An evangelical Christian suggested Spong was not a real Christian writer, he suggested that Billy Graham amongst others was a real Christian writer. So I trotted down to the local library to get a copy of Angels and read this book. I read each chapter twice before commenting on it.
To be fair it was an easy read.
Chapter 1, Are Angels God’s Secret Agents? The chapter starts off with Graham’s wife recounting a story of a tigress and two cubs being scared off by the lady (prey) by shouting “Oh Jesus, help me!” Followed by a Reader’s Digest apocryphal story regarding a ghostly story a deceased daughter who saves her mum. The text then goes on to Rev John G Paton, a missionary in the New Hebrides where hostile natives don’t attack Mr and Mrs Rev because they mistakenly see guards defending the mission. And finally, the story of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, where he and his surviving crew being downed in the Pacific Ocean, on the point of starvation Captain R catches a seagull that had landed on his head, kills it and shares it with the crew and uses it for bait.
The chapter then switches direction and talks about the “Cult of the Demonic” and cites an example where a Senator would avoid cinemas, by at least a block, that were playing the Exorcist. Of course according to the Bible (Graham’s and others interpretation) Satan is real.
Then we move on to UFOs. In short, some consider these might be angels. Then there is some discussion of ESP … I did not quite get the ESP discussion. The chapter finishes off with the Queen Victoria moth story.
The most telling bit, for me, was this quote from Graham:
I do not believe in angels because someone has told me about a dramatic visitation from an angel, impressive as such rare testimonies may be. I do not believe in angels because UFOs are astonishingly angel-like in some of their reported appearances. I do not believe in angels because ESP experts are making the realm of the spirit world seem more and more plausible. I do not believe in angels because of the sudden worldwide emphasis on the reality of Satan and demons. I do not believe in angels because I have ever seen one–because I haven’t. I believe in angels because the Bible says there are angels; and I believe the Bible to be the true Word of God.
Chapter 2, Angels are for Real: Well this is a relatively easy chapter for me to review. It’s short as most of them appear to be. Its central theme seems to carry on from the “I believe in angels because …” quote. The chapter essentially deduces properties (and quantities) of angels based on biblical quotes. I won’t bother checking the accuracy as I assume Graham literally knows his Bible, (that’s a pun).
A sentence jumped out at me, that seemed a little out of context:
Today some hard-nosed scientists lend credence to the scientific probability of angels when they admit the likelihood of unseen and invisible intelligence.
Now, I have to admit this book feels somewhat dated. Originally it was published in 1973, and I have a third edition from 1994. I suspect there has been little or no updating, though I have come across descriptions from the eighties. That said, for the quote above there is no reference. Although as quoted the sentence is likely accurate, though I would like to meet those hard-nosed scientists that lend credence to the “probability of angels” and see if their science has been extrapolated correctly. Plus there are few shots at demonic activity, which I predict will be a reoccurring theme in the book
Chapter 3, Angels – Visible or Invisible: The Graham’s opening sentences:
The spirit world and its activities are big news today. And the idea of the supernatural is not only seriously regarded, but is accepted as fact. … But those who take the Bible at full value cannot discount the subject of angels as speculation or hollow conjecture.
Here Graham discounts other people’s beliefs in the supernatural and promotes a belief in angels based just on a belief in the Bible. Here’s another Bible based belief:
I have already said that the angels are created spirit beings that can become visible when necessary. They can appear and disappear.
The chapter then goes to ask whether angels should be worshipped; the answer is no. Then goes onto primarily Biblical evidence as to whether angels are visible; the answer is yes or can be. To note god can apparently appear as an angel, so it could be reasoned we need to be careful whether we worship angels or not.
The chapter also cites anecdotal evidence for William Booth, who claimed to see an angel. While likely true, it is not mentioned on his wikipedia page and more tellingly on his page on the Salvation Army website. And finally for a little bit of light relief :
The Bible also teaches us that angels are sexless. Jesus said that in heaven men “neither marry, nor are given marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven”. This may indicate that angels enjoy relationships that are far more thrilling and exciting than sex.
OK, so this could partially explain the rise in the popularity of Islam.
On a more serious note, carefully reading the last sentence of the quote this is just speculation on Graham’s part. In the first three chapters, Biblical fact and speculation are interwoven and reading quickly one may not notice ‘fact’ from speculation.
And very finally just to prove me wrong, there was no mention demonic influences, though Lucifer does get a couple of dishonourable mentions.
Chapter 4, Angels – How They Differ from Man: There was something that disturbed me about this chapter, can’t quite put finger on it; things like Jesus stooped to come down to our level. Anyway this chapter tells us that angels:
- Are higher than man, and set forth to minister to us.
- Cannot understand fully what it means to be delivered from sin.
- Don’t call God “Father”, despite being created by God.
- Have never lost their original glory and spiritual relationship with God. At least the ones that did not fall.
- Cannot testify of the salvation by grace through faith.
- Rejoice when people are saved and glorify God.
- Probably don’t experience the indwelling of God, so they don’t what it feels like for humans.
- Don’t need the ministry of the holy spirit.
- Have far greater knowledge than humans and are incredibly more powerful.
- Apparently sing, though there are dissenting theologians. Angels need to sing to praise the Lamb of God. Graham cites Shakespeare’s knowledge of angels singing
Graham’s evangelizing is a bit more earnest in this chapter:
Do you have the hope of eternity in your heart right now? Do you know – right now – beyond doubt – that some day you will join the angels in heaven in singing praises to god? If not make the commitment to Christ today.
Oh yeah; there were some comments how fallen angels can call Satan father as do the followers of Satan.
Chapter 5, Angelic Organization: Well this chapter is fairly short and straightforward. There have been up to ten types of angels identified though there is some debate on the lower ranks of angels as to whether they are actually humans. So the top four in order of rank:
Archangel, Michael appears to be the top administrator, will be there at the second coming. Lucifer was the top angel but it is speculated that Michael deposed the fallen Lucifer.
Angel Gabriel, Contrary to popular belief, Graham states that Gabriel is not described anywhere in the Bible as an archangel. Gabriel is more often mentioned than Michael and his primary role appears to be an angel of mercy. We are not sure whether he plays a silver trumpet!
Seraphim are “celestial and extraterrestrial beings”. They follow orders of the archangel and other angels. Their primary job is to praise the name and character of God in Heaven; though not all students agree on the details. They are indescribably beautiful.
Cherubim are real and powerful. They are the ones preventing us from getting back into the Garden of Eden. They also assure the right of the high priest (whoever he is) to enter the holy place as a mediator. (I presume from the text the holy place is Garden of Eden).
OK not much Satan in this chapter, but the next chapter is his.
Chapter 6, Lucifer and the Angelic Rebellion: In very short – wow!
A slightly longer wow; people who rely on their reason and not on faith have been duped by Satan.
In this chapter we learn:
- Angelic forces play a profound part in human events.
- Dante and Milton have opinions on when the fall occurred and it appears it is worth quoting, but we don’t know exactly.
- An estimated one third (maximum) of the angels joined Lucifer.
- Apparently Lucifer was not satisfied praising God for all time and “he” wanted to be the head honcho.
- The battle between the two factions still rages on in heaven as it does on Earth.
Occasionally Graham waxes lyrical:
Were it not for the angel hosts empowered by God to resist the demons of Satan, who could ever hope to press through the battlements of the fiendish demons of darkness to the Lord of eternal liberty and salvation?
Graham speculates about why God did not or does not sort this out, but he does not have a definitive answer. Though eventually things will brought to a head at Armageddon. Another line:
Although Satan and his evil followers press their warfare in the heavens, it seems that their primary endeavor is to destroy faith.
So automatically, I knowing the explanation of this reason-faith thingy, and knowingly now side with reason over faith, does that make me an ally of Satan?
And just finish a bit more of raising faith above reason:
Listen to Satan’s “ifs” of death being injected into the minds of people today: “if“ you do what is right, “if” you live a good life, “if” you go to church, “if” you work for the benefit of the others – if, if, if. But the Bible teaches that these “ifs” are not enough to meet God’s requirements for salvation.
Chapter 7, Angels as Messengers of God: Well this chapter lived up to the title. It is a précis of how the various characters in the Bible were visited by angels: the normal characters Daniel, Jacob, Moses, Abraham, Paul and of course and Mary.
Interestingly, Graham speculates that Jesus was the angel that wrestled with Jacob?
There was a section called Unseen Forces at Work, which for me didn’t quite fit in. Here’s a few of the sentences:
During several world crises I have had the privilege of talking with some heads of state or secretaries of state. During the 1967 Middle East war, for example, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who was visiting my home town of Montreat, North Carolina, invited me to his room. While we were discussing the war that had just broken out, I told him I believed “supernatural forces are at work”.
And this little ditty:
On the eve of one of his missions abroad during the Ford Administration, Secretary of State Kissinger briefed me on some of the staggering problems facing the world. I told him I believed the world was experiencing an unseen spiritual war in which the powers of darkness were attacking the forces of Good
Chapter 8, Angels Protect and Deliver Us: Again this is fairly straight forward. How angels protect those with faith. A couple or so Bible examples of being protected by faith, another example retold by Graham’s wife from China in the second world war and Corrie ten Boom’s story from Ravensbruck (a concentration camp). Although the story retold by Graham is in addition to the escape of Corrie from Ravensbruck both are stories of good fortune. Graham does not tell us about the stories of people with faith who did not return from Ravensbruck. Then more Biblical examples of faithful being protected by angels.
Chapter 9, Angels – God’s Agents in Judgment: This chapter tells us about the destructive capability of angels. Also we have this quote:
Unknown to men, they (angels) have undoubtedly in the past helped destroy evil systems like Nazism, because those governments came to a place where God could no longer withhold His hand.
I read this and wondered why it took so long to topple Stalinism and a few other despots with whom the twentieth century is acquainted? And as to prove a point the chapter highlights that: 185 000 soldiers were killed by an angel overnight, 70 000 Israelites were killed by angelic pestilence, Egyptian first born were slain overnight, angels rained death and destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah and no doubt there are other stories of angels capabilities. And yet it took to the 74th year of Stalin’s life for him to be taken out. And Stalin being the theist poster boy of atheism as well? Oh well, perhaps Stalin got to heaven after all?
And then to cheer me up:
… to be reconciled to Him by faith in Jesus Christ. If not, we will have to pay the penalty of unforgiven sin. The angels will administer that penalty. They “shall cast them into the furnace of fire”. I [Graham] am constantly astounded that God’s decrees and warnings are considered so lightly in our modern world – even among Christians.
To be clear it is God that throws people into this furnace of fire.
Chapter 10, Angels and the Gospel: Graham tells us in this chapter that God has not given the angels the privilege of proclaiming the gospel message. This particular job is the church’s vocation. But angels are allowed to assist us in preaching. Graham cites as an example:
My wife, whose parents were missionaries to China, can remember many instances in her life where angels must have intervened in the ministry of her father and his fellow missionaries.
Must have? There are no other possible explanations ?
The chapter then goes on to describe how angels have helped characters in the Bible:
- Zacharias – an angel foretold of John the Baptist’s birth despite the mother’s age and ministry.
- Mary – Gabriel let Mary know she was going to have God’s child.
- Joseph – an angel allayed fears of possible infidelity, by asserting Mary’s pregnancy was caused by God.
- Daniel – Gabriel again, told of Jesus and his suffering. Apparently, Gabriel did not preach the word of salvation, but bore eloquent testimony to it? Shepherds – Apparently, it may seem “mysterious” to Graham that the good news of Jesus’ birth was first told by angels to ordinary people.
Graham goes on to speculate how angels might sound like. Apparently they speak in short and fairly direct sentences, “terse”.
Chapter 11, Angels’ Ministries in the Life of Jesus: This chapter was six pages though Graham felt he had enough material for a book.
Satan tempted Jesus three times after Jesus’ fast of 40 days and nights. Immediately afterwards angels “ministered” to Jesus. An angel appeared to him in Gethsemane to “strengthen him”.
At and on the cross, Satan was responsible for the crowds mocking Jesus, to come down from the cross. Though I think the Satan bit is pure speculation on Graham’s part. Apparently angels were at hand to take Jesus down from the cross, if it turned out to be necessary. I don’t remember this bit, and there was not a reference given to check.
And of course there are the angels at the resurrection, one sitting on the heavy stone and two inside when Mary goes into the tomb. Finally, Graham speculates the cloud during the ascension is an angelic host.
Chapter Twelve, Angels in Prophecy: OK angels will have an important in future events particularly the second coming etc. Graham in this chapter seems je ne sais quois? Some examples:
We thought that modern technology would solve many of the great problems of the human race. In some ways it has, by eliminating the fear of diseases like polio and smallpox. But it has also given us Frankenstein weapons of destruction. Poverty, hunger, greed, injustice, prejudice, terrorism lust, war and death are still with us. This same war that began mysteriously in the heart of Lucifer. It seems that are world is on a suicidal course.
The sky continues to fall on the next page with:
Most scientists agree that the clock of time is running out. Ecologically, medically, scientifically, morally, time seems to running out. In almost every direction we look, man’s time on earth seems to be running out. Self-destruction is overtaking us as a human race.
Just in case we did not get the message, about fifty years ago when this book was likely written, time was running out. But it is OK, “God has another plan!” We move on to the end of time now:
It boggles the mind to try to imagine the kind of earth this is going to be when God eliminates the devil and sin. Our minds are staggered at the thought of “Christ on the throne.” The great southward moving Sahara Desert of Africa will bloom and blossom. Mankind will be able to grow new foods; land that today is useless will grow twelve crops a year. …
Remember at this time our desire for sex will have been extinguished according to Graham. Now we will have a thirst for righteousness and our urge for immorality will have gone. Apparently when the book was written they were “days of despondency”. Well today, I for one am not feeling despondent.
Graham moves on to quote a Dr Miller, “What does the future hold for this weary world? … for the physical earth?” Graham tells us the answers are not found in astrology and necromancy. In the classical tradition – Duh!
Another story, many years ago in a Senate dining room:
Senator: Billy we’re having a discussion about pessimism and Optimism. Are you a pessimist or an optimist?
Graham: I’m an optimist.
Graham: I’ve read the last page of the Bible.
My principal question can anyone wander around the US Senate dining room? And more or less finally, the Bible attests that the verses found in Revelation about angels are true. Ergo?
Chapter Thirteen, Angels in Death: Seems to be getting a little repetitive; nevertheless the show goes on. Phrases like:
Death for the Christian cuts the cord that holds us captive in this present evil world so that angels may transport believers to their heavenly inheritance.
Based solely on Biblically references, doesn’t seem to me totally scholarly. Then we have almost immediately afterwards:
Death is a battle, a profound crisis event. Paul calls it “the last enemy”. While the sting of death has been removed by the work of Christ on the cross, and by His resurrection, yet the crossing of the valley still stimulates fear and mystery.
This and the general tone of the book imply (at least to me) that the only way of alleviating fear of death is through Christianity, which of course is patently false.
Reading this bit, I could not help but smile:
I have stood at the bedside of those who were dying without Christ; it was a terrible experience.
I could not help thinking if Graham had moved to the next room; the dying could have enjoyed the experience much, much more. Oh well, for me that is what passes for wit. And then we have:
At the moment of death the spirit departs the body and moves through the atmosphere. But the Scripture teaches us that the devil lurks then. He is “the prince of the power of the air”. If our eyes of our understanding were opened we would probably see the air filled with demons, the enemies of Christ.
A true Christian theologian; a hypothesis based on the Bible and reconciled with the Bible.
The pomp and ceremony surrounding the British Queen will be nothing compared the homecoming of a believer after death.
“Hundreds of accounts record the heavenly escort of angels of death.” It is not clear whether this is a real world claim but anecdotal evidence is provided. But today we don’t hear as many of these stories because of the drugs given at death.
The pomp and ceremony surrounding the British Queen will be nothing compared the homecoming of a believer after death. “Hundreds of accounts record the heavenly escort of angels of death.” It is not clear whether this is a real world claim but anecdotal evidence is provided. But today we don’t hear as many of these stories because of the drugs given at death.
Chapter Fourteen, Angel Spectators: This will be short only four pages. OK angels are watching us all the time.
How would you live if you knew that you were being watched all the time, not only being watched by your parents, wife, husband or children, but by the heavenly host?
Well ignoring the human part of the question … pretty much exactly the same, but I may be a bit more constipated. Two pages later Graham says:
Our certainty that angels witness how we are walking through life should mightily influence the decisions we make. God is watching, and His angels are interested too.
This type of Christian argument always puzzles me. Would Christians be any less ‘good’ if they new God did not exist. If the answer is yes, then you guys have my sympathies.
And one more quote from Graham, I’ll let it speak for itself.
Why does God permit evil? Why doesn’t God intervene and punish sin? Why does God allow disease? Why does God permit catastrophes? Yet God’s timing is precise! Angel hosts who witness everything that transpires in our world are not free to bear up the righteous and deliver the oppressed until God gives the signal.
Just as I was typing, I could not help thinking about the scientific meaning of precise: reproducible but not necessarily accurate?
Chapter Fifteen, Angels in Our Lives Today: At the beginning of this chapter the story that Air Chief Marshal Lord Hugh Dowding told, is recounted The story is set during The Battle of Britain, where British airmen after being hit were incapacitated or dead, yet their planes kept flying and fighting. Dowding interpreted this as angels doing their thing. To be fair, Graham does say we can never know whether or these were angels, but Graham does not mention either that Dowding renounced conventional Christianity and took up spiritualism and that Dowding was member of the Fairy Investigation Society.
We now move onto more standard fayre:
He (Lucifer) controls principalities, powers and dominions. Every nation, city, village and individual has felt the hot breath of his evil power. He is already gathering the nations of the world for the last great battle in the war against Christ – Armageddon.
It’s a shame Graham did not have the chutzpah to cite which principalities and dominions Lucifer controls. We then move on to more anecdotal stories of angels that apparently have “inexplicable” aspects. Graham may perhaps may have used more accurately “unexplained”. And finally:
… Since then I have been in thousands of battles with Satan and his demons. As I yielded my will and committed myself totally to Christ – as I prayed and believed – I am convinced that God “put a hedge about me,” a hedge of angels to protect me.
And finally for me … how did I do?
My Review, I did not try to explain Graham’s point of view, partly because it is gobbledy gook to me and partly because I don’t have the correct background. But I did try and précis the points I found interesting and where possible I checked up on the background. I read each chapter twice before posting. The book was an easy read. Some general thoughts that struck me as I read this book:
- Who was the intended audience? I don’t think it would sway any atheist or agnostic to a belief in angels. So was it written for theists who might not have a belief in angels? Could anybody be swayed by this book, other than somebody who already had a literal belief in the bible?
- I think the big one for me is faith; people don’t have faith in the Bible in as much they have faith in their interpretation of the Bible.
- In a few places in the book, to reinforce this idea, Graham points to the difference between believers and true believers. ie the true Scotsman fallacy.
- I can’t remember Joseph Campbell’s exact words, but they were something to the effect that if all you can think about is sin, then a sinner you will be. Graham appears to fall in the latter category.
- Generally, I found the book very one sided and it did not consider alternatives or even an alternate explanation. No surprise there I suppose.
And the original ‘cause’ of this thread: Spong not being a Christian theologian. Well based on my dictionary definition of theology, Spong is ten times the theologian than Graham (at least according my interpretation) based on the two books I have read. Now are either true Scotsmen?
Overall it is not a terrible book, it is just a shame that it so full of nonsense.