Sharing the Gospel: A Gathering Interview With Franklin Graham
AUTHOR: Vicki Clark, The Gathering
At the September 2009 Gathering Conference in Scottsdale, AZ, we had the opportunity to sit down with Franklin Graham and talk to him about his views on the gospel and the need to share it, as well as his thoughts on the role of believers when it comes to social justice issues. Here’s what he had to say…
TG: In today’s Christian culture, there’s a lot being written about the nature of the gospel. Some people are saying it’s been too small, others say it has a “hole,” and still others believe it needs to be redefined. Could you comment on that? What’s your definition of the gospel?
Graham: Paul’s definition. That Christ died for our sins, shed His blood for our sins, was buried for our sins, God raised Him to life, and when we repent of our sins and believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be saved. This is the gospel.
The apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation.” We live in a Christian culture today that is compromising the gospel, because we want to be politically correct. We want not to be condemning. We don’t want to be exclusive; we want to be inclusive. So, [this culture says] let’s compromise a little bit; let’s talk about the love of God. The love of God is the fact that He sent his son to die and shed his blood to save us from Hell. And it requires a response. Either we accept it or reject it, there’s no middle ground.
TG: You really feel that there’s an urgency surrounding the gospel. Why do you feel that it’s so urgent that we share it?
Graham: Well, if you walk around this hotel, probably ninety percent of the people in this hotel are going to go to Hell: the person serving you, the other hotel guests… so there is an urgency. It’s life or death. It’s Heaven or Hell. …
Many people have lost a lot of money investing in the stock market. Some people lost everything. …I look at investment opportunities related to how to win people to Christ – how a person can invest in such a way [not in regards to] financial return, but how to win people to Christ. There’s only one commandment Jesus gave his disciples, that is: Go into the world and make disciples of all nations. It doesn’t say anything about going into the world to create a Christian culture. It says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
We live now in a culture that is anti-Christ. The spirit of anti-Christ is here today. It’s in our government, it’s in Europe, it’s in Asia, it’s in the Arab world, and it’s in China. …The spirit of anti-Christ has permeated the world today. So, how much longer until the anti-Christ himself appears on the world stage? I don’t know. But it’s urgent. We have the opportunity to invest right now in the souls of men and women. That is what’s important.
TG: The next generation of believers seems to be making social justice issues such as poverty, disease, orphans, clean water, etc. a real priority. What do you think about that?
Graham: None of that is our mandate. Jesus never said, “I want you to go out and alleviate the poor in the world.” …So many churches and so many pastors today are going directions Jesus never told us to go into. He said, “you’ll always have the poor with you.”
TG: Do you see those works as a door to sharing the gospel and making disciples?
Graham: That’s the if. If they do it, sure. My grandparents were missionaries to China. They took modern medicine to China. Why? Because the Chinese people had no medicine. My grandfather, a surgeon, saved people’s lives so that he could preach the gospel. If the social program comes first and then if you can, you try to work the gospel wedge into it, that won’t work. It has to be the gospel first. You go, why? Because Christ died on the cross. He shed His blood on the cross, and that’s why I’m going. And by the way, if I see somebody hungry, I’m going to try to feed them. If I see somebody that needs some medicine, I’m going to give them that. If I meet somebody who just needs an arm around them, I’ll hug them and tell them God loves them. But I’m going because Christ told me to go into the world and make disciples. He never told me to go feed people. He never told me to go try to make people feel better. He told me to preach the gospel.
TG: To what extent do you think Christians should be involved in helping to usher in the kingdom of Heaven now, on Earth? Should we be trying to redeem our culture?
Graham: First of all, the Bible didn’t tell me to do that. I can’t Christianize this culture. The god of this world is Satan – this is his culture. He is the god of this age. I’m to preach the gospel. …. God is calling a people for Himself. I don’t know whom He’s calling, I just have to be faithful and preach.
TG: Some people think the crusade method of evangelism may be outdated. But through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, you recently completed a crusade-type outreach to young people called “Rock the River.” Did you find it effective?
Graham: A lot of people don’t understand crusade evangelism. We don’t just go into a city and say, “let’s have a meeting.” It’s an invitation that comes from the result of many churches wanting to organize and cooperate to win the lost. When my father started crusades in the late 1940’s, the sound in that day was the Big Band sound. …That was exciting and churches didn’t play that. …When my father came along with Youth For Christ and had the Big Band sound at meetings that took place on Saturday nights, these youth rallies were huge because it was something that the kids wanted to come to that they weren’t getting at church. But when they got there, my father preached the gospel.
Rock the River was nothing more than a modern version of Youth for Christ. We just had bands (and to be honest I hated every one of them!) made up of good kids who played loud rock and roll music. And the kids came! After an hour and a half of music, I’d get up and preach. Then another band would get up for an hour and a half with more head bangin’ music. Then I’d get up and preach again and give and invitation. A thousand people would come forward. …We recently just got back from Bogotá. We saw hundreds and hundreds give their lives to Christ every night. We pray, we get the churches involved, we pray some more and all I can say is that God doesn’t sponsor flops.
God continues to open doors for us. We’re going to be in North Korea in two weeks – not to preach the gospel, but I’m going to ask them for permission. I’m going to also be in Northern China at a church that has about 12,000 people. And a man from the Chinese embassy … who is a member of the communist party, but I believe he’s also a believer even though he can’t say that, he said, “Reverend Graham, it is my prayer that one day you will have a chance to preach all across my country just as you have done in your country. …My government needs to get to know you.”
TG: As you travel the world as president of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, what is the main thing you’re hoping to accomplish? How do you want to leave your mark?
Graham: I want to preach the gospel. That’s the main thing. I can feed people all day long. They’ll be a line tomorrow that wants to get fed again. I can provide medicine, hospitals and clinics around the world. There can be tornadoes and earthquakes and we can respond and do all kinds of good work, which is important to do. But if I have not presented the gospel, than I have wasted every opportunity and have squandered my resources. I think for every believer, if you’re not using what God gives you to win people to Christ, you’re squandering His resources.
TG: Do you think there’s a place or need in the world that needs more attention from Christians than what is currently being given to it?
Graham: That’s a hard question because there’s so much need that I can’t just put my finger on a map and say this place is more important than this place. It’s all important. Our own country is important. …Our churches need a baptism of fire. Our churches have become so self-centered and so into their own programs that we’re forgetting missions. We don’t support missions like we use to. …We’re not sending missionaries. Missions today means sending somebody for two weeks. It’s going out and staying for a month and then coming back to talk about it at a cocktail party. That’s missions today. But I’m talking about somebody who will give their life to go to a country and absorb themselves into the country – to get to know the culture, the language, and to give their life to that nation for the sake of the cross. We’re not raising missionaries like that or challenging young people like that. …There’s a great need not just around the world, but right here at home to train up another army of young men and women who will go into the world to take the gospel to another generation.
TG: How do we do that?
Graham: Revival. We need revival. Our churches are dead. You have liberalism now that has crept into mainstream evangelicalism. That’s scary.
TG: What’s the best advice your father ever gave you?
Graham: He said, “Franklin, if you want to preach, the way you learn to preach is by preaching.” …You can’t learn that out of a book. You learn to preach by preaching.