Quote To Ponder: Billy Graham on Evolution

Quote To Ponder: Billy Graham on Evolution August 6, 2009

This week I got a new book in the mail titled, I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution, Denis O. Lamoureux. I have read other resources by him on this blog who put together an EXCELLENT e-book on the subject of evolution and original sin, but have not yet read the book. The introduction page in the book directed me to the following quote by Billy Graham (whom I hold in the highest regard)…

“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things that they weren’t meant to say, and I think we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course, I accept the Creation story. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man… whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.” — Billy Graham in “Doubt and Certainties” (1964)
Here are some of my questions:
Why was I never informed as a child that the most influential Christian leader of our time has an open posture towards evolution?

Why the war, when the key mouthpiece for evangelicalism has such an open mind to the “how” of the creation? Does anyone else feel a bit gypped?

What other thoughts does this quotation bring to your mind?

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  • It is really interesting to note the date of the Billy Graham quote. 1964 was just three years after the publication of Whitcomb & Morris’s book “The Genesis Flood.” Perhaps his quote was in response to the movement that was growing as a result of “The Genesis Flood,” which was in its sixth printing by 1964.

    I’m guessing that Billy Graham chose not to make more of the issue becasue he realized that it might detract from his central message of salvation, and be unnecessarily divisive. In addition, the scientific evidence for and old earth and evolution wasn’t nearly as overwhelming in 1964 as it is now.

    If you have not yet read Denis Lamoureux’s book, I highly recommend that you do, keeping in mind that Denis goes further than most in integrating evolution into his Christian faith. Others are catching up, though. See the BioLogos web site, and Rev. Tim Keller’s White Paper “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople on that site: http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf

    You can also see the eBook on Evolution and Original Sin at http://www.scribd.com/doc/13459608/Evolution-and-Original-Sin if you haven’t already done so. Have fun!

    Paul Bruggink
    Clarington PA

  • Oops!
    I re-read your post AFTER replying and saw that you are already familiar with the eBook “Evolution and Original Sin.” Another good recent resource that isn’t readily available on this side of the pond yet is Northcott & Berry’s “Theology After Darwin” (Paternoster, 2009). Then there is Berry & Noble’s “Darwin, Creation and the Fall: Theological Challenges” (Apollos, 2009). The Brits and the Canadians are currently ahead of the Americans on integrating evolution into their Christian faith.
    Paul Bruggink
    Clarington PA

  • Kurt Willems

    Thanks for your words and resources here. I appreciate your thoughtful approach and understanding of this history of this issue. I just downloaded the Keller article and look forward to reading it! Pleace, come back to the blog soon!

  • RTW

    Why were you never informed as a child that the most influential Christian leader of our time has an open posture towards evolution?

    Oh Kurt, Kurt, Kurt. If only your Daddy had taken you to a good Pentecostal Church that spake in tongues and rolled holy you would have a clear understanding.

    But seriously, I have always felt that it comes down to how each of us perceive how God works. For some of us, we see God as saying “Let there be light” and light simply came in to being. Not God said “Let there be light” and then there was this long process and then there was light.
    Some of us fall into the “Let there be light” Camp and some of us are in the “Could have been a process” Camp.

    I do agree with how God created man does not change the fact that God did indeed create us. It’s kind of ironic that we spend so much time worrying about how God got us here, time that would be much better spent focusing on what God wants us to do now that we are here.

    Why the war, when the key mouthpiece for evangelicalism has such an open mind to the “how” of the creation? Does anyone else feel a bit gypped?

    Why the “War”? Free will brings with it not only the opportunity to choose our path, but also the opportunity to choose the wrong one. If I see that you do not agree with me on an issue that I believe is critical, then you must be on the wrong path (because to accept that I may be wrong would challenge one of my core beliefs).

    Do I feel gypped? No. I understand that for the most part those who have taught me have told me what they believe to be true. Once I became an adult, it was my responsibility to question and study those beliefs and chart my own path. I also understand that unless the issue is one of Salvation, the issue while interesting is not vital.

    • RTW… First, when i typically read your comments i laugh 🙂 Thanks for the smile.
      On a more serious note: There is no problem with your view that it is ok to simply believe “let there be light” means “let there be light.” I respect that view although i dont think it allows hebrew poetry to be hebrew poetry… but that is another issue 🙂

      the quote of yours I agree with most!: “It’s kind of ironic that we spend so much time worrying about how God got us here, time that would be much better spent focusing on what God wants us to do now that we are here.”
      I couldn’t agree more! But unfortunately the christian leaders of the last century decided to take your position (young earth) and make it an issue that was as important to following Jesus as believing the resurrection. You can read about the history of this here: http://groansfromwithin.blogspot.com/2008/04/so

      Here is my big issue. I think that in churches across america we set students up for failure. We tell them that Young Earth Creationism is the only viable option for a christian and that the whole science community (who about 95% or more hold to evolution) is driven by an ungodly liberal agenda to keep God out of the public square (this is true for some, but i heard a statistic the other day that stated that 40% of scientists [evolutionists] are born again christians!). Well, this is ingrained into the mind of our intelligent 18 year olds who then go off to a college and find out that science actually has some good arguments for an old earth and evolutionary process. What happens to such a student. Well, they are then forced into wrestling with a false dichotomy… a typical fruit of fundamentalism… a false polarity that causes him (so many stories go like this) to make the “intelligent” choice in agreeing with what science seems to show us. Therefore, a student who grew up following Jesus becomes an atheist or agnostic who is angry at the church and Jesus because they were “lied” to their whole childhood.

      So, I think that at the very least, we need to teach students to think for themselves and Christian adults as well. Evolution and biblical Christianity are not in conflict… in fact, as a speaker once said “Lets not try and get young earth creationism into the schools and science; lets get the atheism out of science.”

      • RTW

        You are very right when you stated “So, I think that at the very least, we need to teach students to think for themselves and Christian adults as well.”
        I think that everyone should have access to all the information, all the possibilities and allow them to decide what they believe.

        We do not need to be in conflict with evolution in order to embrace God. If evolution does exist, it must be a creation of God, not the evidence of the lack of God.

        By the way you are very intelligent and well spoken, could it be genetic?

  • I think genes are probably the best explanation! ha

  • Hi Kurt,

    Re: your question on “Why you were never told”. Not sure you follow Peter Enns blog, but his post here on the start of
    his “Testimonials” series is relevant. Here is commenting on a conversation between two Evangelical Theologians:

    It seems another member of the faculty, an Old Testament scholar (whom I wish to say, even though I am not mentioning names, is a truly wonderful Christian gentleman) remarked at one point that “Enns really isn’t saying anything new here.” The specific point concerned the state of Hebrew in the 2nd millennium BC, and how no one living at that time (i.e., Moses) could have written the Pentateuch as we know it, as it reflects a state of Hebrew that did not develop until the 1st millennium.

    The theologian remarked, “Nothing new? Then why haven’t I heard of any of this before?” (Keep in mind, this is a seminary faculty member, who has both an MDiv and PhD.) The OT scholar responded, “It is our job to protect you from this sort of thing” (and I will admit this is a paraphrase, albeit a nearly verbatim and fully faithful representation).

    I&I is founded on the opposite notion, that people deserve better than this.

    And that is part of your answer I think; our Evangelical culture has in someways taught us NOT to think for ourselves (eg. Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind).

    But fortunately, people like Enns etc. are changing that.

  • Steve! Thanks for coming by the site and for pointing me to this post by Enns. I had not read it, but it is spot on to what I have been thinking about. Yes, change is happening indeed!

  • Shelly

    Ryan and I were actually JUST talking about the same topic a couple of days ago. I think part of the issue is that certain topics seem to hold more weight depending on the generation of believers and what they are grappling with during their lifetime (thank God because I couldn’t deal with it all at once!). For myself, the origins of man have never been all that important and I have always found it difficult to deny one theory and cling solely to the other- always wondering WHY it had to be one way or the other without compromise for everyone. I didn’t realise I thought so similarly to Billy Graham!

  • Well, don’t forget an awful lot of Evangelical luminaries have pretty well written Graham out of the kingdom for being way too soft on all manner of people and things. I had the impression that as he got older Billy Graham also got a lot humbler, and publicly reached out to a lot of people the younger firebrand may not have accepted quite as graciously. But whether that’s true or not (and this 1964 quote suggests maybe not), it is certainly true that I’ve heard quite a few Evangelicals diss him for not being orthodox enough, which IMO translates into not hating everything and everyone they hate…

    This quote suggests to me that, unlike most Evangelicals, Billy Graham knew the difference between “always being ready to give an answer for our hope” which is Biblical, and “always being ready to give an answer to any question anyone can throw at you” which isn’t.

  • Yeah, I feel the same way. Just another weird cover-up by later 20th century evangelicals.