The main opposition to Billy Graham when he came to London in 1954 was from English conservatism. This time, it comes from English radicalism. A full month before the current London crusade began, the radicals’ magazine, New Christian, had fired off a couple of hot salvos.

“No Instant Mission,” complained the paper’s front-page editorial on April 22. It went on to speak of the need for pastoral care of the “casualties” of the campaign. The editorial took up several well-worn themes: that Graham’s gospel lacks social concern and involvement, that this approach sets back the cause of “evangelism” by decades, and that its results are ephemeral. It added the modern radicals’ lament, that this “fundamentalist” preaching may undo all the excellent work of the new rationalists in finding and formulating a gospel for man “come of age.”

This response to Graham was predictable, of course. The radicals have captured all the publicity since Honest to God appeared four years ago. At times their domination of the more popular TV religious discussion programs has been so strong that it has almost appeared that no other view existed. Graham, with the exposure on the radio and TV and in the press that he inevitably draws, is the first challenge at this popular level to their mastery of the situation.

But the New Christian’s editorial—and in the same issue a far cruder, near-libelous review of John Pollock’s biography of Graham (the reviewer seriously suggested that Graham is mentally unbalanced or unwell)—drew weighty rejoinders in the correspondence columns of the next issue (May 6). Among letters objecting to both the tone and the content of the two articles were one from the principal of Spurgeon’s College, the redoubtable Dr. Beasley-Mur-ray, and another signed by the entire pastoral team of the influential Anglican Lee Abbey Community. Not one letter supported the paper’s strictures on Graham.

This incident illustrates the way in which the Greater London Crusade, now under way in the Earls Court Arena, has clarified the complex British Christian scene. Support for Graham is certainly greater and broader than in 1954–55, or even 1961 at Manchester. However, opposition from within the churches is also greater and sharper than before.

This is not surprising. Since the minor revival of religion and (to some extent) churchgoing in Britain in the mid-fifties, the churches have steadily lost ground. The free churches dwindle in membership at a regular rate. Over a thousand Methodist churches, for instance, have been closed in the last six years. Easter communicants in the Church of England—the only reliable assessment of active churchmanship in a body claiming the nominal allegiance of two-thirds of the population—have dropped by nearly 300,000 since 1962, to a figure of just over two million—a mere 4.6 per cent of the population.

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The fact that various opinion polls (including a recent one by Gallup for the new ecumenical monthly Sunday) attribute regular churchgoing to as much as 25 per cent of the population proves only that British people are more ready to claim church attendance than to attend church. Even Roman Catholics, whose overall figures rise steadily each year, seem to be having more difficulty in getting the “faithful” to Mass, and the number of converts to Rome has dropped by about 15 per cent in the last two or three years.

In the face of this sort of failure, two reactions are to be expected. Some will say, “Return to the old message, the proven Gospel, the faith once given to the saints. Innovation and compromise have failed.” And others will say, “Jettison the old, out-worn message, which clearly is irrelevant to the present situation. Start afresh, with all our modern knowledge and new insights, and find a new kind of Christianity altogether, as different from the old as it was from Judaism.” So the split widens, as the orthodox (including Roman and Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals) call for a return to strong proclamation and the radicals call for a new, non-supernatural, non-theistic religion for a new world.

It is not surprising that support for Graham is broader. Many strong Anglo-Catholics are actively supporting the crusade and defending the evangelist’s message against the radicals.

It is also hardly surprising that opposition is sharper. After all, one is embarrassed, to say the least, when an approach to evangelism that one has dismissed as utterly irrelevant is making headlines, drawing crowds, winning a hearing, and gaining a response. Nobody likes to see corpses reviving, and it is in those terms that many of the new radicals would describe the London crusade.

Opposition has also come, sparse but shrill, from fundamentalist groups and the more extreme Calvinists. Well primed by the anti-Graham movements in the United States, these attacks have concentrated on the evangelist’s alleged compromise with Roman Catholics and modernists and his failure to preach “the whole counsel of God” (in context, a full Calvinistic doctrine of human depravity and divine election). However, unlike the fundamentalist attacks in the States, this opposition has been, for the most part, courteously and charitably (though trenchantly) expressed, with what seems to be a genuine desire not to cause incurable wounds in the Body of Christ. The more vituperative literature emanating from the U. S. has been largely repudiated and ignored.

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The backcloth of all this religious controversy is, of course, the state of the nation. At times this seems to have been overlooked, as theologians have grappled in wordy and often woolly dispute about how the materialistic modern Briton can be won back to the Church. Theories abound, but few have been put to the practical test.

One that was so tested, however, was the “Woolwich experiment,” an exercise in pastoral and evangelistic ministry along the lines of the “new theology” in the parish of Woolwich in Southeast London. It ended in well-publicized failure, when the Rector of Woolwich, Nick Stacey, wrote a long article in a popular Sunday paper confessing that, for all the money and manpower sunk into this experiment over a period of years, in terms of people drawn from unbelief into the worshiping life of the church it had achieved virtually nothing at all. (Such honesty is to be admired; would that some evangelicals were equally frank about evangelistic failure.) The evidence is very damaging to the whole concept of evangelism represented by the radical school of thought.

It also indicates the hardness of the soil upon which Graham is broadcasting the seed just now. Cynicism and hedonism abound. “We are more popular than God nowadays,” one of the Beatles told a reporter, and in a sense he was speaking the truth. The majority of people—perhaps 90 per cent—never go to church. So far as one can judge, not many ever give spiritual concepts even a passing thought. Organized unbelief, under the aegis of the British Humanist Association, is stronger and more influential than ever.

And yet there are signs of hope. In a carefully researched article for Crusade, George Hoffman found genuine evidence of interest in evangelical Christianity in the colleges and universities of Britain. The annual report of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship—a body not given to rash judgments—stated: “It appears that after a period in which the number of professing conversions has not been so large, there is now a turning of the tide.”

In the nation as a whole, too, one senses a growing impatience with the downward trends of the last decade. The recent Moors murder trial, with its horrifying evidence of the effect of pornographic and sadistic literature, shocked many people and led one major newspaper to point out the general failure of society in the moral realm and call for a ban on these books. A minister in the Harold Wilson Administration, Methodist George Thomas, has spoken out boldly against the degenerating influence of the betting boom currently sweeping Britain (about 2.8 billion dollars was spent on gambling in the United Kingdom last year—$56 per person!). “Unless a halt is called now,” Thomas declared, “we will be on the way to decadence.” Subsequently, government action to curb betting has been promised.

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“A turning of the tide”: this is what British Christians look for. Whether the Graham crusade is the first wave or the sign of full flood waits to be seen.

Centennial Crusades

A week-long crusade in the capital city of Ottawa is expected to highlight evangelist Billy Graham’s ministry in Canada next year. Graham also plans a meeting in predominantly Roman Catholic Montreal, plus a visit to the Expo 67 world’s fair.

Graham’s major crusades during the Canadian centennial year will be in Ottawa (June 18–25) and Winnipeg (May 28-June 4). One or two day visits have been scheduled for Montreal, Toronto, Regina, Calgary, and Edmonton.

This year, associate evangelist Leighton Ford will hold campaigns in Regina and Calgary. He recently completed a series of meetings in Kitchener-Waterloo. Next year Ford will conduct two-week crusades in the cities of Edmonton and Saskatoon.

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