Baker Academic

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Why Billy Graham Gets a C–

Allow me to say first and foremost, I personally hold the late Billy Graham in high regard. While I can find problematic elements of his theology, I stand in awe of Graham's political legacy. I admire his epic, bipartisan career in the same way that I admire Ted William's 1941 batting average. (I was never a Red Sox fan and I don't really believe in the value of batting averages anymore but nobody is likely to bat .406 again!) 

Graham, to me, represents a bygone era of politics when relationships were not predetermined by party affiliation. I could also point to Graham's contributions to race relations when such a stance was resisted by many Southern Democrats. I think we ought to measure such steps relative to a person's contemporaries. But, of course, Graham's legacy will not be determined by his time in the Oval Office or his hopes for desegregation. His paragraph in history will be defined primarily by his prolific evangelism and the seeds he planted for modern Evangelicals.

It is this key element that makes Graham's legacy an interesting cultural puzzle. My guess is that one's opinion of American Christianity (generally speaking) is closely related to one's opinion of Billy Graham. I could be wrong. In fact, I admit that I am an outlier if my theory is correct; I feel generally disappointed with American Christianity and generally positive about Billy Graham. That said, I am more interested in what my readers think. With this in mind, I conducted a poll related to Graham's legacy in 2015.

Here is a screenshot of the final vote count (of 230 voters):

So why did approx. 70% of Jesus Blog readers hold a positive opinion of his public legacy? And why did approx. 30% of Jesus Blog readers hold a negative opinion? Or, in terms of rounded-up grades, why does Billy Graham get a C–?

If you want an immediate answer, you can read a few responses to the poll here

I should reiterate the limitations of this sort of poll. I didn't include a spectrum of voting options. I didn't ask a larger sample of political questions to determine my voting demographics. I promised to buy an ice cream cone for all of my liberal, university friends if they promised to vote (pro-tip: academics are coocoo for ice cream). And, worst of all, I knocked everyone's ice cream into the dirt and sent them to bed crying (academics are such babies).

In all honesty, I put out the poll for two reasons: (1) to determine how Jesusy my readers were. Billy Graham's legacy seemed to me to be a good (unscientific) litmus test for how many conservative evangelicals were reading my terribly heretical blog; (2) I wanted to get some data on Billy Graham's legacy before his passing. Folks tend to speak more kindly of the recently departed.

These 2015 results were somewhat surprising. I had guessed that Graham would get more of a 50%/50% split. Not so. So either more liberals view Graham's impact in generally positive terms or more conservatives were interested in historical criticism than I had guessed. I think its probably the latter. I should add that over 30% of Jesus Blog readers reside outside of the United States. So my American political lens might have distorted my initial guess.

I'll include two reader comments here that helped me makes sense of the data. The first helps me understand why Graham's grade was higher than I expected. The second helps me understand why is was "only" a low C given his many decades of popularity. Both commenters modeled, to my mind, reasonable and respectful dialogue.

(1) A generally positive commenter wrote:
I speak from the perspective of being raised by parents who were classmates of Billy Graham and held him up to us as a paragon. My father was an American Baptist minister, and every Sunday morning my siblings and I would awake to the strains of Beverly Shea and the Billy Graham Crusade Choir. My parents took us to a couple of his crusades, including one in the old McCormick Place in Chicago. Although I decry his anti-Semitic words in the oval office, I have difficulty viewing him cynically, not just because of my upbringing but also from following him long-term. Although I have few points of agreement with him theologically, I respect the integrity he tried to bring to his work. Let's not forget that he insisted on integration of blacks and whites in his crusades at a time that was not popular, in addition to promoting broad-based ecumenicity. His limitations were the socially influenced limitations we all face when our lives are viewed in retrospect. I think he sincerely tried to be a evening influence and, by virtue of that, had a positive effect.
(2) A generally negative commenter wrote:
I have fond memories of attending BG crusades in the UK in my younger days although from what I recall he always preached the same simplistic message. Of much more concern was his association with evangelical oddballs like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, his unhealthy relationship with various US Presidents and right wing politicians like Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Jesse Helms etc. Added to that was his apparent lack of criticism of some very dubious US foreign policy and human rights abuses in various parts of the World.........Vietnam, Latin America, Iraq spring to mind. Despite what Franklin and the BGEA now claim I don't remember him being very active speaking up about social injustice or against apartheid or in supporting the civil rights movement in the US.  While he may have preached to unsegregated audiences, most converts in the Southern States were sent on to segregated Black or White Churches and the leadership of the BGEA itself is still a very conservative white male dominated organisation. The only female Trustee is one of BG's daughters Anne Graham Lotz although many other of his extended family are on the BGEA payroll in various capacities including another daughter Ginny and 3 of Franklin's children. Remarks he has allegedly made on political issues in recent years seem to have been drafted and put out under his name by Franklin who has been using the BGEA to support his personal anti -Obama, anti- Muslim and anti -gay agenda. Any comments one sends to the BGEA website only appear if they are complimentary although Franklin's Facebook page does contain the odd response from somebody who disagrees with his dogmatism on everything from the State of Israel to police shootings of unarmed ethnic minorities
I appreciate that both comments eschew apologetic whitewashes. My gratitude to these readers.

What was lacking in any of the comments (and they are always more numerous on Facebook) is an accounting of Graham's primary mission. Graham was all about heathen converting, soul saving, Jesus promoting, and Bible waving. In short, he was an evangelist. And to this end, he was among the best in history.

With this in mind, many Americans are becoming less inclined to view heathen converting, soul saving, Jesus promoting, and Bible waving in positive terms. If so, Graham's popularity is a snapshot of America's past. It might be a recent past but I doubt there will be another American like him. It's not because there won't be some American version of Bono or Pope Frank who puts a good face on Christianity. I just can't see anyone doing it like Billy Graham did.

I probably won't be putting out another poll on Graham. While it would be interesting, it wouldn't tell us much and I am more interested in your comments anyway. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Quarterly Quote of the Month about Jesus for this Week

"Bush was so bad that people said, 'Hey maybe this black guy has the answers.' I think people overlook George Bush's contributions to black history. George Bush is a black revolutionary. Trump is so bad he’s going to give us Jesus."

        ~Chris Rock

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Anthony's Forgive-Me-Jesus Coconut Curry Soup

This the recipe for my 
"Forgive-Me-Jesus Coconut Curry Soup."


I. Stage one: thank Jesus that you have been preordained to love this soup.
A. Bring two cups of holy water to a boil. Reduce to simmer. If needed to fend off vampires, start process over.
B. Julienne carrots supernaturally thin. I use a paring knife to cut the carrots along their length and then use a peeler to get them as thin as John the Baptist's loincloth.
C. Two tablespoons of chicken bouillon. I use "Better than Bouillon" because it's better.
D. Four tablespoons of fish sauce I use "Lucky" because of first-world privilege.
Add all this stuff to the pot. Keep simmering.

II. Stage two: thank Jesus that you have free will to choose this soup recipe.
A. Dice two red (new) potatoes. Add to one cup of cold water. Fondly remember the days when misspelling potato disqualified you from being president.
B. Add one carrot and four cloves of garlic (not "heads of garlic" unless, of course, vampires).
C. Puree all ingredients listed in stage two. Think about the Arian controversy. Wonder if Arius got a bad rap.
Add all of this stuff to the pot. Keep simmering.

III. Stage three: praise Jesus for his critique of civic masculinity. Begin reading The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals.
A. Julienne 12 green beans. Wonder if Jesus was the leader of a band self-titled "The Twelve" in the same way that The Clash called themselves "the Clash."
B. Tell your daughter to thinly slice one tenth of a red onion. Don't overdo the red onions.
C. Add yellow curry powder to taste (I use about two tablespoons because my favorite aspect of food is how it tastes).
D. Add pinch of turmeric for no reason whatsoever.
Simmer/stir all this stuff for 15 minutes.

IV. Stage Four: apologize to Jesus for your love of shellfish and wanton gluttony.
A. Add lots of raw scallops (not frozen).
B. Add lots raw, deveined shrimp (not frozen). Think of how Jesus was deveined of his divinity in Philippians 2. Pray to Gordon Fee for forgiveness.
C. Add 16 oz. can of Thai Organic Coconut Milk (unsweetened).
D. Julienne and add four green onions (use the green parts).
Keep simmering/stirring for 5 minutes or until Shrimp are pink.

V. Stage Five: eat soup while bragging to your wife about your great talent for soup making. Tell her that you make curry soup better than Jesus.
A. Add some of last night's leftover steamed rice if you're into that sort of thing (I'm not).
B. Clean up your mess and take out the garbage before the shrimp tails stink up the joint.
C. Lose your skubala when your son bounces the dog's tennis ball into the pot.
D. Apologize to your son for losing your temper.
Blog about it.

Friday, February 9, 2018

2018 CSSSB Conference: "Christian Origins and Social-Scientific Criticism: Past, Present, and Future"—Chris Keith

On May 25, 2018, CSSSB will host a day conference on "Christian Origins and Social-Scientific Criticism: Past, Present, and Future."  Main lectures will come from John Kloppenborg (University of Toronto), Louise J. Lawrence (Exeter University), and James Crossley (St Mary's University).  All are welcome.  More details are in the poster included in this post and you can register here:

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Snipe Hunting for a Free Snodgrass!—Chris Keith

I suspect that a few of you readers of the Jesus Blog have been snipe hunting.  If you haven't been, please let me know and I'll organize a snipe hunt for SBL next November.  I understand that the snipe in Denver are huge.

Even among those of you who are proficient snipe-hunters, though, I imagine few of you have ever hunted, much less seen, a Snodgrass.  The Snodgrass is an important but unassuming animal.  It's hard to catch because it doesn't draw attention to itself; there's no trail for the hunter to follow because the Snodgrass doesn't drag its ego behind it.  But beware the person who forgets or ignores the Snodgrass, because the Snodgrass is quietly authoritative, comprehensive in its approach, subtle in its takedown.  Before you know it, the Snodgrass has snuck up on you, disassembled your gear, left you discombobulated, and disappeared to the place from whence it came.  Like Aslan, the Snodgrass is dangerous, but good.

Beware, friends, because the Snodgrass is new and improved.  A second edition is coming out and  Eerdmans, as friends of the Jesus Blog, have decided to give away a free copy.  You can enter by leaving a comment here, sharing us on social media (and leaving a comment to let us know you did), signing up to follow the blog (and leaving a comment to let us know you did), or, the wild card entry, sharing in the comments your closest encounter with a snipe.