Billy Graham

by Matt Slick

billy grahamBilly Graham has been an instrument of God for the salvation of thousands.  Who could doubt the great impact he has had for the expansion of the Heavenly Kingdom?  His countless sermons have consistently referred to Jesus being the only way.  His messages have been biblical and Christ centered.  So, when we hear of someone calling him a heretic, we need to be slow to consider such an accusation.  But we should not shy away from examining him or anyone.  We need to compare what he teaches with scripture -- even as the noble Bereans did with Paul's teaching (Acts 17:11).

In the following video, on May 31, 1997, on the Hour of Power television program titled "Say 'Yes' To Possibility Thinking," program #1426, Robert Schuller interviewed Billy Graham. What Mr. Graham said in the video is alarming.  The following is transcribed starting at 1:20 into the video. (See the Video)

"I think everybody that that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And that's what God is doing today.  He's calling people for 'eh, out of the the world for his name whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world uh they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but uh they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light that they have. And I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven".

Is Mr. Graham saying that God calls people only through Jesus, and that those people are found everywhere; or is he saying that people can be saved without believing on Jesus?  If it is the former, his words are not clear.  If it is the latter, then his words are heretical and he is teaching false doctrine.  So, I have to ask a couple questions:

  1. How does someone love Christ if he is not conscious of it?  That idea cannot be found in scripture.  In fact, it contradicts scripture.
    1. The Bible says there is no other name by which a person may be saved (Acts 4:12).
    2. The Bible says that "there is none who does understands.  There is none who seeks for God" (Romans 3:11).
    3. "How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10:14).
  2. How does someone become a member of the body of Christ (i.e., be saved), if he is not conscious of who Christ is?  What Billy Graham is teaching is simply wrong.
    1. The Bible says that people need to confess Christ (Rom. 10:9-10) and receive him (John 1:12).  This is what we must go with, not some feel-good ideology.
    2. Also, we are not talking about babies who die or those who are aborted.  Certainly God can save them, as it would seem, without their conscious awareness of Christ.  But this is not the context of which Billy Graham is speaking.

I am going to give Mr. Graham the benefit of the doubt.  After so many years of him preaching that Jesus is the only way to salvation, I find it hard to believe that he is saying people are saved by a sincere hope, or, as he said, "they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light that they have."  This is a nice sentiment, but it isn't biblical.  Consider the following verses:

  • "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9).
  • "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man," (Mark 7:21-23).
  • "As it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one. 11 There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless. There is none who does good. There is not even one,'" (Rom. 3:10-12).
  • "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest," (Eph. 2:1-3).

Sorry Mr. Graham, but you contradicted God's word.

As indelicate as it might be to ask, is Mr. Graham's error the result of old age; or is this error something that he has taught before?  Consider the following spoken by Graham in 1978:

"I used to play God, but I can’t do that anymore. I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost – were going to hell – if they did not have the gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that. I believe that there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God – through nature, for instance – and plenty of other opportunities, therefore, of saying “yes” to God. ( James Michael Beam, "I Can’t Play God Anymore," McCall’s (January 1978): 158, as cited in a pdf by Kurt A. Edwards in a Dissertation for Doctor of Philosophy at the Bowling Green State University: on pages 65-66.

Clearly Graham taught heresy in 1978.  Pagans without the gospel are not saved.  We do not find God through nature - which is why we have the Scriptures and the preaching of the Gospel.  Billy Graham's sentiment is worldly and not biblical.  It is a shame that he is teaching this false doctrine.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.