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The Tragedy of Compromise

by Ernest Pickering

Broadening the Sawdust Trail

Ecumenical Evangelism and Billy Graham

Strange 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.

Evangelicalism and Evangelism

Bible-believing 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.

In England 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.

Bible 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.

If there 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?

Starting Down the Slippery Edge

One 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

I remember 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.

Since 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

Graham's 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.

Graham 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. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address:

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