Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fr. Gustave Weigel, S.J., On Billy Graham

"What to Think of Billy Graham" is the title of an article in America, 4 May 1957, by Father Gustave Weigel, S.J. a student of modern Protestant theologies. This is perhaps the most competent evaluation of Dr. Graham and his "crusades" that I have seen, but, unfortunately, much of it would be lost on many people. Father Weigel is a learned and widely-read man and a deep thinker. His tribe is not great. Nevertheless, there is much in the article that is clearly and simply expressed. Father Weigel sees three elements in Dr. Graham's popularity: "current interest in religion; the revival tradition; Graham's streamlining of the revival framework." The last two elements are explained at some length. Father Weigel pays generous tribute to Dr. Graham's sincerity: 
"The man himself is not eccentric in any way whatever. No one has ever questioned his seriousness and sincerity. Nor can he be accused of preaching the gospel for filthy lucre's sake." 
Then Father Weigel raises the fundamental question of authority. What right has Dr. Graham to tell anyone what is Christian truth? Mr. High, in the first books mentioned above, labours mightily in chapter two to explain how Dr. Graham "can be so sure." This is not such a difficult question. It is individual and personal, and the answer to it explains Dr. Graham's sincerity. But does Dr. Graham tell us with authority what the Bible means - what is the authentic and complete message of the inspired Scriptures? Certainly not. 
"Graham's sincerity is no guarantee of the accuracy of his understanding." What has he, then? "He says, in effect, that he has found his own life transformed by an act of trust in the message he has sincerely extracted from Bible-reading.
This comes down to saying: "It is true because it worked for me." Father Weigel's examination of the question is much more extensive than I have indicated. He tries to examine every aspect and to show exactly what is involved. There can be no satisfactory answer to Fr. Weigel's arguments. 

No comments: