In his latest book, evangelist Billy Graham declares that non-Christians are doomed to live in a fiery hell, a message his son said he has wanted to share for several years.
“There were some family members who thought that he shouldn’t do it because it was a negative subject,” said Franklin Graham in an interview Friday (Oct. 2). “And Daddy said, ‘It is a negative subject. It’ s a real subject. It’s a real place.’”
“Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond,”released this week and billed as the “final work” by the 96-year-old, offers a vivid depiction of hell that harkens back to his youthful zeal as an emerging evangelist on the national stage.
“As a Christian and a preacher of the Gospel, I am always grieved to have to interrupt a marvelous picture, such as eternal life in Heaven, to talk about another eternal place that Jesus calls Hell,” Graham writes. “It has no similarities to what is typically called home, nor is Hell a resting place, a holding place, or a graveyard. Hell is a burning inferno.”
Scholars who have followed Graham’s ministry say his words are a significant shift from the approach he took after the first decade of his ministry, which gained prominence in a Los Angeles crusade in 1949.
“In the 1950s, especially the early years, he could be pretty specific and colorful, but as early as 1954 during the London Crusade he noted that he was not sure if fire would be involved,” said William Martin, author of a 1991 biography of Graham and a senior fellow for religion and public policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute.
Michael Hamilton, chair of the history department of evangelical Seattle Pacific University, said Graham spoke often of “the hell of the contemporary state of the world and the hell of the chaotic personal life. Those are the two hells that are really dominant through most of his ministry, though in the earlier years he talked more about an actual Bible hell.”
But Franklin Graham said of his father: “He’s always pictured hell as what the Bible teaches.”
In the new book, Billy Graham hedges his bets, but just a bit.
“I can say with certainty that if there is no literal fire in Hell, then God is using symbolic language to indicate something far worse,” he writes. “Just as there are no words to adequately describe the grand beauty of Heaven, we cannot begin to imagine just how horrible the place called Hell is.”
Matt Baugher, W Publishing Group’s senior vice president and publisher, said the book project included collaboration with Franklin Graham and Donna Lee Toney, who read portions back to the elder Graham, who suffers from macular degeneration.
The younger Graham said he encouraged his father but did not write the book.
“One of his concerns was that hell and heaven were being distorted by Hollywood,” said Franklin Graham. “And you have these films that have come out and books and so forth about heaven or hell. And my father wanted people to know what the Bible has to say about them.”
The younger Graham, who is now president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, when North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrorysigned a bill requesting the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall include a statue of the evangelist to replace that of Charles Aycock, a former governor and white supremacist.
“I think for another generation it will give an opportunity for my father to reach out from the grave with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Franklin Graham said. “As people read and study his life, they’ll read and understand the message that he preached.”
In a chapter titled “Forever Separated and Forever United,” Billy Graham emphasizes his belief that individuals can choose to avoid what the Scripture describes as “unending death in a lake of fire and brimstone that burns forever.”
“God does not send unrepentant souls into the pit of darkness; those souls choose their destiny,” he said.
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