“The Bible Says”: Heart Problems and the Divine Cure

  • Michael G. Long


“Ladies and gentlemen, the problem of the world tonight is sin!”1 The year was 1958, and the Reverend Billy Graham had returned to his home state of North Carolina for the Charlotte Crusade. The white revivalist preacher, now Southern Baptist but formerly Reformed Presbyterian, felt that the growing southern city had vibrant signs of Christian faithfulness, but he also sensed that something was wrong with the community and that the social world beyond Charlotte was no less troubled: crime rates were soaring, the possibility of nuclear war loomed large, and conflicts between blacks and whites were not dissipating. Racial tension was especially palpable to those gathered for the crusade that September evening in Charlotte. Only a few years earlier, in 1955, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., then pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, had helped to plan the infamous bus boycott, and now that he had become president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he seemed intent on eliminating segregation throughout the South.


Social Problem Social Institution Moral Character Social Ethic Heart Problem 
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  1. 3.
    Christian Smith, with Michael Emerson, Sally Gallagher, Paul Kennedy, and David Sikkink, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 10. My brief explanation of the emergence of the neo-evangelicals is deeply indebted to Smith’s outstanding study.Google Scholar
  2. Beyond Smith’s work, the literature on American evangelicalism is substantial. Other particularly helpful studies include Randall Herbert Balmer, Blessed Assurance: A History of Evangelicalism in America (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1999); and Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000);Google Scholar
  3. Donald Bloesch, The Evangelical Renaissance (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973);Google Scholar
  4. Donald Dayton and Robert Johnson, The Variety of American Evangelicalism (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1991);Google Scholar
  5. D.G. Hart, Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004);Google Scholar
  6. James Davison Hunter, American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983);Google Scholar
  7. George Marsden, Evangelicalism and Modern America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984); Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987);Google Scholar
  8. Steven Miller, “Billy Graham, Evangelicalism, and the Changing Postwar South” (M.A. thesis, Vanderbilt, 2002);Google Scholar
  9. Mark Noll, American Evangelical Christianity: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2001);Google Scholar
  10. and J. Christopher Soper, Evangelical Christianity in the United States and Great Britain (New York, NY: New York University Press, 1994). For more on Billy Graham’s split from fundamentalism,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. see Butler Farley Porter, “Billy Graham and the End of Evangelical Unity” (Ph.D. diss., University of Florida, 1976).Google Scholar
  12. 4.
    Smith, American Evangelicalism, 14. Fundamentalists continue to harangue Graham for his “accom-modationism.” See, for example, Brad K. Gsell, The Legacy of Billy Graham: The Accommodation of Truth to Error in the Evangelical Church (Charlotte, NC: Fundamental Presbyterian Publications, 1998).Google Scholar
  13. 9.
    I have decided not to focus on the making of Billy Graham, let alone the making of Martin Luther King, Jr., but I do wish to suggest that we cannot fully understand and appreciate these two personalities until we set them within the histories of their respective ecclesial contexts. These contexts—the white Baptist Church and the black Baptist Church—were radically different in many ways, and there is no better source to begin tracing these differences, and then connecting them to Graham and King, than Andrew Michael Manis, Southern Civil Religions in Conflict: Black and White Baptists and Civil Rights, 1947–1957 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1987). One of my undeveloped theses is that the eventual conflicts between Graham and King were but microcosmic replications of the larger battles fought between their respective conventions—the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention. On a related note, the differences between the revivialist traditions of the two figures is surveyed in Edward Lee Moore, “Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr.” (Ph.D. diss., Vanderbilt University, 1979).Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    Lowell D. Streiker and Gerald S. Strober, Religion and the New Majority: Billy Graham, Middle America, and the Politics of the 70s (New York, NY: Association Press, 1972), understate the point: “It cannot be stressed too strongly that Graham’s social thought is grounded in his theological presuppositions” (39). Graham’s social thought is a species of his evangelical theology.Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    King’s social focus is especially visible in his typical characterization of the nonviolence of the civil rights movement: “There is something else: that one seeks to defeat the unjust system, rather than the individuals who are caught in that system. . . . The thing to do is to get rid of the system and thereby create a moral balance within society” (“Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience,” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James M. Washington [San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1986], 47). On the tactical strategy he eventually termed “nonviolent direct action,” see Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (New York, NY: Harper & amp; Row, 1967).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Martin E. Marty, Religion and Republic: The American Circumstance (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1987), 24. For more on Graham’s homiletics,Google Scholar
  17. see John E. Baird, “The Preaching of Billy Graham” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1959).Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    A major academic study of Mordecai Ham, whose papers are found in collection 118 at BGCA, has yet to be published in book form. Minor related works include Battle Front Messages: Sermons That Brought Revival, ed. Edward E. Ham (Louisville, KY: Old Kentucky Home Revivalist, 1950); Edward Everett Ham, 50 Years on the Battle Front with Christ: A Biography of Mordecai F. Ham (Louisville, KY: Old Kentucky Home Revivalist, 1960);Google Scholar
  19. and Edward Reese, The Life and Ministry of Mordecai Ham, 1877–1961 (Glenwood, IL: Fundamental Publishers, 1975).Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    In addition, it is important to note that Graham was not biblicist in the sense of rejecting all of the theological tenets that emerged in post-biblical history, for example, tenets in trinitarian theology. I am reminded here of Eric Gritsch, Martin—God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1983), who claims that Luther’s embrace of sola scriptura “did not lead Luther to embrace a biblicism rejecting the authority of Christian tradition in post-biblical history. Rather, he wanted tradition to be tested by Scripture” (103). Graham, I believe, adopted a similar approach, although he never explicated this approach in detail. For more on Graham and scripture,Google Scholar
  21. see Larry Davis, “Interpretation of Scripture in the Evangelistic Preaching of William Franklin ‘Billy’ Graham” (Ph.D. diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1986).Google Scholar
  22. 26.
    Pheme Perkins, “Mark,” in vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, ed. Leander Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1995), 608.Google Scholar
  23. 28.
    For more on King’s appeal to the individual heart, see King , Jr., “Unfulfilled Dreams,” A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. Clayborne Carson and Peter Holloran (New York, NY: Warner Books, 1998), 191–200.Google Scholar
  24. 29.
    Graham , The Seven Deadly Sins (London: Marshall, Morgan & amp; Scott, 1956), 21.Google Scholar
  25. 31.
    Graham , Revival—Or the Spirit of the Age (Minneapolis, MN: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1952), 3.Google Scholar
  26. 34.
    Graham, “The Needed Revolution,” January 14, 1968, collection 191, tape 940, BGCA. The references to the heart are staggering in number. For a few more examples, see Graham , The Signs of the Times (Minneapolis, MN: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1957), 3–4; Billy Graham Answers Your Questions (Minneapolis, MN: World Wide Publications, 1960), 118; “Jesus, the Great Revolutionist,” tape 583, BGCA; “The Human Heart,” Decision (July 1962): 14; Press Conference Transcript, Columbus, Ohio, July 9, 1964, collection 24, box 4, folder 14, p. 6, BGCA; “A Cause to Fight,” August 13, 1967, collection 191, tape 918, BGCA; and “False Prophets in the Church,” Christianity Today (January 19, 1968): 5.Google Scholar
  27. 35.
    Graham , Christ’s Marching Orders (Minneapolis, MN: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1955), 3.Google Scholar
  28. 36.
    See Graham , World Aflame (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & amp; Company, 1965), 71.Google Scholar
  29. 40.
    Graham, “What’s Wrong with the World?” 10-A. For more on Graham’s understanding of sin, see Howell Burkhead, “The Development of the Concept of Sin” (Ph.D. diss., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1998).Google Scholar
  30. For a more general thesis on Graham’s theology, see Thomas Paul Johnson, “The Work of an Evangelist” (Ph.D. diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001).Google Scholar
  31. 41.
    Smith, American Evangelicalism, provides the best concise summary on this point: “And individualism in evangelicalism runs deep, with roots extending back to most of the historical wellsprings of the modern evangelical tradition: the sixteenth-century Reformation, English and American Puritanism, much of the Free Church tradition, frontier awakening and revivalism, movements of spiritual pietism, and anti-Social Gospel fundamentalism” (189). On a related note, Marc Ellingsen, The Evangelical Movement: Growth, Impact, Controversy, Dialog (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), is far too general when claiming that in evangelical social thought, “concern for structural change is always combined with, and yet distinct from, a concern with individual personal redemption” (275). For Graham, concern for structural change was rarely separated from concern for individual conversion.Google Scholar
  32. 49.
    The different depictions of Jesus are from James Gustafson, Christ and the Moral Life (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1968).Google Scholar
  33. 53.
    For a critical study of Graham’s view of salvation, see William D. Apel, “The Understanding of Salvation in the Evangelistic Message of Billy Graham: A Historical-Theological Evaluation” (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1977).Google Scholar
  34. 65.
    Graham , Peace with God (Garden City, KS: Doubleday, 1953), 169.Google Scholar
  35. 71.
    The expression miracle motif comes from Rodney Stark, Bruce D. Foster, Charles Y. Glock, Harold E. Quinley, Wayward Shepherds: Prejudice and the Protestant Clergy (New York: Harper & amp; Row, 1971), 103.Google Scholar
  36. 72.
    Graham , God and the Nations (Minneapolis, MN: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1964), 10.Google Scholar
  37. 78.
    See C.H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (New York, NY: Scribner, 1961).Google Scholar
  38. 85.
    Graham , That Day (Minneapolis, MN: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1955), 8–9.Google Scholar
  39. 86.
    Graham , The Kingdom Society (Minneapolis, MN: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1965); and “The Kingdom Society,” Decision (September 1965): 1, 14–15.Google Scholar
  40. 93.
    Graham, “Wars and Rumors of Wars,” April 29, 1962, collection 191, tape 642, BGCA. See also Graham , Needed! Strong Men (Minneapolis, MN: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1960), 3–4.Google Scholar
  41. 97.
    Lee Nash, “Evangelism and Social Concern,” The Cross and the Flag, ed. Robert G. Clouse, Robert D. Linder, and Richard V. Pierard (Carol Stream, IL: Creation House, 1972), 144.Google Scholar

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© Michael G. Long 2006

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  • Michael G. Long

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