The year was 1949 and two young evangelists were about to launch a crusade, this time in Los Angeles, California, that was to have a historic and deeply personal impact on them and on the church.
Charles Templeton (pictured above), who had been alternating preaching with his best friend, Billy Graham, was in the throes of a major, personal crisis. Some time before he had read an article in Life Magazine featuring a mother in drought-stricken Africa carrying her dead baby in her arms. To quote from Lee Strobel, in his book The Case for Faith, page 14, Templeton thought,
“Is it possible to believe that there is a loving or caring Creator when all this woman needed was rain?” That point of view obviously influenced Templeton’s faith in the Bible and he made no secret of his feelings. As Graham recounts in his autobiography Just As I Am, Templeton challenged him. “Billy,” he said, “you’re fifty years out of date. People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do. Your faith is too simple” ( p. 138).
Billy Graham, who had enormous respect for his friend, could not dismiss Templeton’s argument out of hand. “If I was not exactly doubtful,” he recalls, “I was certainly disturbed.” Things finally came to a head for him during a quiet walk in the San Bernardino mountains. “Dropping to my knees there in the woods, I opened the Bible at random on a tree stump in front of me” and prayed, “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word – by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word” (Just As I Am, p. 139).
Little did Billy Graham realize what a profound influence that simple prayer was to have on his personal life. Charles Templeton was soon to withdraw from the ministry, move to Canada, and became a writer and commentator. For Billy Graham, however, the Los Angeles crusade launched a ministry that was to enable thousands of people to discover a new relationship with the God Templeton had rejected. Amazingly, it all came down to a matter of personal choice.
Living by faith is, indeed, no “cakewalk” and it does demand that we accept the truth that God has chosen to reveal, yes, by faith. The evidence is there for anyone who is willing to study the record and judge it for what it says. In the final analysis, however, it is an act of faith. There is no other way.
The choice to believe, it seems, is most generally a personal issue rather than an intellectual one. God and the revelation He has given us demands that we accept His Lordship over our lives. That is a tough call for most people. We don’t want to live under God’s control.
It is a matter we each must settle in our own lives. The choice we make will inevitably impact the life we live and, whether we want to face it or not, our eternal destiny. But do not fear; God is no man’s debtor. He never takes more than He gives in return. It is, indeed, a privilege to serve the Living God!