Though Billy Graham was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1992, he kept up a rigorous schedule through the next decade. But since his final evangelistic crusade in 2005 he has been keeping a low profile. He retired to his home in the mountains of western North Carolina and has made few public appearances since his wife Ruth died in 2007.
Now at almost 95 years of age, the “Pastor to Presidents” is out with a new book titled, “The Reason for My Hope.” Graham recently spoke about himself and his book in an interview with Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine that he founded sixty years ago.
When asked about the title of his book, Graham responded that he felt burdened to write a book that addressed the issue of ‘easy believism,’ which he described as an “epidemic.” It’s an interesting subject for the evangelist to address, and especially since critics have argued that Graham himself has contributed to the problem. The data suggest that most of the people who respond to the invitation at a Billy Graham crusade do not go on to participate in a local church.
But Graham denounces any kind of faith that doesn’t impact one’s life. “It should not be surprising,” he writes, “if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible.”
Likewise, “Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil’s lie.”
Graham hopes that people reading his book will “comprehend the privilege and responsibility of living the Christian life.” He writes, “When Jesus becomes our Master, we set aside our way and walk his way. It is not always easy but enormously productive and challenging, because those who follow him become shining lights in a very dark world.”
Mr. Graham is surely right to warn his readers against “easy believism.” When it comes to any matter that requires faith – whether Christianity, another religion or atheism itself – “easy believism” is frequently a mere preliminary to “easy leavism.”
One might object that belief is never easy, but that probably depends on whether one is thinking of the unbeliever’s initial entrance into belief or the believer’s intention to continue in it.
For some people, entering into faith does not seem difficult. They already have profound respect for people – parents, friends and teachers, among others – who believe. They admire the quality of their intellects and trust their judgments. “If he believes it,” they say, “so do I.”
For other people, belief is a challenge. They know and respect intelligent and thoughtful people who believe, but they know equally intelligent and thoughtful people who do not. They realize that a completely objective assessment of the data is not possible and, since belief has not forced itself on them, they know they must choose what to believe.
But however easy one finds entry into belief, sustaining belief is another matter. As C. S. Lewis once pointed out, it is a mistake to assume “that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it shows up.” This, he notes, would be so only if “the human mind is completely ruled by reason,” which, of course, it is not.
In “Mere Christianity” Lewis notes that even after becoming a Christian, there are times when “the whole thing looks very improbable.” But he also admits that when he was an atheist, there were times when Christianity “looked terribly probable.” Faith, he concluded, “is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of changing moods.”
But “holding on” requires more than mere intellectual assent to a proposition. Intellectual assent will fail unless one acts in a manner that is consistent with the proposition. Another way of putting it – in the wise words of the old gospel song – is that one must “trust and obey.”
Published first in the Coldwater Daily Reporter, 10/19/2013