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A Simple Gospel
By Dan Vis
February 26, 2018
Comments: 26

This week, I had planned to write about all the new features in our toolbox, but some of the changes are taking a bit longer than anticipated. So I decided to take a moment to reflect instead on the life of a well-known evangelist who died last week. You'll have to wait a bit longer for our updates to the dashboard!

On Wednesday, one of the world's great evangelists passed to his rest, at the age of 99. Billy Graham is estimated to have preached to 215 million people in 185 countries in a career spanning nearly 70 years. He stands in the ranks of Charles Finney, Billy Sunday, Charles Spurgeon, and Dwight Moody--perhaps the last of that rare breed of evangelist who commanded a world stage. He is reported to have met with every US president from Truman to Obama, and was listed on Gallup’s annual U.S. poll of most admired people 61 times, almost twice as often as the next most popular world figure. While I may differ on some theological points, it is easy to see he lived a long life of impressive service.

While living in Chicago, I had the privilege to visit the Billy Graham museum on two occasions and the story of his rise to fame and influence always intrigued me. What gave his preaching such power, and appeal?

I've watched a sermon or two over the years. His voice was always clear, and marked by a distinctive accent. But there was nothing exceptional about his oratory. In fact, his messages were generally quite simple. What made him stand out? It dawned on me at last--his simplicity WAS the secret to his influence. And perhaps the most impressive thing about his life, was his determination to preserve that simplicity through his entire ministry.

In an article posted in the The Observer, John Bonazzo described a TED talk, Graham gave late in life, to a room full of tech movers and shakers. He summarized the main points Graham made, and described it as typical of his presentations. He suggested it shed light on his thinking, his approach, his focus.

You can watch that particular talk below. It's worth the 20 minutes it takes to listen in.

I've outlined the process Graham followed in this talk below:

1) He began by connecting with his audience. In a humble way, and with a bit of self-deprecating humor, he expressed his admiration for the tech leaders he spoke to, for the great changes they were attempting to bring to the world.

2) Next, he shifted to a discussion of the role of technology in the Bible, and in particular how the development of iron-working impacted Israel during the reign of King David. He compared the transformation due to technology then, to the transformation we are seeing in our generation.

3) Next he transitioned once again, by pointing out there were some problems technology could not solve: The mystery of human evil. The reality of personal suffering. And ultimately, the inevitability of death. It was a profound, but unarguable description of the human condition.

4) Last, he argued the only solution to these problems is to accept some things on faith, citing his own experience with Jesus Christ. He gave a succinct but pointed testimony of his own personal conversion. And ended with an appeal for his listeners to do the same.

It was a simple outline, and indeed typical of the few messages I had heard Graham give. Connect to the person you speak to. Shift the conversation toward the Bible. Outline the human condition, and our need of God. Then point to Jesus Christ as the only hope, through your own personal testimony. It brought the words of the apostle Paul to mind:

I Corinthians 2:1-2
1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

I wonder sometimes if we don't over-complicate the gospel. Perhaps, the simpler we make it, the more universal and transcendent it becomes. Billy Graham seemed to grasp this intuitively, and had the integrity to preserve its simplicity through his long life. And in the end, his life stood as a testament to the gospel's appeal and power.

Comments

How important do you think it is to keep our message simple? To keep the Gospel centered on the human condition, and the solution only Christ can bring? Share a thought in the comments below...

Posted by Dan Vis on 07/22/19
I'm not sure I have ever really listened to him either Lillian, but I was very impressed with the flow of this short message. How he led his listeners from where they were (height of success) to see their need of a Savior. Loved watching how he did that.
Posted by Lillian E. Cepeda on 07/17/19

Body and mind become a living soul. It is by the Holy Spirit that we feel the urgency to seek Jesus.

That was a powerful message. This is the first time I hear Billy Graham speaks. He was truly blessed, preaching the Gospel with such simplicity. His outline it similar to that of Jesus, who first did connect with people, then took care of their needs, and then He gave them the bread of heaven that whosoever eat of it will never die. What a Powerful Gospel!

Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 03/02/18
I agree with Dan, Eric - beautiful quotes. :-) Thank you.
Posted by Dan Vis on 03/01/18
Thanks Eric! Beautiful quotes. Excellent points. :)
Posted by Eric on 03/01/18

Interesting discussion Jack and Dan! One thing that has really transformed my thinking in the last few years is found in this quote:

"Christ, his character and work, is the center and circumference of all truth, he is the chain upon which the jewels of doctrine are linked. In him is found the complete system of truth." - RH, August 15, 1893 par. 1

And this one:

"There is a multitude of errors in our world, but the truth is a unit always." - 12MR, 144.

The idea that truth, which is Christ Himself, is a unit - that all the various parts are interdependent and interrelated and perfectly harmonious - helps keep us from getting derailed. We don't have to fall for the "Jesus v. doctrine" or "Gospel vs. the truth" false dichotomies. They evaporate.

I'm still learning what all this means, but the concept that the "truth is one" seems to solve one problem after another, whatever I apply it to. It simplifies everything without losing anything :-).

God bless!

Eric

Posted by Dan Vis on 02/28/18
Hi David! Glad this was en encouragement. Thanks for reminding me about Galatians 6:14But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.. One of my favorite verses, and fits in here so beautifully!
Posted by David Grabe on 02/28/18
Greetings all, in the Lovely Name of Jesus!
Thank you each one for your insights into the "Simple Gospel of our SAviour. Thank you, Pastor Dan, for this beautiful post! Your statement, "I wonder sometimes if we don't over-complicate the gospel. Perhaps, the simpler we make it, the more universal and transcendent it becomes." I believe this is absolutely true, and may this saying sink down in our ears that we "determine to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified" May "God forbid that (we) should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world."Galatians 6:14But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Posted by Dan Vis on 02/28/18
Very true Jack! Discipleship is all about continuing the growth process, in terms of knowing truth, living truth, and sharing truth. All three are vital!
Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 02/28/18
A message for you, Dan, from Jack.
Posted by Jack on 02/27/18

Pastor Dan

I agree again! The problem as I see it, is that many folks get to a certain point, be it baptism or ? and think that they have arrived, when they have only put thier toes in the water. They/we must come to the place where they/we realize that Sanctification is the work of a lifetime. When I have stopped growing I have begun to die Spiritually!

That's a message I have taught in my Sabbath School class for 44 years.

God bless you and yours, and when are you going to tsop by for a visit?

Jack

Posted by Dan Vis on 02/27/18

So thankful God is working through an endtime people Jack to proclaim a special present truth. And you are right, it is important that we understand these truths and proclaim them. Thanks for your post!

But of course without helping people see their human condition, and their need of Christ as a Savior, it's hard to really say we are giving the "everlasting gospel". It reminds me of this statement from the book Evangelism, p 184: "truth must be brought before the world; but the great Center of attraction, Jesus Christ, must not be left out". Actually the whole next section is profound:

Many of our ministers have merely sermonised, presenting subjects in an argumentative way, and scarcely mentioning the saving power of the Redeemer. Their testimony was destitute of the saving blood of Christ. Their offering resembled the offering of Cain. He brought to the Lord the fruit of the ground, which in itself was acceptable in God's sight. Very good indeed was the fruit; but the virtue of the offering--the blood of the slain lamb, representing the blood of Christ--was lacking. So it is with Christless sermons. By them men are not pricked to the heart; they are not led to inquire, What must I do to be saved?

It goes on to talk about how we should reach those of different religious backgrounds. "Speak to them ... upon points of doctrine on which you can agree. Dwell on the necessity of practical godliness. Give them evidence that you are a Christian ... Gain their confidence; and there will be time enough for doctrines".

Such beautiful counsel and wisdom. May the Lord help all of us, to learn these principles...

Posted by Jack on 02/27/18

While I agree with much of these posts, there is a vital necessity for folks to go on from the milk of the word, and grow into the truth. Billy Graham was agreat speaker, no doubt! but where did his hearers move in to, is my question. Look at how Timothy put it!

II Timothy 3:7Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

Paul also said this: In Hebrews 6:1Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God..."

Posted by Dan Vis on 02/27/18
It is hard to imagine another evangelist rising to this kind of stature in our world again. Society is far to fractured, polarized, and far too "post-christian" in so many places. It is indeed the end of an era Fiona.
Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 02/27/18

A message for you, Eric, from Marion.

Billy, and his wife, Ruth Graham, were a special couple. I remember reading a number of Ruth's books, and she often made me chuckle with her real-life stories. Her walk with God was a close one, and her husband's too, although I know less about him than Ruth, due to her books. I admired the lady as she raised five children (if I remember correctly) without a husband around to help her. Her parents often helped out as Billy was away preaching around the world. One wonders how many souls they reached through their combined efforts to share Christ...

Thank you for sharing this, Dan. It is the end of an era, but Billy, and his wife's, legacy lives on. Their lives testify to the simplicity of the Gospel.

Posted by Dan Vis on 02/26/18

Interesting point Nathaniel! Simple language helps our witness spread to areas where our language may not be the primary one spoken. Wasn't thinking about that, but it's true...

Appreciate your point Carole about our need to let the Spirit move both our hearts and those we speak to. The conviction of the Spirit carries far greater impact than any amount of eloquence or intellect. How much more then ought we to keep our focus there?

Posted by Carole Bliss on 02/26/18

This really reaches my heart. I am convinced we over complicate the Gospel. We need to let the SPIRIT move our hearts, and get the message out of Jesus and HIS great love, our need of Him, HIs forgiveness, HIs power.
We don't need degrees in all of this, just a heart full of His love and gratitude for who HE is and for what HE has promised and only in HIM do I have hope.
I am a senior, and this is how I see it, after all these years.

Thank-you
Blessings,
Carole

Posted by Nathaniel C Nwazue on 02/26/18
One thing in this life is that there are the learned and not so learned. There are also those how have language challenges. Therefor having a simplistic presentation as you explained it, gives everyone an equal opportunity to understand the message. This is why Billy Graham impacted the world even in such areas that does not speak English very much.
Posted by Dan Vis on 02/26/18

Another good point Leslie. I think messages like the one above are rare because we don't really want to be confronted with the reality of the human condition. But that's what drives us to the gospel, isn't it? Our need?

And appreciate the balance Eric! And the emphasis on application. That over simplifying and over complicating things can both hinder us from doing what God calls us to do. And another great quote!

And thanks for the testimony Marion! It's inspiring to me that he stayed true to his course through so many years without really wavering. I pray and hope people say that of me at the end of my life. Of course, here's to hoping the Lord comes first!!!

Posted by Marion Coppock on 02/26/18
I was privilege to attend many days of an Evangelistic series that Billy Graham gave in Chicago in 1963, It was a thrilling experience for a young nursing student.
His message then was the simple gospel. I appreciated the quote in the above message by Ellen White. Thanks Eric.
Posted by Eric on 02/26/18

I believe we can err on both sides - by making the truth so simplistic that it can't be practically applied in the life, or by making it so complicated that the same thing happens!

I believe, and it's sort of my life mission, that we should try to simplify abstract concepts in such a way that they become practical. The truth is simple, and deep at the same time. Jesus did this with His parables.

When we say things like "Jesus is the answer", "only believe", "give your life to Him", we are telling the truth, but it can leave people unsure just what these things really mean. So that's where the explanations have to come in. On the other hand, we can get mired up in the technicalities of theology and lose people too.

I love this Ellen White quote:

"How foolish it is for men to spend their energies in seeking to climb up some other way than that way which is so simple and so easy to be understood that the most illiterate may take advantage of its provisions. Professed theologians seem to take pleasure in making that which is plain, mysterious. They clothe the simple teachings of God's word with their own dark reasonings, and thus confuse the minds of those who listen to their doctrines."

Every time I learn something, I discover that Sister White already knew it :-).

Posted by Leslie Caza on 02/26/18
Absolutely vital, and yet we live in a day off little true connection, where praise and flattery are desired more than an honest look at our sad and sinful condition, and where situational ethics are more desirable than the word of God. It would be interesting to know the general age group of those listening to Pastor Graham. But God has promised a latter rain and I believe what Dan has shared may be just what Jesus wants us to do. Beautiful. God will give us grace if we ask.
Posted by Dan Vis on 02/26/18

Love your quote, Linda. So appropriate. And yes there is a depth to the gospel at the same time Ann! It will be our study through all eterity. As for reaching our youth, Valerie, you are right. The simpler the gospel, the more universal it becomes. And Lynn, I agree with you too. Failure to focus on the simplicity of the gospel causes thousands to be led astray!

Great comments everyone. And thanks for being patient with the updated dashboard!!!

Posted by Lynn Badger on 02/26/18
I strongly feel that the simplicity of salvation is what causes many deep thinking people to miss out. So many want to philosophize and seek deep and profound thoughts that they miss the simple "Yes Lord". Like the the leaders in Christ's time they missed the Savior.
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 02/26/18
Simplicity is what makes the Gospel accessible to all-young and old. There is a lot of concern about how to reach our youth but the remedy lies within giving the truth simply and with love. As Christ is lifted up, He will draw all men to Himself.
Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 02/26/18
While the message is so simple that even a child can understand, it has depth that intrigues the mind of the seasoned Christian.
Posted by Linda Elliott on 02/26/18
“The success of the gospel message does not depend upon learned speeches, eloquent testimonies, or deep arguments. It depends upon the simplicity of the message and its adaptation to the souls that are hungering for the bread of life. “What shall I do to be saved?”—this is the want of the soul.” COL 231.2

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