Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What Billy Graham Meant to Evangelicals
R. Alan Streett

Billy Graham was a TRANSCENDENTAL figure. He was the closest thing Protestants had to a Pope. Whenever he preached, people of all denominations flocked to hear him. He filled stadiums for nights on end, and sometimes for weeks on end. His evangelistic meetings at Madison Square Garden in 1957 lasted 16 consecutive weeks.  Over the years 2.2 billion people heard him preach and of those an estimated 3.2 million responded to his gospel call to give their lives to Christ.
Each year since 1948, Gallup pollsters ask Americans to name the one person—male or female living anywhere in the world—who they admire most. The results are compiled into an annual top ten list. Billy Graham makes the list 55 times. Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II follow far behind, capturing top ten honors 31 and 27 times, respectively.
Conservative evangelicals, a small minority of the American population in the decade of the 50s and 60s, trusted Graham and looked to him to speak on behalf of their causes and moral concerns. He had access to the halls of power, rubbing shoulders with governors, senators, and presidents. He dined with them and played golf, and even stayed in their homes as an invited guest. Evangelicals believed, rightly or wrongly, that through Graham, their voice was being heard in high places. And best of all, they knew Graham would share the message of salvation with these movers and shakers. Religion and politics seemed like a natural combination.
As evangelicals grew in numbers and influence, many looked to Billy Graham as the unofficial High Priest of America’s civil religion. They yearned for America to return to its “Christian” roots.

Billy Graham was a TRANSFORMATIONAL figure. Since my days in seminary, Billy Graham was my hero and mentor.  When I preached my first sermons, I drew my content directly from his books World Aflame and Peace with God. I studied his every move—how he warmed up a crowd with a few personal anecdotes, the way he folded his hands in prayer under his chin, the inflection in his voice as he pointed to God’s Word and intoned, “The Bible says ….”  For hours I stood in front of a mirror practicing his movements, imitating his accent, and calling out to an imaginary audience to leave their seats and come to Christ. 
Billy inspired me and a whole generation of ministers to become more evangelistic. In July 1974 the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) sponsored the Lausanne Congress, inviting 2,700 vocational evangelists and missionaries from 150 countries and dozens of denominations to Lausanne, Switzerland for 10 days of training and inspiration. The BGEA provided travel scholarships, lodging and food to those in Third World and emerging countries. Out of these meetings a new generation of evangelists emerged, trained by Graham and his associates. A special committee was formed, composed of scholars and theologians, and assigned the task of defining evangelism. The result was The Lausanne Covenant, the most comprehensive statement ever penned on the nature of evangelism. It was read, adopted and signed by the conferees, setting a new standard for evangelism in future generations.
The Lausanne conference was the turning point for world evangelization because it called upon evangelists everywhere to ascribe to an agreed upon definition of evangelism and to unite in the common mission of reaching the world for Christ.
When I began work on my doctorate, my dissertation topic was “The Public Invitation.” My research took me to the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL), where I watched numerous archived sermons that Graham preached from 1950—1981. I paid particular attention to the way he gave the invitation. When Graham came to my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland for one of his crusades, I arranged a personal interview to get his thinking on the topic. We met an hour before he was to preach.
That night I not only gained insight about his invitations, but insight into Billy Graham, the person. Our meeting took place under the old Memorial Stadium, home of the Baltimore Orioles, in the office of manager Earl Weaver. Mr. Graham sat on a sofa and I in a chair. I found him to be a contradiction of sorts. On the one hand, he was very impressive, even bigger than life. As he stood to greet me, he was taller and slimmer than I expected—about 6’3”, 185 pounds. His striking features, deep eyes, chiseled chin, and sandy hair, set him apart from mere mortals. I was a nervous wreck and giggled a lot throughout the interview. I was like a 35 year old teenager!
On the other hand, Billy Graham seemed unsure of himself.  As I entered the room, I noticed him biting his fingernails. Later I observed that all his nails were chewed to the quick. I was shocked—“My hero bites his fingernails!” He was also very self-conscious. At least twice he mentioned how he wished he had gone to seminary for formal ministerial training and apologized for not being a theologian.  He treated me as his theological superior. That was unsettling and caused me more anxiety. Here I sat with the world’s best known preacher and he was deferring to me.
About 20 minutes into the interview I recognized Mr. Graham’s son-in-law standing outside the office with his two small children. Billy’s attention was diverted for a moment and he said he hadn’t seen his grandkids in more than six months. I felt so badly. Here I was, a total stranger, taking time away from this man and his family. How often had others imposed on him, just as I, with little concern for his privacy? I suggested I could leave a hard copy of my interview questions with him to be answered at his convenience. He was appreciative and thanked me. I left the room and made my way through an underground tunnel back into the light. Billy later sent me hand-written answers to my questions.
My dissertation was approved and published under the title The Effective Invitation (Kregel). It includes a chapter devoted to Billy Graham’s use of the public invitation. As a result, I was hired as Professor of Evangelism at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, where I continue teaching students to preach and give effective invitations. I still use the Lausanne Covenant as the basis for defining evangelism.
Over the years I have kept abreast of Billy Graham’s ministry, attended crusades, sat on the platform while he preached, and wept as I watched untold thousands respond to Graham’s call to repent and believe.
I am only one among millions of others that Billy Graham has touched. He transformed the entire evangelical landscape.
Evangelicals loved Billy Graham. He was one of us, our standard bearer, used of God to speak to the nations. We prayed for him as if he were a member of our family. Yet we shared him with the world.
He was transcendental and transformational. He rarely let us down, and the full extent of his influence will not be measured for generations to come.

*R. Alan Streett, PhD is the Senior Research Professor of Biblical Theology at Criswell College (Dallas, TX).

Monday, July 20, 2015

Earning a PhD Degree from a UK University without Leaving the United States

Earning a PhD Degree from a UK University without Leaving the United States

R. Alan Streett (PhD, University of Wales)
©Richard Alan Streett

Senior Research Professor of Biblical Theology
Criswell College
Dallas, Texas

Are you interested in working on a PhD in theology or biblical studies from a UK university without moving to Great Britain? The openings are limited and you need to know the options and the application process. Earning a postgraduate degree (as it is called in the UK) is rigorous and usually takes approximately 4‒6 years part-time. These are not “seminary” PhDs, but “university” degrees that prepare you for a career as an academic.

I.    Schools That Welcome American Students

Here are eight universities in the UK that work with American students. One may be a match for you.

1. Nazarene Theological College validated by University of Manchester
2. Cliff College validated by University of Manchester
3. Spurgeon’s College validated by the University of Manchester
4.  St Johns Nottingham validated by University of Chester
5. Wales Evangelical School of Theology validated by the University of Chester
6.  Highland Theological College validated by University of Aberdeen
7. London School of Theology validated by University of Middlesex
8. Trinity College validated by the University of Bristol
    II.    The Validation System
You work with the first school mentioned, but receive your degree from the latter school. This is known as the validation system in the UK. So your initial step is to get on the first school's website. Second, go to the "postgraduate" link. Read about the PhD application process, etc. Third, contact via email the professor in your desired field.  Fourth, tell him/her of your research interests. It is best to be specific. Unlike American dissertations that are often topic-driven, most UK dissertations are "thesis-driven." That means you state a proposition or thesis and then seek to prove it. For example, my thesis was: “The Lord’s Supper during the first century CE was an anti-imperial practice.” Fifth, ask the professor if s/he would be interested in supervising such a project. Sixth, make formal application to the validating school and the degree awarding university. Seventh, realize that if accepted, you will likely be classified as an “MPhil/PhD” student. You will be reclassified as PhD student after one year if your academic progress is deemed worthy. The school year in the UK usually begins in October.
III.    Bypassing the Validation Process
Recently, a few UK schools have begun working directly with American postgraduate students, thus bypassing the validation process. They include the Universities of Durham, Wales, Edinburgh, Exeter, Gloucestershire, and Birmingham. The University of Aberdeen offers both options. You can work through Highland Theological College or work directly with Aberdeen itself.
 There two advantages of working directly with a university. First, by eliminating the middleman, you can cut the cost of your education. Second, you are more likely to work under the supervision of a world class scholar.
IV.     Choosing the Right School
Are you interested in earning your degree from a top tier theology department or are you more concerned with having a good relationship with your supervisor? The answer to this question may guide your choice of a school.
1.   Each department in a UK university is ranked according to its academic excellence. Rank is based on the quality of research (books, peer reviewed articles, etc.) being produced by each faculty, which is evaluated by scholarly panels using objective standards. The latest ranking—the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)—can be found on the internet. In 2014, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) will replace RAE. 
2.   Since you will be working with the same supervisor for a half dozen years, it is important to find one with whom you can work. This means finding a supervisor who 1) likes Americans, 2) is available to answer your questions, 3) has patience working with someone unfamiliar with the British system, 4) is as concerned with your success as much as s/he is with their own publication schedule, 5) is an encourager, 6) recommends resources, 7) reads your chapters and offers a critical evaluation, and 8) guides you through each step of the PhD process.
V.     Research is the Name of the Game
These are not online education degrees, but research degrees. You receive the same degree as those who reside on campus. You work with the same supervisors, write the same quality thesis (dissertation), and orally defend your thesis (a process known as a viva voca). But instead of being on campus, you meet regularly with your supervisor through Skype, email, etc. Some schools require you to visit campus once a year or once every two years, but others do not. Many meetings between students and supervisors take place at the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference, which convenes in a different American city each year.
Be forewarned, a UK research degree is not for the faint of heart. As one Oxford scholar said, “American PhD programs are a mile wide and an inch deep. UK programs are an inch wide and a mile deep.” This means American PhD graduates are more generalists and UK PhD graduates are more specialists. American PhD programs are more structured and require a student to take classes in a variety of subjects (usually 48 credits hours), plus write a dissertation. UK PhD programs require a student to spend the equivalent amount of time conducting narrowly focused research toward the thesis. There are no classroom requirements, even for full-time students who live on campus. 
VI.  The Financial Costs
Typically, UK programs do not offer financial assistance to Americans. So expect to pay the full tuition, which can run as high as 6,000 British pounds per year. Additional costs might include travelling expenses to SBL cities and/or to Great Britain: airfare, lodging, meals, and land transportation, etc.
VII.     The Thesis
You should only submit your thesis after your supervisor believes your research is PhD worthy. The degree-granting university will then select two scholars to critically read your thesis and examine you on its content. One will be an internal reader from the university. The other will be an external reader from another UK university. One will likely be an expert in your area of research and both will be scholars in your particular discipline (NT, theology, church history, etc.). A date will be set and you will meet for the viva voca, which will involve a 2-3 hour period of intense questioning to determine if you can defend your thesis and elaborate on your research. At the end of the viva voca, you will step outside the room while the examiners discuss the thesis and your responses. You will be called back into the room and given the verdict. Your thesis will be assigned one of the following grades: 1) Pass “as is” without need for revisions or further clarifications; 2) Pass with minor revisions which must be completed and submitted within three months; 3) Pass with significant revisions, which must be completed and submitted within one year; 4) Major rewrite, which must be completed and submitted within two years along with taking another viva voca; 5) Not acceptable or the possible award of MPhil instead of PhD. Your goal is to receive one of the first three evaluations.
VIII.        Is a UK PhD Program for You?
Over the past few years, I have recommended four American students for UK PhD programs who were accepted and matriculated into the programs. However, only one earned a degree. The others dropped out. All were smart enough to complete the program, but they lacked either self-confidence and/or self-discipline, or else, faced time constraints. So, count the cost before you apply. 
If you are a self-starter, inquisitive, thick skinned, academically able to do original research, have a history of meeting deadlines, work well with a supervisor, and do not get discouraged easily, you may be the ideal candidate.
An American or UK PhD program—which is best for you? That depends on your goals, aptitude, interest, personality, work schedule, finances, etc. The Lord will guide you in your selection of the right doctoral program. 

If you have any further questions, feel free to write me at:

Monday, June 08, 2015

Istoria Ministries Blog: Heaven on Earth: A Must Have Book

Istoria Ministries Blog: Heaven on Earth: A Must Have Book: I do not know nor have I ever met author Alan Streett, PhD (University of Wales, UK),  Senior Research Professor of Biblical Exegesis and...

Monday, December 08, 2014


You owe it to yourself to buy and read "Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus" (Baylor University Press) by Reggie L. Williams. This short book is not an quick or easy read. It is chocked full of thought-provoking insights that Bonhoeffer gleaned from his year at Union Theological Seminary (NY), and especially his association with Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem. Bonhoeffer left America a different person than when he arrived. He was now a Christian! Without his Abyssinia experience, Bonhoeffer would not have stood with the oppressed Jews of Germany during WWII.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Immigration Makes Salvation Possible

Jesus was an immigrant. He and his family left their homeland and crossed the border into Egypt in order to escape Herod's hit squad. 

Had Jesus not escaped, He would have been one of the innocents who was murdered.

This means that immigration played an essential role in salvation history.

In fact, others in his ancestral line were immigrants who advanced salvation history. Think of Naomi and her family who moved to Moab, where her son married Ruth. Then the widowed Ruth, in turn, migrated to Bethlehem where she met Boaz and gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David, who fathered the royal line leading up to Jesus.

Without immigration there would have been no messiah and no salvation.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


People everywhere are debating about the influx of illegal minors crossing the Texas border. Should they be allowed to stay or should they be sent back to their respective countries?

How should the church address the issue?

First, the churches in America represent the Kingdom of God and not the United States.

Second, the churches must follow the Scriptures, regardless of what the courts, Congress or the President decides. This means churches should open their doors to the strangers and foreigners among us. We should find homes for the migrant children; feed and clothe those who cannot fend for themselves.

The Scriptures are clear that Israel was to care for foreigners and aliens in their midst because they were once in the same boat in Egypt.

Here are a few of the many scriptural references:

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:21 ESV

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV

“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Leviticus 25:35 ESV

“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:18 ESV

“You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” Ezekiel 47:22 ESV

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” Zechariah 7:9-10 ESV

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness...against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:5 ESV

Should the church do any different?

Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35 ESV

The writer of Hebrews exhorts, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2 ESV

The church needs to be proactive. Consider bringing this critical issue to your church board. Suggest that it adopt one of these little strangers in our midst. There are people in our congregations who are willing to open the doors of their homes and hearts. This is an opportunity to do something that is part of God’s kingdom agenda (Luke 4:18‒21).

When the lost in your community see the love of God in action in real time, they will get a glimpse of the Kingdom. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Gospel of the Kingdom Solves the Problem of Syncretism on the Mission Field

I just had a good email conversation with Mike Boyett, a pastor in Mississippi and former missionary about my book “Heaven on Earth” and its practical implications for missions and church discipleship. He said that while he was on the mission field he became “very concerned with what was being proclaimed and believed as the Gospel. I began to realize that what was being lived out—the dependency, the syncretism, the sacred/secular divide—was the inevitable consequence of what was taught (or not taught) by the missionaries. As I focused my reading to deal with many topics related to issues we were facing there, I developed a deep concern about how we were "packaging" the gospel message and the tragic neglect (or ignorance) of the Kingdom message that permeates all the Scriptures. I simply couldn't square our message with the sermons the Apostles preached in Acts nor the literary agenda of the Gospel writers.”

His mention of syncretism caught my attention. “Of course,” I thought, “a gospel that deals totally with the future has no relevance for the present situation. The natives will simply incorporate Jesus into their pantheism of gods.”

I wrote him back, and Mike elaborated on the issue, which I believe is so important that I thought you would like to read it too. His ideas are well thought out and clearly stated. His comments are packed with meat, so be prepared to put on your thinking caps. Here they are:

“The reality is that if the trajectory of history, contrary to much salvation preaching today, is from heaven to earth (the Word became flesh, the New Jerusalem comes to earth) rather than away from earth to heaven; and if the eschatological vision is the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2) rather than simply innumerable souls being saved and gathered in heaven, then this has huge implications for the mission of the church. It cannot be reduced simply to sermons and sacraments. People have to eat and work and marry and bring up children and govern their communities, etc. But the implications of the soul centered, heaven oriented message that has been taught to the nations in a hurry (often in a race to "reach" an arbitrary percentage of the population so Jesus will have to hurry up and rapture us) leaves the people wondering if God has much to do with the rest of life till we die. The transformation of culture is talked about but has no real place in the systems of theology that are pre-packaged in the West for mass-distribution abroad by short-term missionaries who are ignorant of the cultures they are in the midst of (I'm actually not as cynical as this sounds).

“Your reference to the end-time Jubilee (page 191) has implications for the priorities and concerns of the people of God today. If we do not have a message that is good news to captives of all sorts and hands that serve them in their need, then, for the perplexing issues people face in this life, they will simply resort to the ways their people have always handled them. Syncretism becomes almost inevitable. Christianity secures for them insurance for life after death, but the ways of their people practiced unthinkingly for generations provides the way to make sense of this life and sort out its problems.

“The eschatological vision given to us in Revelation not only celebrates racial diversity (Rev. 7:9-10), but cultural diversity as well. I simply love the picture of the New Jerusalem where the "nations walk and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.... They will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations (Rev. 21:34-26). This seems to imply that the unique cultures and cultural artifacts of the nations are in some measure transformed and brought as tribute to the Great King. In other words, when the Kingdom of God is embraced as good news, the peoples of the nations, at least in some measure, intentionally and uniquely attempt to craft their life, even in this present age, so as to have an offering to bring to their King. This strikes me as something like the fruit, the overflow of the blessing of Abraham. Syncretism, on the other hand, seems to be about survival in a world full of competing gods and rival kingdoms. Therefore, a compelling, holistic vision of the Kingdom of God contextualized, proclaimed and celebrated as good news, and put into practice is the only hope for the healing of the nations.

“This is simply common sense application of what you wrote.”

These comments were Mike’s reflections on reading HEAVEN ON EARTH: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now.” I hope you will get a copy of the book and give it to your favorite pastor or missionary.