Thursday, April 24, 2014

Reflections on How to be Born Again by Billy Graham

Subtitle:  How does man perform a monergistic act of God?

It may be that there is no man in the 20th century more well-known, influential, and respected in all of Christendom than the Reverend Billy Graham.  I can recall a time years ago when I made a statement among a group of fellow believers in opposition to the teachings of Billy Graham and was confronted by a combination of horror and astonishment.  From the looks on some of their faces, one might have well concluded that I had just uttered the most blasphemous phrase ever to take flight from human lips, something on the order of, "This here picante sauce is made in New York City!"

On what is essentially the 10 year anniversary of that occasion, I thought I would take a moment to revisit some of the teachings of Reverend Graham found in his 1977 tome, How to Be Born Again.  A biblical examination of some of his assertions establishes that Graham's theology leaves a lot to be desired. Let's take a look...
"This new birth happens in all kinds of ways.  It may seem to happen over a period of time or in a moment. The paths which people take to reach that point of decision may be very direct or very circuitous." (Billy Graham, How to Be Born Again, p.10)
The new birth happens the same way to everybody who is born again. It is a passing from death unto life (John 5:24) and thus is it an instantaneous event, because there are no gradations of life. Jesus said that the new birth is like the blowing of the wind and "so is everyone that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8) meaning that it happens the exact same way to every one of God's sheep.
"Only by God's grace through faith in Christ can this new birth take place." (Graham, p.11)
This teaching is a denial of depravity. The natural man lacks faith because he lacks the indwelling spirit of God (Romans 8:9) of which faith is a fruit. (Galatians 5:22) Stated bluntly, if the natural man must produce faith in order to be born again, then no one will be born again. If a man has faith, he is ALREADY born again because "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." (I John 5:1)
"I believe God wants you to be born again." (Graham, p.11)
Since faith is the "gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8-9) and "all men have not faith" (II Thessalonians 3:2) it follows that God has not given the faith that Graham claims is required for the new birth to every man. It is therefore abundantly evident that God does not want every man to be born again and thus Graham's statement is both unscriptural and inconsistent with his own assertions. The testimony of scripture is that God did not purpose to save all men (Matthew 25:41) and so he does NOT desire that all men be born again (John 8:44). Indeed, if he had, they most certainly would be. (Daniel 4:35-36)
"The context of John 3 teaches that the new birth is something that God does for man when man is willing to yield to God." (Graham, p.150)
The natural man is enmity against God (Romans 8:7). Can such a man ever be said to be "willing to yield to God"? Absolutely not. If such willingness is the requirement for being born again, no one will be saved. Graham's assertion makes it plain that he has a distorted view of the effects of the fall (Romans 3:10-18).
"Zacchaeus, a tax collector, and not a very honest one at that, was skillful in defrauding people, but when he met Jesus all that changed.  He repented and wanted to make amends for his deceitful acts.  'Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.' (Luke 19:8)" (Graham, p.152)
This teaching is as common in Christianity today as it is wrong. Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus because he already had a hunger and thirst for righteousness, which is a sign of his born again state (Matthew 5:6). Additionally, Zacchaeus does not tell Jesus that he will start making things right, he tells Jesus that this is his current practice (Luke 19:8)  So when Jesus tells Zacchaeus, "This day salvation has come to this house" he is NOT saying that His visit marks the moment of Zacchaeus's new birth. Rather he is saying that the very Lord of Zacchaeus's salvation is there in his presence - indeed Christ is our salvation.
"Any person who is willing to trust Jesus Christ has his personal Savior and Lord can receive the new birth now." (Graham, p.152)
That is a very popular teaching but it is incapable of landing a single soul in glory, given that man in his natural state is utterly unwilling to trust Jesus Christ, for whom he has nothing but contempt (Romans 8:7) and whose gospel is seen as foolishness (I Corinthians 2:14). This teaching is a denial of depravity in that it promotes the capability unregenerate man to participate in his new birth.
"This man was born again.  He had a turnabout.  He thought he was a Christian, but he had never personally made a commitment to Jesus Christ." (Graham, p.155)
It is interesting to note that this is precisely what John MacArthur teaches regarding the new birth. Consider this quote:  “Jesus was demanding that Nicodemus forsake everything he stood for, and Nicodemus knew it. Far from offering this man an easy conversion, Christ was challenging him with the most difficult demand he could make. Nicodemus would gladly have given money, fasted, or performed any ritual Jesus could have prescribed. But to call him to spiritual rebirth was asking him to acknowledge his own insufficiency and turn away from everything he was committed to.” (The Gospel According to Jesus, John MacArthur, p.46) While MacArthur has done his fair share of criticizing Graham's soteriology, with quotes like this we find that their respective doctrines of salvation are not so different after all. Both Graham and MacArthur teach salvation by commitment, their only argument is with respect to degree.
"When we repent we are saying that we recognize that we are sinners and that our sin involves us in personal guilt before God. This type of guilt does not mean incriminating self-contempt, it means seeing ourselves as God sees us and saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner." (Luke 18:34)" (Graham, p.156)
Here, for some reason Graham states that our "guilt does not mean incriminating self-contempt", but on the very next page he states...
"Job saw how corrupt he was in relation to God's perfection and said, 'I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee: Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.' (Job 42:5-6)" (Graham, p.157)
So according to Graham our recognition of guilt is not "incriminating self-contempt", yet Job's expression of this self-same sentiment is to "abhor" himself. Job's testimony directly contradicts Billy's assertion on the previous page.
"The bible teaches that when we reach the age of accountability - usually somewhere between the age of ten or eleven years of age - God looks upon us as full grown adults, making moral and spiritual choices for which we will be held accountable at the judgment." (Graham, p.156)
The so-called "age of accountability" is found absolutely nowhere in the bible, which may explain why Graham opts for merely asserting this point rather than attempting to prove it from scripture.
"He (Jesus) because the cosmic scapegoat for the entire world. All of our sins were laid on him.  That is why he can now forgive us." (Graham, p.157)
If all the sins of humanity were laid on Jesus as the cosmic scapegoat, why are we not already forgiven? This is the confusion of unlimited atonement. If Christ put away the sins of all of humanity, then everyone will be saved. But Graham wants to assert that Christ had all our sins laid upon him, but that this falls short of putting our sins away and instead only places us in a potentially savable state, a concept completely foreign to the apostle Paul's testimony regarding the absolute and unquestionable efficacy of Christ's death on behalf of his people (Romans 8:31-39).
"Thus, repentance is first, and absolutely necessary if we are to be born again." (Graham, p.160)
A man who is willing and able to repent is ALREADY born again, else man is not totally depraved as Paul asserts in Romans 3:10-18. There's simply no way for repentance to be found in such a man. To require spiritual repentance from the spiritually dead in order to be made spiritually alive is as silly as requiring the physically dead to come forth from the grave so that they may partake of a quickening cure.
"Believing is your response to God's offer of mercy, love and forgiveness." (Graham, p.161)
No, believing is the exercise of God given faith. Man does not have the capacity of faith until God regenerates him. Faith is not a response to God's offer of mercy, it is a fruit of the spirit, the ears to hear, whereby a born again child of God can receive the truth of his salvation found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"God took the initiative and did everything that was needed to make the offer of salvation possible." (Graham, p.161)
This view has Christ dying so that he could make an offer of salvation to all of humanity rather than to put away the sins of his people. This is nowhere taught in the word of God.  Not even in John 3:16 as so many would assert.
"When Christ bowed his head on the cross and said, 'It is finished,' he meant just that. (John 19:30)." (Graham, p.161)
But according to Graham what Christ "finished" is not the the legal, substitutionary salvation of his people, but rather the work of making it possible to extend saving offers to all of mankind. Indeed in Graham's theology, the work of eternal salvation is only finished and effectual provided man ratifies and approves Christ's work by accepting an offer of eternal life. Apart from that, Christ's blood lacks the power to save anyone. When Paul asks "who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:35) Graham responds, "Well that's no mystery, Paul. Every man has the power to separate himself from the love of Christ by refusing Christ's offer." Either Paul's assertion about the impossibility of one of God's elect being separated from the love of God in Christ is wrong, or Graham is. We would be well-advised to side with Paul on the matter by tossing Graham's well-meant-offerism on the trash heap of bad theology where it so evidently belongs.
"God's plan for our reconciliation and redemption was complete in His Son.  But only by believing in Jesus - committing yourself to him, surrendering to Him - are you saved." (Graham, p.161)
Here Graham wants to have it both ways. If our reconciliation was complete in His Son, then it's a done deal and God's people are reconciled and complete in Christ. But what Graham means by "complete" is actually "incomplete" because for Christ's reconciliation to be efficacious in Graham's system it requires commitment and surrender on man's part. When people define "reconciliation" as "non-reconciliation", "redemption" as "non-redemption", and "complete" as "incomplete", they are not dealing in rightly divided truth, they are peddling nonsensical neo-evangelical balderdash.
"Faith in Christ is also voluntary. A person cannot be coerced, bribed or tricked into trusting Jesus. God will not force his way into your life." (Graham, p.162)
If God does not force his way into the lives of fallen sinners, then none will be saved, because "the wicked through the pride of his countenance will not seek after God, God is not in all his thoughts." (Psalm 10:4) A man in this condition will find no passage to glory apart from the direct intervention of a loving God who forces His way and will upon one who is dead in trespasses and in sins (Ephesians 2:1) in an act of undeserved mercy (Titus 3:5). Graham once again demonstrates that he does not understand the effects of the fall and as such he is at variance with King David (Psalm 10:4), the apostle Paul (I Corinthians 2:11), and the Lord Jesus Christ himself (John 8:47). That observation alone is a sober wake-up call for anyone who has embraced Graham's erroneous teaching.
"The Holy Spirit will do everything possible to disturb you, draw you, love you - but finally it is your personal decision." (Graham, p.162)
That statement is a theological fantasy, not teaching of scripture. The bible teaches that "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." (Psalm 110:3) Paul said, "and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power." (Ephesians 1:19) Graham teaches that believing is not the result of God's mighty power, but of man's mighty decision - and that is completely contrary to the word of God.
"He gives the holy spirit to draw you to the cross, but even after all of this, it is your decision whether to accept God's free pardon or to continue in your lost condition." (Graham, p.162)
So much for the bible's testimony that we believe "according to the working of His mighty power" as the apostle Paul taught (Ephesians 1:19). Graham fails to recognize that the "drawing" in passages like John 6:44 is not some gospel preaching or circumstances intended to woo one who is dead in trespasses and in sins to accept Jesus and become born again. No, the "drawing" found in the scriptures is none other than immediate holy spirit regeneration, the divine quickening of the soul. It is the new birth itself, a monergistic, quickening act of God that transpires for all of God's children at some point between conception and death as a result of the covenant of salvation (Galatians 4:6). It is not a matter of moral influence, but a matter of resurrection power.
"Of course, in His concern His goal for each of us will be the same - our new birth.  But to help us to that point he will just as personal as a shepherd who knows each of his sheep by name." (Graham, p.163)
If the Lord's goal for everyone is their new birth, then this "Lord" is one who fails to meet his own goals.  It is abundantly clear that Jesus goal for each person is NOT the same (Matthew 25:41).  The bible says that Jesus knows his sheep by name (John 10:3). And Jesus says that he gives unto them eternal life and they shall never perish (John 10:28). Moreover, Jesus promised that he would give eternal life to as many as the Father gave to him (John 17:2). He also plainly stated that there are some who are not his sheep (John 10:26).  It follows that Graham's shepherd, who is trying to get all men born again without violating their will, bears no meaningful resemblance to the Lord Jesus Christ who saves his people by the working of his mighty power (Ephesians 1:19) through the resurrection mercy of regeneration (Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:1) which changes their wills (Psalm 110:3) and gives them a hunger and thirst for God that they never by nature had (Matthew 5:6).
"Bill Bright of Campus Crusade developed the "Four Spiritual Laws" which have been widely used throughout the world in helping people understand how to be born again." (Graham, p.167)
I have written quite a bit about the Four Spiritual Laws. They are very much cut from the same unstable and unbiblical cloth as Graham's theology. The combined efforts of Bright and Graham have "established" untold millions on unsound doctrine regarding a Jesus whose work is utterly ineffectual apart from man's ratification of it. In so doing they have sown great confusion and instability among God's people in this world.


I hope this brief commentary is helpful in drawing out the doctrinal errors embedded in Billy Graham's teaching. His theology is liberally embraced by professing Christians everywhere and so it is virtually guaranteed that you will encounter theses errors on a regular basis as you interact with Christians. It is my hope that by utilizing direct quotes from Graham and explicitly demonstrating how his assertions are in direct opposition to the teaching of scripture, that some might come to see Graham's errors plainly and that they might find peace in knowing the truth of gospel of the successful savior - the Lord Jesus Christ.


  1. Why do you do keep criticizing other Christians? what for? you're labeling them false teachers. they are fellow workers in the Lord. your logics are debatable. There are thousands of scholars out there that can contest your arguments. Graham and Bright were used by the Lord Jesus to bring millions of souls Him. Now here you are, calling their teachings unbiblical? How about you? instead of going out there helping to evangelize and disciple, you waste your time sitting on your desk writing all these articles criticizing your brothers (or maybe you dont call them brothers because only you and a handful have the right to be called children of God.) why not just support them? or at least leave them alone. get a life.

  2. ANSWER 101


    Thanks for taking time to interact with my blog and for posting some comments. You make a number of statements and questions that I would like to address:

    ANONYMOUS: Why do you do keep criticizing other Christians? what for?

    TETH: Because the truth is important, and those who teach sinners-prayer salvation are spreading a false gospel and proselytizing literally millions on their false belief system which is a gross distortion of the teachings of scripture. Let me ask you this – if you believe something is harmful and wrong, do you feel compelled to do something about it? That is my motivation.

    ANONYMOUS: you're labeling them false teachers. they are fellow workers in the Lord.

    TETH: Yes. Billy Graham is a false teacher. I would not go so far as to question whether he is a regenerate child of God, the Lord knows (II Timothy 2:19), but the doctrine that he teaches with respect to how sinners are eternally saved is categorically false. I have attempted to biblically demonstrate this through an unvarnished examination of the logic of his assertions held alongside the bible’s testimony.

    ANONYMOUS: your logics are debatable.

    TETH: If my logic is debatable, it would be helpful for you to demonstrate such through a logical argument. Apart from providing that, you are making an unsubstantiated assertion.

    ANONYMOUS: There are thousands of scholars out there that can contest your arguments.

    TETH: I’m certain that this is true. It is also an assertion based on both an appeal to authority and to headcount – two classical logical fallacies. If this mode of objection to my argument is valid, it would have the unfortunate consequence of undermining the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ via an appeal to the Sanhedrin.

    ANONYMOUS: Graham and Bright were used by the Lord Jesus to bring millions of souls to Him.

    TETH: That assertion is complete balderdash. There is ever and only one eternal soul winner – the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the good shepherd who gives eternal life to the sheep and they shall never perish (John 10:28) and he does so in keeping with a covenant promise that he will lose not one of them (John 17:2). What Graham and Bright have done is proselytize millions of people on false teachings about their eternal salvation. Their work does not land anyone in either heaven or hell, but it most certainly serves to confound innumerable people regarding their salvation, causing much confusion and vexation of spirit among the flock of God.

    Continued in ANSWER 102….

    1. ANSWER 102

      ANONYMOUS: Now here you are, calling their teachings unbiblical? How about you?

      TETH: Yes. I am calling their teachings unbiblical and providing an explicit demonstration of why I believe that is so. I have also provided a clear and biblical presentation of the gospel as an alternative to what these men preach. It is the featured video on my YouTube channel and I invite you to examine it in light of the scriptures to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11).

      ANONYMOUS: instead of going out there helping to evangelize and disciple, you waste your time sitting on your desk writing all these articles criticizing your brothers

      TETH: What I am doing is evangelizing those who are seeking a right understanding of God through his word and who have been taught great error. My efforts are to encourage the flock of God through a proper understanding of their salvation. I do not consider earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints as a waste of time (Jude 1:3), though you are at liberty to regard it as such.

      ANONYMOUS: (or maybe you dont call them brothers because only you and a handful have the right to be called children of God.)

      TETH: I tend to err on the side of assuming that those who have a profession of faith in Christ are regenerate children of God, even if they do not understand the doctrine of eternal salvation. I most certainly do NOT believe that those who have the right to be called children of God are just “a handful” as you assert. I believe that the redeemed are a multitude which no man can number (Revelation 7:9) out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Revelation 5:9). They are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and the Lord did not require one bit of assistance from either Graham or Bright or anyone else to get the job done (Romans 5:19).

      ANONYMOUS: why not just support them? or at least leave them alone.

      TETH: I cannot support them, because they are not teaching salvation by sovereign grace and thus they are not teaching the system of salvation found in the word of God. Paul had very harsh words for those who would teach another doctrine that is not based entirely on “the grace of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-9) – he said they should be “accursed.”

      ANONYMOUS: get a life.

      TETH: I have an abundant life (John 10:10). That is true in no small measure because I understand what Jesus Christ ACCOMPLISHED on behalf of his people (Matthew 1:21, Hebrews 10:14). It is my earnest desire to spread the gospel of the finished work of Christ to those who have the ears to hear so that they may be delivered from ignorance and from the instability that attends an improper understanding of Christ’s saving work based on the shallow and unscriptural teachings of so-called “evangelical heavyweights” who would have done well to heed James’s admonition, “my brethren, be not many masters.” (James 3:1)

      That said, I would want to ask you two questions:

      1) How many obediences were required to make God’s people righteous? (Romans 5:19)

      2) What are the ramifications of this teaching on a gospel that requires YOUR obedience as a prerequisite to obtaining a righteous standing before God?

      Correct answers to those to questions are the complete undoing of Graham/Bright theology, but they are an important first step toward having a proper understanding of how God saves sinners.

      May God bless our studies and understanding of his word.


  3. Having grown up Southern Baptist, I was given to likening Billy Graham to a Saint or Apostle. While this was never an official SBC teaching, it was a sentiment that was prevalent. Now, many years later and having been freed from their Arminianism, I can see that if folks like Billy Graham could simply apply much of what they teach to conversion, rather than regeneration, they would then be on much better doctrinal ground. Thank you for continuing to promote the Truth of Jesus Christ.

    Bill Allen

  4. Brother Allen,

    My experience is similar to the one you describe. The distinction you make about regarding Regeneration vs Conversion is spot on.

    May God bless our studies, understanding, and efforts to promote the truth,