Posted by: Dan | September 23, 2005

The Dialogue Continues

For those who are interested another student has written an article in response to Dr. Stackhouse's critique of my article on Billy Graham. Here it is:

Upon reading Dr. Stackhouse’s response to Mr. Oudshoorn’s article on the Rev. Billy Graham, one thing stands out: Dr. Stackhouse’s criticism that the article lacked the sure foundation of serious scholarship was supported only by Dr. Stackhouse’s opinion. Consequently, in sorting out the merit of Mr. Oudshoorn’s theological and historical understanding of Rev. Graham’s legacy, we shall have to content in trading opinions. And while I am sure Dr. Stackhouse had good reason for not offering a scholarly rebuttal of his own (this was not the point of his article, there was not enough space to develop a thorough theological and historical treatment of Rev. Graham, etc.) his response begs a deeper question: why was he so inclined to write, and with no less zeal than Mr. Oudshoorn, a counter-point article in order to set the record straight?

I suspect Dr. Stackhouse’s ire was roused because of something other than Mr. Oudshoorn’s impressionistic journalism. Rather, it seems that Mr. Oudshoorn’s article has hit a nerve because of its subject, the Rev. Billy Graham. Rev. Graham, who has reached iconic status within the evangelical movement over the past half century, has come to represent much that we as Evangelicals see is good about Christianity. He is a man of deep character, he is the paragon of pastoral humility and compassion, he has given himself completely to God’s missional work in the world, and he has championed the value of each and every individual in the eyes of the Lord. Thus, when one questions Rev. Graham, one questions the very heart of our Evangelical self-identity. In this way, Rev. Graham is not simply a sacred cow, he is the sacred cow of modern Evangelicalism.

And this is why, his journalistic oversights aside, Mr. Oudshoorn is right to challenge the legacy of Rev. Graham. While I must concur with Dr. Stackhouse’s concern that Mr. Oudshoorn’s article may be laying the blame for the sandy foundations of the Evangelical church at the wrong door, and is further right to point out that Mr. Oudshoorn has selectively appropriated scripture in support of his argument, the point yet remains that if Rev. Graham represents much we appreciate about our Evangelical identity then he might very well also represent much that is wrong.

In this way Mr. Oudshoorn’s help in describing the relationship between Rev. Graham and the individualism that is washing away the Evangelical church is crucial if we are to recover a solid foundation. While it is true that those who come forward to accept “Jesus into their hearts” at one of Rev. Graham’s crusades are linked with and encouraged to become members of churches, it is also true that for Rev. Graham the church, at best, functions secondarily to the individual work of the Lord in a person’s life. Thus like those having come to know the Lord at a crusade, we as Evangelicals are left struggling to understand how the church should have any hermeneutical or soteriological claim on our lives.

To make the point, I want to suggest that the reason an article such as Mr. Oudshoorn’s has elicited a rejoinder from a Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College is not simply because of the merit (or lack thereof) of his journalism, but rather because he has put his finger on the glaring lack of significant ecclesiology in the work of both Rev. Graham and evangelical institutions such as ours. Outside of a Systematic C course, there are few conversations taking place about recovering the significance of the church for our salvation here at Regent College. And for this reason we should commend Mr. Oudshoorn for drawing our attention to this embarrassing deficiency in our theology.

Of course we should also expect the kind of response that Mr. Oudshoorn has received; for where the primacy of the individual person reigns supreme, a reminder that within our orthodox tradition salvation is wrought through the church rather than through our individual encounters with God will often be met with harshly, especially when that reminder comes through a tearing-down of our most precious sacred cow.

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