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Christianity Today Magazine

News and analysis from the world's leading Christian magazine.

Last Build Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 06:18:19 PDT

Copyright: Copyright 2018, Christianity Today

Lead Us Not Into Scandal

While some other evangelicals stumbled in national news, Graham's Modesto Manifesto kept him from falling.


On countless occasions during his career, usually at a press conference preceding a major crusade, Billy Graham declared that he sensed religious revival was breaking out and about to sweep over the land. In 1948, he happened to be right. During the 1940s, church membership in America rose by nearly 40 percent, with most of the growth coming after the end of the war, as the nation tried to reconstruct normalcy on the most dependable foundation it knew. Church building reached an all-time high, seminaries were packed, secular colleges added programs in religious studies, religious books outsold all other categories of nonfiction, and Bible sales doubled between 1947 and 1952. While Graham and his colleagues in Youth For Christ (YFC) and the Southern Baptist “Youth Revival Movement” were packing civic auditoriums and stadiums, William Branham, Jack Coe, A. A. Allen, and Oral Roberts were filling stupendous nine-pole circus tents with Pentecostal believers desperate to see afflictions healed, devils cast out, and the dead raised.

For evangelists, it was like being a stockbroker in a runaway bull market. As in other fields, however, the boom attracted some whose motives and methods were less than sanctified, who fell prey to the temptations described in Scripture as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) but are better known by their street names, “sex, money, and power.” Despite good intentions and behavior, Graham and his associates occasionally found themselves the objects of suspicion and condescension from ministers and laypeople alike. As they contemplated the checkered history and contemporary shortcomings of itinerant evangelism and talked ...

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How a Humble Evangelist Changed Christianity As We Know It

Churches were divided. Believers eschewed cultural influence. Liberal modernism was on the move. Then God made Billy Graham.


The first time Ruth Bell saw her future husband, he was dashing down the dormitory steps two at a time. Now there's a young man who knows where he's going! she thought. But in fact Billy Graham had no idea where he was going; no idea that he would travel the planet preaching the gospel to more people than anyone in history. Ruth's second impression, however, was spot on target: “He wanted to please God more than any man I'd ever met.” This desire, more than anything, set him apart. In an era when evangelicals lived expectantly in the shadow of the Second Coming, Billy Graham was odd in hoping the Lord would tarry: “I sure would like to do something great for him before he comes.”

The Lord did tarry, and Graham made the most of it. If there were a Mount Rushmore for English-speaking evangelists, Graham would be the fifth in granite, alongside Whitefield, Finney, Moody, and Sunday. For the most part, it's easy to imagine why huge crowds pushed and shoved to hear them preach. George Whitefield—short and cross-eyed, with the voice of a tornado—cavorted, posed, and wept on outdoor platforms as he brought Bible dramas to life. Charles Finney had terrifying eyes that drilled out soft spots in the soul, his fiery preaching about the wrath of God going straight to the exposed nerves. Billy Sunday was charming, with jazzy suits, movie-star looks, and a smile that lit up auditoriums. But up on stage, after joking and mugging and flattering the VIPs, he would throw down his hat, rip off his tie, and jump onto the pulpit—sometimes waving a large American flag—attacking sin and beseeching sinners to come to Jesus.

Dwight Moody's appeal is harder to figure. Of grandfatherly ...

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We Need an Independent Investigation of Sovereign Grace Ministries
Allegations of child sexual abuse and staff cover-up continue to swirl. Let’s set an example for all churches to follow, bringing healing to victims and churches alike. For nearly six years now, an open wound has been festering in the evangelical community. It’s time for healing to begin. But that healing cannot begin until we all know the exact nature and extent of the wound; until all the facts are out in the open; until the truth that liberates can be known; and most importantly, if and when it is pertinent, there is repentance. To put it simply: Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC; formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries) and its individual churches and leaders, present and former, who have been accused of failing to adequately respond to past incidents of child and sexual abuse should submit to a thorough, truly independent investigation. For six years now—and more intensely in the last few weeks—charges and counter-charges (see links below), accusations and defenses have been conducted in public forums and in the courts, without a satisfactory conclusion. This has left many, many observers bewildered, angry, and deeply suspicious of SGC and these accused churches. What’s worse, these unseemly events reverberate outward, mixing with the #ChurchToo discussion and lingering anger over the Roman Catholic Church abuse scandal. Many now wonder if there has been a habit of covering up and denying child and sexual abuse in evangelical churches in general—if there is something in the evangelical DNA that makes us hesitant to deal with accusations quickly, openly, and truthfully when there is the suspicion of grave sin in our midst. We call for a fresh and thorough independent investigation not because we believe those accused are guilty of every one of its critics’ charges. We are as bewildered as anyone and simply don’t have enough information to make a confident ...Continue reading... [...]

The Evangel-ist

Billy Graham restored a sense of goodness about the Good News.


The fundamentalist church of my youth viewed the upstart evangelist Billy Graham with deep suspicion. He invited members of the National Council of Churches—and Roman Catholics!—to sit on his crusade platforms. He seemed soft on communism, especially in his comments about the church behind the Iron Curtain. Perhaps most important, in those days of Jim Crow racism, he insisted on integrated crusades even in white bastions like Alabama.

Those suspicions, which now seem quaintly extremist, provide a glimpse of what theologically conservative churches might have become apart from Graham's influence: cultic and divisive, a minority defensively opposing rather than engaging culture. We can measure the greatness of the man by noting his impression on a movement that emerged from fundamentalist roots. 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.

He made mistakes along the way, of course: angering President Truman by using the White House as a photo op, making off-the-cuff comments about social issues of the day, getting conned by President Nixon. Each time, however, he admitted his mistake and learned from it. He showed that an evangelical Christian could be both respectable and relevant, all the while clinging to a simple gospel message of God's love for sinners. As he traveled internationally, sophisticated religious leaders in places like Great Britain and Germany subjected him to scornful criticism, until he met with them and disarmed them with humility and grace.

In some ways, Graham lived the quintessential ...

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What I Would Have Done Differently
Billy Graham's regrets, in his own words. For all of Billy Graham's remarkable accomplishments, he made his share of mistakes. These mistakes might have harmed his ministry if not for Graham's willingness to confess them and learn from them. "I've had to admit errors in judgment, and I've found Christian people more than generous in understanding my faults," he told Christianity Today during the throes of Watergate in 1974. "It's better to show humility, and it's better to say 'I'm wrong' or 'I'm sorry' when you've made a mistake. … However, some of the criticism hurled at evangelical theology lands on me, and I suppose when I make a mistake it hurts the evangelical cause. I sometimes put my foot in my mouth. I've made many statements I wish I could recall. I am an erring, fallible disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ and am subject to all the temptations, human frailties, and errors of other disciples of the Lord." Kneeling on the White House Lawn Graham would never again repeat his first big public mistake, which followed a 1950 meeting with Harry Truman, Graham's first opportunity to meet a president. "When we arrived at the side gate of the White House, we passed through the security guards and checkpoints easily enough," Graham remembered in the opening of his autobiography, Just As I Am. "The President's secretary then took us in hand, informing us that our visit would last exactly 20 minutes. Promptly at noon, we were ushered into the Oval Office. From the look on President Truman's face, the chief executive of our nation must have thought he was receiving a traveling vaudeville team. "When we stepped outside the White House, reporters and photographers ...Continue reading... [...]

How Larry Norman Became the Elvis Presley of Christian Rock
His music inspired a generation of Jesus freaks, but he never shook the suspicion of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In 2014, John Darnielle, of the band the Mountain Goats, gave his first novel an obscure title—Wolf in White Van. In the book, the protagonist described watching the Trinity Broadcasting Network many years before. Televangelists Paul and Jan Crouch were discussing Satanism in rock music with an “expert” guest. The hosts were shocked to learn that demonic messages were hidden everywhere—even in albums from so-called Christian artists. To prove his point, the guest produced a vinyl LP, which was placed on a turntable and played backward. Supposedly a mysterious phrase could be heard: “Wolf in White Van.” Why was this phrase so nefarious? Surely it didn’t help matters that the song it was taken from, “666,” was about the Antichrist. But the larger worry was that the artist, Larry Norman (1947–2008), was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Such suspicion dogged the career of the man who was called the “Father of Christian Rock.” For decades, Christians have been obsessed with the prospect of hidden messages, both in the Bible and outside it. I confess I spent considerable time in my teenage years listening for purported backward masking on Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Rush records. What possessed earlier generations of evangelicals to spend so much energy on conspiracy theories—to focus less on the songs themselves than what they sound like played in reverse? Why did so many Christians assume that rock ’n’ roll music was the Devil’s handiwork, plain and simple? My curiosity led me to a man who, once upon a time, seemed to be the source of all the trouble. Thanks to his estate, I was granted access to Larry Norman’s considerable archives. ...Continue reading... [...]

Evangelist Billy Graham Has Died

'America's pastor' shaped modern evangelicalism.


Billy Graham was perhaps the most significant religious figure of the 20th century, and the organizations and the movement he helped spawn continue to shape the 21st.

During his life, Graham preached in person to more than 100 million people and to millions more via television, satellite, and film. Nearly 3 million have responded to his invitation to "accept Jesus into your heart" at the end of his sermons. He proclaimed the gospel to more persons than any other preacher in history. In the process, Graham became "America's Pastor," participating in presidential inaugurations and speaking during national crises such as the memorial services following the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks.

"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," said Columbia University historian Randall Balmer.

Billy Graham was born in 1918 in Charlotte, North Carolina, attended (briefly) Bob Jones College, graduating from Florida Bible Institute near Tampa, and Wheaton College in Illinois. He was ordained a minister in the Southern Baptist Church (1939) and pastored a small church in suburban Chicago and preached on a weekly radio program. In 1946 he became the first full-time staff member of Youth for Christ and launched his evangelistic campaigns. For four years (1948–1952) he also served as president of Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis. His 1949 evangelistic tent meetings in Los Angeles brought him to national attention, and his 1957 New York meetings, which filled Madison Square Garden for four months, established him as a major presence on the ...

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Not the Stuff of Romance Novels
Billy and Ruth's marriage was one of calling. But true love came along. Billy Graham and Ruth Bell's early love story didn't unfold at all the way a romance writer might have penned it. There were no flirtatious winks across the room, no mushy meetings between classes, no plaintive pledges of undying love. They were far more serious about pursuing Jesus than each other. In some ways, their courtship—and, eventually, their marriage—was an answer to Ruth's prayer as a young girl: that God would let her live out her days as a missionary. She was 12, the daughter of a medical missionary in China, and she pictured herself an old maid, leading Tibetan people to the Lord. The more difficult the mission field, the better. God answered her prayer, but not by giving her a post in Tibet. He gave her Billy Graham. There was nothing flowery or sentimental about their meeting, courtship, or marriage, nothing of a traditional romance. The sacrifices made for love were not made for each other, but for the sake of the call to serve Christ alone. By the time they met at Wheaton College, Ruth had lived in China all but her last two years of high school. She was cultured, strikingly beautiful, and driven to deep devotions each day before sun-up. She had no interest in the guys who couldn't help but stare at her; dating was out of the question. Billy noticed Ruth long before she knew anything of him. That fall, Billy wrote to his family back home about the girl who had caught his attention. When a third party finally introduced the two, Billy was so taken by Ruth that he wrote home again, this time saying he'd fallen in love. Now he only had to work up the courage to ask her out. But Ruth wasn't interested, that much was apparent. But Billy wasn't dissuaded. With the gift of persuasion ...Continue reading... [...]

America’s (Children’s) Pastor
What kids' letters to Graham reveal about his place in society. While researching a book on Billy Graham's life and legacy, we discovered a cache of answered but apparently long-forgotten letters that children had posted to him in the early 1970s. The letters reveal that these children saw Graham as a combination of friend, confidant, and trusted adviser in matters practical as well as spiritual. In their innocence, the children often said more than they knew. Keeping a straight face wasn't always easy. Eight-year-old Russ informed Graham—they usually called him by his full name, Billy Graham—that his family was "going organic." Todd, 14, "still loved God," yet admitted, "the most reason I'm writing you is to get stickers." Predictably, pets played a large role. Ten-year-old Craig explained that after leaving two parakeets in the car on a hot day, they ended up "three-quarters dead," but prayer brought them back. Others had even better news. Scott happily reported that his dog had "just turned Christian." For children, as for adults, money loomed large. Some showed early signs of an entrepreneurial spirit. Kathy asked Graham to help her sell a bunny for $1.50. Many sent their savings, or sums received for a lost tooth, a good report card, or raking leaves. Others wished they could give more. Darlene had hoped to do better than a quarter, but remembered, "after all I'm only ten." Twelve-year-old Julie lamented that she did not own a checking account, then assured Graham, "God will help you. . . . He is just testing your faith!" Graham seemed to know that theology was too important to leave entirely in the hands of the theologians, and so did the children. Karen wondered: What do you do when ...Continue reading... [...]

Keeping the Sabbath Saved My Marriage, My Ministry, and Probably My Life
I used to think resting from work was selfish, until I considered the example of Jesus. Nearly 10 years ago, as a college pastor at the University of Oregon, I toiled nearly 80 hours a week doing the “work of the Lord.” No boundaries. No rhythms. No intention. No rest. Every crisis was my crisis. Every complaint was my problem. Everything and everyone came to me. The long and short of it. I began to burn out. And I knew there was a problem when I started hoping I would burn out. Burnout offered a way out of all the insanity. Though I had never thought it possible, I was, in Paul’s words, beginning to “weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:9). The cost was high. I constantly got sick, my marriage was struggling, and my ministry became misery as I went frantically from crisis to crisis. Flannery O’Connor has this little throwaway line where she speaks of a priest who is “unimaginative and overworked.” That was me. There was only one problem: The ministry was thriving. People were getting baptized. Students were repenting. The group was growing. It all came to a head one Saturday morning. After an 80-hour workweek, I scheduled an appointment with a student in our college ministry for 10:00 a.m. that Saturday morning. Having not slept well for over a month, I missed my appointment, not even hearing the sound of my alarm. I woke up to a voicemail on my phone: “How could you miss this appointment? Pastors shouldn’t miss appointments. You have failed me.” I had become, in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, a “quivering mass of availability.” A need-filler. A gofer. A Christian handyman, available to everyone and everything but the Lord my God. Standing there, I nearly broke my flip phone over my knee and threw it against the wall. I had been working tirelessly ...Continue reading... [...]

Rick Warren: What I Learned from Billy
Focus. Integrity. And a God-directed heart. Billy Graham had a life-long influence on me as a person and as a pastor. It began in my childhood with my grandmother. My grandmother told me, "I pray for two people every day. I pray for Billy Graham, and I pray for you." She always wanted me to be a pastor. Today, I have no doubt that her prayers and the fact that Billy Graham was in our home every month with Decision magazine and every week on the radio did much to influence the direction my life took. As I grew older, I began to understand Graham's commitment to keeping his character clean. As a young pastor, I understood why he and his staff made the "Modesto Manifesto," a covenant to ensure the integrity of his ministry. Later, when I started Saddleback Church, our staff made similar covenants—the Saddleback Staff Ten Commandments—based on the same idea. The goal in everything we do at Saddleback is to make it easier for us to bring people to Jesus. You build bridges of friendship from your heart to theirs so Jesus Christ can cross that bridge into their life. Reaching out to those outside of evangelical bounds is a key lesson Graham taught me. Graham realized that the whole gospel must be taught. In so many ways, he was a pioneer. Long before churches were ready for racial integration, he integrated his crusades. That's broadening the agenda. The great evil of that generation was segregation. He took it on. He was primarily an evangelist, but he used his enormous influence to say the church has to care about issues other than evangelism. Like Graham, we believe strongly in the primacy of evangelism. But also like him, we're just foolish enough to take on issues that show Christian love to a hurting and confused world. I learned ...Continue reading... [...]

‘Little Girls Need Their Daddy’
Billy's children are thankful for their father; they just wish he'd been around more. When Franklin Graham was five, his famous father was in Australia for six months preaching at a Billy Graham Crusade. Like many youngsters, "I'd wake up in the morning, go down the hall and crawl into bed with Mama," Franklin says. "Well, one day I went in and Daddy had come home. So here he was, this man in her bed. I asked Mama, 'Who's that?' " Billy's children say that his frequent extended absences marked them, but so did his unconditional love. While he sometimes chose ministry over family, they also knew that he loved them deeply and unconditionally. The Graham children have both struggled and triumphed. Three out of the five have been divorced; both boys openly rebelled. All of them wrestled with simply being the offspring of the 20th century's most famous evangelist. Today, the Graham children are all engaged in full-time ministry, but more importantly, they respect and honor their parents. As adults, they look back on their peculiar childhood through the lens of grace. The eldest, Gigi Graham Foreman, has written seven books and is a sought-after speaker. Anne Graham Lotz runs AnGeL Ministries, which hosts Bible teaching revivals and conferences both here and abroad, and has authored numerous books. Ruth "Bunny" Graham leads Ruth Graham and Friends, a ministry to help hurting people within the church, and also writes and speaks extensively. Franklin Graham is CEO and president of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, a compassion and relief organization. Ned Graham, the youngest, has been a pastor and now runs East Gates, an organization that works to print and distribute Bibles in China (where their mother, Ruth Bell Graham, grew ...Continue reading... [...]

My Mountaintop Moment
This magazine and I both have our beginnings in a replacement evangelist’s ministry. I was making my way down Black Mountain in North Carolina in the fall of 2009, heading for I-40 north to Charlotte, when I decided to call my mom. Not the usual thing a guy then in his late 50s does following a meeting—but this wasn't just any meeting. "Mom, you'll never guess who I just spent an hour with," I excitedly blurted out, my words in overdrive. "Billy Graham!" I then waited for the effect of that name to sink in. And it did. With silence. One second. Two seconds. Five seconds. Silence. "Mom," I repeated several times, thinking my cell connection was kaput. "You there?" Finally, in her quietest church voice, she replied: "Really?" "Yes, Mom," I said. "Really!" At which point, she was transported back over 65 years to a Saturday night Voice of Christian Youth rally at the Masonic Temple in downtown Detroit. As a girl of 15 or 16 years of age, she was brought there to hear an evangelist by her boyfriend, who was on fire for the Lord. He had ulterior motives, to be sure. He was falling in love with this girl—but he knew their courtship could not go much further unless she too committed her life to Christ. As the story is told, the evangelist my future father had hoped would convincingly deliver the altar call that night was unable to attend for some reason, so another evangelist—then unknown to either teenager—filled in. And that night, by the grace of God alone, my mom's eternity was redirected. God graciously used that backup evangelist, Billy Graham, to set the cornerstone of what would eventually become a family of four. It was a home marked by an infectious love for Christ and his Word, where gospel witness was a ...Continue reading... [...]

Farm Boy: How Billy Graham Became a Preacher
A boyhood in rural North Carolina shaped the evangelist his entire life. If you go to Charlotte, North Carolina, you will find that the farmland where Billy Graham grew up has been transformed. The rolling fields of the early-20th-century agricultural South have morphed into the strip malls, office buildings, and subdivisions of the New South. But Charlotte of 1918, the year of Graham's birth, was a sleepier town. Its first streetcars, creating new suburban residences, had just been built, and it wasn't until Billy was three years old that one of the nation's first radio stations graced Charlotte's airwaves. A year later, Efird's Department Store, which described itself as "the only store south of Philadelphia with escalators," opened. It was in this Charlotte—straddling rural and urban, and experiencing the first pangs of transition into the world-class city people know today—that Graham was born. Frank and Morrow Graham built, and reared their four children on, a thriving dairy farm. The children grew up in a colonial-style house with indoor plumbing. The family was close-knit. Indeed, Billy and two younger siblings, Catherine and Melvin, shared a bedroom until Catherine was 13. Jean Graham Ford—the youngest Graham sibling, born almost 14 years after Billy and his only surviving sibling today—recalls the special bond shared by Billy and his mother. Billy was always doing little things to please her, like going out into the fields and bringing her wildflowers. Jean also recalls that young Billy loved Morrow's cooking and had a seemingly insatiable appetite: "When you walked in the back door during the spring and summer months, Mother would always have tomatoes on the shelf in the back porch. He would pick up the tomato and eat it ...Continue reading... [...]

Interview: Billy in the Oval Office: A Story of Faith, Friendship, and Temptation
Journalist Nancy Gibbs recalls Graham's relationship with six decades of American presidents. In 2007, Time magazine veterans Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy coauthored The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House. The best-selling book chronicled Graham's influence on American presidents from Harry Truman to George W. Bush. On April 25, 2010, Graham hosted Barack Obama at the Graham family home in Montreat, North Carolina, making Obama the 12th chief executive to interact with Graham, something no other religious leader has done. The two of them prayed for each other during their 35-minute meeting, according to reports. (Donald Trump attended Graham’s 95th birthday party in 2013.) Graham's relationships with different presidents varied widely. He skinny-dipped in the White House pool with Lyndon Johnson, played golf with John F. Kennedy, and counseled the Clintons after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But Graham acknowledged that his relationship with Richard Nixon, tainted by partisan politics, was the one most harmful to the evangelist's gospel mission. Timothy C. Morgan, director of Wheaton College’s journalism program, interviewed Gibbs before Graham's death. As journalists, Michael Duffy and you had rare opportunities to interact one on one with Billy Graham. How would you describe him in personal terms? One description I love is the writer who, looking at Billy Graham's long arms and long legs, said that it looked as though God had designed him to be seen from a distance. This figure could fill a stadium with 50,000 or 100,000 people, night after night after night. We imagined this huge public personality. What was most surprising to us the first day we went to Montreat was how completely disarming he was. We were struck by his humility, the gentleness, the quiet, confident ...Continue reading... [...]