U.S. evangelist Franklin Graham has begun his Australian tour. He is holding a series of evangelistic rallies Feb. 9-24 in Perth, Darwin, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney. Reverend Graham is the son of the late evangelist the Reverend Billy Graham (1918-2018), and his Australian Tour is timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of his father’s epochal 1959 Crusades in Australia.
Throughout his public ministry, the forthright evangelist has courted controversy for his frank pronouncements on contentious issues. His occasional wading into the political fray has raised the ire of many, both inside and outside the church, yet his visit to Australia this month is good news.
In what Christians refer to as the Gospel or “Good News,” Graham preaches a message of love, forgiveness and redemption by which people can be reconciled to God through Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible and the church as a whole has traditionally taught that the world and its people were created by a loving God to reflect His goodness—but, having turned away from God, the problems of evil and suffering fester in the form of wars, illness, despair and death. The good news, however, is that God sent His Son, Jesus, to bear this evil upon the cross in His own body, so that people can be forgiven, with a new beginning and the hope of eternal life beyond the grave.
This is good news because God’s offer of redemption through Christ is freely given—it is a gift, not a wage. It is good news because it gives people a clean slate with all past, present and future sins forgiven. It is good news because it restores people to a relationship with the God who created them. It is good news because the gift of the Holy Spirit can make people better men and women enriched by the love of God. Of course, followers of Christ will still be far from perfect in this life, but as C.S. Lewis once observed, they will be infinitely better for their faith than they would be without faith.
In an age of political correctness, moral equivalence and “post-truth,” where even sections of some churches question their own beliefs, Graham’s frank and fearless proclamation of the historic Christian Gospel is eminently refreshing.
While preaching a traditional evangelical Gospel message, it is one that unites all Christians on the core beliefs enshrined in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.
On this Australia Tour, Graham brings the Gospel message to a land that believes in redemption. Early settlers succeeded in cultivating a seemingly infertile soil; convicts condemned to servitude in balls and chains became the architects, farmers and builders of tomorrow; the military debacle of Gallipoli came to be celebrated as a triumph of the human spirit; and post-war immigrants from the war-wearied corners of the earth forged new lives under the Southern Cross. The Gospel promise of human redemption through Jesus Christ can resonate with so much of Australia’s national story.
Given the historic Australian receptiveness to a “practical Christianity” of word and deed, Graham’s own faith presents as “Christianity with its sleeves rolled up,” to borrow the old Salvation Army phrase. As president of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical humanitarian aid agency taking its cue from the parable of the Good Samaritan, Graham has sought to put the love of Christ into action. Under his direction, the charity has provided humanitarian relief to victims of natural disasters as well as practical support for widows, orphans and others in distress. Graham’s example will help inspire Christians and others in Australia to “do likewise.”
Together with proclaiming a Christian Gospel message, Graham has emerged as one of the great Protestant leaders promoting a culture of life. Where the impulses of selfishness, base utilitarianism and materialism all too often imperil the lives of the preborn, the aged and others deemed a “burden,” leaders like Graham and the late Pope John Paul II remind us that every person is created in the image of a loving God. From the miracle of new life in the womb, to the joyful spirit of a child with Down syndrome or the quiet fortitude of the elderly patient battling dementia, every human life is a precious gift worth fighting for until the bell rings.
Graham’s visit is also good news because religious faith, and Christianity in particular, augers well for human flourishing with stronger marriages, families and communities, together with lower rates of crime, suicide, loneliness and other social maladies. Political philosophers such as Alexis de Tocqueville and Edmund Burke have recognized the fundamental importance of Christian faith to the good ordering of civil society and the survival of liberty.
For all the many imperfections and moral failings of the churches, not least in the egregious sex abuse scandals of late, these “little platoons” of society are a tremendous force for good as not only faith communities but as providers of welfare, education, healthcare and other social services. According to research by Pareto Fundraising, four out of five of Australia’s biggest charities have a church affiliation. And in his book “Disconnected,” Andrew Leigh, who identifies as an atheist, notes that 25 percent of churchgoers participated in a community service compared to 12 percent of non-churchgoers. Although Franklin Graham’s 2019 Tour is not expected to exert the same far-reaching impact on the churches as his father’s Crusades did in 1959, his rallies will provide spiritual nourishment and inspiration to many in the pulpits and pews.
To be sure, Australia is a religiously plural society where the equality and freedom for citizens of all faiths or none must be jealously guarded. The separation of church and state is fundamental to our constitutional democracy, and religious faith of any kind must always be a matter of personal choice and individual conscience.
That said, Australia is blessed with a rich Judeo-Christian inheritance, and millions of Australians continue to live their lives according to the Christian faith. For these people, and indeed many more, the visit of Franklin Graham and his message will be surely good news. ©2019 David Furse-Roberts
David Furse-Roberts is an adjunct research fellow for the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture at Charles Sturt University, Canberra.
Adapted from an article originally published at abc.net.au. Used by permission.