Archives For Evangelicalism

Article Originally posted on Christianity Today


Billy Graham was perhaps the most significant religious figure of the 20th century, and the organizations and the movement he helped spawn continue to shape the 21st.

During his life, Graham preached in person to more than 100 million people and to millions more via television, satellite, and film. Nearly 3 million have responded to his invitation to “accept Jesus into your heart” at the end of his sermons. He proclaimed the gospel to more persons than any other preacher in history. In the process, Graham became “America’s Pastor,” participating in presidential inaugurations and speaking during national crises such as the memorial services following the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks.

“He became the friend and confidante of popes and presidents, queens and dictators, and yet, even in his 80s, he possesses the boyish charm and unprepossessing demeanor to communicate with the masses,” said Columbia University historian Randall Balmer.

Billy Graham was born in 1918 in Charlotte, North Carolina, attended (briefly) Bob Jones College, graduating from Florida Bible Institute near Tampa, and Wheaton College in Illinois. He was ordained a minister in the Southern Baptist Church (1939) and pastored a small church in suburban Chicago and preached on a weekly radio program. In 1946 he became the first full-time staff member of Youth for Christ and launched his evangelistic campaigns. For four years (1948–1952) he also served as president of Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis. His 1949 evangelistic tent meetings in Los Angeles brought him to national attention, and his 1957 New York meetings, which filled Madison Square Garden for four months, established him as a major presence on the American religious scene.

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Graham appeared regularly on the lists of “most admired” people. Between 1950 and 1990 Graham won a spot on the Gallup Organization’s “Most Admired” list more often than any other American. Ladies Home Journal once ranked him second only to God in the category of “achievements in religion.” He received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1983) and the Congressional Gold Medal (1996).

Sherwood Wirt, who for 17 years edited the Graham organization’s Decision magazine, described one Scottish minister who made this observation about Graham: “My first impression of the man at close quarters was not of his good looks but of his goodness; not of his extraordinary range of commitments, but of his own ‘committedness’ to his Lord and Master. To be with him even for a short time is to get a sense of a single-minded man; it shames one and shakes one as no amount of ability and cleverness can do.”

Graham was a model of integrity. Despite scandals and missteps that toppled other leaders and ministers, including Graham’s friend Richard Nixon and a succession of televangelists, in six decades of ministry, no one ever leveled a serious accusation of misconduct against him.

That’s not to say he wasn’t seriously criticized. Some liberals and intellectuals called his message “simplistic.” Some fundamentalists considered him “compromised” for cooperating with mainline groups and the National Council of Churches.

His moderate anti-segregationist stance during the Civil Rights era drew fire from both sides: white segregationists were furious when he invited the “agitator” Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at the 1957 New York City crusade; civil rights activists accused him of cowardice for not joining them on protest marches and getting arrested for the cause.

In 1982, when he visited the Soviet Union, agreeing to preach the gospel at the invitation of the government, he touched off a firestorm of criticism. Despite having met with The Siberian Seven, Pentecostal dissidents who were seeking political asylum, Graham was quoted as saying he “had not personally seen any evidence of religious persecution.” Some called him a “traitor.” But he insisted he would go anywhere to preach as long as there were no restrictions on his freedom to proclaim the gospel. He returned claiming he saw the hand of God working in the Soviet Union. He was fiercely attacked for being naïve and “a tool of the Soviet propaganda machine.”

By 1990, however, after the fall of the Soviet Union, his prescience was vindicated when then-President George H.W. Bush said to the National Religious Broadcasters, “Eight years ago, one of the Lord’s great ambassadors, Rev. Billy Graham, went to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and, upon returning, spoke of a movement there toward more religious freedom. And perhaps he saw it before many of us because it takes a man of God to sense the early movement of the hand of God.”

Perhaps Graham’s lasting legacy was his ability to present the gospel in the idiom of the culture. He did this brilliantly, making innovative use of emerging technologies—radio, television, magazines, books, a newspaper column, motion pictures, satellite broadcasts, Internet—to spread his message.

In the 1990s he reengineered the formula for his “crusades” (later called “missions” out of deference to Muslims and others offended by the connotation). His standard “youth night” was revolutionized into a “Concert for the Next Generation,” with Christian rock, rap, and hip-hop artists headlining the event, followed by Graham preaching. This format drew record numbers of young people who cheered the bands and then, amazingly, listened carefully to the octogenarian evangelist.

In addition, he helped launch numerous influential organizations, including Youth for Christ (he was the first full-time staff member of this entrepreneurial and innovative organization), the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Christianity Today. The ripple effect of his shaping influence extends to such schools as Wheaton College in Illinois, Gordon-Conwell Divinity School in Massachusetts, Northwestern College in Minnesota, and Fuller Seminary in California. His encouragement and support helped develop the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Greater Europe Mission, TransWorld Radio, World Vision, World Relief, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

He brought the global Christian community together through international conventions: a 1966 Congress on World Evangelism in Berlin, the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, and three huge conferences in Amsterdam for itinerant evangelists in 1983, 1986, and 2000, which drew nearly 24,000 working evangelists from 200 countries.

In many ways, Billy Graham both formed and embodied the evangelical movement. Theologian J. I. Packer attributes the evangelical “convergence” to Graham. “Up to 1940, it was every institution for itself. There wasn’t anything unitive about the situation. There were little outposts of resistance trying to keep their end up in face of the liberal juggernaut. Increasingly, from the 1950s onward, evangelicals came together behind Billy Graham and the things he stood for and was committed to. It continues that way to the present.”

For many, however, William Franklin Graham won’t be remembered for these accomplishments. He’ll always be “Billy,” as he preferred to be called. He titled his autobiography Just As I Am, a reflection of his humble spirit, taken from the hymn sung most often when he invited people to come forward and receive God’s love.

And for millions, his humility before the Almighty encouraged them to approach with that same spirit.

Click to visit the Billy Graham memorial site

The evening immediately after RC Sproul died, John Frame writes about his earliest memories of RC, starting back when they were young men from Pittsburgh. Frame expresses his great admiration for RC and his ministry, and grieves over the “wretched boundaries” that kept them apart, as he prays for RC’s family and loved ones.

Both of us were profoundly influenced by John Gerstner. RC went to Pittsburgh Seminary to study with Gerstner; I went to Westminster to study with Gerstner’s teachers. But I visited Pittsburgh Seminary a few times. Once in Gerstner’s class, there was a young fellow who dominated the class discussion. A friend later introduced the student to me as “Bob” Sproul. Later that year I visited the Wheaton Philosophy Conference, and again there was Bob, going at it with the other conferees.

Those meetings were sufficient to pick up my ears when I heard Bob’s name. I remember hearing of him working with Jerry Kirk in Cincinnati, teaching at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and other ministries. Then came the Ligonier Valley Study Center. I spoke at one of the early conferences— on inerrancy— and for the first time I was able to say I knew RC— formerly Bob.

We could have been good friends, I think. We were the same age, Pittsburghers, Calvinists, and most of all disciples of Jesus Christ. But alas, we belonged to different clubs. I followed Van Til, Gerstner’s teacher, but Gerstner did not follow Van Til, and RC followed Gerstner. I always felt his heart and mine were in the same place.

We could have been good friends, I think. We were the same age, Pittsburghers, Calvinists, and most of all disciples of Jesus Christ. But alas, we belonged to different clubs.

From time to time I saw, or thought I saw, hints of Van Tillian presuppositionalism in RC’s writings. I think of his exegesis of Rom. 1, which was very much the same as Van Til’s. And he once, at Westminster, described himself as a “proto-suppositionalist.” I took that to mean that whatever you think about apologetic method Scripture must always have the final say. I too am a protosuppositionalist. And in the final analysis that’s all there really is to presuppositionalism.

But RC was nevertheless in one club, and I was in a different one. So we never actually had a good talk, even about old times in Pittsburgh. But I greatly admired dear RC, and I ranked him as the best communicator of Reformed truth in my time.

So now I lean over the wretched boundaries between our respective clubs, and I pray God’s comfort in Jesus to his family, his church, and his great movement.

So now I lean over the wretched boundaries between our respective clubs, and I pray God’s comfort in Jesus to his family, his church, and his great movement. And I pray God’s prosperity on all of these wonderful brothers and sisters. For our love far transcends the boundaries of our clubs.

After 49 years of distinguished service as a seminary professor at three seminaries, Dr. John Frame retired last month. He has been a mentor, faculty colleague, and dear friend–as our seminary offices have been next to each other for the last 17 years. He has distinguished himself as a prolific author and one of America’s foremost theologians and philosophers—significantly shaping the thought of Evangelicalism today.

Many of today’s most influential Christian leaders and authors, like Tim Keller and John Piper, readily acknowledge the significant impact John Frame has had on them. Although widely known and deeply respected in church leadership and academic circles for decades, his works are now, finally, becoming well known to the general public.

This is the fourth of a four-part series taken from Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 9.04.39 PMthe foreword I wrote for his book, John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, Volume 1, by P&R Publishing. I wrote this with the goal of helping to introduce Frame and his writings more widely to the general public, with the hope that more people would begin mining the rich theological, philosophical, and practical gems that have for too long been mostly in the hands of academics and church leaders.

“You are a gentleman and a scholar.” 

It’s a phrase used in the Catcher in the Rye. But it’s been used for centuries throughout the British Isles to describe a rare person worthy of being considered not only a scholar but also a gentleman. Not all scholars are gentlemen. Not all gentlemen are scholars. John Frame is both.

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One would understandably think that a scholar with Frame’s intellectual rigor and theological acumen would likely carry with him an aura of haughtiness. Instead, as one who has had an office next to him since 2000, I can tell you firsthand that John is a man marked by a rare blend of remarkable intellect and authentic humility.[1]

He is a model of living out what he writes about in his popular booklet Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus[2] (his grandfatherly advice written originally for incoming students at RTS-Orlando).[3]

Those who engage John in theological or philosophical debate (and there are many) experience his charitable and fair spirit—his genuine willingness to take a serious look at both sides of an issue. He’s well known for treating an opposing view graciously and respectfully, even while deconstructing it.

Many don’t know that John is also a classically trained musician (piano and organ) and a critic of film, music, and other media. His passion for and writings on worship and music have provoked controversy, especially in Reformed circles, because he regards contemporary worship music, and even liturgical dance, as biblically permissible and even enjoyable in worship.

John often confuses people because on a Sunday he can enjoy leading a new church plant in informal worship by playing an electric keyboard as part of a contemporary music ensemble. Then on Wednesday of the same week, he can greatly enjoy leading the seminary community in formal worship by playing a sixteenth-century hymn on the majestic, custom-built organ in the RTS-O chapel. Chapter 38 of this book is titled

“Twenty-five Random Things That Nobody Knows about Me.”

This list came from a Facebook game that his students “dragged [him] into.” What I love about this final chapter is that it gives you a glimpse into the personal life of this renowned theologian and philosopher. Here are a few of my favorites:

#3: I was always the last guy chosen for sports teams, and with good reason.

#4: We listened faithfully to Pittsburgh Pirate games from 1950–56, when the team had the worst record in baseball.

#18: My priorities for ministry were (a) missions, (b) pastorate, (c) academic theology. A visit to mission fields in 1960 ruled out (a). A year and two summers of pastoral experience ruled out (b). So I embraced (c) by default, as God’s calling.

#23: I did not marry until I was forty-five. God was preparing someone special.

#24: In 1999, I led a worship team of myself, a saxophonist, and a trombonist. The other two musicians were in their late seventies, but we really rocked.

John has shared with me how he is sometimes concerned about spending so much time in the privacy of his office writing, rather than being more actively involved in public ministry. So my role over the years we’ve worked together has been to periodically reminded him of what he already knows and teaches – that

There’s nothing more practical than sound theology.

I’ve seen firsthand how his theological writings are having a significant practical impact on the lives and ministries of Christian leaders around the world.

John is much more than a theologian, philosopher, and apologist. He is also a loving husband to Mary, father to his grown children, and grandfather to his rapidly growing gaggle of grandchildren. He is a humble and quiet man who prefers writing in the solitude of his office to coming into the public limelight.

All this is to say that it’s worth your time to read through these rare theological and philosophical gems in Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. Here you will find his “Primer on Perspectivalism”—a clear, concise summary of triperspectivalism that will enhance your knowledge of God, yourself, others, and the world. Other chapters include foundational topics such as these: “What the Bible Is About: One Thing and Three Things,” “The Gospel and the Scriptures,” “Introduction to the Reformed Faith,” and “The Main Thing.”

Then enter more deeply into Frame’s ongoing humble but bold dialogues by reading essays such as “Reformed and Evangelicals Together,” “Is Justification by Faith Alone the Article on Which the Church Stands or Falls?,” “N. T. Wright and the Authority of Scripture,” “Cultural Transformation and the Local Church,” “The Bible and Joe the Plumber,” and, of course, the rest of the “Twenty-five Random Things That Nobody Knows about Me.”

If you’re new to reading the works of Frame (or theological works in general), let me strongly encourage you to take the time to explore his other writings. Here are just a few introductory readings I recommend that you consider to begin priming your theological pump:

  • Salvation Belongs to the Lord[4]—a brief mini-systematic theology that is easily accessible to the average reader.
  • Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus—practical advice for incoming seminary students and all new students of theology.
  • Browse his website,, where you’ll find many of his writings. He shares this website with Vern Poythress, Calvinistic theologian, philosopher, New Testament scholar, and one of his former students.

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 9.04.01 PMWhether or not you’re new to reading Frame’s theological works, sooner or later you must own and begin making regular use of his magnum opus—Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief [5] with a Foreword by J.I. Packer. This remarkably accessible and practical work is the culmination of his nearly fifty years of studying, writing, teaching, and applying the Word of God to all aspects of life. World Magazine recently recognized it as “Book of the Year.

I am extremely grateful to God for this man and his ministry. This is why I so strongly promote the reading of his books and articles in all my seminary classes at RTS-Orlando and at the church leadership training events where I speak and teach in North America and abroad.

It is a great privilege for me to commend this book to you. Here you’ll find a wide array of important topics written in Frame’s inimitable style of robust charity. Enjoy mining the rich truths in these winsome and provocative essays.

Click here to read Framing John Frame Pt 1: Introducing The Man and His Message

Click here to read Framing John Frame Pt 2: Influencers on His Thought

Click here to read Framing John Frame Pt 3: Why It’s Hard to Frame Frame

Coming Next: The 100 Books That Have Most Influenced John Frame’s Thought by Frame and Childers

COMING SOON: “Applied Theology: A Systematic Theologian and a Practical Theologian Apply Theology to Life and Ministry.” By Childers & Frame

Don’t miss out on the latest updates on the Applied Theology Project!

Click here to sign up with your email.

[1] With his nearly five decades of participation in seminary convocation and commencement ceremonies, I know of no one who has worn academic regalia more often, and holds wearing it in more disdain, than Frame.
[2] John M. Frame, Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus (Orlando: Reformed Theological Seminary, 2002).
[3] As one of the “Fathers” (older professors) at RTS-O, Frame has also had a significant personal influence on all the “Brothers” (younger professors—including me). For instance, almost every time I see him, he asks me the same question: “Tell me again, how’s your book coming along?”
[4] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006).
[5] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013).