Dr. James Emery White
- 2021 Mar 04
Last week marked the third anniversary of the death of Billy Graham. I’ll never forget the day of his funeral and the honor I had of being invited to attend and celebrate his life and legacy.
It was a well-deserved celebration.
What many do not know is that early in his life, Graham wrestled with whether he was going to embrace the Bible as the inspired, revealed Word of God and, therefore, the ultimate truth-source for his life, or view it through eyes that dismissed it as a fallible, unreliable book of merely human insight. He intuitively knew that this was no mere intellectual decision, but one that would alter the very trajectory of his life.
He had a friend named Chuck Templeton who, at the time, was facing the same decision. Both were rising stars in the evangelical world, although most considered Templeton the better speaker of the two. But as Templeton looked at the Bible, he made the conscious decision not to believe it and to view it as little more than any other book. He then went to work on Graham to take a similar position.
The resolution came while Graham was at a student conference at Forest Home, a retreat center in the San Bernardino Mountains near Los Angeles. Graham went for a walk in the surrounding pine forest. About 50 yards off the main trail, he sat for a long time on a large rock that was there, with his Bible spread open on a tree stump. Then he made his choice, ultimately and finally, praying,
“Oh God, I cannot prove certain things. I cannot answer some of the questions Chuck is raising and some of the other people are raising, but I accept this Book by faith as the Word of God.”
And that, Graham would later say, changed everything.
I’ve been to Forest Home, and on a similar walk I accidentally stumbled on the very rock where Graham made his lifelong values choice. I knew it was the same rock because there is now a bronze tablet on the stone, commemorating his decision. Why such recognition? Because it was through that decision that Graham was able to be used by God to change the world. Here’s how Graham himself reflected on it:
“[That single resolution] gave power and authority to my preaching that has never left me. The gospel in my hands became a hammer and a flame.... I felt as though I had a rapier in my hands and through the power of the Bible was slashing deeply into men’s consciousness, leading them to surrender to God.”
Sadly, the world never heard any more from Chuck Templeton. He ended up resigning from the ministry and eventually left the faith altogether. He was interviewed at the age of 83, living with Alzheimer’s disease. Asked by a journalist about his youthful decision, he reflected back on his life and said that he missed Jesus.
And then he broke down in tears and could say no more.
James Emery White
Adapted from James Emery White, After “I Believe”: Everyday Practices for a Vibrant Faith (Baker).
William Martin, A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I Believe,” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast.
Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.