Thursday, September 18, 2008

Going Off Message with Franklin Graham

Via GetReligion I saw this interview with Franklin Graham, the son of Billy who has taken over the reigns of the Graham evangelistic empire. Here are two questions and answers from the interview:

Q: While we're on the subject of comparisons ... What about your approach to Christian outreach, service and evangelism is different from your father's? What do YOU want people to focus on?

A: My style is different from that of my father, but the message is exactly the same. It's the gospel — the Good News that God loves sinners and that he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins and that he rose again from the dead. He is alive, and he is coming back someday; many people believe it will be soon. To come to God, we have to confess our sins, repent — turn from our sins — and by faith receive Christ into our hearts. If we are willing to do that, God will forgive us and cleanse us, and we can have a new beginning and the assurance of being with him in heaven one day.

Q: These days, evangelical Christians are becoming increasingly concerned about social issues other than so-called "wedge issues" (such as abortion and gay marriage). For example, many evangelicals are beginning to advocate good stewardship of the Earth and faith-based programs that address poverty and economic inequities. What is your view on the changing list of priorities?

A: The gospel is our priority. As a Christian, I am concerned about the Earth that God gave us. I want to do all I can to preserve and protect the resources that belong to each of us and to be good stewards of the things God has given. However, the No. 1 message is always the gospel. I believe Christians are making a great mistake by getting pulled off message. Should we be concerned about the environment, energy and other social issues? Absolutely, but the gospel is our No. 1 message because the gospel has the power to save. The Apostle Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). Moral issues, such as gay marriage and abortion, are outlined very clearly in the Scriptures. These areas are not even for debate. However, I preach against all sin — not just some — and that Christ died for sinners and rose again so that we can have new life through him.

There is nothing surprising here about Graham's answers. Jesus came to save us so we can be with him and God in heaven. Everything else may be interesting, but if the primary focus of Christians is on anything else they are getting pulled "off message."

I think the primary focus of Christianity is or ought to be transformation, personal and social. Being involved in a Christian community ought to mean that you are attending a place where you are being transformed over time by the experience of being there. You are learning; you are being challenged to grow and re-orient your priorities; you are given opportunities to develop and share your gifts and in so doing to serve others. You are becoming a better person.

How would you know this is happening? If after being part of that community you feel compelled to care more for the environment, work more for peace and justice in the world (at home and/or in the world), be more welcoming of those who are different because they have a different religion or sexual orientation, then you would know that something good and powerful is happening. (Alternatively, for some who are activists by nature, the transformation might involve finding balance and learning to let go and find some personal peace.)

But the point is transformation that makes a difference here and now. That isn't "off message." That is the message. By your fruits you shall know them.

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