Dr. John Woodbridge on Implications of Biblical Authority for Missions and Evangelism (Part Two)

Professor-John-Woodbridge-Trinity-Biblical-Authority-and-Evangelism-200x300This is Part Two of a three-part series interviewing church historian Dr. John Woodbridge on biblical authority. Read Part One here.

What implications does Biblical authority have for missions and evangelism?

Dr. John Woodbridge: There’s a wonderful article that Billy Graham wrote in Christianity Today‘s October 1956 edition called “Biblical Authority and Evangelism” that answers this question. [The article is available here.] In that article, Graham deals with this specific issue.


The cover of the first issue of Christianity Today. Read it here.

By 1949, Graham was going out to Los Angeles, but had doubts about the authority of Scripture – particularly inerrancy. Chuck Templeton, who was at Princeton, had raised questions for Graham about Scripture’s authority. Graham then wondered whether he could continue in ministry, because he began to doubt Scripture’s authority. Just before the Los Angeles crusade, he went up in the mountains around LA, to a forest home, a camp, and one evening he walked into the woods and put the Bible on a stump.

Graham acknowledged that he didn’t know all of the answers to Templeton’s psychological and philosophical questions but said, “Lord, many things in this Book I do not understand. But Thou hast said, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ All I have re­ceived from Thee, I have taken by faith. Here and now, by faith, I accept the Bible as Thy word. I take it all. I take it with­out reservations.”

And Graham says in the article and in his autobiography, Just As I Am, that he felt a tremendous release in terms of being an evangelist and going forward in ministry. He is very explicit in the article,

I discovered the secret that changed my ministry. I stopped trying to prove that the Bible was true. I had settled in my own mind that it was, and this faith was conveyed to the audience. Over and over again I found myself saying, “The Bible says.’ I felt as though I were merely a voice through which the Holy Spirit was speaking. . . .The people were not coming [to the crusades] to hear great oratory, nor were they interested merely in my ideas. I found they were desperately hungry to hear what God had to say through His Holy Word.

I talked about this at Trinity’s conference (see mp3 on part one). He emphasizes the passage in Hebrews where Paul says the Bible is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). That was a verse that Tyndale used 400 years beforehand. The Bible has that power and is able to discern the thoughts of people. The Bible is a sword. He goes on and says it is a fire, a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces.

If one wants empirical verification of the effectiveness of this belief, Graham spoke unto more people than any one else in history face-to-face, let alone on television, and the results of his powerful preaching have meant countless people have come to know the Lord. Dana Harris, who teaches here [at Trinity], came to know the Lord through the witness of Graham. The father of Scott Manetsch [another Trinity professor] was impacted by Billy Graham. So many people have been.

Does biblical authority impact missions and evangelism? YES! It’s the ballgame in some regards.

Leadership Resources: It is the ball game. The book turned movie Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption tells the story of World War II hero Louis Zamperini who was stranded at sea in the Pacific for 47 days, captured, put in a prisoner of war camp and was beaten to a pulp almost daily. When the war ended, he emerged as a hero. But his post-war life quickly spiraled downward with alcohol and marital problems. The thing that really broke him was his sin. He came to know Christ through Billy Graham at the 1949 Los Angeles crusade. It’s an amazing story. [See Zamperini’s testimony at a 1958 Billy Graham Crusade at about 5:00 into this video.]

Dr. John Woodbridge: What I do know about the story is that he remained faithful until his death. The true authority of the Bible is not make believe. The power of the gospel, the power of the Word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit does change people’s lives. For missions and evangelism, this is very important.

Part Three in this series discusses implications of the Bible’s authority for preaching and pastoral ministry. Check back tomorrow for our conversation on “domesticating” Scripture and how to truly be transformed by the Bible’s power.


Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Father. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.