Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

Will There Ever Be Another Billy Graham?

The month of June has seen the dedication of the Billy Graham Library and the passing of his beloved wife Ruth.  At both of these events we’ve been reminded again how frail Dr. Graham is.  He retired from public ministry a while back, but these events have also reminded us of the awesome impact this son of a North Carolina dairy farmer has had on the world.

Billygraham01 The vast majority of Americans don’t remember a time when Billy Graham was not the most famous evangelist in the world.

What is it about Billy Graham that made him the most popular evangelist and religious figure in the last 100 years (and arguably in history)?  He was a compelling speaker, but he wasn’t spellbinding like Martin Luther King.  He possessed a mesmerizing gaze with deep set eyes, but most of his ministry was to huge crowds who couldn’t see his facial expressions. The content of his messages were simple and he wasn’t especially deft at turning a phrase.  But there was something about Billy Graham that made him the world’s pastor for the last sixty years.

It wasn’t what he could do, it was who he is.  It is the essence of the man that we admire, whether we are the President of the United States, the Queen of England, or a man or woman struggling to make ends meet.

There are two basic things about Billy Graham that made him Billy Graham.

First, he is a man of steadfast integrity.  Over the 60 years of public ministry he never allowed himself to be in a room alone with a woman that was not his wife or daughter.  He never even allowed himself to be photographed with a woman unless Ruth was with him.  He instructed his organization, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, to pay him a salary equal to that of a local church pastor in a metropolitan area.  He turned over all royalties (which amounted to millions of dollars) from his best selling books to the BGEA.  He was and is above reproach, in every sense of the phrase.

Second, Billy Graham belonged to the entire body of Christ.  He was a Southern Baptist, but he sure didn’t act like your typical Southern Baptist evangelist.  He didn’t condemn or reject those who didn’t agree with him on every theological jot and tittle.  He gladly partnered in his crusades with any church with a desire to help win people to Christ.  As a result, Billy Graham belonged to the Baptists, but he was also claimed as one of their own by the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Pentecostals, the Charismatics, the conservatives, the moderates, the young, the old and everyone in between.

He also belonged to the world. He was respected, even loved by the people he was trying to reach with the gospel.  People didn’t feel that Billy Graham was preaching against them or at them.  They sensed that he cared about them and that he was sincere in wanting them to have peace with God. I remember my agnostic Jewish biology teacher in high school seeing a copy of Billy Graham’s book “The Jesus Generation” on my desk in class.  He picked it up and said, “Billy Graham.  I like Billy Graham.  There’s someone who knows what he is talking about.”

Billy Graham was color blind long before it was politically correct to be color blind.  In the 1950s and 1960s he demanded that his crusades be completely integrated, much to the consternation of many of the prejudiced church members who expected the crusades to be as segregated as the churches they attended on Sundays.

Billy Graham united the church behind the common goal of winning people to Christ. He didn’t try to get everyone to agree with him, he just wanted them to join him in an a crusade to share Christ with their lost friends and neighbors.   

Over the last twenty years, our culture has become more and more polarized… just look at a map of the “red” and “blue” states.  We have taken sides on the left or the right and have nothing but disdain and condemnation for those on the opposite side from us.  Sadly, the church has mirrored society in this.  We’ve taken sides on the left or the right and have nothing but disdain and condemnation for those on the opposite side from us.  (In the case of my denomination, we divided up on the right and the far right and have nothing but disdain and condemnation for those on the opposite side of the same side as us.)

Will there ever be another Billy Graham?  Will there ever be someone again who can unite the Body behind the common goal of winning others to Christ?  I certainly hope so. 

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