As many of you know, the late Billy Graham and the late Charles Templeton were evangelists who rose to fame in the 40s. Early in their careers they were friends – close friends. Many have said Templeton was the one that everyone thought was going to overturn the world with the Gospel. However, Templeton ended up leaving the Christian faith, eventually becoming an atheist.  In 1982, though still an atheist, he said of Billy Graham, “There is no feigning in him: he believes what he believes with an invincible innocence. He is the only mass evangelist I would trust” (Anecdotal Memoir). Templeton died in 2001 at the age of 86, shortly after he wrote what I consider to be one of the most heart-breaking books ever published: Farewell to God.

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Billy Graham and Charles Templeton In Dialogue

Here is an excerpt from that book, about a pivotal conversation he had with Billy Graham as he was leaving the faith. The context is his desire to go to Princeton to study the Christian faith more critically. He wanted Graham to come with him. Please keep in mind, this is his account of the conversation:

“All our differences came to a head in a discussion which, better than anything I know, explains Billy Graham and his phenomenal success as an evangelist.

In the course of our conversation I said, ‘But, Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world was not created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s a demonstrable fact.’

‘I don’t accept that’ Billy said. ‘And there are reputable scholars who don’t.’

‘Who are these scholars?’ I said. ‘Men in conservative Christian colleges[?]’

[Tweet “I believe the Genesis account of creation because it’s in the Bible. “]

‘Most of them, yes,’ he said. ‘But that is not the point. I believe the Genesis account of creation because it’s in the Bible. I’ve discovered something in my ministry: When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says,’ or ‘The Bible says,’ the Holy Spirit uses me. There are results. Wiser men than you or I have been arguing questions like this for centuries. I don’t have the time or the intellect to examine all sides of the theological dispute, so I’ve decided once for all to stop questioning and accept the Bible as God’s word.’

‘But Billy,’ I protested, ‘You cannot do that. You don’t dare stop thinking about the most important question in life. Do it and you begin to die. It’s intellectual suicide.’”

‘I don’t know about anybody else,’ he said, ‘but I’ve decided that that’s the path for me.’”

(Farewell to God, 7-8)

For me, this represents one of the saddest encounters two people have ever had. It recounts a decisive breach in the friendship between two men as one left Christ, never to come back, and the other went on to, in my opinion, change the world.

Belief and Understanding Are Not Contrasting Qualities

As I said, I don’t know if Graham’s words are the words he actually said, but I have no reason to doubt that they are. You see, there does come a time in our life when we “decide” to believe. It is not as if our intellect is no longer in the game, it is simply that there is a sufficient amount of evidence to make a commitment. Graham had enough. He is right, there is no way faith can wait until every stone is overturned. None of us will ever get to a place where our intellect has no objections whatsoever. This is the modernistic ideal of indubitability, which is impossible in any area of life. At some point in our journey, we decide that God is real, the Bible is trustworthy, and Christ is who he said he was.

[Tweet “There does come a time in our life when we “decide” to believe.”]

Templeton, as his own story makes plain (p. 3), never truly reached a point where he was intellectually convicted of the truthfulness of Christianity (what the reformers called assensus). Assensus represents the conviction we have in our minds. Assent of the mind is vital to our faith. Graham, according to this testimony, had enough assensus to make a decision. He was not going to be an eternal “tire-kicker” with regard to Christianity. Sure, he could have waited, like Templeton, until every possible objection to the faith was answered, but this would amount to a failure of modernistic irrationality. We can never have all our questions answered. At some point there must be a sufficiency in probability.

[Tweet “Fides quaenes intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.””]

There is a time when we, like Billy Graham, must stop the type of questioning that comes prior to faith, and make a decision. This does not mean we stop using our minds, as Templeton unfortunately assumed. In Christianity, we call this fides quaenes intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.” We believe in order to understand. We have faith and seek understanding.

May God give us all the ability to be like Billy Graham and make a decision to trust God and the Bible. May he help us to believe what we believe with an invincible innocence. Though doubts may still exist, they do not mean that our faith is not real.

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C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.

Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    4 replies to "Billy Graham and Charles Templeton: The Sad Tale of Two Evangelists"

    • Kim

      Amen. Great men of God simply believed God. Obviously the smart choice seeing who else would know better.

    • andre

      Thanks for sharing this Article. The story of Billy and Charles is sad. It is sad as there were more options open to Charles but he never felt free to pursue them as it was an either or situation. I know somewhat Charles went through as these critical questions are left unanswered. I have grown up from the Dutch Reformed tradition in the 70s and even if one would say that although we are less fundamentalist we have a confessional faith which also brought me to a similar juncture.

      I came to a point where I lost my childlike faith due to my internal intelectual battle. Not from the words of others or from reading books ( or internet). Fortunately, my dogmas reminded me of my fallibility as a man and I dropped in-front of God and confessed my problem to God. I told him that I did not believe anymore and I promised that I will serve no other God. God did not reject me, neither did he ask me to relinquish my intellect. He merely touched me. I mean literally touched my shoulder. Since then I have been on an intellectual quest and have the ability to deal with these.

      I have discovered is that the more I learn the more I realise how little I do know. I may be intellectually brilliant but in Gods presence, I am a blithering idiot. I must confess that as part of the Reformed tradition I do agree that the Bible will not fail you, infalibility, as everything you need to know for your salvation and gudance how to live a good life is contained in it. This I investigated and challenged and at the age of 60 find it to be true. This is the witness of the early fathers and the reformers. If the Bible is read literary or as a law book it is an abuse of it. It requires wisdom, intellect and most of all the assistance of the infalable Holy Spirit to achieve that goal. Calvin used two terms to display this. He talks of the Scriptures when referring to the text and the Word of God when God himself speaks through the scriptures. It is therefore clear that to hear the Word of God you (a fallible intellectual) need to interpret the text within the context it was written and have it enlightened by the Holy Spirit. That is why we all pray when we start our readings.

      It must be noted that The Dutch reformers were never consulted by the evangelicals on inerrancy and cases like this prove that it is an oversimplification of our challenge to hold “Our Paper Pope ” as an authority. God is the authority and promises to open the eyes of those that seek. Our interpretation of the texts or even or dogmas are merely the blind trying to find our way. Hence us refering to it as Confessions of faith. The source of that light is God himself as He is a living God. That is why we should read the Bible together, listen together what His Spirit tells us and like the early church live in oneness even if intelectually we cannot agree for disagreement is merely intelectual processes and unity an Act of God. Jesus would even chalange the greatest of us on our folly with our interpretation of the scriptures as he did with the scribes.

      I respond to this article as I feel deeply hurt that a great man like Billy could not find a way to engage with his friend and lead him back to his God, warts and all. I also know that Billy Graham led no man to faith. God did and he should have held his arms open and intercede with God. Maybe Billy did, but I believe that doctrine rather than God failed Charles.

      There are many faithfull Christians that reject the doctrine of a 7 day creation but hold on to the faith that as the text says, that God created it all. He is—Not created, but the creator, unlike those that want to worship the Universe, the moon the stars etc. which is merely creation , such as us. That is the wisdom of the text. The Holy Spirit unifies, He does not devide us.

    • Ralph Lane

      It is very sad that Templeton could not find a way of ordering his thoughts as a “Christian agnostic” (to borrow Leslie Weatherhead’s telling phrase). He didn’t have to “miss” Jesus. He could have had the ongoing company of Jesus without having to worry about all the theological technicalities. Millions manage it. It might not satisfy fundamentalists but it satisfies them.

    • Patrick Wahl

      Andre, I read your comments with great interest. I really appreciate understanding more about your Dutch Reformed background. I am reading a Kuyper biography at this time. It is rare that I find anything worthy in the replies at the end of a blog. Your confession is every bit as helpful to me as the article it references. Thank you.

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