EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third story in a seven-part series by veteran journalist Troy Anderson about major evangelists who are turning their attention toward America to help ignite what Billy Graham describes as an end-times "great spiritual awakening." The first story featured Graham's warning for America and the second centered on another famed evangelist's testimony that God spoke to him in a dream last year saying, “America will be saved!”
By Troy Anderson
Believing the signs of the “end of the age” that Jesus Christ spoke of are now converging for the first time in 2,000 years, famed international evangelist Billy Graham is fervently praying for a “fresh spiritual awakening in America.”
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“If ever there was a time this country needed the intervention of God, it is now,” said Graham, who is giving what could be his final message to the world during the "My Hope America with Billy Graham" evangelistic outreach on Nov. 7, his 95th birthday.
The sermon will be broadcast worldwide via satellite and the Internet. More information can be found by calling 1-877-MY-HOPE, or 1-877-769-4673.
“We can and should pray for America as a whole, but remember that when God sets out to change a nation, He begins by changing people," Graham said. "It starts with individuals. The more I pray, the more deeply I feel that My Hope America is the right outreach for this country today.”
It seems God is listening to Graham’s prayers.
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In nearly a dozen interviews with WND, prominent national faith leaders, pollsters and others said they are witnessing what appear to be early signs of a spiritual awakening – at least among segments of the American populace.
In his new book "God Is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America," Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport claims the United States “may be on the cusp of a religious renaissance.”
Although he cites several reasons, Newport bases his prediction mostly on the fact that the number of Americans age 65 and older is expected to double over the next two decades, and research shows people become more religious at this stage of life.
Given the sheer size of the baby boomer generation, Newport says the “entire nation will thus tilt more religious in the years ahead.”
“It’s a huge shift,” Newport said. “We are going to see a doubling in the number of people at the age where they generally tend to be more religious, and, therefore, I think religiosity will increase for that reason alone.”
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But it’s not just the baby boomer generation that has seen the light.
Banning Liebscher, director of Jesus Culture, an international Christian revivalist youth outreach ministry based out of Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., said he’s now seeing what he believes are the initial signs of a spiritual awakening among a segment of today’s youth, too.
“It may be in seed form,” Liebscher said. “It may not be a full, mature awakening, but it’s happening. In every city we go to, there are thousands of young people who come out whose hearts are awakened to the love of Jesus and the power of God. I would say absolutely an awakening is happening.”
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Liebscher has studied the history of America’s Great Awakenings – a term that refers to several waves of increased religious enthusiasm over the last few centuries – and each came at a time like the one America is in now. As Graham wrote in an open letter to America last summer calling for repentance, the nation is in an “urgent hour,” Liebscher said, and “morality is in decline.”
Most people agree. A March report by the American Bible Society found 77 percent of Americans believe morals and values are declining. They cited a lack of Bible reading as the main culprit.
“As I read the history of revival – the outpourings and awakenings – these things all happened when a nation was in moral decline,” Liebscher said. “In the first and second Great Awakenings, it really was a time where society felt like it was in moral decline, but all of a sudden God would step in with an awakening.”
'End of the age'
The indications of a potential religious revival in America come as a number of major evangelists and ministries – Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Reinhard Bonnke, Greg Laurie, Chuck Smith, Luis Palau, Liebscher and others – are turning their attention toward America in the hope of helping ignite what Graham describes as an end-times “great spiritual awakening.”
In addition to Graham’s worldwide outreach, numerous crusades and similar events are being planned in the coming months and years. Bonnke, founder of Christ for All Nations, will speak Sept. 27-28 at the Good News Orlando crusade at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., will speak Sept. 28-29 at Harvest America at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.
In an exclusive interview with WND exploring the reasons behind My Hope America, Graham explained he believes the world is coming to the “end of the age, not the end of the world or the earth but the end of the age – the period that God has set aside for this particular time."
“There’s a great deal to say in the Bible about the signs we’re to watch for and when these signs all converge at one place we can be sure that we’re close to the end of the age,” Graham said. “And those signs in my judgment are converging now for the first time since Jesus made those predictions.”
Recent polls indicate a substantial portion of the American public agrees with Graham, a man who has preached to more people – 2.2 billion – than any Protestant in history and who has appeared on Gallup's list of the most admired men and women 55 times since 1955, more than any other individual in the world.
A recent OmniPoll conducted by the Barna Group found four in 10 Americans, and 77 percent of evangelical Christians, believe the “world is now living in the biblical end times.” A poll released Sept. 13 by LifeWay Research found one in three Americans see Syria’s current conflict "as part of the Bible’s plan for the end times.” One in four think a U.S. military strike in Syria “could lead to Armageddon.”
Paul McGuire, an internationally recognized Bible prophecy expert who is a regular commentator on Fox News and CNN and appeared on two highly rated History Channel specials, “7 Signs of the Apocalypse” and “Countdown to Apocalypse: Four Horsemen,” said a growing number of people are concluding the biblical end times have finally arrived and are turning to God.
“The average teenager and American has heard all kinds of bits and pieces of prophetic teaching and now they see these prophecies coming true,” said McGuire, the author of 22 Bible prophecy books, including "The Day the Dollar Died" and an upcoming one, "A Prophecy of the Future of America." “They have heard about Ezekiel 38 and that Russia and Iran are in the Bible. They’ve heard about Armageddon and that a one-world government and economic system are coming. The teenagers and young people have also heard about the ‘mark of the beast.’”
Turning to God
As people are watching events unfold that point to the approaching fulfillment of these ancient prophecies, McGuire said those who never would have looked to God or the Bible in the past are doing so now.
“What’s happened is that the pressures are so great that we now have the possibility that if we have repentance – and repentance has to come from the church first – we could have a national revival,” McGuire said. “We could see mass evangelism and a real change in America as millions of people turn to Christ as they did during the first and second Great Awakenings.”
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said he certainly would like to see a spiritual awakening in America but noted “Great Awakenings are rare.”
Nevertheless, Stetzer said Newport’s new book does “point to the possibility of a religious awakening.”
This potential is counter-intuitive, especially in the wake of the cavalcade of recent polls and mainstream media stories, including a 2009 Newsweek cover story titled “The Decline and Fall of Christian America,” which claims the U.S. is fast becoming a “post-Christian” nation.
“The irony is Jon Meacham wrote that article, ‘The Decline and Fall of Christian America,’ and Newsweek has subsequently ended,” Stetzer said. “So the magazine that covered the end of Christian America no longer publishes a magazine.”
In his recent USA Today column, “Christianity isn’t dying,” Stetzer “cut through the recent hype” and noted that “no serious scholar believes that Christianity in America is on a trajectory of extinction.”
Rise of the nones
In recent years, polls have found that religious affiliation in the U.S has hit its lowest point in decades. Last year, one in five Americans claimed they had no religious preference, more than double the number in 1990. The polls also found one-in-three millennials – those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s – have no religious affiliation.
The “nones,” as they are called, are people who claim no faith or say they are unaffiliated with any organized religious system.
But Newport and Stetzer said this so-called “rise of the nones” has more to do with how people describe themselves than an actual drop in spirituality in the nation.
“I think it’s a change in labeling,” Newport said. “The data is fairly significant that suggests the people who over time have become more likely to say they have no religious identity are people who were already not religious.
“So what we are seeing is the hidden ‘nones’ who in the past told an interviewer, ‘Oh, I’m a Catholic,’ or ‘I’m a Baptist,’ because that’s how they were raised. Now, these people feel freer to tell an interviewer, ‘I don’t have a formal religious identity.’ I think to a significant degree that’s what we’ve been seeing with this increase in the ‘nones.’”
Stetzer agrees, noting the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey found 76 percent of Americans identified themselves as Christians, down from 86 percent in 1990.
“Absolutely, there has been a decline in self-identified Christians,” Stetzer said. “So, 76 percent of Americans still identify themselves as Christians. The thing is you and I don’t use the word Christian the same way that the culture uses Christian. Of that 76 percent who are Christians, think of three blocks – 25, 25 and 25. Roughly 25 percent have a convictional commitment, a born-again expression; about 25 percent would have some sort of connection to a church; and about 25 percent would just be a cultural expression of Christianity.”
As a result, what is collapsing, Stetzer said, is not Christianity, but “people who used to call themselves Christians.
“Today, they are increasingly saying they are nothing,” Stetzer said. “So the nominal Christians are becoming the ‘nones,’ which makes it look like we’re in decline and collapse, but remember there are more people who self-identify as evangelicals today than there were in 1972.”
Even more surprising, more Americans now belong to a local church congregation – 70 percent – than ever before in the nation’s history, wrote Rodney Stark, co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, in his recent book "America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists." That percentage is up from 64 percent in 1990 and only 17 percent in 1776, Stark wrote.
Ramping up efforts
In terms of the possibility of what Graham calls a “fresh spiritual awakening,” Laurie, president of Harvest Crusades, said he’s encouraged that Graham, Bonnke, Liebscher and other evangelists are “ramping up their efforts in evangelism.”
As he looks at today’s youth, Laurie said he sees a hunger for the Bible and spiritual things.
“It gives me hope,” Laurie said. “I think one of the tragic things is we have a nearly completely biblically illiterate generation before us now, a generation for the most part that has not been raised with the Bible, and they have not been raised in church,” Laurie said.
That’s the bad news, Laurie said. The good news is they are “effectively a blank slate.”
“They don’t have any beliefs, and I think it’s a great opportunity for the church to step in boldly, without apology, with a message that is authentic and powerful and life-changing and to say to these young people: ‘You can know the God who made you. You don’t need to turn to drugs and alcohol or other things to fill that void in your life. You can find what you are looking for in a relationship with Jesus Christ,’ ” Laurie said. “This could be the church’s finest hour. I hope we seize it.”
As he’s traveled the nation, Bonnke said he’s seen some “wonderful hot spots” in terms of spiritual fervor.
“There are some hot spots, but I believe the picture as a whole is a picture of great need,” Bonnke said. “We have focused too much on preaching the gospel behind the closed doors of churches. The four walls of a church are the most evangelized real estate in America, but Jesus tells us to go the highways and byways. I believe we have to learn again to go to the highways and byways where the people are and proclaim the ABCs of the gospel, which is that Jesus saves.”
Franklin Graham, president and chief executive officer of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Graham’s son, said evangelism just doesn’t happen.
“It has to be planned,” he said. “You have to have a strategy. You have to make a concerted effort that we are going to evangelize, and that’s what we are hoping we can do with My Hope, is to work with the churches so the churches can catch a vision for evangelism, and let’s just see what happens."
Graham said the plan for My Hope begins with praying for the unsaved.
“Praying for them and then using that as an opportunity to invite them to come to your home," he said, "and then we work with you by putting together a telecast on television that will make it easy for you to turn to your friends and family and say, ‘You’ve heard the gospel. You’ve heard that Jesus Christ died for your sins. You’ve heard that He rose from the grave. Would you like to invite this Jesus of Nazareth into your heart?’”
Tom Crandall, who pastored the youth group at Bethel Church in Redding, Calif. that Jesus Culture emerged from, said he’s witnessing a spiritual hunger among youth all over America.
“It doesn’t matter if you are rich or you are poor, everybody is hungry,” Crandall said. “I think [Liebscher] is right. There are seeds all over America that are just waiting for water and the right timing for revival to break forth.
“We are trying to raise up mothers and fathers in our youth ministry who can handle the harvest. I praise God for these crusades and can’t wait for them to happen, but the church has to be ready for the new believers," he said. "The body of Christ has to be ready to take new babies so the families can grow at a fast rate. I think the harvest is coming. Actually, I think it’s already here.”
An award-winning reporter, bureau chief, editorial writer and editor at the Los Angeles Daily News, The Press-Enterprise and other newspapers for two decades, Troy Anderson writes for Reuters, WND, Charisma and many other media outlets. He’s also the president and editor-in-chief of the World Prophecy Network and HopeRev.org – Online Newsmagazines and Multimedia Ministries Spreading the Hope of Jesus in the End Times. He lives in Irvine, Calif.