Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Concerns, Substantiated Edition

Perhaps many of you already listen regularly to Al Mohler's Thinking in Public podcast [iTunes link]. Those who don't may still want to catch his May 18, 2015, installment, "Evangelical Titan: A Conversation about Billy Graham with Historian Grant Wacker." Below are two of Mohler's comments that I suspect will interest most readers here. One is fairly early in the conversation. The other is from Mohler's reflective monologue after the interview has concluded.
20:00: The theologian in me, I'll admit, has a great deal of difficulty imagining how Billy Graham in 1957 could have included some of the people he included on that [New York City crusade] platform. And I have to tell you, just speaking as honestly as I can, I find myself at many points wondering if Dr. Graham would do now what he did then, knowing where mainline Protestantism went after 1957, and where I would argue he should've seen where it was going even then.
And later:
1:01:21: When it comes to the theological inclusiveness that marked at least some of the early decades of Dr. Graham's ministry, it is now even more clear that American Protestantism was moving in two very different, and eventually contradictory, directions. One towards an explicit accommodation with modernity—the course of Protestant liberalism—and the other in the direction of a very counter-cultural stance, made necessary by the theological convictions that are essential and central to what it means to be a Christian, and in particular what it means to be known and self-identified as an evangelical. 
In that sense, looking with full sympathy at the decisions that were made by Billy Graham then, we can understand that we face no opportunity of having such illusions now. We come to understand that the theological options that present us in the early decades of the 21st century are not between an establishment Protestantism that still retains some form of allegiance to historic Christian doctrine, and to a more conservative variant that is more precise. We are now looking at two movement that are now separated by a great theological chasm, and it is now not possible to look at the situation as Billy Graham confronted it in the 1950s, and believe that in any way it now represents what we know to be the theological options in the 21st century. 
I know from first-hand knowledge that many of those who were the conservative critics of Dr. Graham's ministry during its public years, that many of those critics were motivated by a very sincere theological assessment that forced them to create distance between themselves and Dr. Graham. Over time, many of those concerns were substantiated, certainly by the leftward trajectory of mainline Protestantism. But many of those conservative critics also had, underlying that distance that was created between themselves, a basic gladness in the fact that Billy Graham was preaching the gospel. And they were glad to hear the gospel preached. And they were glad to see so many people respond to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.