Bob Jones, Though Wrong On Other Things, Was Right About Billy Graham
Posted by Job on June 19, 2008
One of the earliest controversies to center about BJU was the break that occurred in the late 1950s between separatist fundamentalists and neo-evangelicals represented by the newly prominent evangelist Billy Graham. Graham had briefly attended Bob Jones College, and the University conferred an honorary degree on him in 1948. During the 1950s, however, Graham began distancing himself from the older fundamentalism, and in preparation for his 1957 New York Crusade, he sought broad ecumenical sponsorship.
Bob Jones, Sr. argued that if members of Graham’s campaign executive committee had rejected major tenets of orthodox Christianity, such as the virgin birth and the deity of Christ, then Graham had violated 2 John 9-11, which prohibits receiving in fellowship those who do “not abide in the teaching of Christ.” In the 1960s, Graham further irritated fundamentalists by gaining the endorsement of Richard Cardinal Cushing for his Boston campaign and accepting honorary degrees from two Roman Catholic colleges.
Graham tried to remain above the fray, but members of his staff openly accused Jones of jealousy on the grounds that Jones’s evangelistic meetings had never been as large as Graham’s. Graham’s father-in-law, L. Nelson Bell, mailed a fiery ten-page letter to most members of the BJU faculty and student body (as well as to thousands of pastors across the country) accusing Jones of “hatred, distortions, jealousies, envying, malice, false witnessing, and untruthfulness.”
In what seemed to the Joneses to be a deliberate affront, Graham held his only American campaign of 1966 in Greenville, South Carolina. Under penalty of expulsion, the University forbade any BJU dormitory student from attending the Graham meetings. In a four-page position paper delivered to students in 1965, Bob Jones, Jr., condemned Billy Graham’s “ecumenical evangelism” as unscriptural and “heretical,” noting that Graham shared his platform with Catholic priests and that one could not “be a good Catholic and a good, spiritual Christian.” When Graham arrived in Greenville, Jones, Jr. emphasized that the basis of the University’s position was scriptural and not personal. “The Bible commands that false teacher and men who deny the fundamentals of the faith should be accursed; that is, they shall be criticized and condemned. Billy approves them, Billy condones them, Billy recommends them….I think that Dr. Graham is doing more harm in the cause of Jesus Christ than any living man; that he is leading foolish and untaught Christians, simple people that do not know the Word of God, into disobedience to the Word of God.”
The negative publicity caused by the rift with Graham, itself a reflection of a larger division between separatist fundamentalists and neo-evangelicals, precipitated a decline in BJU enrollment of about 10% in the years 1956-59. Seven members of the University board (of about a hundred) also resigned in support of Graham, including Graham himself and two of his staff members. By 1966, when Graham appeared in Greenville, BJU enrollment had strongly rebounded and continued to grow thereafter until the mid-1980s.