The other day I wrote about the upcoming movie release by Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). The movie’s release is to coincide with the 95th birthday of the well-known evangelist, on November 7. Up until that time, the internet, churches, and publications will heavily tout this movie, called “My Hope America with Billy Graham.”
Readers of this blog know that there are three spheres under which I write: encouragement, prophecy, and discernment. Under the discernment banner, the other day I examined Billy Graham’s teachings and doctrine, compared it the bible, and showed that given the things Graham teaches and believes, he cannot be of the faith. He fails on one of the primary essentials (Jesus as the exclusive way to heaven, AKA the Gospel) and he fails on many other secondary essential issues. The sum total of the first part was to show that even, or especially, popular men can be and could be one of the prophesied wolves bringing false doctrine. (Matthew 7:15, 2 Peter 2:1). Please read that piece for the details and the biblical support.
Though I personally believe that Graham along with a couple of others have done more to damage the faith than to honor it, I’d said that I hadn’t written about Graham but instead have focused on the falsity of others because Graham is no longer active. However, it seems that Graham has produced one final religious/theological/social effort and is using the last vestige of his reputation and means before he dies (his words) to spread it as widely as possible. That effort is the movie of which I’ll speak today. It is called My Hope America.
The movie is an evangelistic effort in which people call friends neighbors, co-workers, and invite them to “meet Jesus” at a party, as Matthew had after his conversion. (Matthew 9).
There are several premises the video is produced under which I agree. First, their premise that there should be urgency to witness is biblical and appropriate. We need that prompting here in America, especially where wealth dampens urgency and technological distractions sidetrack us from personal relationships within which we share Christ.
The My Hope DVD has been sent to 157 countries already, such as Uruguay, Malawi, etc. It is now being promoted in America. Thus, the My Hope people have identified America as a country in need of missionaries & evangelists. I agree with this also. America has become more and more apostate. It is surely an irony that the nation which once sent more missionaries into the lost nations of the world has become lost herself and needs others to come here. It’s true and the people of this nation need the Gospel as much or more than many other countries on each day that passes.
The Movie’s Claims
In the promotional video, the listener hears pastors tell the BGEA video folks that they “have been praying for a way to mobilize their people into evangelism”, and we’re told that pastors are saying, “we’ve been looking for an opportunity to get our folks involved in personal evangelism and I believe this is it.”
We’re told that pastors are saying the video strategy is “bringing churches together as never before”, that it is going to “heal our land”, and “it is going to put everyone at peace.” We’re told by BGEA folks that “We’ve seen God use this strategy of the My Hope project in Latin America, in Asia, in Africa, Europe…” We see the BGEA folks say that “Each country gets the benefit of people working together towards a common goal in Jesus Christ. And that can change history in a country.”
Those are extraordinary claims and stupendous statements. Aside from being overtly slick and promotional, these claims also seem to be results-oriented. I’ll speak to the results-oriented approach below when I speak of decisional regeneration.
Taking a hard look at the evangelistic efforts of Mr Graham and his methods, let’s focus on two of them associated with this video: Relationship Evangelism and Decisional Regeneration.
1. Relationship Evangelism
Forty-six seconds into the promotional video, the listener hears, “My Hope is Billy Graham’s call to relationship evangelism in America”. There are many scenes of people sitting around a table, or on the floor, or on couches and chairs, watching the various My Hope videos from the BGEA. The listener hears that Matthew was a relationship evangelist, whereupon he met Jesus, was converted, and wanted to share Jesus with as many people as possible and thus hosted a party in his home. (Matthew 9:10-13). The listener is urged to host a party or gathering and invite friends, family, neighbors, co-workers with the goal of sharing Christ as Matthew had.
I completely agree that as Christians we should operate within the spheres into which the Holy Spirit has set us, and witness for Christ using every means and method. Cold sharing, street preaching, friendship sharing, and using our lives of obedience and submission are several ways to share the Gospel with the lost and dying world of our individual spheres. I have no quarrel with that. Hosting a gathering in your home with weak brethren, non-believers, and mature brethren is good. It is proper. It is one way we use the strength of relationships, along with relating the truth of the Gospel to folks on church, in our community, clubs, and family homes.
These different evangelistic methods are variously called servant evangelism, (Galatians 6:10); lifestyle evangelism (Acts 5:13, 20); and friendship evangelism (or relationship evangelism). We should speak personally to friends, neighbors and co-workers. This is the type of evangelism Philip demonstrates in John 1:45-46. The woman at the well went back into town and told her friends. They asked Jesus to stay for two days and He taught them, and many believed.
So is there a problem with the evangelistic approach the BGEA folks are using, hosting “Matthew Parties” with an intent to share Jesus? There could be. As with anything, this ‘strategy’ dwells close to a line of subtlety where it can go off the rails quickly. Note the main DVD synopsis that personal testimonies will be told:
“as they share the common thread that led them to true happiness.”
Scott Boren authored a piece at Christian Leaders called “Does Relationship Evangelism Miss the Point?” He was talking about what have become known as “Matthew Parties.” He used an interesting quote from the book, The Relational Pastor by Andrew Root
However, he is not challenging the reality that the Gospel most easily spreads across relational lines. Nor is he saying that abundant life is not found in Jesus. He’s actually pointing out the fact that if we are going to have loving relationships we need to relate to neighbors, co-workers, family members, and friends in a such a way that we actually encounter them in the relationships instead of using the relationship to get something from them. If we are trying to get them to line up with our beliefs and ideals and are not demonstrating the Gospel. We are peddling it.
The entire piece is good and gives food for thought. When sharing Jesus is not an embedded lifestyle, but a strategy comes along that already has a faddish term associated with it (“Matthew Party”), and the folks we invite know that it is part of a promotional activity, they feel used. And we are using them. It is peddling Jesus rather than simply sharing the Gospel. There is a difference between natural, organic, sincere evangelistic effort, and jumping on an artificially promoted Matthew Party bandwagon.
For another view of relationship evangelism, street Preacher Tony Miano wrote in his piece, ““Friendship Evangelism Is Neither Friendship Nor Evangelism”
“Let make it very clear that Christians are called by the Word of God to be both friendly and relational. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3)
But Miano goes on to warn of the line that is easily crossed in relationship evangelism, of the danger of backing off in relationship evangelism by not sharing Christ but simply living a perceptible life in front of believers:
“Part of the evidence that “Friendship Evangelism” is not evangelistic is that the practice makes the Christian known but it all-too-often fails to make Christ known.”
So though on the surface, the BGEA strategy of relationship evangelism does have roots in the bible, the use of it as a strategy and a method can come across as too slick and faddish to the non-believer, they could well wind up feeling used. Secondly it is the Gospel that saves, not the friendship, and third, it leaves room for the Christian to back off in sharing Jesus but yet making the friend feel safely Christian.
Ultimately, what Relationship Evangelism is, is simply discipling.
2. Decisional Regeneration
Decisional regeneration is another thing like Relationship evangelism, which is not completely false but is fraught with subtle dangers which can quickly push one over the edge into false territory. The term means that a person becomes a Christian by deciding to become a Christian. They make a decision that they want Christ to be the Lord of their lives, or they decide to come forward at an evangelistic crusade or church service and decide to become a believer.
The work of salvation is completely in the hands of God. The believer is dead in his trespasses and sins, (Ephesians 2:1). A dead person cannot “decide” to become alive. It is the work of God who makes us alive (Ephesians 2:4).
However we are called to repent, and this is a conscious act of man. Repent means to take a 180 degree turn from the way we were, which was sinful, and to proclaim sorrow for our sins and go the way of holiness. It is perhaps here where the decision comes in.
Man is saved by Jesus but he is always responsible for his sins. Where that ground meets between sovereignty and responsibility is the gray line in decisional regeneration.
However at many churches and especially at Billy Graham crusades, “making a decision for Christ” easily becomes much more shallow. The practice is actually foreign to the scriptures, as Pastor Tim Challies explains here. The invention of the decision for Christ, combined with the altar call, is
“generally attributed to evangelist Charles Finney who lived from 1792 to 1875. He emphasized the need for a decision, usually made by “coming forward” to approach the altar. Becoming a believer became synonymous with making a decision and proving that decision by taking physical action. It is important to note that this system is entirely foreign to the Scriptures.”
Paul Washer speaks against the dangers of decisional regeneration often. Here, Todd Shaffer summarizes one of Washer’s sermons on the topic:
“Washer rails against how Evangelicals are so quick to proclaim people ‘believers’. One of the most damnable practices in the church is when a person doubts their salvation, they are usually taken back to that day when they “made a decision” for Christ and “asked Jesus into their hearts”, neither of which are statements found in Scripture (apart from a poor hermeneutic). We are often guilty of giving people a false assurance that is based more on the ‘sincerity’ of their decision than on the presence of a transformed life.“
And that is the danger: false assurance. Many people who come forward at a crusade or a Matthew Party having decided for Christ do so many times on a shallow Gospel presentation, or an incomplete Gospel presentation, or decide for a Christ who doesn’t exist, just because they are promised “happiness.”
In his talk about Billy Graham Cecil Andrews was speaking about the fifty year anniversary of the London Harringay Crusade. Andrews, who is from the UK, said that despite many “decisions for Christ” at that monumental Graham crusade at Harringay stadium, by the time five decades had passed, there was virtually no effect remaining. The people who had been there fifty years before deciding for Christ before were not thriving Christians by any stretch, and it was plain to the interviewers that the “decisions” were vaporous emotional responses and not a lasting spiritual regeneration.
Relational Evangelism at a Matthew Party is a fad
I am not a fan of fads. Christian fads come and go with depressing regularity. Prayer of Jabez rugs, WWJD bracelets, Love Dares, Courageous Resolutions, Promise Keepers, Quiverfull, Daniel Fast, Prayer Circles, Parable of the Talents Challenge, and now Matthew Parties. If the thing has a name it is a sure bet it’s a fad. If the thing is mindlessly replicated from house to house and church to church, it’s a fad.
The bible says, “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (2 Peter 2:3). The KJV says ‘they will make merchandise of you.’ The word ‘exploit’ in the verse comes from the Greek word that we know today as emporium, or mall. Strong’s defines it as, “I travel as a merchant, engage in trade; I traffic in, make gain or business of.”
Now, the film is free, the associated bonus programs are free, you can watch them online for free or order them for free. The training is free and the support materials are free. That is wonderful. I am all for that. The My Hope Matthew Party is still a fad and it’s still merchandise. Here’s why:
The BGEA promotes the strategy of decisional regeneration and it focuses on results. This is the prophesied ‘merchandising’ part, even though no money passes hands. It is touted to be man-centered and results-oriented. In one of the promotional videos, it is stated that viewers of the My Hope DVD in other countries have “since 2002, ‘made average of 2 decisions for Christ per home.” Is that like “2 out of 3 dentists say…”?
The video is touted as a “unique opportunity” to witness for Christ where pastors have been “praying for a way to mobilize their people into evangelism”? Praying for a way, unlike the way the bible shows us? and we’re told that pastors are saying, “we’ve been looking for an opportunity to get our folks involved in personal evangelism and I believe this is it.” What if this ‘opportunity’ hadn’t come along? Would these pastors not be able to get their folks into personal evangelism? But you see, that is the results-oriented, merchandising language. The BGEA promotional video makes it sound like this is the only strategy and we better pick up on it fast. Is that like “operators are standing by”?
This is where the decisional regeneration method falters. It leaves the work of sovereign Holy Spirit of regenerating hearts to the men behind production monitors counting how many decisions for Christ happened in a certain segment of the country.
“Decisions” often lead to False Assurance
Tim Challies explains,
“Finney’s legacy in church history is largely one of failure, of creating masses of people who believed they were Christians, but most of whom showed no evidence. They were assured by their decision which they could always regard as a milestone in their lives, but while they had raised their hand, they had never turned to Christ. Why had they not done this? Because the Spirit had not done any work in them and they were, thus, unregenerate. They had attempted to make themselves believers, a task which can only be done by God.“
And that was the legacy of the Harringay Crusade in 1954 and it is my worry and fear that the masses of homes where people are artificially invited to a My Hope Matthew Party will ‘decide for Christ’ based on peer pressure, or emotion, or because they were grateful for the food, or any other reason except that the Holy Spirit had opened their eyes to their need for a Savior. False assurance is worse than being unregenerate, in my opinion. Read this verse, and you can vividly see the myriads of unregenerate false Christians pleading with Jesus:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
You can just hear them say “I went forward at the altar call! I decided! I saw the Graham DVD! I signed a card! They told me I was in the family of God!” But no…Jesus never knew them.
I’m NOT saying that all people who have ever done those things are lost. I AM saying that the decisional regeneration method combined with fad Matthew Parties and promoted as a strategy that WILL get results is dangerous and shallow. The movie people promote it with terms such as I mentioned above, It is going to “heal our land”, and “it is going to put everyone at peace.” These claims are biblically false. When combined with the results-oriented statements such as people have “made average of 2 decisions for Christ per home” then what you’ve got is a gross misrepresentation of the Holy Spirit and not the praise due for a miracle of reconciliation by a holy, sovereign God.
The Christian Post touts this event as perhaps the biggest evangelistic event in history. Keep in mind it is created by a man who believes Muslims who don’t know Jesus are in the family of God, who believes that Roman Catholic Pope John Paul was the greatest evangelist ever, who makes a plea to thousands of people at his crusades to ‘decide for Christ’ but sends them to Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis for counseling, and put together a DVD which is a tactic, a strategy, and a passing fad of Matthew Parties.
John MacArthur spoke to these issues in his sermon The Lordship Controversy:
“A subtle shift in emphasis over the past hundred years or so has gradually eroded the way evangelicals understand and present the gospel. Preaching and witnessing have changed. The message we’re hearing is less challenging, more comforting. But is it the truth?
Just as the My Hope DVD promised lands will be healed and true happiness will be found. Decisional regeneration is shallow and leads to false assurance much of the time. Continuing with the MacArthur segment:
“Listen to the typical gospel presentation nowadays. You’ll hear sinners entreated with words like, “accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior”; “ask Jesus into your heart”; “invite Christ into your life”; or “make a decision for Christ.” You may be so accustomed to hearing those phrases that it will surprise you to learn that none of them is based on biblical terminology.“
All of those are strategies you hear Billy Graham use and will find on the My Hope DVD. Continuing again:
“They are the products of a diluted gospel. It is not the gospel according to Jesus. The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer. Jesus’ message liberated people from the bondage of their sin while it confronted and condemned hypocrisy. It was an offer of eternal life and forgiveness for repentant sinners, but at the same time it was a rebuke to outwardly religious people whose lives were devoid of true righteousness. It put sinners on notice that they must turn from sin and embrace God’s righteousness. It was in every sense good news, yet it was anything but easy-believism.Our Lord’s words about eternal life were invariably accompanied by warnings to those who might be tempted to take salvation lightly. He taught that the cost of following Him is high, that the way is narrow and few find it. He said many who call Him Lord will be forbidden from entering the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 7:13-23).”
Far from enjoying tacos at a Matthew Party and then making a decision to accept Jesus into your heart in order to experience true happiness (Billy Graham method), true faith is described in the Beatitudes, (Matthew 5:3-12).
Faith’s foundational characteristic is humility–a poverty of spirit, a brokenness that acknowledges spiritual bankruptcy. Genuine believers see themselves as sinners; they know they have nothing to offer God that will buy His favor. That is why they mourn (v. 4), with the sorrow that accompanies true repentance. It crushes the believer into meekness (v. 5). He hungers and thirsts for righteousness (v. 6). As the Lord satisfies that hunger, He makes the believing one merciful (v. 6), pure in heart (v. 7), and a peacemaker (v. 9). The believer is ultimately persecuted and reviled for righteousness’ sake (v. 10). … Those who cling to the memory of a one-time decision of “faith” but lack any evidence of the outworking of faith had better heed the clear and solemn warning of Scripture: “He who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). (source)
“My Hope America” with Billy Graham (Part 1/2)
Here is some more information on all the topics I’ve covered in this blog entry
Got Questions: Decisions for Christ
Got Questions: Easy believism
Got Questions: Asking Jesus into your heart
The Difference In Making (A Decision) For Christ vs (A True Conversion) 8-min video
Paul Washer: “The Sinner’s Prayer” (3-min video)
Tin Challies: Decisional Regeneration