Billy Graham: “The Love of God Is Absolute”

by gerry on June 5, 2012

Does Billy Graham have anything to say on the topic of universalism?  He does as we will find out but I think before anyone judges him unfairly let me remind you of the landscape through which he has journeyed for 93 years and as the most well known evangelist of our time.

We must understand that Billy Graham has been a part of the Evangelical culture which has primarily included two views of God that are so diametrically opposed that each side regularly accuses one another of “heresy” claiming the other maligns the character of God. These two camps are called Calvinism (or Reformed, Predestination) and Arminianism (or the “free-will of man”).

Our objective here on ChristianUniversalism.com has been to show how the underlying Storyline emerging from both Arminian and Calvinistic camps has been pointing and supporting that of the Ultimate Restoration of all creation.

For the Calvinists this has been observed through their insistence that the Scriptures declare God to be the Sovereign Lord over His creation including our salvation noting that no plan of His can be “thwarted.” As the Arminians point out it should not be difficult for the Calvinists to make the leap to universalism since they believe that all God desires and decrees will be fulfilled and that all whom Christ died for must be saved.

On the other side, the Arminians cling tightly to the belief that God “desires all to come to repentance” and has provided all that is necessary to make that happen, except to actually make it happen because He is often trumped by man’s “free-will.”  The Calvinists rightly chide them for their ineffectual view of the cross since it offers only a possibility for redemption.  They also accuse the Arminians of being practically universalists since they say that Christ died for every single person who ever lived.  It is inconceivable for a Calvinist to believe that Christ would die for someone He wanted to be saved and not possess the ability to make it happen.

We have come to see that they are both right; but partly right and partly wrong.  We submit to you, since there is no possible way to reconcile these two different views of God, that the God who desires that all people be saved is the SAME GOD that will is able to make it happen!  But if you do not believe this, as an Evangelical you must live in this tension created by your brothers and sisters in Christ who believe very opposite things.  This is the climate Graham has lived in for his 80 years as a young adult and adult evangelist.   He has been witness to a litany of infightings and divisions created by the denominations of men.  No wonder he yearned for a “third way.” And how remarkable he remained a loving and hopeful man in spite of it all!

So in light of all this you must have grace for our dear brother Billy Graham who has seen more of life and the world and spirituality than any of us will come close to experiencing. He has earned our respect and our ear as he approaches the end of his life.

But some would object that since Billy Graham was in essence an Arminian he was not a deep and profound theologian.  At least not the kind that would satisfy the appetite of our modern Calvinists.  But that doesn’t mean his was not a deep and profound faith.  He spent countless hours in the word while living it “out on the field” among people from every walk of life, offering counsel to those plagued by every conceivable problem.  As an Arminian who saw that God’s heart loved and desired to save all Billy Graham began wisely to see that perhaps God really does get what He wants and what He died for, indeed what He paid for.  Stymied by this perceptible truth up against the doctrine of eternal conscious torment I believe Graham had to choose one: either God wants all to be saved but can’t or He must somehow have some way in which He accomplishes the desire of His heart–the salvation of all through His son Jesus Christ. In the following interview you will hear the part of his heart trying to hold on to the universal proclamation of God’s love over the world while at the same time trying to logically work out the implications of that truth.

This is from an interview with Billy Graham by Jon Meacham of Newsweek Magazine, August 14, 2006:

In Graham’s view, the core message of the Gospel, and the love of God “for all people” should take priority….But more recent years have given him something he had little of in his decades of global evangelism: time to think both more deeply and more broadly….He…refuses to be judgmental…thinks God’s ways and means are veiled from human eyes and wrapped in mystery. “There are many things that I don’t understand,” he says. He does not believe that Christians need to take every verse of the Bible literally; “sincere Christians,” he says, “can disagree about the details of Scripture and theology—absolutely”….he is arguing that the Bible is open to interpretation, and fair-minded Christians may disagree or come to different conclusions about specific points. Like Saint Paul , he believes human beings on this side of paradise can grasp only so much. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,” Paul wrote, “then we shall see face to face.”….“As time went on, I began to realize the love of God for everybody, all over the world,” he says. “And in his death on the cross, some mysterious thing happened between God and the Son that we don’t understand. But there he was, alone, taking on the sins of the world.…I spend more time on the love of God than I used to.”…. When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: “Those are decisions only the Lord will make…I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have.”

**Meacham, Jon. Newsweek Magazine. 14 August 2006. Excerpt from interview with Billy Graham. Billy Graham’s New Thinking on Politics, the Bible – Newsweek National News – MSNBC.com.

This interview does not substantiate Billy Graham to be a Christian universalist but it shows his struggle to reconcile the God who says He loves the world with the traditional teaching that God is going to consign billions of His image-bearers to a place of torture and agony forever with no redemptive purpose.  It shows that Graham has actually wrestled with what He knows about the Father heart of God, the sinfulness of the world and the traditions of man.  He has allowed it to make him wiser and gentler, even if he still “sees but a poor reflection.”  He will soon see face to face.

Grace and peace to you Billy Graham.  Thank you for being a man of integrity, honesty, humility and now one who displays the kind of wisdom and compassion that only comes from a lifetime of service to God and others.

 

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we truth in the Living God, who is the Savior of all mankind, especially those who believe. These things command and teach.” 1 Timothy 4:9-11

 

Update: Billy Graham released a new book Oct 15, 2013 The Reason for My Hope: Salvation where he expresses a very different view of the unsaved than the one he exhibits in the above interview and also in this interview with Robert Schuller. See our post Billy Graham’s New Book Offers Hope (In Yourself) 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

todd mahaffey October 10, 2012 at 1:54 am

Disagreed with Mr. Graham’s long-time Arminianism and strongly disagree with him the more “thoughtful” and progressive he gets and the more he commends God’s incomprehensible Love attribute at the expense of God’s Holiness. We may see a Reformation again when we see the doctrines of the Reformation again, otherwise notachance. He’s always welcome to come down the driveway and talk with me about this (I live at the end of it), his Calvinist Neighbor. Soli Deo Gloria

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admin October 10, 2012 at 5:19 am

Todd, I assume that was a “drive-by comment” and that the discussion is closed regarding this topic for you. Therefore I don’t expect you to return. (Although I hope you do!) But for anyone else reading this I will respond with the following…

You are right, Graham has always been an Arminian. I was raised on the free-will paradigm until 1975 when I just could no longer ignore the powerful Scriptures that pointed to God’s absolute sovereignty in man’s salvation. I was convinced and still am a “Reformed” believer over 35 years later.

But anyone who is an honest Reformed Christian must concede that Calvinism logically and theologically leads to a doctrine of universal salvation of all.

First, to say that God demands that His commandments to love Him and our neighbor as ourselves be obeyed means that they will indeed be fulfilled in us. God says that “no will of His can be thwarted” and that “His word does not return to Him empty” (Isa 55:11). What God demands/commands are not suggestions but degrees just as effectual as “let there be light.” In fact if you look at the Greek, you will notice that Jesus’ words are in the indicative. Not “you should” but you WILL. As Peter Hiett says,

In the Greek, when Jesus sums up the law it’s especially obvious. It’s in the indicative tense, “You will love.” not “You should love.” or “Love!”(imperative) or “You might love.” (subjuncitve). It’s a prophetic word and a creative command. Jesus is the Word through whom God creates all things.

Now of course we are not “robots” and He works through His irresistible grace and draws us to Himself by His Holy Spirit so that we come willingly but He will not fail in that which He has spoken and decreed.

This logical step into ultimate reconciliation by Calvinists has been predicted by Arminians all along. (http://godslovewins.com/blog/does-calvinism-lead-to-universalism/) But ironically Calvinists such as J. I Packer have likewise deduced that Arminianism must logically lead to “universalism” on account of their strong belief in “unlimited or universal atonement.” We agree. If Christ died for someone’s redemption and then to say that it was ineffectual is saying Christ died in vain. This is impossible and incomprehensible.

(http://godslovewins.com/blog/j-i-packers-intro-to-john-owens-death-of-death-in-the-death-of-christ/)

Second, the “Soli Deo Gloria” of the Reformation is apropos here. God will indeed get ALL the glory…forever. He will not share His glory with another. But according to D. A. Carson and other Reformed teachers God will NOT be getting all the glory but rather only SOME of the glory. Carson says that “eternal hell is an endless cycle of sin and punishment.” This means that most of mankind will not give God the glory but rather give sin, rebellion, death, evil and self-worship their focus for all eternity. This flies in the face of God’s decree of “Look to Me all the ends of the earth and be saved….for every knee will bow and tongue confess.” (Isa 45)

The nature of this confession, and that of its repeated quotation in Phil 2 and Rom 15, must be a sincere and heartfelt worship by every knee and every tongue for God HATES false and empty worship.

Last but not least we must point out that an eternal hell of endless sin, death, evil and torment alongside a holy omnipotent God is neo-Platonic dualism. It is paganism in its most basic form. To suggest that our holy God will co-exist alongside billions of evil rebellious humanity for all eternity is again, dualism.

This makes God not ONE, as the Hebraic Shema declares, but two. It makes Him of two minds giving Him two purposes: Some folks He has a redemptive plan while for most of mankind it is completely and eternally retributive. For some His mercies and love never fail but for the rest His mercies will come to an end and His love will fail.

I hope that anyone reading this has been given a few reasons to feel uncomfortable with the traditional view so long assumed and taught by our religious leaders. Most people believe it because they have been told that is how the Story of God ends. Most secretly hope for a better ending. Others just don’t dwell on eternal hell for it would make them crazy. And the majority certainly don’t live like they believe it’s true for they would spend every waking hour either trying to save others or else paralyzed with the fear of whether they are truly one of the “elect.”

I encourage you to take the time to explore and give more attention to this important topic that affects how we view God’s very character and nature.

Grace and peace…

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james July 21, 2013 at 12:43 pm

If God’s will only is done then does He will that Satan is in eternal torment? Certaitly God is above thinking Satan is a threat…. but many never question Satan’s doom in eternal judgement of torment. Not all will be saved….and no human will experience eternal doom in eternal torment. Destruction for lost people is a different story.

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Gerry December 14, 2013 at 8:02 am

James, Thank you for your comment. What I believe you are suggesting is annihilationism or conditional immortality as opposed to the belief in eternal conscious torment. We have dealt with that at length here:
http://godslovewins.com/blog/what-about-annihilationism/

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Bill Scudder April 3, 2014 at 2:18 pm

yes, God is sovereign and that means He can do anything He wants and if He wants man to have a free will then He can do that also. But a Calvinist rejects that He is sovereign by saying God can not give free will.

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Admin April 3, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Interesting thought Bill. Thanks for commenting. I would have to go one more step and say as Aslan said, “there is a deeper magic still.” Beyond whatever it is we perceive “free-will” to be we cannot dismiss the fact that God could have a knowledge of and plan for what it will take to cause every person to fall in love with Him as “all the ends of the earth will remember and return to the Lord” and “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Just because you can’t think of a way for God to operate in freedom while allowing for ours doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Both Calvinism and Arminianism must leave much to “mystery” as the reason why He either cannot or will not save all. I believe that it is the power and scope of His love that is the mystery.

But I would also have to consider what the nature of our “freedom” really is. It appears that our freedom consists within our free experimentation with the bondage of our choice until we “come to our senses” (like the Prodigal Son) and realize that God is the only real source of true freedom in the universe. So yes, we are free to exhaust all the alternatives to true freedom in Christ until they all are exposed for the lies that they are. This is the process we must go through in order to put to death forever all suspicion that God might not really be for us (the first lie in the garden). It is a Divine Romance and we know romance takes time and it always comes with a journey and a story. The Gospel is a BIG Story and like all epic stories it has a good ending. If most of God’s creation was to be lost to sin and death He never would have created it in the first place. We are told in the book of Job that there is an ending that is even better than the beginning. And that is the hope we are given in Christ that is “exceedingly abundantly above all we could ever ask or imagine.” (Eph 3:20)

(More on free-will here: http://godslovewins.com/blog/another-look-at-free-will/)

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