5 things apologists can learn from Billy Graham

Billy Graham meme

I’ve learnt a lot more about Billy Graham in death than in life. I went on an Alpha course 20 years ago, and his name rang a bell when it came up during one of the talks….preacher, big venues, Cliff Richard…. but Cliff Richard held no appeal to my 23 year old self as I worked through the cost/benefit analysis of becoming a Christian. Even back then, Graham’s method – straight Bible preaching, huge crowds, altar calls – seemed a bit quaint.

But the more I’ve read about him over the last few days, the more I’ve come to admire this giant of the evangelical world, and the more I’ve been convicted by his example on a few issues. See if you agree.

  1. Apologetics is not a substitute for preaching the Gospel.

Apologetics is necessary and biblical. We’re told to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). I have been personally so blessed by the resurgence of apologetics over the past couple of decades. Undoubtedly apologetics has equipped me to be a better evangelist. But doing apologetics and doing evangelism are not the same. Apologetics can be self-serving sometimes – as my hours spent reading, studying, trying to work out whether or not this or that argument works and sitting at the feet of various clever Christians wishing I was cleverer – testify. I have not clocked up anything like so many hours simply sharing the Gospel with people. Billy Graham shared the Gospel all the time, trusting in the Scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit to do the work.

2. Beware intellectualism

I love apologetics’ appeal to the cerebral, and I’m convinced the Christian faith can withstand intellectual scrutiny. Apologetics is a useful bridge between the church and academia. But sometimes, we crave the approval and recognition of the academic world more than we ought. We can hide behind intellectualism in the hope people will find us – Christians – less crazy.

Billy Graham didn’t have much in the way of formal education: he was a dairy farm hand and a Fuller brush salesman. He wished he’d studied more; but his lack of study didn’t detract from his powerfully simple Gospel message, impacting millions of lives. Nor was he in any way ashamed of the Gospel’s supernatural foundation. 1 Corinthians 1:26:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

3. Pursue holiness

Those of us who argue for a living sometimes think that people only pay attention to our arguments – wrong. Every Christian is an ambassador for Christ in every area of life, something Billy Graham understood very well. More than that – he took time to analyse the reasons why so many evangelists careers ended in moral failure. The result was his Modesto Manifesto, in which he and his team committed to the highest standards of integrity. His high standards of financial transparency and sexual purity made the headlines – but what struck me most was his refusal to inflate the statistics about attendance or people coming forward at his meetings. I know what it is to crave results, and the frustration and disappointment when they are not immediate. Accountable friendships were also important to him.

In speech, Billy Graham came across as very humble and thoughtful, open about his past mistakes and very gracious towards his critics. He understood the power of words. I love words, but am increasingly conscious of my need to grow in holiness in how I use them. We wordsmiths need to constantly ask for God’s wisdom in this, and forgiveness when we fail. “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord: keep watch over the door of my lips” Psalm 141:3.

4. Keep your first love.

Revelation 2:1-4, to the church in Ephesus:

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

The Ephesians must have been awesome Christians: diligent, moral, discerning, persevering, ready to face persecution for the sake of Christ. But Jesus speaks harshly to them for forsaking their first love, the Lord Jesus. Billy Graham maintained and protected daily personal time in prayer and immersed in the Scriptures, despite an unrelenting schedule – no wonder his preaching overflowed with the joy of his salvation. Whatever ministry God has called us to – does ours? What does our devotional life look like?

5. Keep the main thing the main thing

Billy Graham could have been sidetracked on many issues. Politics could have de-railed him, especially after the Watergate scandal. But he remained resolutely non-Partisan. He could have been sucked into the moral majority movement – but wasn’t. He could have been defined by doctrinal faddism – but he was renowned for bringing Protestants and Catholics together. Liberals got annoyed with him for not preaching a gospel of social justice and talking more about climate change. Instead he focussed on Jesus Jesus Jesus and every individual’s need to have a personal relationship with Him. Amen! Our goal – too often – is simply to get people thinking about Jesus. But Billy Graham went further – he urged people to get off the fence and make a decision to follow Christ. How our witness could do with his passion and decisiveness.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Is the Qur’an another God in Islam?

Why does the Qur’an intercede for mankind on the day of resurrection?

Why does the Qur’an appear as a pale man on the day of resurrection?

These are the questions Hatun and Daniel asked at Speakers’ Corner on 18th Feb as they demonstrated to Muslims that the Qur’an is another god besides Allah. Thus, Allah and Muhammad to commit shirk which leads them to hell fire.

Can Allah be suffering from schizophrenia when he commands his believers to commit one of the worst possible sins in Islam – SHIRK?

Watch the video to find out!!!

Radicalism – root and fruit

3 tree drawings

Last week, Darren Osborne was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Makram Ali after intentionally driving his vehicle into worshippers at Finsbury Park mosque in June 2017. In her sentencing, the Judge said Osborne had been

“rapidly radicalised over the internet, encountering and consuming material put out … from those determined to spread hatred of Muslims on the basis of their religion.”

So what kind of content is she referring to? Tommy Robinson tweets apparently- despite their content being reasonable criticism rather than hate speech as demonstrated in his Newsnight interview. But apparently these weren’t the main factors in Osborne’s ‘radicalisation’. The Guardian tells us:

“The court also heard that the catalyst for Osborne’s descent was the BBC drama-documentary Three Girls, which focused on the grooming and sexual abuse of young girls in Rochdale by British-Pakistani Muslim men.”

Can the Guardian seriously be suggesting that the BBC is at fault here? It made an excellent drama based on the lawful conviction of nine men, as part of the well-attested issue of grooming gangs. All the BBC did was dramatise the facts. The BBC – regularly accused of liberal bias – would be the last media organisation on earth to produce material “determined to spread hatred of Muslims on the basis of their religion.”

Maajd Nawaz, head of the Quilliam Foundation, has been honest enough to admit the problem of grooming gangs is an Islamic problem:

“[Grooming gangs] have occurred in Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford, Telford, Leeds, Birmingham, Norwich, Burnley, High Wycombe, Leicester, Dewsbury, Middlesborough, Peterborough, Bristol, Halifax and Newcastle and only in two of those cases were the men not of British South Asian Muslim heritage. All of the victims, in all of those cities and the list was very long, except three were white teenage girls. The fact that 84% of these cases involve British South Asian Muslim men must beg the question, why?”

Alongside some horrible anti-Muslim slurs, Osborne’s rambling letter that was read out in court expressed frustration at politicians and celebrities failure to recognise grooming gangs and terrorism as anything to do with Islam. Darren Osborne’s actions are not justifiable in any way. But from his own evidence, it seems his motive was vengeful retaliation for crimes, the Islamic basis for which are never properly confronted by the media or politicians. Christian doctrine and values are routinely scrutinised and pilloried as bigotry, while the impact of orthodox Islamic teaching is either ignored or denied. But it shows things have gone to another level when the BBC gets the blame, with even the judiciary content to shoot the messenger.

Nor is the BBC the only one accused of producing radical content. In another story, the Alpha Course and J. John’s ‘Just 10’ course material were also in the firing line, following the scandalous dismissal of Pastor Paul Song from Brixton Prison after 20 years service on the basis of an unsubstantiated allegation. Song claims he was ousted following pressure from Imam Mohammed Yusuf Ahmed, the managing chaplain at Brixton Prison, who called his Christian beliefs “extreme” and considered courses (like Alpha) to be “too radical.”

I’ve done an Alpha course. Here is a summary of its ‘radical’ teachings. Believe in Jesus, the Son of God, who died on the Cross for you; pray to God in the Name of Jesus regularly; read the Bible regularly; resist the devil; be filled with the Holy Spirit; tell others about your faith. It is all grounded in consistent, coherent Biblical doctrine (give or take some in house debate on the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, but this is a side issue.)

Is Alpha radical? The word ‘radical’ comes from the Latin ‘radix’, meaning ‘root’. So in a way, Ahmed is right: the Alpha course (and others like it) go to the root of Biblical teaching and the root of the human condition – our separation from God through sin and our reconciliation to Him exclusively through faith in His Son and his death on the Cross.

These teachings are also in direct conflict with what Islam teaches. In Islam, Jesus is no more than a prophet whose mission ended in failure, prayer is to an impersonal, unrelational deity called Allah, to whom you will never be more than a slave. You must obey the Qur’an and the Sunnah, including the harsh treatment of apostates, women, homosexuals and unbelievers.

Here’s the point. Radicalism isn’t just a matter of root, but fruit.

Jesus says in Mark 7 that our hearts are the issue:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Darren Osborne’s heart was filled with the desire for revenge; Islamic terrorists hearts are warped by false ideology. In both cases, pain, trauma, death and grief are the resulting fruit. Both are equally in need of radical, spiritual re-birth- something only Jesus can bring about.

The ‘radical’ Christian teaching Pastor Song espoused had some remarkable fruit. Look how the Times, a secular newspaper, puts it:

Affidavits from prisoners described how Song helped them turn away from crime. Song himself wrote of one inmate who would tell him his only regret was that he had not managed to finish off his intended murder victim, but changed his view after counselling from the pastor.

If only Pastor Song were in post to counsel Darren Osborne – and willing, radical Muslims as well. Let’s pray he is re-instated.

Adnan Rashid’s claims about Islam- part 2

James White and Adnan Rashid

James White and Adnan Rashid had a debate recently on whether or not the Cross is necessary for salvation. In my last post, I analysed the main points raised; in this post, I will hold Adnan Rashid accountable for what he said about Islam.

I will take four of Adnan Rashid’s statements to which I offer my own suggested rapid-fire responses. Each statement could be a debate topic in its own right, and there are deeper theological answers to all of them. But my experience at Speaker’s Corner tells me that more debates are won through a good come-back than through detailed theological explanation. Muslims use this tactic all the time, whether or not their come-backs have any theological support (they often don’t.) A good come-back sticks in the mind of the person watching; it’s the hook that leads them to dig deeper and is something all Christian debaters (myself included) can learn to practice more. Although (needless to say), for the sake of Christ and his truth, as well as our own personal integrity as ambassadors for the Gospel, our come-backs must also be well-grounded theologically.

I’ll try and keep the responses relative to the debate topic for the sake of brevity – for example with the first one, you could go on and on…

  1. “Islam is consistent with the Old Testament”

Is Islam consistent with Genesis 3:21, where the Lord makes ‘garments of skin’ for Adam and Eve, i.e. animal sacrifice, even before the institution of  the Mosaic law? Why does the Qur’an omit this detail? Why, according to the Qur’an, are Adam and Eve expelled from the garden at all, when the Qur’an says Adam received forgiveness from his Lord (Sura 2:37)?  The Bible doesn’t say Adam and Eve were forgiven, it says they were cursed –  in clear contradiction to the Qur’an. Genesis 3 also says that Eve’s offspring would one day crush the head of Satan. No mere human offspring can crush the head of Satan, so it must refer to a god-man – Jesus. That God can become a man is anathema in Islam.

In Exodus, Moses sprinkles blood on his chosen people as confirmation of God’s covenant with them(Exodus 24:8). The Qur’an mentions that Allah made a covenant with the Israelites as God’s people, but it is a covenant based on works, not on blood:

And certainly Allah made a covenant with the children of Israel, and We raised up among them twelve chieftains; and Allah said: Surely I am with you; if you keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and believe in My apostles and assist them and offer to Allah a goodly gift, I will most certainly cover your evil deeds, and I will most certainly cause you to enter into gardens beneath which rivers flow, but whoever disbelieves from among you after that, he indeed shall lose the right way. S. 5:12

The Qur’an even says explicitly that vicarious blood sacrifice does not make a difference to Allah. Sura 22:37

“It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is piety from you that reaches him.”

This stands in direct contradiction to the whole sacrificial system. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest made atonement for himself and the people through the sprinkling blood before the mercy seat of YHWH. In Leviticus 17:11, YHWH forbids the eating of blood because “it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”  If this system was abrogated by Allah, then how can he disregard  his own law without being inconsistent? If he fulfils it, then how? These questions are not answered according to the ‘clear’, ‘detailed’, ‘well explained’ Qur’an (Sura 12:111). Same goes for the role of the High Priest and the priesthood.

The OT repeatedly mentions that YHWH will come Himself to earth to rescue and redeem his people (Gen 3:15, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Job 19:25, Isaiah 9:6). Again – where is the evidence that Allah is a saviour, a redeemer? Why is it not one of his 99 names, when the theme of YHWH redeeming his people is such a consistent thread running throughout the OT?  According to Islam it is impossible for Allah, a monad, to come to earth.

Islam is not consistent with the Old Testament.

2. “Islam teaches just do the law and you will be forgiven.”

What law exactly does Islam teach? Do you mean the Mosaic law, which the Qur’an says is revealed by Allah (Sura 3:3-4, S29:46, S5:47-8) or sharia law, which doesn’t come directly from the Qur’an but is a man-made extrapolation of Islamic teaching? If you mean the Mosaic law – which you say is consistent with Islam – why are you not still sacrificing animals,  keeping the Sabbath, putting to death anyone who curses their father and mother etc? If you mean sharia, please support your statement from Islamic sources that this guarantees forgiveness?  And what do you mean exactly by ‘doing’ the law? Do you have to ‘do’ all of it? Will Allah forgive you if you keep only some, not all of it?

3. “Simply repent and Allah will forgive you.”

But wait, I thought you said ‘do the law’ and you will be forgiven? Now it’s ‘simply repent’? Which is it, and if you meant ‘repent’, where does the Qur’an say this exactly? The Qur’an even states there are circumstances where ‘simple repentance’ is not accepted, i.e. on your deathbed. Sura 4:18

“And of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil deeds until death faces one of them and he says: “now I repent;” nor of those who die while they are disbelievers. For them we have prepared a painful torment.”

4. “We have been promised forgiveness as long as we die as Muslims.”

Now it gets even more confusing. How do you get saved exactly -through repentance, obeying the law (which law?) or dying as Muslims? According to the verse I just quoted, if you do evil deeds your repentance will not be accepted on your death bed. Presumably it’s possible to do evil deeds and still call yourself a Muslim?

In fact, there is a sahih Hadith that supports this statement, despite  contradicting the Qur’an. Bukhari 7:72:717:

Narrated Abu Dharr:

I came to the Prophet while he was wearing white clothes and sleeping. Then I went back to him again after he had got up from his sleep. He said, “Nobody says: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah’ and then later on he dies while believing in that, except that he will enter Paradise.’ I said, “Even It he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft.” I said. “Even if he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft? He said. ‘Even If he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and theft,” I said, ‘Even it he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and thefts.’ He said, “Even If he had committed Illegal sexual intercourse and theft, inspite of the Abu Dharrs dislikeness. Abu ‘Abdullah said, “This is at the time of death or before it if one repents and regrets and says “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah. He will be forgiven his sins.”

Conclusion

So we see that despite Adnan Rashid’s attempts to make it sound simple and straightforward, every one of his statements about Islam is highly problematic. Islam doesn’t confirm the OT, but in fact either contradicts or denies it, while offering no clear means of salvation whatsoever as an alternative. This is hardly surprising, given Muhammad himself wasn’t sure of his eternal destiny. Sura 46:9 states:

“Say, (O Muhammad): “I am not a new thing among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain Warner.”

Compare this to how Jesus fulfils the OT, as summarised so beautifully in Hebrews 9:11-14  while simultaneously demonstrating the necessity of the Cross:

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here,[a] he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Placeonce for all by his own blood, thus obtaining[b] eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,[c] so that we may serve the living God!

We continue to pray and implore Muslims to see Jesus as He really is.

Thank you to Sam Shamoun for helping me understand this topic better. He has done his own rebuttal to Adnan Rashid here.