenging, and hope-filled- not the old worn-out saw of I'm okay and you're okay. If you're okay, then why did Jesus have to go to the cross for you?

Dr. Graham has written a number of books. I particularly like his books on the Holy Spirit and on angels. Knowing Jesus, living in fellowship, that is, communion with Him is happiness. In a world in which nothing satisfies our restless hearts, He is our hope and our joy.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis


  1. There is no doubt that Billy Graham is a man of real integrity and dedication to Christ. But it also true that there is a big difference from the traditional Catholic/Orthodox understanding of real basics that is very different from the evangelical tradition. this short video shows very clearly the difference between the Orthodox (and i would say Catholic) view and the main stream evangelical view of Dr. Graham and other main line evangelicals.

  2. Of course it is true that Catholics and Orthodox differ from Evangelical Protestants on any number issues, just as Catholics and Orthodox differ from one another, especially on matters of ecclesiology, but also on Trinitarian theology. However, this is not what my post is about. So, I'll just stick with your opening sentence because at the end of the day that is what matters.

    When it comes to the reality that only Christ can fill the cosmic void in our hearts, that it is only Christ who bridges the infinite gulf between fallen, sinful humannity and our all-holy God, we're on the same page. So, I would say that in this excerpt his theological anthropology is quite sound. By referring to the fact that we bear the divine image and only by grace are we transformed into Christ-likeness, he eschews the Reformed idea of absolute corruption and embraces a more positive view of man, which is certainly consonant with Catholic thought.

    During Lent I am avoiding politics, especially religious politics. So, for me, this is not a time for apologetics.

  3. Scott, thank you so much for this post and video. Sound theology that I can verify by my own experience, and through sharing the journey with others. God bless you these Lenten days, my friend.

  4. i am sorry the post came across being political, the main point i was making is that the evangelical tradition (of which Dr Graham is one of the best teachers) has a whole different soteriology. I am not attacking anyone, just making a statement that is true and fundamental when understanding how God saves us in Christ.

  5. I don't want to make too big a deal, Patrick. It is important to attend to what Graham says in what I have posted and not to generalize. It is well known that soteriology is a major point of contention between Catholics and Evangelicals. As with most things of this kind, such differences are often exaggerated, which is one of the most revealing aspects of the Joint Declaration on Justification issued by Lutherans and Catholics. However, in addition to the anthropological quality of Graham's preaching in this vignette, I was also struck by how he describes sanctification. He seems to me to transcend a merely forensic soteriology, just as he overcomes the Calvinistic tendency to see humanity as totally depraved.

    One of the things Don Gius teaches us is not to judge things through the filter of our preconceptions. How we are sanctified, as a Tami indicates, is more a matter of experience than it is of study. Theology can be only be descriptive in this regard. It cannot be prescriptive.

  6. as long as we have the experience the other agrees with? if not we are judging things through the filter of our experience? perhaps your filters did not allow you to even hear my point and lost an opportunity for engagement by giving a very cerebral and abstract response?


    an excerpt from an article in 'Christianity Today:

    "The Pope We Never Knew"
    The unknown story of how John Paul II ushered Campus Crusade into Catholic Poland.
    by David Scott | posted 4/19/2005

    "When Karol Wojtyla stepped out on the Vatican balcony on October 16, 1978, as the new Pope John Paul II, waving to the crowds in St. Peter's Square on the first day of his auspicious papacy, the person preaching for him in his home pulpit back in Krakow, Poland, was none other than Billy Graham.

    Behind that fact is a surprising story of the late pope's personal involvement with American evangelicals. With his passing, it is time to tell that story.

    In the mid-1970s, American mission organizations like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association began taking the gospel behind the Iron Curtain to Eastern Europe. After Graham's first "communist" crusade in Hungary in 1977, he was invited to the predominately Catholic country of Poland by the tiny Protestant community there, which amounted to less than 1 percent of the population. Just as in his 1957 New York City crusade, Graham wanted to work with as many Catholics as possible.

    Initially, the Polish Catholic church rebuffed him. Wojtyla was the exception, giving Graham the invitation he needed for his crusade in a country where evangelicalism was considered cultic. The two men made plans to meet for tea, but by the time Graham arrived, Wojtyla had been summoned to Rome.

    At the time, the man who would be pope was already overseeing a radical partnership between a Polish Catholic youth renewal movement popularly known as Oasis and the American evangelical ministry Campus Crusade for Christ."

  8. Anon: I am surprised and pleasantly so. I was completely unfamiliar with that history. So, thanks!