On November 7, 2013 the Fox News Channel aired the “My Hope America” special in which Billy Graham confidently proclaimed the gospel message. A key element of his message was “God loves you.” If this is truly a proclamation of God’s Word, then it expressed the truth about God’s disposition of love to all who heard it. It was telling everyone who heard it that God says “I love you.”
Dr. Graham based the knowledge and assurance of that divine love for each and every one of us in the cross of Christ. He proclaimed that “The cross expresses the great love of God for man.” He stated, “There is a way, if you come by the way of the cross.” According to Dr. Graham, it is in Jesus’ death on the cross that we see the expression of God’s love to us and know that it surely applies to us individually. Therefore, “in Christ,” that is, in the cross, we have the sure knowledge that God loves us.
Ultimately, the most important question lying deep inside each and every person for which they need a definitive answer is, “Does God love me?” Dr. Graham’s answer was, “Yes, he loves you!” Our knowledge of God’s love for us and Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf are two theologically inseparable truths. As seen from the personal testimonies in the program, the question “Does God love me?” received an absolute, affirmative answer in “Yes, God loves you in that Jesus died for you.” The cross demonstrates and assures us that God loves us. It is this assurance that provided hope from despair, radically changed lives, and eternal salvation. The assured knowledge that you, I, and all individuals are loved by God makes the difference between living in joyful hope or remaining in doubt, hopelessness and despair.
Now, I would like to make a theological observation with very practical ministerial implications. The knowledge and assurance that God loves each of us personally and individually is the difference between Calvinist and non-Calvinist views of salvation. On Calvinism, God, before he created anything, predetermined that certain particular persons would be saved and all others would not. Hence, each person’s eternal destiny is fixed from before they are born. It is therefore the case that on Calvinism, the confident, positive proclamation, “God loves you in that Jesus died for you!” may not apply to you. It is very possible that you may not be among the elect. Therefore, on Calvinism questions like, “How do I know what God’s saving disposition is towards me? Does God love me in particular? Am I included in his salvation plan? How can I be assured that God loves me?” inevitably arise. They are legitimate questions, and as already stated they are the most important questions in life.
These questions arise because on Calvinism God’s love and salvific intentions for me are not ultimately to be found expressed in Jesus’ death on the cross, but rather in an unalterable decision of God, made in eternity past, as to whom he would love and save (the elect) and whom he would not love or save (the non-elect), and therefore for whom Christ died (the elect) and for whom he did not die (the non-elect). Therefore the cross effectively applies only to those God predestined to save.
The critical point to grasp here is this: the knowledge that God assuredly loves any particular individual including me or you, that is, that we are assuredly predestined to salvation, is not found messaged in the cross, but effectively lies in a decision of God made eternity past regarding every person’s eternal destiny. Therefore, God’s saving disposition, with regard to me personally, is unknown and inaccessible to me or anyone else. Jesus reveals nothing about God’s salvific will towards us. Moreover, the question arises as to whether one’s own personal, spiritual experience is sufficient to assure one that they are among those predestined by God to salvation. Calvinists will say that since you have a concern about salvation that is a sign of God’s saving work in you. But is a person’s subjective concern about their eternal destiny enough to assure one of God’s salvific will for them? Is one’s concern about God’s saving disposition towards them any assurance of their election? And isn’t it legitimate to inquire into the question of whether or not I am among the elect and can be saved despite the Calvinist’s instructions not to ask such questions? Whether one is ultimately saved or not is, after all, only a matter of whether or not God has chosen them to be saved. It has nothing to do with anyone or anything else, including yourself.
Ultimately, I, nor anyone else, can know the decision God made regarding my eternal destiny. But if, in contrast to Calvinism, God’s salvific will is to be found in the cross, that is, that the cross genuinely communicates God’s love to all, then the knowledge of God’s loving disposition and the assurance of salvation would be accessible to and messaged to all. It opens up a window into the heart of God with respect to his loving disposition and positive salvific will for each and every sinner. By looking to the cross for salvation, that is, by believing in and trusting in God’s work in Christ on the cross on our behalf, any sinner can be saved. But given Calvinism, the cross merely implements the decision of God in eternity past to save certain particular individuals. The crucial issue here is where is salvation to be found? Has salvation been made accessible such that it can be obtained by all through faith or is it only for a limited number predestined to it on the sole basis of a decision of God made in eternity past?
Furthermore, questions about the content and sincerity of the message proclaimed come to the fore. What is the content of the message to be proclaimed that is consistent with Calvinist soteriology? Is it Calvinism’s theistic determinism? Is it unconditional election? Many Calvinist’s assert that their “doctrines of grace” are the very content of the gospel. How so? How are the Calvinist doctrines coherent with the “good news” of salvation? With respect to God’s love and salvation, can the Calvinist’s soteriological doctrines be sincerely and honestly proclaimed to all? Even if the Calvinist claims they can on biblical authority proclaim the message, “God loves you!”, that simply is not the case for many who hear these words, unless one wants to suggest that only the elect hear them. But presuming both the elect and non-elect hear the message of “good news,” the message is not “good news” for the non-elect. But this is incoherent with the content and definition of the gospel as “good news.”
On Calvinism the sinner may legitimately ask, “Am I included?” “How do I know I’m loved by God and included in his provision of salvation?” On Calvinism, the sinner’s knowledge of God’s saving disposition towards them is not found primarily “in Christ” and at the cross. Whom God predestined to be saved takes precedence over the cross being the place at which God confronts all sinners with his love and justice. Predestination takes precedence over knowing God’s salvific will towards you and having real access to salvation in the cross of Christ. On Calvinism the cross no longer communicates God’s saving disposition towards all who hear and look to the cross, rather, it merely implements salvation for a limited number predestined to it. So, in effect, it is not where salvation can be found for all sinners. That is, it does not actually provide access to God’s saving work or grace, for that work does not actually apply to all those not predestined to salvation. One’s predetermined salvific status as elect or non-elect trumps all.
Hence, Calvinism is christologically deficient in that salvation is not accessible in the cross of Christ in the sense that it is the actual historical event by which God himself is communicating his salvific will and Word, that is, “I love you and desire that you be saved,” as true for the hearer. On Calvinism, the cross is not the place at which the sinner has access to God’s saving disposition towards them and in light of that knowledge he may receive salvation by faith. On Calvinism the cross is void and meaningless for the non-elect with regard to the knowledge of God’s love and the obtaining of salvation. It is not intended by God to be meaningful in a saving way for these non-elect persons. Hence, “good news” cannot truthfully and sincerely be proclaimed to all sinners, for the non-elect sinners also hear but have been excluded. To them the “good news” does not apply. The cross of Christ is not the expression of God’s love to them. It is not where the hope of salvation actually resides for them. Rather, each person’s eternal destiny is ultimately locked up within a premundane, inaccessible divine determination.
Again, this theology has profound implications for the proclamation of the gospel as “good news.” It is “good news” for some but not for others. So this raises the question of the veracity and sincerity of the proclamation “God loves you” and “Jesus died for you” to all who hear it. It is either true for all or only true for some. But if it is only true for some, then what would the content of a Calvinist “gospel” message be if it is to be theologically accurate and truthful? I submit that a “gospel” message consistent Calvinism would be inconsistent with the gospel biblically defined as “good news.” It is not gospel message at all. There may be “good news” for some, but the fact is that there is no “good news” for others who hear.
Do you now see the importance of what is at stake here? The assurance of God’s love – that vital hope grounded in God which we all need for psychological and spiritual well-being, let alone eternal salvation – is at stake in this controversy. Can the Calvinist soteriology provide true spiritual healing to this sin-sick world? Can it be preached as the “good news?” Is it really the essential content of the gospel as Calvinists claim it to be? I don’t see how one can say that it is and remain intellectually honest and hermeneutically responsible.
Other substantial logical, theological, and moral problems arise. But it is sufficient here to point out that the Calvinist soteriology, rooted in an understanding of God’s sovereignty defined as a theistic determinism, generates interpretive incoherence on too many fronts not be suspect as biblically amiss.
The “My Hope America” program and the preaching of Billy Graham provide a more coherent, biblical gospel than what Calvinism has to offer. For Billy Graham, there is no question that the gospel is the proclamation that “God loves you” without any theological or practical equivocation. There is no question that salvation may be obtained by all sinners by faith because the cross of Christ is precisely where God communicates his saving love and will. And if the cross is that communication, then that communication applies to all who hear it and to all who come to the cross for the salvation offered there. Dr. Graham says,
“I know that many will react to this message [of the cross], but it is the truth. And with all my heart I want to leave you with the truth – God said, “I love you, I love you, I love you with an everlasting love” – that he loves you, [and is] willing to forgive you of all your sins.”
“I look out across an audience, and I stand there to preach, and I think of all the people with their different backgrounds and their various needs, and I know that they are objects of God’s mighty love, to the point that he gave his Son, his only Son, to die upon a cross.”
I submit that Calvinist unconditional election is in irreconcilable conflict with this “good news” message. Therefore, I conclude that there are two diametrically opposed gospels existing in the evangelical church today. Perhaps once again the evangelical church needs “watchmen” who are willing to think more carefully on a hermeneutical level about what constitutes the content of the true, biblical gospel message in light of the biblical concepts of divine sovereignty, election, predestination, etc. Perhaps the evangelical church needs to incorporate basic philosophical reasoning into its hermeneutic, for the law of non-contradiction must hold for theological discourse and biblical interpretation as it does for any and all thought and discourse for it to be considered rational. Two mutually exclusive gospels cannot both be true. If the gospel is the message of hope, the message of God’s love, the message of the cross that God wants people to hear so that they might receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life, then it is important that we get it right. It is crucial for our credibility before unbelievers that we not be confused about our central message. It is also important that the theology of an evangelical church be logically and morally consistent with the very definition of the term “evangelical,” which means “good news.” It is to proclaim the good news of God’s loving provision for all of the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life that is found in Christ to be received by faith. One final thought. If God’s sovereign hand was upon the life and ministry of Billy Graham, could the message that he preached for so long to so many with such a powerful result be a false gospel? Was the gospel message God wants people to hear precisely the message Billy Graham preached so faithfully for so many years to so many? If so, then there are two incompatible gospels within evangelicalism today. Can we be so confused about what is arguable the central message of Scripture? If we are, why does this confusion persist? What, precisely, is the biblical gospel?
See Billy Graham’s message “My Hope America: The Cross” here. Last accessed Feb. 26, 2021.
 Some Calvinists maintain that Jesus died for all. But this of course does not help in reassuring the sinner that they can be saved given the doctrine of unconditional election which still maintains the elect / non-elect distinction among sinners. For the Calvinist to proclaim “Jesus died for you” only creates more confusion and is a way for Calvinist’s to ease the incoherence their soteriology creates with the biblical definition of the gospel as “good news.” Granted, these Calvinists come to the conclusion that Jesus died for all on the basis of Scripture. But they do not carry through with the hermeneutical implications of the incoherence in their interpretation of Scripture on this point and the other deterministic doctrines in their soteriology. Thar is, they do not properly consider whether incoherence in interpretation means one has misinterpreted the text at some point. They simply ignore or rationalize away the inconsistencies, incoherencies and contradictions in their interpretations and theology.
 Calvin himself places this uncertainty upon us when he writes, “There is a general call by which God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word – even those to whom he holds it out as a savor of death [cf. 2 Cor. 2:16], and as the occasion of severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which he deigns for the most part to give to the believer alone…Yet sometimes he also causes those whom he illumines only for a time to partake of it; then he justly forsakes them on account of their ungratefulness and strikes them with an even greater blindness.” – John Calvin, Institutes, 3.24.8
 See Rom. 5:1-2.
 Hence, Calvinist proclamations that offer salvation to the non-elect fly in the face of the correspondence theory of truth. That theory states that truth is telling it like it is. Truth is what corresponds to reality. But if the reality is that there are two classes of people in the world – the elect and non-elect – and the Calvinist does not and cannot make a distinction between them in the offer of salvation (i.e., making statements like “God loves you,” “Jesus died for you” or “come to Christ and be saved” to the non-elect), then what is being proclaimed is not the truth to the many non-elect who hear this message. It does not correspond to the reality of their predetermined salvific situation. It cannot be the truth to them and therefore, with respect to them it is to tell a lie.
 Something else to think about. Might the present violence and moral decline in America be the result of an absence of the true, biblical gospel being preached? Did the gospel Billy Graham preach in America and throughout the world sustain the spiritual and moral values that are now so quickly eroding in our nation today absent the broadcasting of Dr. Graham’s message and its proclamation in many of our churches today? Is the lack of “good news” in our land due to the rising influence of Calvinist soteriology in our so called “evangelical” churches? Do we have clarity as to the content of the biblical gospel as “good news” and is that gospel being proclaimed in our churches here in America? Pastors, ask yourselves, are you a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist regarding your soteriology? Do you preach the biblical gospel message which Dr. Graham preached and is truly “good news?” If not, why not?
I submit that the ministry and message of Billy Graham and his team must be viewed as an example of the sovereign work of God in lives willingly yielded to him and that the preaching of the biblical “good news” was a force more powerful for the preservation of morality and peace during the 20th century than any political, social or economic factors. Of course, there are many people throughout the world witnessing to the “good news” of Jesus Christ. But what about in America? What is the state of the truth of the gospel in our on churches and in our own land?
Also, see my post “A Christian’s Reflections on an Election in America.”