Letter to Billy Graham on the Inerrancy of the Bible

Guest essay by Jay Grimstead

[The following letter excerpt was part of a back and forth correspondence in the late 1970s between Dr. Billy Graham and Nordskog Publishing author Dr. Jay Grimstead. We Christians tend to think the church has perfectly worked out theology and faith, that we have answered all questions. Not so! The church has yet much to learn, to grow in our faith until we come to the fulness of the stature of Christ. This includes its great leaders. We Dr. Jay’s letter here both as a little memorial to Dr. Graham, and as a sample real life heart to heart between two of God’s humble men. We have omitted privileged, private business references —ed.]

July 15, 1977

Dear Dr. Graham:

The members of the council have been and will continue to be in prayer over your decision about saying yes or no to our request to become a member of the advisory board. We realize that you are in a more delicate position than are most of us and that your policy of working with all Christians (which has proven to be a wise policy) cannot be jeopardized. Regarding this, we wish to assure you that none of us on the council desires to break fellowship with another believer on the basis of inerrancy. We believe there are many Christians serving Christ with a pure heart who are opposed to the inerrancy of scripture. We do not think of the inerrancy issue as something on the same level with the saving gospel of Christ. On the other hand, Francis Schaeffer, Harold Lindsell and others are right in claiming this is truly the watershed issue in the last half of the twentieth century for the Christian church because all other doctrine, including the doctrine of salvation, is dependent upon this doctrine.

By speaking of it as a watershed doctrine, we do not mean that those who do not hold to inerrancy automatically will end up rejecting the gospel; but we do mean two things:
First, that those who reject inerrancy have no logical stopping place that will determine which doctrines they will accept and which doctrines they will reject, and the doctrine of justification by faith can be jettisoned just as easily as the doctrine of the virgin birth or the doctrine of hell. With inerrancy, all other Christian doctrine has to be taken seriously and believed for a person to be consistent. Without inerrancy, no doctrine is protected, but it’s up to the individual as to which doctrines he will reject and which he will accept.

The second thing that needs to be said is that even though many of our Christian brothers who reject inerrancy do not now reject other major doctrines, such as justification by faith, or the resurrection of Christ, yet history tends to show that in a culture such as ours, which is so hostile to verbalized truth and clear lines of morality and doctrine, the next generation of students and laymen that are taught by men who do not hold to inerrancy will in all probability give up many more doctrines than inerrancy. Whereas those in the next generation who are taught by those who believe in inerrancy will believe not only in inerrancy but also all the other doctrines that are necessary for a full orbed Christian life and Christian world view.

One of the primary reasons we are forming a pan-evangelical inerrancy coalition of scholars and Christian workers is this. It is becoming increasingly clear that a choice for or against inerrancy must be made very shortly by all Christian leaders and Christian scholars. Because the issue has to do at its basis with two competing theological systems rather than just varying interpretations or semantics, we predict that no Christian will be exempt from making a decision for or against inerrancy. It will be unavoidable and neutrality or fence-sitting will be impossible for any who understand the issues. Furthermore, the anti-inerrancy forces are gaining ground so quickly that Francis Schaeffer thinks we probably have no more than five years in which to stem the tide. Lindsell is right; most evangelical laymen and over 50% of the evangelical pastors still hold to inerrancy, but with everybody breathing such Neo-orthodox theological smog, the balance will soon be upset and most people will not even know that a major church decision of the centuries will have been made in favor of a heresy. One of the reasons that the anti-inerrancy centers such as Fuller Seminary are trying to downplay focus of attention on the inerrancy debate is that they are trying to redefine scriptural authority after their own image and are hoping that no one will notice that a process of redefinition is taking place. They know that if evangelical laymen and pastors knew that they were supporting the same view of scripture that in the twenties was called liberalism by liberals and in the fifties was called Neo-orthodoxy by Neo-orthodox men, that those laymen and pastors would not stand for what they are doing so they are trying to be very careful how they word things, and they are trying to say as little as possible about where they really stand. They have been so success­ful at being subtle that so far only those with some sophistication theologically are able to know what they are doing. I have shown pieces of literature written by Neo-orthodox oriented scholars to pastor friends of mine. Each piece of literature contained 10-15 heresies, but my pastor friends were unable to see even one of them, so subtly were they written and so carefully were words redefined.

This all goes to say that we who hold to the traditional doctrine of scripture have very little choice in the matter, whether we wish to make a choice or not on this issue; our integrity will force us to come out clearly for inerrancy in a public way and we who see the handwriting on the wall feel that wisdom tells us we must act now if at all to stem the tide and protect every Christian doctrine theoretically by protecting this one watershed doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture.…

Please know that we will be praying earnestly for your decision regarding this movement. We will also be praying for your personal strength and vitality as you continue to pour out your energies in sharing the water of life with those who are dying of thirst. We are thankful for your existence.

With great love and respect,

Jay Grimstead


Dr. Jay Grimstead, author of the NPI title Rebuilding Civilization on the Bible: Proclaiming the Truth on 24 Controversial Issues, is founder and president of the Coalition on Revival and of the International Church Council Project.

Self-proclaimed hobbit, street musician, and longtime Biblical theology activist, our beloved Dr. Jay seeks strategically to do two things: 1) Restore sound doctrine to the churches called by Christ’s name, and 2) Strategically apply that sound doctrine to every area of life toward the restoration of godly free institutions of every kind, especially in the civil sphere.

Dr. Jay Grimstead
Coalition on Revival
P.O. Box 1139, Murphys, CA 95247

© 2018 Used by permission

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