Frank Reflections on the Graham Tour

On February 21st nearly 10,000 people overflowed Titanium Security Arena here in Adelaide to hear Franklin Graham’s message. About 400 responded to his altar call. I was one of the thousand or so watching on the big screen outside.

After a Planet Shakers worship frenzy to disconcert the unchurched, and a short set by Crowder to re-concert them, the 66-year old American in a suit took the stage.

Now I’d heard the chatter among some thinking Christians about the Graham Tour, and there’s much I agree with. Here’s a summary of their concerns:

  • He has identified too strongly with right-wing politics in general and Trump in particular.
  • Flying in an American to sweep across Australia in a whirl-wind, pre-packaged stadium tour breaks just about every rule of missiology. (I don’t remember him even using the name “Adelaide”. It was just “your city” – sigh.)
  • His ‘old school’ gospel message overplayed the Penal Substitutionary view of Christ’s Atonement (focusing on sin as our moral failure before a Righteous Judge) as opposed to other biblical facets of the gospel such as our being lost and in need of a Finder or captive in need of a Rescuer. In ‘old school’ evangelism, awareness of guilt is a key step on the way to Jesus, and the sins he gave time for special mention were selective … the classic ones.

All these things unsettle many Christian thinkers – but do you know what drives us most crazy? That 400 people nevertheless responded, saying that they want to be reconciled to God through Christ.

I turned these things over in my mind as I drove home and have come to this conclusion: The only type of evangelism that works is the evangelism that actually gets done. If any of us think that we can do it better, then we really should. We really must.

I’m convinced there’s still a place in our day and our culture for ‘event evangelism’, where a Christian community combines its many gifts to create a hospitable experience for enquirers that culminates in a gifted and well-prepared evangelist sharing the message and calling for a response. We do it in small ways when a church runs Alpha or an equivalent. We do it in medium ways, for instance through Easter Camps. Event evangelism stands on the shoulders of everyday witness and has the great advantage of creating a moment-for-decision that calls out a response.

So if God can use a Trumped-up sexagenarian regurgitating a 1950s version of the kingdom message with a ‘Merican accent, then what might He do through you and me?

PS If you have the noble task of sharing the gospel with others, either conversationally or through prepared messages (spot talks, devotions etc), please join our new Gospel Sharers Network. First gathering is Tue April 2nd 7pm at Trinity Baptist. For those who aren’t in Adelaide … why aren’t you?

Posted on March 29, 2019, in Culture, Evangelism, Leadership and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Lesley Maxwell

    What do you mean by the last sentence?

    • Haha yes it’s a little wordy … simply that we should spend less time criticising others’ methods and more time doing. That if we think there’s a better way, we should DO IT!

  2. I concur with the people you spoke of making the observations listed. It seems Franklin was appealing to people familiar with the church culture. That is valid in in that although the target group is shrinking. Thank the Lord there is a venue for these people to Christ. But like the last time he was here, the strategies of the Billy Graham Association has adapted to a changing world (or perhaps more accurately – Australia) in 50 years. It did not connect with contemporary society. The message would be alien to post-modern unchurched people.

  3. A question not addressed by Franklin Graham, is how historically minimalist can you be with the Gospel story?

    I find it unbelievable as history, but does that affect the transformative power of the message?

    Also, Graham made sure to state his objection to same-sex marriage and abortion. Aren’t these divisive issues, even amongst Christians?

    Regards,
    David

  4. It appears my previous comment has been censored.

    Having attended the Franklin Graham event in Adelaide recently, I have some observations. Graham did not make it apparent if one should take the gospel story as historical, or as just an allegory. This seems an oversight for the serious enquirer, or at least those who prefer serious evidence over propaganda.

    Graham also made sure to state his objection to same-sex marriage and abortion. Without revealing where I stand on either of these matters, I can say that they are controversial even within Christian communities. By raising them, Graham seemed to compromise the delivery of his message.

    • andrewiturner

      Thanks David, not censored – I’ve just been busy the last few days and only now had a chance to approve. My rule of thumb for approving comments are that they must be respectful and on-topic. Yours are respectfully written (thank you), but getting fairly tangential to the main topic of the post. So I’ll just say that
      (a) Yes the historical veracity of the gospel story is a very valid question for the serious enquirer. And for the evangelist. The Apostle Paul himself says (1 Corinthians 15) that it all needs to rise and fall on the historical fact. If it didn’t happen, we’re wasting our time and yours. (But he goes on to say that it did, and asserts to his readers that Christ’s resurrection was verifiable etc, in that not all of the 100+ people who personally say the risen Jesus have since died.)
      (b) Franklin Graham could therefore have gone into the historical Jesus debate but chose not to, probably wisely, because whilst this is a valid question for some serious enquirers it’s not for all, and hard to address in a mass-rally way effectively.
      (c) For more on this question I recommend the Library section of the CPX website – https://www.publicchristianity.org/library/. Perhaps put “history” into the search box?
      (d) Yes, there are a range of views within Christian communities about same-sex marriage and abortion. Two massive issues not to be resolved here. Again, in a mass-evangelism situation there’ll always be some Christians who disagree with part of the message – either its content or form. The thrust of my post was to them: If you think it could be done better, please do.

      Thanks for your interest David. Apologies again for the delay in approving and my inability to engage further on the tangential issues.

  5. Thanks Andrew for your reasoned critique of Franklin Graham’s Rally. I share many of your sentiments. Your conclusion, too, is a valid challenge.
    I had hoped that the message might reflect some of the thinking of recent writers, particularly Brian McLaren, who rephrases the call to discipleship as an invitation to become part of the family of God’s people, giving our energies to renew the world for Him (my poor summation of his thoughts – I can’t remember his actual phrase, but the sentiment seems to make more sense than the traditional invitation which is intensely personal.)
    I’m in my twilight years, but I am inclined to think that today’s generation will respond more to a challenge to energetic discipleship in community, than to merely saving their skins.

    Thanks, again, for being willing to raise significant challenges to the status quo.

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