October 31, 2013

Billy Graham and my conversion to Christ

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 31, 2013

Billy Graham and my conversion to Christ

Evangelist Billy Graham is turning 95 years old and has published yet another book: The Reason for My Hope: Salvation. [He is also planning another evangelistic outreach: My Hope America.] I respect Billy Graham immensely.

I recall an evening in my mid-20s, when I was not a Christian believer. I sat alone in a hotel room, half drunk, and watched a Billy Graham Crusade on TV. According to Graham, Jesus is Lord and Saviour—Jesus is The Way—so I should choose to put my faith in Jesus and follow Him.

I wasn't converted at that particular time, but Graham's message about Jesus stuck in my mind, and a few years later I did commit to follow Jesus Christ.

I am no evangelist, and I often stumble as I follow Jesus, but perhaps sharing the story of my conversion may be of interest to readers contemplating ultimate questions.

I grew up in a home with fine, loving parents who regularly took my three sisters and my three brothers and me to a local church (a United Church). But, as is typical with many young people, in my case the religious teachings didn't stick. For all practical purposes, when I left home (at age 18) I wasn't a believer.

I joined the military, worked for an oil company, worked in a restaurant, worked in an institution for delinquent kids, and went to university off and on. A couple of important personal relationships with significant others didn't work out. I also drank much alcohol. The point of life eluded me. I felt deeply alone, and I became depressed, sometimes suicidal.

Prior to committing myself (at age 30) to Jesus, I was aware that I was "broken" morally. My life was a mess, I was on a downward spiral, and I knew it (though when in a drunken stupor or high or otherwise engaged in less-than-noble activity I would suppress this knowledge).

In my clearer moments I thought that maybe or even probably there was a God, and I sensed that I was morally at odds with this God. But I didn't know what to think about the Jesus preached by Billy Graham.

I recall some Christians at the University of Calgary sharing a "Four Spiritual Laws" booklet with me, encouraging me to accept Jesus as Lord of my life; but, again, I didn't know what to think about Jesus.

I was aware of several competing religious truth claims. My oldest brother was a Baha'i (so Jesus was just another prophet or "manifestation" of God, Jesus is not God incarnate, not God in human flesh). One of my sisters was a Jehovah's Witness (so Jesus was the archangel Michael, not God). Another brother was an agnostic/ skeptic (so Jesus was probably just a good man, if he existed).

My favourite philosophy professor was an atheist (so Jesus can't be God because there is no God). Mormons asked me to read the Book of Mormon and pray for a "burning in the bosom" (a subjective experience) to confirm the truth of the Book of Mormon (so somehow I could become a god). Also, an old army buddy was enamored with New Age philosophy (I am God and I am the universe).

I was confused, and the voices calling me in multiple (contradictory) directions added to the confusion. Alcohol helped me find peace, for a while, until it threatened to become my master.

Somehow, in my confusion and brokenness, I groped for God and moved towards repentance (i.e., I began to turn away from some of the things I knew were wrong). My heart attitude was something like this: God, if you're there, I'll do your will.

I read the New Testament. I found Jesus' call to follow Him to be attractive. Yet, in the midst of the competing religious and philosophical truth claims, I needed to be convinced that Jesus is actually the way, as Billy Graham claimed.

Happily, three things happened. (Note: In retrospect I believe these things were due to the Holy Spirit working in my life and through the lives of others.)

1. I slowly came to understand the intellectual force of the New Testament as evidence for the reality of Jesus' physical resurrection (and I especially came to the realization that major objections were mostly philosophical and philosophically weak; later I even did an MA and a PhD related to these objections).

2. I slowly came to understand that the New Testament evidence concerning Jesus tells us that He is the God of the universe come to earth as a human being (i.e., many of Jesus' claims and acts are best understood as Jesus asserting Himself to be the very God described in the Old Testament).

3. I came into contact—in person and through books, audio recordings, and video—with some intelligent people who took these beliefs about Jesus seriously (these Christians were gentle and respectful, plus willing to engage in the humble, truth-seeking use of reason).

It was these things that allowed me to take seriously—take as truth—the Gospel/ good news: i.e., that Jesus is actually the God of the universe come to earth as a human being, that He loves us, and that by dying for us He offers us forgiveness for our moral wrong-doings (sins) when we trust in Him and follow Him.

In fact, it became clear to me that the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus is central to the Gospel—and makes the Gospel the arbitrator of the world's various religious and philosophical truth claims. The evidence for Jesus' resurrection encouraged me to take Jesus, instead of other religious leaders or philosophies, most seriously.

Significantly, Jesus' resurrection, in the context of its occurrence, serves as vindication of Jesus actually being God in the flesh and thus also vindication of Jesus' claims about forgiveness and redemption. Significantly, too, because of Jesus' resurrection we have hope, real hope, that death does not have the last word.

To make my long conversion story short, I put my faith in Jesus Christ and now follow Him. In other words, I've come to believe the good news!

I thank God for this good news, and I thank God for Billy Graham.


 Beliefs about truth have consequences, not only for the hereafter but also for the here and now. As I followed Jesus as Lord, I changed from being a predominantly self-centered person to someone much more concerned about the well being of others (of course, I'm still a work in progress). Alcohol no longer is my master (I even managed to quit smoking). I do not entertain immoral thoughts as often as I did (I sometimes stumble, but repent and persevere). I no longer have an ongoing depression and feeling of being alone (instead, I have a deep peace and joy, plus a sense that God is near; I sense this most clearly when I am obedient to God). In addition, I am delighted to report that God has blessed me with a wonderful wife, two excellent sons, and a beautiful daughter-in-law (and perhaps another beautiful daughter-in-law!). I thank God who is revealed in Jesus Christ for all of this, too.

 As I finished writing this column, my cousin's 31-year-old dear daughter Jessica died (she was suffering from muscular dystrophy). Family and friends are weeping and mourning, to be sure. Yet, in the midst of the pain, we find comfort in the hope of seeing Jessica again, a hope that's not mere wishful thinking—because of the reality of Jesus' resurrection. We are also quite confident that Jessica is presently dancing with Jesus! Thank you, Lord Jesus.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.  The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)


Al Hiebert said...

Thank you Hendrik for this candid account of your conversion & for your faithful witness to the work of Christ in & thru you.

Christ's truth set people free as no other beliefs can -- PTL!

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Thanks Al.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Here is Billy Graham's 29-minute video The Cross. I pray that those who choose to view it will be blessed.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Here is Billy Graham's 30-minute video Defining Moments. God bless!

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

And here is a 23-minute video from Billy Graham: Lose to Gain.

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Here is Billy Graham's 28-minute video Heaven.