Billy Graham’s Dangerous Advice

By Michael Brown Published on March 4, 2018

In his tribute to his old friend Billy Graham, James Robison, publisher of The Stream, shared how one word of counsel from Rev. Graham changed his life. Do we dare heed this word of counsel today? Do we have the courage and confidence to take up Billy Graham’s dangerous advice?

When setting up his city-wide rallies, James had been working with one particular group of Christians to the exclusion of other groups. But Rev. Graham knew that there were solid believers in these other groups as well. He asked James, “Do you know these Christians you are telling me to avoid?”

James replied, “No I don’t,” to which Rev. Graham said, “Well I do, and I have found them to be in love with Jesus.”

This was followed by the sentence that so revolutionized James Robison’s life and ministry: “I suggest you spend time with those you’ve been taught to avoid.”

Getting Past Caricatures and Stereotypes

James acted on this counsel, and, as he explains,

This Baptist evangelist began to spend time with Pentecostals and Charismatics, and even went to some of them and asked forgiveness for the unkind way I might have addressed some of the differences we seemed to have.

The miracle? Not only were those individuals I befriended impacted by the fact I came at Billy’s suggestion, but I was impacted. Iron began to sharpen iron. Essential friction took place with the powerful aid of Holy Spirit oil.

Are we willing to act on this as well?

It doesn’t mean lowering our standards or throwing out doctrinal essentials. But it does mean getting to know people face to face.

It doesn’t mean lowering our standards. It doesn’t mean throwing out doctrinal essentials. It doesn’t mean embracing some kind of cheap, carnal ecumenism.

But it does mean getting to know people face to face. It does mean getting past caricatures and stereotypes and sound bites. It does mean having some of our presuppositions and superficial judgments challenged.

Are we willing to do that?

Getting to Know Those You Disagree With

In terms of getting to know people up close and personally, someone once said to me that it’s easier to shoot someone from a distance than to shoot them face to face when you can feel their breath — in other words, when you can feel their humanity.

In the same way, it’s a lot easier to attack and criticize and scorn and mock someone when you only know them from a distance. But when you spend quality time with them, when you share your hearts openly and candidly, when you see them interact with their families and friends, when you experience what they do and who they are firsthand, you might realize that your views were biased or bigoted or, at the least, out of balance or lacking in love. And even if you end up believing that the nature of your concerns was accurate, the spirit with which you express those concerns will probably be changed.

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It’s been said that heaven, at one and the same time, will be a great eye-opener and a great mouth-closer. You’ll be surprised to see some people there (and others not there), and some people will be surprised to see you there.

The same thing happens when you really get to know people for who they are. Some of them turn out to be very different than you thought they were, and the sword, again, cuts both ways. Some of them will be surprised to meet the real you.

Sadly, though, we’re much happier to talk past each other than to talk to each other. How does this advance the God’s work, let alone the pursuit of truth?

Finding Common Ground

Recently, I urged a Christian leader to spend a day with another Christian leader whom he has repeatedly attacked, to the point of implying that this leader was not even a brother in the Lord. I happen to know this other leader well, and he’s one of the saintliest, Scripture-based, Jesus-loving people you could ever meet. The critic’s life would be enriched by this other leader’s life and ministry. So, would he spend time with him face to face?

Not a chance, said the critic. He saw no reason to give his time to such a heretical person as this.

What a shame, and what a loss — for the critic, for those he influences, and for the Body of Christ as a whole. How do attitudes like this cultivate that unity that is so precious in the Lord’s sight?

Even outside the Church family, I have sought to build relationships with those I differ with, from LGBT activists to devoted Muslims to counter-missionary rabbis.

I still speak clearly and without compromise, but I do so with compassion.

Sometimes, spending time with these individuals only intensifies my burden and accentuates my concerns, since they live up to the negative stereotypes.

At other times, I’m struck by our shared humanity and shared values, to the point that one intersex atheist (born male but then, through a chromosomal abnormality, began to develop as female and now lives as a female) recently asked if I would send him/her the hate mail that comes my way so that he/she could try to dissuade the haters of their hatred towards me.

That’s just one reason that, whenever I write on transgender-related issues, I have this person in mind, asking, “How are my words affecting people in that community?” I still speak clearly and without compromise, but I do so with compassion.

Am I Willing to Relate?

Of course, it’s often easiest to keep our distance and snipe. We dare not blur our lines of distinction!

But if those lines of distinction cannot withstand honest, heart to heart dialogue, if they cannot withstand spending time with two lesbian moms doting over their children, if they cannot withstand sitting with a devout Muslim who explains his love for Allah and his hatred of violence, then you have to question how clear those lines are to start. Are those distinctions based simply on religious tradition or personal prejudice, or are they based on truth and grounded in love?

One may be as straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as a gun barrel spiritually. — Vance Havner

Closer to home, within the Church, am I willing to have my narrow boundaries stretched? Am I willing to see spirituality in parts of the Church that don’t dot their i’s and cross their t’s exactly the way I do? Am I willing to acknowledge that good can come out of a local congregation that broke away from my denomination? Am I willing to recognize the Spirit’s hand on someone whose style I personally find offensive, even though within the bounds of Scripture?

Following the Example of Paul

Years ago, the popular Baptist evangelist Vance Havner shared this strong word of caution: “One may be as straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as a gun barrel spiritually. In fact, it may be that in their very opposition to evil men and false teachers these Ephesian saints had left their first love” (with reference to Revelation 2:1-7).

And, he continued,

So often it turns out that fundamental and orthodox Christians become so severe in condemning false doctrine, gnashing their teeth at every sniff of heresy, that they end up without love. One may do a right thing in a wrong way. The same Paul who wrote, “… though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel … let him be accursed,” also wrote the love chapter to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13]. Unless we can get that combination we shall be theological Hawkshaws and doctrinal detectives, religious bloodhounds looking for heretics but with hot heads and cold hearts.

A way to avoid falling into this kind of spiritual rut is by doing what Billy Graham counseled James Robison to do: spend time with those you’ve been taught to avoid.

It just might rock your world.

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