Bush's best-selling book, "Decision Points," includes a story from 1985 about Graham visiting the Maine home of Bush's father and mother. With about 30 family members listening, Bush writes, his father asked Graham, "Some people say you have to have a born-again experience to go to heaven. Mother here is the most religious, kind person I know, yet she has had no born-again experience. Will she go to heaven?" Bush says Graham responded, "Some of us require a born-again experience to understand God, and some of us are born Christians. It sounds as if your mom was just born a Christian."
The quote -- debated on blogs -- appears out of place even in the book, with Bush quoting Graham on the same page as saying "we are all sinners" and "we cannot earn God's love through good deeds" and that the path to salvation is "to embrace Christ as the risen Lord." The chapter details how Bush became a Christian.
The controversial phrase "just isn't in Mr. Graham's lexicon," A. Larry Ross, Graham's spokesman, told Baptist Press.
"Mr. Graham has been consistent in his message of the essential truth of the Gospel: that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone," Ross said. "For more than six decades, Mr. Graham has preached in crusades around the world under the banner of John 14:6: 'Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the Father except through me.'"
Graham has quoted John 14:6 countless times during his ministry, saying at a crusade in 2001, "Is there another way to heaven, except through Christ? The Bible teaches there's only one way. Other people will come along and try to tell you there are other ways, but the Bible says there's only one way, and that way is by the cross. Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by Me.'"
Bush does acknowledge that, when Graham began talking to the group that night, Bush was on his "third glass of wine" and had had a "couple of beers" earlier. Bush eventually stopped drinking altogether, crediting his faith in Christ.
In recent years Graham -- now 92 -- has at time made statements that appeared at odds with the beliefs of a younger Graham, but he has never been publicly quoted as saying people are "born Christians." In fact, Graham's own website, BillyGraham.org, includes an article titled "You Can't Be Born a Christian."
The Bush anecdote seems to conflict with another Graham anecdote that took place after Bush became a Christian. As retold by The Houston Post in 1993, Bush and his mother Barbara were having a discussion about salvation, and Bush argued "there is no place in heaven for anyone who does not accept Jesus Christ as personal savior." Bush's mother disagreed, and they called Billy Graham to get his thoughts.
"Billy came on the line ... and he said, 'Look, I happen to agree with what George says about the interpretation of the New Testament,' but he said, 'I want to remind both of you, never play God,'" Bush said in The Post.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.
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