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He’s been called the next generation’s Billy Graham – a pastor to political leaders, a speaker at evangelistic crusades, an author and a minister whose message rings true to many Americans who have never set foot in a church.
Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., believes he has found a wide audience because so many in this post-modern age of relativism are searching spiritually.
“When someone will unapologetically speak from the Bible and do so in an understandable way, it will resonate,” he said.
Laurie, 52, also has a mission to the astonishing number of Americans who, according to polls, describe themselves as Christians but say there is no absolute truth.
“If the Bible is anything, it is absolute truth,” Laurie said.
For his part, Laurie eschews the comparison to Graham, considering himself one voice among many.
“I take it as the highest compliment, but at the same time, I don’t see it that way,” he said. “He’s been such a singular figure in American history. I don’t think anyone will fill his shoes.”
Laurie, who says he counts Graham as a friend and influence, began pastoral ministry at age 19 with a Bible study of 30 people, which has since transformed into one of the eight largest churches in America.
In addition, nearly 3 million people have attended his Harvest Crusades — stadium events similar to Graham’s — across the United States and in Australia since 1990.
He’s led Bible studies at the White House and Pentagon and prayed at the Republican National Convention, but his primary mission simply is to “bring the Gospel to those who don’t have a relationship with God and introduce them to Christ.”
During his Harvest Crusades, youth nights always are the biggest turnout, he said, with as many as 40,000 to 50,000 responding.
“I think it’s a hopeful sign that this next generation could indeed lead our country back in the right direction,” said Laurie, who was raised in an unchurched home and has “always had a heart for people who are as I used to be.”
Interestingly, he says, young people raised on MTV and a liberal worldview by Baby Boomer parents who rebelled against their faith have a striking need for authority in their lives.
“When an adult stands up and says, this is truth, that resonates, because they are doing what their parents and college professors won’t do,” he said.
“Young people find that quite appealing. They have been raised in this amoral, hedonistic lifestyle, and it’s sent them on a search.”
In their attempt to relate to youth, some adults “try too hard to be cool,” Laurie said. “You need to be yourself, straight forward.”
Laurie is concerned about how relativism has affected the church, as captured in his book “The Great Compromise: And How Christians Can Avoid Living on Both Sides of the Fence.”
“Many seem not to understand that getting yourself into big trouble usually starts with the little things,” he said.
“You rarely hear of a person who says they’re going to abandon their faith,” Laurie explained. “But you lower your guard a little here and there, and small compromises lead to larger ones.”
And today, the slippery slope is greased by modern technology.
“The lures have always been there, but you never had instant access to these things like you have now,” he said. “There was a day when if you wanted to get into porn, you had to go to the seedy side of town. But now with a mouse click, you can enter a world of wickedness.”
Those in spiritual leadership need to raise the standard, he said, and renew emphasis on repentance, obedience and the cross of Christ.
“The temptation is to water down the message in order to get a larger crowd,” he said. “But if our crowds are smaller, then so be it.”
He says softening his message is “not in my DNA.”
“That is not a temptation to me. I believe very strongly in what I am teaching and writing.”
And the message hasn’t changed.
“I’m preaching today what I preached 30 years ago, but perhaps with a greater urgency — what is the meaning of life, what happens when I die?”
Laurie believes his book Are We Living in the Last Days? How to be Prepared for the Lord’s Return” also has special relevance just now.
The book’s aim is to “unravel some of the mystery” surrounding end-times events, exploring topics such as important signs of the last days, the difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming, Israel’s significance in end-times events, America’s mysterious absence in Bible prophecy and what will happen during the Tribulation period.
Laurie noted that right after the book came out, there was an earthquake in southeast Asia, one of the largest in history.
“Certainly that is one of the warning signs of the times,” he said. “The Middle East, you just see that conflict always raging on. It’s not going to be solved through human means, ultimately.”
Jesus said the signs “would be like labor pains as you get closer to the end, they get closer in proximity — more conflict, more earthquakes, more immorality” Laurie continued. “These to me are the very labor pains Jesus talked about.”
He sees a renewed interest in the subject of end times since Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” became a worldwide publishing phenomenon in the 1970s.
“Even the skeptic would acknowledge that our world is a very volatile place,” Laurie said. “Hal was way ahead of his time. Now today, it seems like every time you turn around there is something that confirms it.”