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Billy Graham’s Wrestle with the Bible

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The following article is excerpted from Just As I Am by Billy Graham with permission from HarperOne/HarperCollins, copyright 2007.

By Billy Graham

One of God’s hidden stratagems to prepare me for Los Angeles was an engagement I had made for late summer that I was not enthusiastic about keeping. At the end of August, the annual College Briefing Conference met at Forest Home, a retreat center east of Los Angeles. In my role as the then-youngest college president in America, I had agreed to speak, but after Altoona I did not feel I had much to say.

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Head of the conference was Miss Henrietta Mears, director of religious education at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. From a wealthy background, she was always dressed in the latest fashion, and she wore tasteful makeup and fine jewelry. Always positive, she had a great love for down-and-outs. She was a former high school chemistry teacher in Minneapolis and had been a key worker in the Sunday school at Dr. Riley’s First Baptist Church. Some twenty years before, she accepted an invitation to serve at the Hollywood church. Within three years of her arrival, she had built a dynamic Christian education program, with the Sunday school enrollment rising from a fairly respectable Presbyterian 450 to an absolutely awesome 4,500; it was the talk of the West Coast. In the class she herself taught for college students, weekly attendance ran to 500 men and women who were devoted to “Teacher,” as she was called. Her enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus Christ was contagious.

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Other speakers included her own pastor at Hollywood Presbyterian, Dr. Louis Evans; my good friend and fellow seeker Chuck Templeton, who had just finished his first year at Princeton seminary; and evangelist-scholar J. Edwin Orr, who had received his PhD from Oxford University and was an authority on religious revivals. As always, I felt intimidated by so many bright and gifted leaders, which just added to my generally low spirits at the time. I would just as soon have been at Forest Lawn, the famous Los Angeles cemetery, as at Forest Home.

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During the week, I had times of prayer and private discussion with Miss Mears at her cottage. Rarely had I witnessed such Christian love and compassion as she had for those students. She had faith in the integrity of the Scriptures, and an understanding of Bible truth as well as modern scholarship. I was desperate for every insight she could give me.

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By contrast, Chuck Templeton had a passion for intellectualism that had been stimulated by his studies. He made no attempt to hide his feelings about me. “Billy, you’re fifty years out of date. People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do. Your faith is too simple. Your language is out of date. You’re going to have to learn the new jargon if you’re going to be successful in your ministry.” My friend Bob Evans, who had been at Wheaton with me, was also at Forest Home. He overheard Chuck say, “Poor Billy, I feel sorry for him. He and I are taking two different roads.”

This cut me to the quick; the friendship and fellowship we had enjoyed meant a great deal to me. Ironically, the Christian Business Men’s Committee of Greater Los Angeles (which was taking a great step of faith in having an unknown evangelist like me) had invited Chuck to speak in July at a “booster dinner” for the Campaign.

I ached as if I were on the rack, with Miss Mears stretching me one way and Chuck Templeton stretching me the other. Alone in my room one evening, I read every verse of Scripture I could think of that had to do with “thus saith the Lord.” I recalled hearing someone say that the prophets had used the phrase “the Word of the Lord said” (or similar wording) more than two thousand times. I had no doubts concerning the deity of Jesus Christ or the validity of the Gospel, but was the Bible completely true? If I was not exactly doubtful, I was certainly disturbed.

I pondered the attitude of Christ toward the Scriptures. He loved those sacred writings and quoted from them constantly. Never once did He intimate that they could be wrong. In fact, He verified some of the stories in the Old Testament that were the hardest to believe, such as those concerning Noah and Jonah. With the Psalmist, He delighted in the law of the Lord, the Scriptures.

As that night wore on, my heart became heavily burdened. Could I trust the Bible? With the Los Angeles Campaign galloping toward me, I had to have an answer. If I could not trust the Bible, I could not go on. I would have to quit the school presidency. I would have to leave pulpit evangelism. I was only thirty years of age. It was not too late to become a dairy farmer. But that night I believed with all my heart that the God who had saved my soul would never let go of me.

I got up and took a walk. The moon was out. The shadows were long in the San Bernardino Mountains surrounding the retreat center. Dropping to my knees there in the woods, I opened the Bible at random on a tree stump in front of me. I could not read it in the shadowy moonlight, so I had no idea what text lay before me. Back at Florida Bible Institute, that kind of woodsy setting had given me a natural pulpit for proclamation. Now it was an altar where I could only stutter into prayer.

The exact wording of my prayer is beyond recall, but it must have echoed my thoughts: “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising.”

I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken. At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it. “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”

When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.

Despite all the negotiations and arrangements we had already entered into with the Christian Business Men’s Committee of Greater Los Angeles, I still had a frightening lack of assurance that the Lord really was leading us to Los Angeles.

I had been away from home so much that year that I hated to be leaving again, even though Ruth was going to attempt to join me later. The first week in September, she and I took a short vacation drive up in the northwoods of Minnesota.

We returned to Minneapolis in time for a weekend faculty retreat at Northwestern Schools, where the fall semester was about to begin. I knew that the faculty and students had a right to expect me on campus. I also knew, though, that T.W., Dean Ed Hartill, and Mrs. Riley could capably handle everything for at least a while.

Some of my negative praying would have made even God gloomy, I guessed, if He had not known ahead what He was going to do for the glory of His name.

Excerpted from Just As I Am by Billy Graham with permission from HarperOne/HarperCollins, copyright 2007.

Just As I Am is published by HarperOne/HarperCollins, of which HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway, is associated.

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