I don't remember ever blogging on this, but this came back up recently and so I thought I'd drop it out here. In George W. Bush's presidential memoir, Decision Points, he quotes Billy Graham's response to a question posed by then Vice President George H.W. Bush:
"The first question was from Dad. He said, 'Billy, some people say you have to have a born-again experience to go to heaven. Mother here is the most religious, kind person I know, yet she has had no born-again experience. Will she go to heaven?' Wow, pretty profound question from the old man. We all looked at Billy. In his quiet, strong voice, he replied, 'George, some of us require a born-again experience to understand God, and some of us are born Christians. It sounds as if your mom was just born a Christian.'"
Now, some thoughts...
First, I voted for GWB twice. I say that so you know where I'm coming from on that point. I also am a huge fan of Billy Graham and have been for as long as I've been in ministry. His Modesto Manifesto is a model for my own life and ministry. His preaching has, by the Holy Spirit, changed the lives of thousands upon thousands.
Second, this is George W. Bush's recollection of the conversation. Billy Graham could've said something different, although it's certainly hard to understand how Bush would walk away with something else. But I'm open to that as a possibility.
Third, as Graham has aged, he's been accused of being more inclusive than he was in his younger years. There might be some merit to that statement. But quite honestly, wouldn't you rather a man grow kinder than meaner as he reaches the winter season of his life?
Fourth, the theology in this recollection (whether an accurate accounting of a conversation or not) is horrendous. We all must be born again, at least according to Jesus in John 3. No one is simply "born a Christian." We're born separated from God and live out that inherent nature in the daily choices we make. It's why we're in need of such a profound rescue from an incredible Savior.
Lastly, as a balance and as a tip of my hat in the direction of respect for Billy Graham and trying to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who has laid his life down for decades in the ministry of the Gospel, I do understand at least a bit of the sentiment in this quote. Children who grow up with moms and dads who love Jesus and follow Him very well might never know a time when they "didn't know Jesus" or "weren't a Christian." What I mean by that is they will grow up knowing their need for Him and consistently put their trust in Christ throughout their lives because that's what mom and dad have modeled for them and taught them to do. That's the way it should be! But, at some point, even kids with great parents still need a personal, existential experience with the risen Christ. So though they may not remember not knowing Him, they do need to know that they know Him now.
And that's true for everyone.
But that's just me thinking thoughts...