Dr. Jerome DeJong's Defense of Billy Graham

In the Missionary Monthly, (January, 1966) there appears an article under Dr. Jerome De Jong's department, Men and Missions, in which he expresses violent disagreement with my editorial in the November 1, 1965 Standard Bearer concerning Dr. Billy Graham's essay on "The New Birth." Because Dr. De Jong's article is an example of the very thing against which I warned in my editorial, and because, moreover, he very deliberately passes over the meat of my editorial and refers to all kinds of matters which were not so much as mentioned in it, and because he makes some serious and false charges and suggestions in his article, I will take the time and space to quote his article and reply to it. One gets the impression that somehow or other the doctor was rather irked or pricked by my editorial. What the reason was I do not know, unless I happened to touch a very sore spot. I suggest hereafter that, even though the doctor finds it necessary to disagree with me, he might be at least as kindly toward me as he apparently wants to be toward Billy Graham. After all, I am Reformed as well as "Fundamentalist," while Dr. Graham can only be classified as "Arminian" and "Fundamentalist." It always strikes me as strange that self-professed Calvinists and Reformed men can be very tolerant toward men like Billy Graham, but so very intolerant toward those who want to be strictly Reformed. And it is a bad sign! I, for one, could not imagine that our Reformed fathers of Dordt,—even the very mildest of them, let alone a Bogerman or a Gomarus,—or that John Calvin himself could live today and write an article such as Dr. De Jong has written. If such had been the spirit of Dordrecht, there would have been no Arminian controversy and no Canons; and if such had been the spirit of Geneva, there would have been no Calvinism and no Reformation.


Dr. De Jong introduces his article as follows:

Ordinarily I try not to refer too often to articles written by others in this column by reflecting on what they say. However I ran across an article the other day in the Standard Bearer that I must say something about. In the November 1 issue of this magazine, the Reverend H.C. Hoeksema, the editor, writes an article entitled: "An Attack upon the Very Foundation." He refers to an essay in the magazine, Christianity Today, entitled, "The New Birth" by Billy Graham. He asks the question, "Does Billy Graham proclaim the truth of the Gospel, according to the Scriptures and according to our Reformed confessions? If he does, he is worthy of support. If he does not, then Reformed people ought not only to withdraw their support, but they should oppose him and his 'preaching' militantly." (p. 54). 

I think all my readers will agree that these are rather intriguing questions. I read the article with a great deal of interest. I find that the professor has come to the following conclusion: "Graham's gospel is not the Gospel of the Scriptures . . . on the contrary his message is that of an Arminian 'do-it-yourself' religion . . . When you support Billy Graham, you are supporting one who by our Reformed confessions and by Scripture stands condemned as a false teacher! . . . When you support Billy Graham you violate the Formula of Subscription, the vow of your office . . . For Reformed Churches to lend their support to the teaching and preaching of Billy Graham is nothing short of ecclesiastical suicide." (p. 56).

COMMENT 

This is all that is quoted from my editorial: a partial quotation of my introductory remarks and a partial quotation of my conclusion. What my critic totally neglects to tell his readers in Missionary Monthly is: (1) That I concerned myself solely with Graham's doctrine of the new birth. (2) That I proved conclusively by quoting Graham's own writings and by careful reference to Scripture and the confessions that his doctrine of the new birth is a denial of the Biblical truth of regeneration and of the absolute necessity of regeneration. 

(3) That my conclusion was based on the above argumentation, and that it is the only conclusion that any honest theologian and exegete could ever reach. (4) That he substitutes his ". . . . ." for some very important references to the Formula of Subscription, references which make it plain beyond a shadow of a doubt that any officebearer who supports Graham is acting contrary to the Formula of Subscription. I would like to suggest that when Dr. De Jong criticizes, he should first fairly present the position which he criticizes, and then stick to the point. Incidentally, I did not write about the "Reformed Churches" (capital "C"; as though I meant the RCA) but about "Reformed churches" (referring to any churches belonging to the Reformed community).


Dr. De Jong next attempts sarcastically to put me to bed where he knows very well that I do not fit. I quote:

My readers must be aware that we are not now speaking of Henry Emerson Fosdick or Eugene Carson Blake or Karl Barth or Rudolf Bultman, we are speaking of that heretical, fundamental, Bible-believing-evangelist Billy Graham1 It is strange, in a way, what strange bed-fellows theology makes because there are a great number of fundamentalist, dispensational preachers, such as Bob Jones, who quite agree with the professor.

COMMENT 

1. Why the sarcasm, brother? I am sure that all my readers were aware and that all your readers were aware that Billy Graham, not Fosdick, Blake, Barth, or Bultman, was under discussion. 

2. Another question. You write,—either contradictorily or sarcastically,—of "that heretical, fundamental, Bible-believing evangelist Billy Graham." Would you rather substitute the term "non-heretical" or "orthodox" for "heretical?" Or, would you rather substitute "Bible-contradicting" for "Bible-believing?" 

3. You know, of course, very well that I do not belong in the same theological bed as "a great number of fundamentalist, dispensationalist preachers, such as Bob Jones. . . ." You also must know that these fundamentalist, dispensationalist preachers do not criticize Graham for the same reasons I do. And if you nevertheless try to put me to bed with them, I will be a naughty boy and refuse to go. Bob Jones' bed is shorter than that a Reformed man can stretch himself in it. 

4. Let me remind you that throughout your article you are putting yourself to bed with Fundamentalists, rather than with Reformed bed-fellows.


Dr. De Jong continues as follows:

Now I would have to agree that Billy Graham probably does not subscribe to the Canons of Dordt, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession; In fact I have a suspicion that he may never have heard of them before. I suppose I stand on shaky ground indeed when I suggest that there are hundreds and hundreds of fellow believers all over the world who do not know of these standards and are genuine believers anyway! I always had the idea, that the standards were man-written and therefore not infallibly inspired and therefore not our only rule of faith and practice. I would agree that Graham could probably not hold a pastorate in our Reformed Churches. However I would like to test him on the fundamentals namely the inspiration of the Bible, the Deity of Jesus, the vicarious atonement, the bodily resurrection and the visible return. On all these counts the brother, seems to stand strong!

COMMENT 

1. Apart from the fact that the opening remarks (about the confessions) are not to the point in the context of my article, no Reformed man should speak so deprecatingly of our Confessions. They are the embodiment in systematic form of our Reformed heritage. 

2. Everyone knows that confessions are not infallibly inspired, and are themselves subject to Scripture, our only rule of faith and practice. This is not the point. I believe (does Dr. De Jong?) that the church (this is somewhat different than merely saying "men") wrote and adopted the confessions under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth. I also believe that our confessions are the systematic and pure expression of the truth of Holy Scripture, and I shall continue to believe this unless and until it is shown that they are not. In other words, I believe that our Reformed standards set forth the truth of the Word of God. For this reason, I have vowed diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine. For the same reason I have vowed not to contradict the same either directly or indirectly by public preaching or writing. And for the same reason I. have declared that I not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine, and particularly those which were condemned by the Synod of Dordrecht, but that I am disposed to refute and contradict these, and to exert myself in keeping the church free from such errors. All this is from the Formula of Subscription. Now I do not know whether the Reformed Church in America (to which Dr. De Jong belongs) still maintains the old Formula of Subscription. If it does, then Dr. De Jong evidently does not honor it. If it does not, then I can understand how Dr. De Jong can be satisfied with the test of Fundamentalism, which is nothing but a sort of "lowest common denominator." 

4. I would not agree "that Graham could probably not hold a pastorate in(our)Reformed Churches" if Dr. De Jong here means the RCA. The RCA shelters men more heterodox than Graham; and I dare say it shelters men as Arminian as Graham. 

5. Do not the so-called Five Points of Calvinism belong to the fundamentals of the faith? Where does Scripture make distinction between fundamental and non-fundamental truths? Besides, I dare say that even if the test of Fundamentalism is really applied, Billy Graham would fail. Do not misunderstand. I can believe, for example, that Billy Graham would subscribe to the truth of infallible inspiration as such. But what is the truth of infallible inspiration if one does not submit to the absolute authority of Scripture with respect to his doctrines? What good is inspiration as a doctrine if one denies the plain teaching of the infallible Scriptures? I can believe that Billy Graham would subscribe to the vicarious atonement as such; but I also maintain that he essentially denies it by his doctrine of universal atonement. I can believe that Graham holds to the deity of Jesus as such. But what kind of deity is it that is made impotent to save any man unless the sinner first wills it? And so I could go on.


The doctor then sarcastically inserts this little paragraph:

Ah yes, I forgot, he is an Arminian! He holds an improper view of election which of course condemns him all together. Does it indeed?

COMMENT 

1. You did not forget. But no Reformed man should so minimize Arminianism. For apart from the fact that Arminianism is itself a very evil doctrine, history has shown that Arminianism ends in modernism. 

2. No Reformed man should in such sarcastic fashion minimize (not: "an improper view") but the denial of the Scriptural truth of election. To our fathers it was the cor ecclesiae, the heart of the church. 

3. You should have informed your readers that not I, but you, introduced the subject of election into the discussion. You might, by the way, examine yourself as to the question why you brought up this matter of election.

4. Yes, Graham stands condemned (not by me, but by Scripture and the confessions) as heretical, also on the heart-doctrine of election.


Dr. De Jong next seems to express some agreement:

I would agree with the professor that man is dead in trespasses and in sins. See

Ephesians 2:1.

I would also agree that faith is solely the gift of God. See

Ephesians 2:8.

Now, says Graham, Man is to show a willingness to yield to God. He calls man to yield, yet, man cannot, because he is dead in sins. Hence the impasse.

COMMENT 

1. In the light of the doctor's defense of Graham, as well as in the light of the rest of his article, I have serious doubts whether Dr. De Jong agrees with me that man is dead in trespasses and sins. 

2. We were not discussing "faith" at all, but the new birth.

3. No impasse whatsoever. Graham's doctrine, as I showed from his own writings, is that the dead sinner must yield to God before he can be regenerated and in order to be reborn. This is both impossible and untrue. For this reason Graham must also deny the Scriptural doctrine that man is actually dead in trespasses and sins. The latter Graham does too, as I showed in my editorial. Scripture and the Reformed confessions teach that regeneration is the altogether unconditional, unaided work of God through the Holy Spirit, wrought in the heart of the in-himself-dead sinner, which precedes every other work of grace in the sinner and which precedes all conscious response, believing, yielding, repenting. If the gospel requires a dead sinner to yield to God before he can be regenerated, then the gospel is hopeless! 

4. I ask Dr. De Jong: do you agree with Graham that the dead sinner can nevertheless have the willingness to yield to God and can decide to be reborn?


Next comes the old saw of human responsibility:

The problem here is with the old, old unresolved problem of human responsibility and divine sovereignty. The Canons of Dordt (11, 3) state, "The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world." and (11, 5) "The promise of the Gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction . . ."

COMMENT 

1. This has nothing whatsoever to do with regeneration and the absolute necessity of regeneration for the totally depraved and dead sinner. The gospel never makes a man responsible to accomplish his own regeneration or even the first step toward that regeneration (yielding, decision). 

2. If Dr. De Jong is suggesting that Christ died for all men and that the Canons teach this, he is utterly mistaken. 

3. I fully subscribe to canons II, 5, which teaches: a) A particular promise: whosoever believeth shall be saved. b) The general or promiscuous proclamation of this particular promise (not to be equated with a general, well-meant offer of salvation). c) The preaching of the command to repent and believe (not to be equated with a mere invitation to accept Christ or to yield to God). I also believe that those who reject this preaching are responsible for this sin, as well as for all other sin, and that the blame for this unbelief is to be ascribed wholly to themselves. (Canons II, 6). I also believe that this in no sense conflicts with the doctrine of sovereign election and reprobation. I also believe that all this in no sense contradicts my criticism of Graham's doctrine. 

4. Where is the problem?


My critic next presents an old, worn-out caricature of Protestant Reformed preaching, essentially the same one that James Daane likes to present:

Now what is Graham doing? He is following the Canons of Dart in calling men to repent and to believe! What must Professor Hoeksema do? He must say, Hope, brother, pray! Maybe you are one of God's elect and maybe not—but if you are dead in sin you can't do anything about it anyway."

COMMENT 

1. I deny that Graham calls men to repent and believe in the sense that the Canons of Dordrecht speak of faith and repentance. Graham proclaims a radically different, Arminian, faith and repentance. Or, in your opinion, Dr. De Jong, does that make no difference? 

2. In the light of my article, Graham must preach that adead man must make the first move in the work of regeneration. This is sheer nonsense! Worse still, it is a hopeless gospel! Worst of all, it is the lie! 

3. Professor Hoeksema presents no such caricature of the gospel as Dr. De Jong suggests. On the contrary, he proclaims what Canons II, 5 requires; He proclaims this on the basis, too, that God in His good pleasure causes the gospel to be preached where His elect are. He proclaims it, too, on the basis that God prepares the good soil to receive the seed of the Word. Moreover, he proclaims it in the confidence that God will use that preaching, through irresistible grace, to quicken conscious faith and repentance in the elect, regenerated sinner who hears it. And, finally, he proclaims it in the trust that God will take care of the fruits upon that preaching.


The next section of Dr. De Jong's article is as follows:

I do not mean to be crass or sarcastic but I would like to suggest two tests for truth.

I John 4:1-2.

". . . try the spirits whether they are of God . . . every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God." Although I might disagree with many of Graham's methods I would say that on this test he rates A-1. The second test is

Matthew 7:20,

"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." Now someone will say that everyone who comes forward at a Billy Graham meeting is not necessarily saved—This is probably true but if we take just 10% we still have thousands! I would say that where the Word is being preached, there souls are being saved. I have not personally noted any great revival in the Protestant Reformed Churches. 

I think I would also have to say that, unfortunate as it may be, many of the great soul winners of history had a leaning toward Arminianism such as Moody, Sankey, Finney, Torrey, Sunday etc. Are all these men to be condemned too?

COMMENT 

1. I fully agree with the test of I John 4:1-2, which, by the way, is given "because many false prophets are gone out into the world." I disagree with De Jong's A-1 rating of Billy Graham on this test. I maintain that Graham's doctrine is not consistent with the truth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. Or is Dr. De Jong intending to say that anyone who does not literally deny the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ passes this test? Principally, this is the same test that I applied: the test of Scripture and our confessions.

2. I also agree with the second test, that of Matthew 7:20, which, by the way, also occurs in a context which speaks of false prophets. But I disagree with De Jong's application of this test. Graham's fruits are the words, the doctrines, the preaching that proceed out of his mouth, not the souls which he may or may not "win."

3. Let us apply De Jong's test of "numbers" to our Lord Jesus at Nazareth, Luke 4, or at Capernaum, John 6, or to Isaiah (Chapter 53, vs. 1). According to De Jong, Jesus and Isaiah were certainly failures, then, while Graham passes the test. 

4. "Unfortunate" it is, indeed, that there are Arminian "soul winners". But if souls were saved through Moody, Sankey, etc., it was not through, but in spite of, their Arminianism. God saves His people through the truth of the gospel, not through the lie of Arminianism. Of that you may be certain. 

5. As far as I know the Protestant Reformed Churches are not in need of any great revival. I think, however, that the Reformed Church in America could stand some reformation.


This next paragraph contains at least the suggestion of a very serious accusation, no matter how kindly it is given:

I would like to issue a warning as kindly as I can to our Protestant Reformed brethren. The unpardonable sin, in part, is to ascribe to the devil that which is from God. I would never want to run the risk of ascribing to the devil that which is from God!

COMMENT 

1. A question: Doctor, are you indeed suggesting that I in my article, together with my Protestant Reformed brethren, either commit or run the risk of committing the unpardonable sin? If so, why? On what ground? Is it because I oppose and warn against Billy Graham's false doctrine? If you are not suggesting this, why then do you bring this matter up in your article? Certainly there must be a reason for your warning us against this sin, a sin which, because it is unpardonable, certainly puts those who commit it in the class of the reprobate, who perish forever. I would caution you, doctor, to mind what you say. 

2. A bit of advice: consider the fact that it is very wrong to attribute false doctrine, the lie, to God and His holy Word. Either our Reformed faith is the truth of God or the lie of the devil. Either Graham's Arminianism is the truth of God or the lie of the devil. And our fathers (cf. Canons of Dordrecht, II, B, 3, 6) accused the Arminians of "bringing again out of hell the Pelagian error" and characterized the Arminian and Pelagian errors as a "destructive poison." 

3. Again I ask: why are you so sharp toward me, a Reformed man, and so soft on Billy Graham, who wants nothing of the Reformed truth?


Dr. De Jong concludes with a declaration and a question:

Yes, I am a Calvinist. I believe the Reformed standards. But by the same token I am also a Fundamentalist in the best sense of the word. I believe with all my heart that the Bible is true when it says, "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, . . .

Ezekiel 33:11,

and, "He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance,"

II Peter 3:9.

Billy Graham believes this:—I wonder if Professor Hoeksema does?

Jerome DeJong

COMMENT 

1. In the light of your article, I have earnest doubts about your Calvinism, as well as about your adhering to the Reformed standards. 

2. That you want to be a Fundamentalist I can believe. But that it is "by the same token" as your being a Calvinist and believing the Reformed standards is impossible. That a Calvinist can be a fundamentalist (small "f") is possible; in fact, there is none more fundamentalist than a real Calvinist. But in "Fundamentalism" (capital "F") I have never discovered room for Calvinism, but plenty of room for Arminianism. 

3. If you merely want to state that you believe the Bible, then let me assure you: I also believe every word of that Bible. And that includes Ezekiel 33:11 and II Peter 3:9. I have preached on both texts. 

4. But judging from the context in which you mention these passages, as well as from your wondering whether I believe them, I am inclined to think that you, like Graham and like Prof. Dekker and like the Three Points of 1924, would give an Arminian twist to these words. And that is indeed a twist! 

In conclusion, Dr. De Jong, I wish to offer you a brotherly warning. If I am not mistaken, you are one of those in the Reformed Church in America who are opposed to the proposed merger with the Presbyterians. I also can see no real good in that merger, and much possible harm. But I also can see no real good in refusing to go along with that merger UNLESS you want to be one hundred per cent Reformed, and militantly so, that is, with rejection of all errors repugnant to the Reformed faith. Arminianism is both historically and doctrinally repugnant to the Reformed faith. You either oppose it as the lie, or you recognize it and embrace it as the truth. There is no middle ground. And therefore I repeat: for Reformed churches, of whatever denomination, to lend their support to the Arminian teaching and preaching of Billy Graham is nothing short of ecclesiastical suicide! And this form of suicide is no better than the suicide of merger!