Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Another Prominent SBC Pastor Theologizes - Shamefully!

I recently listened to a sermon by Dr. Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. Graham is the pastor to over 24,000 individuals. He has a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from the same institution (as far as I can tell from the website). So, it is obvious Dr. Graham is educated.

However, in this recent sermon, he demonstrated a complete lack of understanding on the very topic on which he spoke. The sermon is titled "The Truth About Grace" and it is your basic screed railing against the evils of the Doctrines of Grace. This is not unusual; men like Adrian Rogers and Dave Hunt have been preaching these types of sermons for the last couple years.

What makes this sermon so unique is the incredible amount of misreprestentations and false statements that Dr. Graham was able to put into this sermon. You have to wait until about the seventeen-minute mark before he really gets going. However, once he starts, the amount of falsehoods uttered is simply staggering.

I am sure it was a very persuasive sermon in hardening more hearts against the truth of Scripture. The audience applauded several times. Yet, Graham said nothing of substance. Everything he said was an utter misrepresentation of the Calvinist position.

Sadly, it reveals that Dr. Graham has done absolutely NO study in this field except from reading like-minded individuals and repeating their own straw-man arguments.

Others have commented at length on this sermon and I direct you to them:

  1. Tom Ascol at Founders Ministry
  2. Tom Ascol at Founders Ministry, Part 2
  3. James White critiques the sermon, Part 1
  4. James White critiques the sermon, Part 2
  5. James White critiques the sermon, Part 3

I truly hope you will take the time to read and listen to these examinations of Graham's Scripture twisting caricatures. I can't respond to every single misstatement but here are a few "low-lights":

"This past week I led a decision service for our 3rd-6th graders in our Bible school. I was able to look at those children and tell them that, 'God loves you. Jesus died for you,' that 'Jesus loves all the little children of the world.' Yet, according to this theological system that is so aggressively taught in some sectors of Christianity today, I would honestly have to look at many of those little boys and girls with their bright eyes and beautiful faces and warm hearts, I would have to look at them and say, 'No! God has chosen you but God may not have chosen you, God loves you but I can't tell you that God loves you. God loves this one but He doesn't love that one. God has chosen and predestined that one to be saved and God has predestined that one to be lost....'"

I defy Jack Graham to produce ONE Reformed theologian who has EVER written, preached or even BELIEVED such things. This is nothing but pure emotional manipulation of his congregation in order to "poison the well." You will never hear any preacher, no matter how many "points" he claims, preach such monstrous words - especially to children. He has not dealt at all with the issues and has completely (purposefully?) misrepresented the Calvinist position. I find it hard to believe that in this church of 24,000 individuals that NO ONE will call him to accountability for such abysmal reasoning.

"Unbelievers can believe or they can not believe. They can receive the gospel and be saved or they can reject the gospel and be condemned. Somebody says but wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, doesn't God have to give us even the faith to believe? You will hear this often. Because we are so dead and depraved in sin God has to give us even the faith to believe. He has to regenerate us before we can even believe in Him. Now thats a little backwards, isn't it?... But that is the way this logic--or illogic--goes. God has to regenerate you before you can ever say, I receive Christ. No the Bible says believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. You say but doesn't God have to give us faith to be saved. Didn't you say salvation is of the Lord? Absolutely. Even our faith comes from God. And guess what? Romans 12:3 says that God has given to every man, to all men a measure of faith. Every person has been given by God this faculty this opportunity to believe."

Whoa, hold on a minute. Dr. Graham is neck-deep in some very serious interpretational and homiletical errors. I am sure he would disapprove of anyone (on any other subject but this one) just flinging Bible verses out there without any sense of context. To do so is to be able to prove ANYTHING - which just might be the purpose. However, this passage is dealing with the CHURCH, not all of humanity (saved and unsaved).

Paul begins this chapter by saying, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers . . .." Then, in verse three (the verse Graham quotes), Paul says, "Therefore, ...." He then goes on to talk about the one body of Christ and how we are all members of that body. If verse three is dealing with the "faith" that God has allegedly given to every single person in the history of the world, then every single person in the history of the world is a member of the single body of Christ. Come on - this is first-year stuff here.

Furthermore, this "exegesis" of Graham's is rebuffed outright by Scripture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, where Paul (the same author) says, "pray . . . that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored . . . and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith." So, in one place God gives all men faith and in another, not all men have faith?!? We have an honest-to-goodness contradiction here!

IF you listen to the entire sermon, take note the pejorative nature of much of the terminology: elitist, arrogant, perverted, abusive, slanderous, prideful, blasphemous, aberrant. As another has written, add "anathema" and you'd have the Council of Trent.

At one point, Graham says:

"Now that’s a little backwards, isn't it?... But that is the way this logic--or illogic--goes. God has to regenerate you before you can ever say, I receive Christ."

Dr Graham would have to admit he is in disagreement with the Baptist Faith and Message. Article 4 of this 2000 document directly contradicts Graham, which he voted for in 1999 at the SBC. It says:

"Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace."

You must note that in this statement that regeneration occurs and then the sinner "responds in repentance . . . and faith."

Dr. Graham continues with this remarkable paragraph:

"So I believe and reject these aberrant theologies because of the character of God and because of the cross of Christ that Jesus died for all men and he will therefore bring unto himself all who will be saved. He said, if I will be lifted up I will draw all men unto myself. Now when he draws all men some will come in faith and some will come in unbelief. Remember when Jesus was facing the cross and he prayed over the city of Jerusalem and as he looked over the city and the lostness of people there, he wept over with copious tears, sobs and heaves are described in the Scripture when it says that Jesus wept over that city. And he cried out, 'O Jerusalem Jerusalem, how I would have gathered you to myself as a hen gathers her chicks. But you would not.' Not you 'could not' but you 'would not.'"

Graham misinterprets one passage and misquotes the other.

First, John 12:32 says "I will draw ALL MEN to myself." After reading this verse, most will say, "See, Jesus is drawing everybody. Not just the elect." Once again, we see the danger of reading a single Bible verse out of context. Go back up to verse 20, where you read that "Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus." That is key - GREEKS (non-Jews) were now seeking Jesus. In response to this new attention, Jesus then says "All men" which obviously means all "kinds" of men - not JUST JEWS!

This line of interpretation has serious implications when you consider Jesus' words in the sixth chapter. He says, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." So, according to Dr. Graham, every single individual will come because Christ has drawn every single individual. He even says "some will come in faith, some will come in unbelief." Besides the fact that that statement is ridiculous (because in John's gospel "come" is equated with "believe"), Jesus says all that come (no qualifiers) will be raised up. So, if Dr. Graham is going to be internally consistent, he has just taught thousands in his church the gospel of universalism. He would quickly deny that belief but he has just taught it, albeit indirectly.

Secondly, in Matthew 23, Jesus does not say "gather you" but "gather your children." That is important. Jesus has spent most of Chapter 23 totally denouncing the religious leaders of the Jews. He is not offering His divine thoughts on the process of salvation. Instead, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for one more error: failing to preach the truth of the Word of God. "The Children" here are the Jews that the Pharisees kept locked into the ritualistic religion.

Thirdly, if you want to read some verses that truly talk about "could not" or "can not" instead of "would not" or "will not," I direct you to these words of Christ and His servant Paul:

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." John 6:44

"This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." John 6:55

"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." Romans 8:6-7

"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." I Corinthians 2:14

This is why regeneration must come first. Lost man has no capacity to understand, much less act, on the preaching of the gospel. It is "foolishness" to him unless God quickens him by replacing that heart of stone with a new heart of flesh.

Finally, Graham begins to close the sermon with these words:

"No one is here by accident."

Really? He can't have it both ways!

To end on a positive note, it appears that Graham has simply made an all-too-common error. He is diligent to protect his flock from error. However, this in no way excuses the laziness in the pastor's study and the misrepresentation in the pulpit.

The problem is that he is preaching against the "wrong error." From this perspective, Graham and Vines and Rogers and Lemke and Welch and others cannot see a significant difference between historic Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. In all of their descriptions of "Calvinism," one can see that they are really describing hyper-Calvinism. It's right and good to fear and reject hyper-Calvinism. It is not even rightly called Calvinism of any sort - it is not even Christian. It's a blasphemous theology.

However, they fail to make important distinctions, both historically and theologically. The same thing could happen if reformed believers broad-brushed and smeared Arminians as Open View Theists. It would be unfair and dishonest, whether we realize it or not. This is an intramural debate. Why treat one another as outsiders?


Jim Pemberton said...

As one who ascribes to historic Calvinism, I have found much common ground in debates with thoughtful Armenians. In fact, with one I found the issue boiled down to a minute difference in an understanding of the difference between God's will and God's sovereignty. Instead, I find with Armenians who have less understanding of the issue a greater vehemence against Calvinism mistaking all Calvinistic thought as hyper-Calvinism.

That this pastor, with his doctorate, makes this error is shameful. That he has the platform to misinform thousands is disconcerting. That he does so is horrifying.

Recognizing my tendency toward pragmatism in theology, I must ask myself what purpose he hopes to achieve with this sermon. He may not have thought about it. He may have in mind to draw more people to his church with a sermon that promises that they can remain in full control of their own lives. Perhaps he thinks it will encourage people to work harder in missions. I fear it will encourage people to be puffed up with "knowledge" and disparage fellow Christians who have legitimate theological differences.

rabanes said...

You may find this new article about Dave Hunt to be very interesting. It is based on my interactions with him this year.

R Abanes