TRIBUTE TO BILLY GRAHAM EDITION
Billy Graham died this past week. He was the face of evangelicalism in the second half of the twentieth century, distinguishing it as a defined movement between fundamentalism and mainline Protestantism.
Today, we devote our brunch to discussing this iconic figure and his legacy. Today, there is a new meaning to the word “post-evangelicalism,” for the old evangelicalism is now truly past.
I want to be remembered as a person who was faithful to God, faithful to my family, faithful to the Scriptures, and faithful to my calling … a man who dedicated his life to the Lord and never looked back.
• Billy Graham
“The Rev. Billy Graham was one of the most dominant Christian figures over the last 75 years. No more than one or two popes, perhaps one or two other people, came close to what he achieved.
“He was the key leader and the major spokesman of the evangelical movement during the last half of the 20th century. That movement has become one of the strongest in all of world Christianity and world religion, and he played the major role in that.
“He held evangelistic crusades in more than 80 countries; he preached in person to more than 80 million people and live through various media to hundreds of millions of others.
“He brought evangelical leaders from all over the world together, giving them a sense of being part of a great movement and showing them how to cooperate with each other to accomplish a great deal more.
“In huge international conferences, his organization taught tens of thousands of preachers from nearly every country in the world how to do the everyday nuts-and-bolts work of direct evangelism.
“He was a friend and counselor to virtually all the presidents since Dwight Eisenhower and a statesman not only for evangelical religion and Christianity but for the United States and democracy. In recognition, he received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow on a civilian.
“Billy Graham represented core American values in a singular way. Though he made some missteps, he remained free of scandal. He achieved his success by hard work rather than by inheritance or luck. He used the latest technology and media, but depended on the loyalty of a small group of friends who were with him for decades. He hobnobbed with the famous, the wealthy and the powerful around the world, yet seemed surprised that people were interested in him. He often seemed to have the kind of wonder of a small-town boy. He was both genuinely humble and genuinely ambitious and aware of the tension between those inclinations. He was not a perfect man, but he was an uncommonly good one.
“I don’t think any single person will be ‘the next Billy Graham.’ Evangelical Christianity has become so large and multifaceted that no one person can dominate it in the way that he did, regardless of talent or dedication. It’s just not going to happen. But ‘Billy Graham’ is not an office in the Christian church that has to be filled, like pope or bishop. Multitudes of people inspired by him will carry on the work of preaching the Christian gospel. And that’s what was most important to him.
“He will be remembered as a person of integrity and, if results are the measure, as the best who ever lived at what he did. He was, in the words of scripture, ‘a workman who needeth not to be ashamed.’”
• William Martin, senior fellow in religion and public policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, author of “A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story” and the pre-eminent expert on the Rev. Billy Graham
[Billy Graham] helped launch numerous influential organizations, including Youth for Christ (he was the first full-time staff member of this entrepreneurial and innovative organization), the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Christianity Today. The ripple effect of his shaping influence extends to such schools as Wheaton College in Illinois, Gordon-Conwell Divinity School in Massachusetts, Northwestern College in Minnesota, and Fuller Seminary in California. His encouragement and support helped develop the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Greater Europe Mission, TransWorld Radio, World Vision, World Relief, and the National Association of Evangelicals.
He brought the global Christian community together through international conventions: a 1966 Congress on World Evangelism in Berlin, the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, and three huge conferences in Amsterdam for itinerant evangelists in 1983, 1986, and 2000, which drew nearly 24,000 working evangelists from 200 countries.
Phillip Yancey — Billy Graham did not invent the word evangelical, but he managed to restore the word’s original meaning—”good news”—both for the skeptical world and for the beleaguered minority who looked to him for inspiration and leadership.
J.I. Packer — Up to 1940, it was every institution for itself. There wasn’t anything unitive about the situation. There were little outposts of resistance trying to keep their end up in face of the liberal juggernaut. Increasingly, from the 1950s onward, evangelicals came together behind Billy Graham and the things he stood for and was committed to.
Russell Moore — Billy Graham was, in my view, the most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul. He preached Christ, not himself, not politics, not prosperity. When many saw evangelicals as just so many Emer Gantrys, he carried unimpeachable personal integrity.
President George H.W. Bush — Billy Graham was America’s pastor … I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man.
President Jimmy Carter — He shaped the spiritual lives of tens of millions of people worldwide. Broad-minded, forgiving and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve. He had an enormous influence on my own spiritual life, and I was pleased to count Reverend Graham among my advisers and friends.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of NY: As anyone growing up in the 1950s and 1960s can tell you, it was hard not to notice and be impressed by the Reverend Billy Graham. There was no question that the Dolans were a Catholic family, firm in our faith, but in our household there was always respect and admiration for Billy Graham and the work he was doing to bring people to God.
John M. Perkins — I remember Billy telling me he regretted not doing more to remove the ropes of racism. He repented and asked for my forgiveness. Even though he had done so much, Billy had humility and I admire him for this.
Randall Balmer — He became the friend and confidante of popes and presidents, queens and dictators, and yet, even in his 80s, he possesses the boyish charm and unprepossessing demeanor to communicate with the masses.
BILLY GRAHAM’S CRITICS
Lewis V. Baldwin on Graham’s less than full support in the battle against segregation — “He opposed racism and segregation in principle but refused to consistently attack it publicly and also refused to march with King and other ministers who protested against these social evils. This is where Graham missed the mark.”
Reinhold Niebuhr on Graham’s simplistic gospel message — “To proclaim that every human problem can be solved and every hunger satisfied and every potential can be fulfilled when a man encounters Jesus Christ and comes in vital relation to God in him is not very convincing to anyone — Christian or not — who is aware of the continual possibilities of good and evil in every advance of civilization, every discipline of culture, and every religious convention.”
Matthew Avery Sutton on Graham’s failure to face up to the issues facing the world because of his end of the world theology —“Graham had good intentions, as his work desegregating his crusades demonstrated. But when his influence really would have counted, when he could have effected real change, real social transformation, he was too locked into last-days fearmongering to recognize the potential of the state to do good. We are all paying the price.”
The fundamentalist critique of Graham is summarized by Mel White — “Fundamentalist Christian leaders accused Graham of: “breaking down the walls of biblical separation between sound and apostate churches,” and for “sending thousands of converts back into Roman Catholic and modernistic churches that preach heretical gospels,” and for “claiming that Pope John Paul II was a moral and spiritual leader and that when he died surely went to heaven,” and for “accepting an honorary degree from a Catholic university” and for “inviting Catholic bishops, Jewish Rabbis, and even Muslim clerics to sit with him on the platform of his citywide evangelistic campaigns.”
Read this piece on Billy Graham’s own regrets, called “What I Would Have Done Differently.”
• Billy Graham