Tragedy of Compromise
the Sawdust Trail
Evangelism and Billy Graham
as it may seem, the New Evangelical movement began to soar
on the wings of evangelism. The practice of "ecumenical
evangelism," which harnessed the forces of churches
of widely varying theological persuasions, became the engine
which gave popular impetus to the movement.
Christians have always taken seriously the command of Christ
to evangelize the world. Even in the midst of terrific cultural
and theological pressure, believers in the Middle Ages witnessed
to the truth. The rulers of the Roman Catholic Church hounded
them mercilessly, but they continued to preach the gospel
over the continent of Europe. It was a concern for the purity
of the gospel that fueled the Reformation, Luther insisting
that salvation was by faith alone without the ecclesiastical
trappings that had clouded it. The great missionary awakening
which sent the gospel into pagan lands was certainly evidence
of the concern of many for the salvation of the lost.
and America great evangelistic movements have sprung up.
Under the powerful preaching of George Whitefield, multitudes
were converted. Later D. L. Moody took the gospel to the
great cities of America in the form of large campaigns.
This style continued under such noted evangelists as R.
A. Torrey, Bob Jones, Sr., and J. Wilbur Chapman. Billy
Sunday, colorful city-wide evangelist, exhorted thousands
to "hit the sawdust trail," and they streamed
down those aisles of sawdust under the cover of the large
tabernacles erected for Sunday's campaigns.
institutes (later Bible colleges) such as the Moody Bible
Institute were founded with the principal aim to train young
people to win others to Christ. Schools such as Bob Jones
University and John Brown University were founded by evangelists.
Charles E. Fuller and others blanketed the airwaves with
the gospel of Christ. Rescue missions such as the Pacific
Garden Mission in Chicago became lighthouses for Christ
amid the skid rows of America.
was one activity that was close to the heart of evangelicals
the world over, it was evangelism. This is not to say that
all were fiery witnesses, but truly born-again people seemed
to have a special place in their hearts for the work of
getting out the gospel. Tragically, it was at this very
point that they were waylaid into adopting a method of evangelism
which was contrary to the Word of God. Their fervent interest
in evangelism caused many of them to be taken in by the
new methodology. It sounded so appealing and seemed so successful.
Who would ever be so unspiritual as to challenge an evangelist
or his evangelism? To do so seemed to many to be sacrilege.
Are we not in this world to evangelize? If someone is evangelizing,
winning large numbers to Christ, ought not we to support
him? Such was the thinking (and remains the thinking) of
many. What happened to cause this confusion and conflict
with the church of Christ?
the Slippery Edge
man appeared upon the American evangelistic scene who forever
changed the approach of many churches toward evangelism.
His name was Billy Graham. There is no doubt that he almost
single-handedly popularized the cause and principles of
the New Evangelicalism and made it a success. Harold Ockenga,
whom we have already identified as perhaps the "father"
of New Evangelicalism, stated without hesitation that Billy
Graham was "the spokesman of the convictions and ideals
of the new evangelicalism."1
In 1958 while still a young man, Graham was called "the
maturing leader of an important new movement in modern Christianity . . . . Graham
stands in the forefront of a new evangelical community."2
the young Billy Graham. In the 1940s he was a popular speaker
with Youth for Christ and used to visit my alma mater periodically.
Tall, gangly, and good-looking, he was immediately recognized
on the campus when he appeared.
Bob Jones University has taken much "flak" over
its opposition to Graham's evangelistic philosophy, it is
interesting to note that in his early fundamentalist days,
Graham was not only a student at the University but also
a great admirer of its founder, Bob Jones, Sr. In 1944 he
wrote to Bob Jones, Jr., and said, "I want you to be
personally assured of my love and loyalty to you, Dr. Bob
Senior, and all that Bob Jones College stands for."
Later in October of 1950, Billy wrote to Bob Jones, Sr.,
and said, "Please believe me also, I need your advice
and counsel and covet your long years of experience to help
guide me across the many pitfalls. Modernists are beginning
to write letters against me . . . . All of us young evangelists
look up to you as a father."3
associations and his ministry were within the fundamentalist
movement at that time. The great fundamentalist patriarch,
W. B. Riley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis,
had founded the Northwestern Schools in that city. Relinquishing
the reins of leadership at those institutions, Riley personally
chose Billy Graham to succeed him in the presidency. Graham
lasted about three and a half years in this capacity, but
he never felt comfortable with the office. The Northwestern
Schools encountered financial difficulties and finally closed
for a time, reopening later on another campus in a suburb
of St. Paul. The college fell into the hands of New Evangelicals
and has continued in that vein. The seminary which Riley
founded, and over which Graham presided for a time, was
moved into the facilities of the Fourth Baptist Church of
Minneapolis, pastored by Richard Clearwaters, was renamed
Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and continues to be
a fundamentalist, separatist institution.
began to be featured in city-wide crusades and, for a time,
was sponsored by fundamentalist churches. While Graham was
editor-in-chief of W. B. Riley's magazine, The Pilot,
the masthead proclaimed a "militant stand against Modernism
in every form." He was on the Cooperating Board of
The Sword of the Lord, a strong, fundamentalist paper
edited by John R. Rice. He was a personal friend of Bob
Jones, Sr., and Bob Jones, Jr., and was honored by Bob Jones
University with a doctor's degree. Bob Shuler, great fundamentalist
pastor of the Trinity Methodist Church in Los Angeles, and
friend of Graham's, wrote in the Methodist Challenge,
"None of the great evangelists had ever before accepted
the sponsorship of modernists. Billy himself had not only
refused to hold a campaign under their sponsorship but had
openly declared that he never would. In his Los Angeles
campaign, I personally saw and heard him decline the approval
and cooperation of the Church Federation which represented
the Federal Council, now the National Council."4
The Tradedy of Compromise. ByErnest Pickering. ©1994. BJU Press.
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