Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Billy Graham Museum Honors a Pope Alongside Luther As Great Christian Witness

If you're ever in the Chicago area, I recommend you check out the great Billy Graham Center Museum on Wheaton College's campus. In addition to a great exhibition on the history of evangelical preachers in the US, with a very interesting and extensive display on the ministry of Billy Graham, there is what is called the Rotunda of Witnesses. You can't miss it: it's the first thing you walk through to get to the rest of the museum.

It's a big black room with a tall ceiling and has these beautiful banners on the walls that depict individuals that whoever put the museum together holds up as great Christian witnesses in history.

Among those honored there you'll find St Justin the Martyr, St Gregory the Great, St Francis of Assisi, and Blaise Pascal, right there alongside Martin Luther, Jonathon Edwards, and other Protestants.

Once I started to become more serious about Catholicism during my Junior year at Wheaton, I suddenly realized just how strange this display is.

Consider the lives of these four men that an evangelical institution - that will not even allow Catholics on staff - is holding up as great Christian witnesses:

St Justin the Martyr was a 2nd century Catholic philosopher and apologist who believed in the real presence of the Eucharist and has left for us the earliest detailed account of the Mass. (I demonstrate both in my post How the Early Christians Worshiped.)

St Francis of Assisi was a great Catholic reformer of the 13th century who founded a Catholic order, brought Eucharistic adoration to Italy, and taught that people should show reverence to their priests - even if the priests were bad men (see his Letter to All the Faithful; a far cry from the Protestant Reformers!).

St Gregory the Great was not only a monk but of course also a Pope - an office that Luther, who's depicted in the same display, taught was a Satanic office. The monastic life was also rejected by most Protestants. In the display, Gregory is actually depicted in papal vestments (looks like a three-tiered papal tiara on his head to me) and with the title "servum servorum dei" - a title that he coined that has since become a title of the Pope.

Most strangely, Blaise Pascal was a Catholic after the Reformation and during a time when normal Protestant rhetoric was to interpret Revelation's Whore of Babylon as the Catholic Church.

It is of course absurd to hold these people up right alongside the very people who tore down a lot for which they stood. It seems to me that this is some sort of attempt to make evangelicals feel like they're a part of the Great Tradition when in fact they reject most it.


  1. This was also something that puzzled me.

    I also found it intensely ironic that my class "History and Philosophy of Christian Education," which was taught in the same building, intentionally excluded from the curriculum everything in between Post-Exilic Jewish formation and Luther's contribution.

    What can you do?

  2. I,too, wonder what is behind their thinking--when in other ways they seem to be actively anti-Catholic.

  3. Yeah. I think that it is also a little weird, but not necessarily as deviant from what people normally do -- Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, whoever. Take St Paul for example -- he quoted and used as theologically defensible Greek poets, but perhaps more interesting is that the prolegomena to the Gospel of St John is a Stoic hymn used in Ephesus around the same time of the writing. I would have less of a problem with Wheaton depicting whom they depict if they taught that it's at least okay to be Catholic. I don't know -- maybe they could even have Catholic faculty. But I wonder as much as Margarett. It would be the day...

  4. I found it interesting that in the description of Justin Martyr the phrase "Church father" was used. What do followers of Graham believe that phrase means? Is it possible for a pope to be a positive example of Christianity if Catholics aren't even considered Christians by some Evangelicals? As others have said, it is an odd dichotomy. Perhaps though God will make good come from this by having the minds of young Protestants question who these men were and learn how Catholicism is integral to their faith.

  5. Hey Jeremy,
    It's not that people at Wheaton might learn something from Catholics. They could learn something from Muslims or Jews. But they wouldn't hold Muslims up as great Christian Witnesses. In this exhibit, these Catholics held and defended, or even held church offices, that were rejected as heretical and Satanic by the very same other people that are also held up as great Christian witnesses in the same exhibit. That seems highly contradictory to me.

  6. CAtholics are calling for Protestants to come home and when a Evangelical ministry holds Catholic church fathers in high esteem you ridicule it. The church fathers don't belong to you. If I as an evangelical want to study the early church, I am going to study Catholicism and the church fathers. It's just the way it is. I hold all the early fathers along with other saints that Catholics venerate in high regard because high would hate to think where Christianity would be without them. So don't knock the Billy Graham for having these saints along side Protestant reformers. Think of it as a possible step to unifying the faith.

  7. Hey Vuyo,
    Yes, you are right that this could possibly be a step in the right direction.

    Or, it could actually be making things worse, because it glosses over the fact that those first few witnesses were Catholic, that they believed and were a part of the very thing that the later 'witnesses' rejected as heretical and Satanic. It'd be like holding up Arius as one of the greatest witnesses of the faith. It glosses over the fact that if the display were to be consistent, and if it wanted to honor people like Luther, that it would have no one to honor in the first 1500 years of the faith. That would seem to be a problem, to it picks a hand full of people to represent pre-Reformation times (most of the display honors Protestants).

    My point in this post is to show that holding these individuals up alongside people like Luther, Jonathon Edwards, etc is contradictory. It comes only from ignorance or from a purposeful glossing over the facts. It makes no sense to also hold up the very same people who were against most of what the earlier people stood for, especially, as I pointed out, with St Gregory the Great who held a position that was thought to be Satanic by Luther who is honored right there next him.

    There is very little continuity between St Francis of Assisi and Luther. In fact, they're kind of exact opposites since both were Reformers, but Francis did it by humble service within the Church, whereas Luther tried to do it by prideful sinful schism and heresy.

    An honest display, if it's going to start with St Justin the Martyr, St Gregory the Great, St Francis of Assisi, and Blaise Pascal would be to continue on with St Ignatius of Loyola, St Therese de Liseaux, St Louis de Monfort, and Bl Mother Teresa - not with those who rejected almost everything that the earlier people stood for.

    Catholics in this display would not see themselves alongside someone like Luther. Luther led a schism from their Church, preached massive amounts of heresy, and was excommunicated.

  8. Hi Brantley,
    All great points. Thank you.
    I don't know what the theme of the rotunda is but if it is Christian witnesses, then who can deny any of the men on the wall.
    Let me ask you. Which non-catholics would you have on your rotunda?

  9. Hey Vuyo,

    I deny that Luther was a great Christian witness. As I have said at various points, Luther helped to cause one of the greatest schisms and spread of heresy in the history of the Church

    Regarding what if any non-Catholics I would include in my own Rotunda of Witnesses is an interesting question. Catholics of course have something like that: the communion of saints. And of course a person can only be declared a saint if they were Catholic. Though there are people like Tertullian, who was a great Catholic theologian but left the Church at the end of his life, who is still looked to by Catholics.

    If I had to a choose non-Catholic, I would at least choose someone who didn't actively work against the Church like Luther. Billy Graham, who did a lot to support Catholics and whose ministry was encouraged by many Catholics comes to mind is maybe someone who I would choose.

  10. There is one that comes to mind who would be on my rotunda. Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    But actually, now that I think of it I believe that the Church has actually "canonized" non Catholic Saints. I might be wrong, though, but when groups of Martyrs are canonized, there will occasionally be non-Catholics included. Charles Lwanga, I believe, was martyred along with many companions some of whom may have been anglican.

    Again, I'm not positive about that, so don't quote me on it.

  11. As I'm thinking about your question, Vuyo, another person came to mind that I would maybe choose (and might surprise you): Shane Claiborne. His book Irresistible Revolution was an incredible book, and I heard him speak at Wheaton College (after having decided on the Catholic faith) and thought he was a wonderful inspiration. And he certainly doesn't seem to be working against the Church. He actually cites Bl Mother Teresa and St Francis of Assisi as two inspirations for him, and said at Wheaton that one of his mentors is a Catholic monk.

  12. How is it okay for Shane Claiborne to draw inspiration from Catholics, but not for Wheaton College? Not getting the leap from individual permission to collective prohibition.

  13. Adam,

    I already responded to this in my response to Jeremy.
    I have no problem at all with Wheaton College or anyone learning from or drawing inspiration from Catholics, or even Muslims or Hindus. Gandhi has a lot to teach anyone. When I was a student we studied Catholic sources all the time in class (I even took a class on the theology of Thomas Aquinas). That's not what the Rotunda of Witnesses is doing. It is not just an exhibit, but in some ways a shrine of what's supposed to be a line of great Christian witnesses throughout history.

    In this post, I am pointing out that it is contradictory to, e.g., put Pope St Gregory the Great and Martin Luther together in a hall enshrining great Christian Witnesses in history. As it stands, the Rotunda primarily honors Protestants of the last few centuries. Then it seems that to avoid a gaping 1500 year hole, they had to include a few Catholics. That, to me, is dishonest because it makes it seem like Pope St Gregory the Great and Luther are in the same great line of witnesses, when in fact Luther rejected not only Gregory's office as Satanic (I've said this multiple times), but the vast majority of what Gregory and the other Catholic saints held to be absolutely essential to the faith. The whole point of what Luther stood for was to reject - Protest - most of what the four Catholics in the Rotunda stood for. In other words, the continuation of the witness of ST Gregory the Great and St Francis of Assisi isn't Luther, but St Ignatius of Loyola, or St Teresa of Avila, or St Louis de Monfort, etc

  14. You're right,Brantley. Shane Claiborne does surprise me. I was thinking more of John and Charles Wesley, or Charles Spurgeon, John Newton, maybe even Josh Mcdowell.
    What do you think?

  15. The Church only canonizes Catholics, but if a catechumen is martyred, he is considered to be a Catholic through a 'baptism in blood'. This would be the case for Charles Lwanga and others like him. The Church, however, would never canonize a Protestant.
    Brantley, you're right on this, but the fact is, Protestants act out of ignorance of the facts, not a purposeful glossing over of them. They all have been taught a version of history that is inaccurate, and sometimes just plain WRONG -that the Protestant Reformers restored Christianity to its original purity. In support of this inaccurate version of history, their textbooks feature snippets -highly select and carefully censored- from the early Fathers, and their exposure to the writings of the Protestant Reformers is likewise carefully censored. The net effect is to make it appear that the Prot Reformers really DID restore original Christianity and gives them a strong sense that they ARE in continuity with the early Christians. It is only when they read the Fathers for themselves -not carefully edited bits- that they are faced with the fact that their version of history does NOT jibe with the historical records. But that doesn't mean they inevitably convert to Catholicism. There are a lot more factors keeping a person Protestant than the realities of history.

  16. Hi, Brantley,

    From one Wheatie to another, let me say a belated "Welcome Home!" After ten years as a Baptist pastor, I entered the Church this past Easter. I love being Catholic!

    I'm sure I'll interact with you in the future. I'm very excited about your journey from evangelicalism to Catholicism. And, to be honest, I think there are going to be more and more evangelical who swim the Tiber. In fact, I think (without going overboard) there is a good chance that the infusion of evangelicals into the Catholic Church (especially in America) is going to revitalize God's people and (perhaps) usher in a new golden age of Christianity in America...one that is Catholic in orthodoxy and evangelical in conviction.

    I don't know. Maybe that's wishful thinking. But there are some exciting things happening. Now that I work at Benedictine College (KS), I get to see the future of the Catholic Church in America...young men and women who are solidly Catholic and who ALSO have all the same concerns as evangelicals...the importance of God's Word in our daily walk, the urgency of sharing the gospel, the call to personal conversion, etc. Exciting stuff!

    Anyway, thanks for having a heart for evangelicals. Thanks for posting good stuff on your blog. Keep up the good work! I'd love you to guest post on my blog sometime.

    the peace of Christ to you, brother,

    Vaughn Kohler
    Wheaton College Class of 1995

  17. Hey Vaughn,
    Well congrats to you too for finding your way as well! God has been good to both of us. And I saw on your website that you also went to Wheaton College! That's awesome. You seemed like you liked it. It was great for my wife and I as well. Wheaton really is a great place.

    "And, to be honest, I think there are going to be more and more evangelical who swim the Tiber. In fact, I think (without going overboard) there is a good chance that the infusion of evangelicals into the Catholic Church (especially in America) is going to revitalize God's people and (perhaps) usher in a new golden age of Christianity in America...one that is Catholic in orthodoxy and evangelical in conviction."
    We've thought the same thing! I think you're right, especially given what the climate at Wheaton College was like when we left there. Wow. Let me tell ya. We need to keep praying, but I wouldn't be surprised if many more evangelicals come home to the Catholic Church in our life times. And you're right, the Catholic Church has soooo much to benefit from all these people.

    I have a friend, who also went to Wheaton and converted at the same time that we did, who is currently going to law school in Kansas City. I emailed him your site.

  18. Brantley:

    You said, "We've thought the same thing! I think you're right, especially given what the climate at Wheaton College was like when we left there."

    What was the "climate" like?