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Ben Op Billy Graham

A reader sends in a link to the above Firing Line episode (June 12, 1969), in which Billy Graham says the following (go to the 22:00 mark):

I think the Christians are going to have to get back to the early Church, of realizing that we’re living in the middle of a hostile secularism and paganism that has enveloped our country. And that we’re going to have to come to small groups, and live dedicated, disciplined lives, and that we might even suffer persecution.

Man, that’s something. Billy Graham was advocating for the basic Benedict Option [1] when I was only two years old. He saw it all coming.

You know who else saw it coming in 1969? Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, who prophesied: [2]

The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are! 

How does all this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the [sidelines], watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of man, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future. 

Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

Two Christian giants who spoke to millions foresaw the ultimate crisis through which we’re now living.

Along these lines, you might have seen last week the piece that the prominent Vaticanist Sandro Magister wrote about the Benedict Option [3], and how it has become a matter of “global import” — in particular given the attacks certain liberal Catholics in Pope Francis’s circle have made on it.

Magister publishes a follow-up in the form of a letter and short piece by Leonardo Lugaresi, [4] a scholar of the early Church who teaches at the University of Bologna. Prof. Lugaresi says that those who say the Ben Op is a return to the ghetto are wrong:

The “Benedict Option” overcomes the risk of becoming a self-ghettoization if – as I believe is in the author’s mind – it is armed with this strong “critical capacity,” which is the opposite of closure, and on the contrary is the true form of dialogue with the world that Christians, explicitly called be Christ to be the leaven, salt, and light of the world, can and must conduct.

In further remarks, Prof. Lugaresi writes:

So then, during the course of the first three centuries Christians did not do any of the things that we have just said:

1) they did not assimilate, because if a full and complete assimilation of Christianity into Hellenism had truly taken place, we today would not be here talking about it as a reality still existing and clearly distinct from the Greco-Roman cultural legacy;

2) they did not separate and close themselves off in a world apart, and did not take on the logic of the sect (at least when it comes to “mainstream” Christianity: there have been sectarian tendencies, but these have always taken, in fact, the way of new formations, which, significantly, have exercised their separatist criticism above all toward the “big Church” that has compromised with the world);

3) much less did they dream of, let alone plan, an exit, a secession, from the Roman world.

Of course, starting at the end of the 3rd century, with monasticism there would be in the ecclesial experience a form of estrangement from the “polis” and of choosing the “desert,” which would seem to present itself as this third option. This, however, concerns an élite group of individuals and is a critical self-distancing rather than an abandonment of the city. The monk indeed leaves the urban social context, but maintains with it a relationship that is very close and incisive, because he holds onto a relationship with other Christians who “remain in the world” and makes his anchoritic existence a parameter of judgment for all those who continue to live in the urban space.

There exists, however, a fourth modality of relationship that a minority group can have with the world that surrounds and “besieges” it, and it is that of entering with it into a strongly critical relationship and of exercising – including by virtue of its own capacity to maintain solidity and consistency of behaviors with respect to the judgments thus elaborated – a cultural influence on society, which in the long run can come to the point of bringing the general order into crisis.

The fundamental question that we should ask ourselves, therefore, is not: “How did the Christians conquer the Roman empire?” but rather: “How did they live as Christians in a completely non-Christian world,” that is, perceived by them as foreign and hostile to Christ?

Read the whole thing.  [4]

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8 Comments To "Ben Op Billy Graham"

#1 Comment By Bernie On February 22, 2018 @ 1:26 am

Both Billy Graham and Pope Benedict advocated for the following (from Benedict):

“The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality.”

Both spoke the Gospel. Billy Grham talked about knowing a person by his fruits and he didn’t mince words regarding the cost of discipleship. But at every single crusade he slowly said: “God loves you” while sweeping his gaze over the entire audience and pointing (it seemed) at each person there. At every single crusade.

The Ben Op will be manifested as it has through the millenia. Saints attract other saints, and those who aspire to be and like Benedict and Billy Graham, they’re not perfect humans. They’re found everywhere – living in groups but most often among others who, while not outright hostile to them, test their fidelity more by sheer indifference.

Billy Graham’s and Benedict’s theology and some core doctrines differed, but they both served well the same God and I predict both will know bliss and companionship in the great “cloud of witnesses”.

#2 Comment By JonF On February 22, 2018 @ 6:21 am

Re: they did not assimilate, because if a full and complete assimilation of Christianity into Hellenism had truly taken place, we today would not be here talking about it as a reality still existing and clearly distinct from the Greco-Roman cultural legacy;

Well, yes and no. Ancient Christians didn’t “assimilate” because they were already assimilated to the dominant culture when they converted: they had grown up in it. And they brought with them a great deal of Greco-Roman into their new faith, diluting many of the original Judaic elements and undergirding it with the dominant neo-Platonic worldview of their day.

#3 Comment By Turmarion On February 22, 2018 @ 8:24 am

JonF: [Ancient Christians] brought with them a great deal of Greco-Roman into their new faith, diluting many of the original Judaic elements and undergirding it with the dominant neo-Platonic worldview of their day.

Yes, exactly. That’s where I always get into it with Siarlys, who insists on using Jewish interpretations of the Old Testament and such as “superior” to those of the Church, and who is skeptical of the Hellenization of Christianity. As you point out, Hellenization and a certain amount of Neoplatonism is baked into the Christian cake–and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I’d go so far to say that we ignore that at our peril, since most attempts to replace Platonism as philosophical building block of the Christian outlook have, IMO, tended to cause more problems than they’ve solved.

#4 Comment By T.S.Gay On February 22, 2018 @ 8:55 am

“How did they live as Christians in a completely non-Christian world”.
“The truth is that 2/3 of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world today…live in dangerous neighborhoods. They are often poor. They often belong to ethnic, linguistic, and cultural minorities. And they are often at risk”.
We did missionary work in Paraguay( haven’t been back in 15 years because of family, financial, and age situations). I heard Fox news report on Billy Graham yesterday that part of his greatness was he didn’t change his message. Well yes he did. As he matured he became more inclusive than exclusive. Having cross cultural experiences and a long relationship with a loving God can have that effect. This post is Benedict Option centered, and inclusivism has to be part of the discussion. And that includes many topics ranging from as personal ones such as body language( not to mention active listening language) to community ones such as toleration of making sense of things in a different way, which actually does correspond to reality. Inclusivism is not pluralism, from which it is often confused. But people today are often surprised to learn that the early “church fathers” were inclusivists. And that is a way to live modeled by Jesus. Early Christianity was often called “The Way”.

#5 Comment By Ceemac On February 22, 2018 @ 11:34 am


When Protestants refers to the early church we almost always are referring to the first century church as in the books of Acts. Not the second or third centuries. A radical Spirit led movement not an organization etc etc.

This is why the collapse of Christendom is so exciting. It is an opportunity to get back to the roots of our faith. We no longer have the job of being the chaplain to a Western Civ that was NOT really Christian. An oversimplification but surely you gets this gist of the matter

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 22, 2018 @ 12:12 pm

As you point out, Hellenization and a certain amount of Neoplatonism is baked into the Christian cake–and that’s not a bad thing.

That’s what we really disagree about. Was it a good thing, or a bad thing? Recognizing that Jesus’s teachings marked a significant divergence from previous Jewish teaching, was the Platonism true to Jesus’s teachings, or a syncretism attached to it?

#7 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 22, 2018 @ 2:24 pm

If Billy Graham from the past spoke about de-Christianization and sounded Ben Opish, maybe that’s an indicator that the present isn’t that different from the past. It might also mean that 50 years from now someone might read your book and say the same thing about you.

#8 Comment By William Dalton On February 23, 2018 @ 9:08 pm

I’ll do you one better. When Graham died this week I pulled up from our local paper’s archives this report of an address once given by the young preacher to Elon College students in a morning assembly during the course of his nearby Greensboro Crusade that week.

“Graham described the pessimism which characterizes the the thinking of leaders in world politics and education and pointed to the fact that some leaders have recognized the fact that the salvation of the world lies ‘in the religion of our fathers’.

“He declared that this nation was founded upon religion, but he added that the American people within the last 50 years had rejected God as out of date and embraced the idea of ‘freedom from religion’ rather than ‘freedom of religion’ that was written into the American Bill of Rights. He branded the use of ‘In God We Trust’ on American coins and the presence of a Bible in every courtroom as an anomaly in modern American life.

“‘America is attempting to build a superstructure upon a false foundation’, Graham said, and he declared that ‘science and religion must get together, because science without religion has brought us to the brink of disaster.’

“The picture he painted of present world prospects was dark, but in the end he held up true belief in God through the teachings [of] Christ as the light of hope.”

The dateline on that article was November 7, 1951.