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Christianity Today Magazine

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

Last Build Date: Sat, 24 Feb 2018 07:01:34 PST

Copyright: Copyright 2018, Christianity Today

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 ...

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Interview: Inside the Nixon Years

Chuck Colson tells the inside story of the most controversial relationship in Graham's life.


Billy Graham's relationship to President Richard Nixon was a tricky one, Charles Colson said in this exclusive interview before his death in 2012. As special counsel for Nixon before his own conversion to Christ, Colson often assisted in arranging meetings between Nixon and Graham. As a result, he witnessed interactions between the two men, which he shared with Christianity Today editor in chief Mark Galli.

In what type of settings would you have interacted with Billy Graham and President Nixon?

Graham came in to do church services on Sunday mornings. He also came in on a number of occasions just to visit with the president and stop in and see some of us at the various offices. On many occasions when I was with them, I would ask the president if he wanted me to leave and he generally said yes. I can think of few other people that Nixon ever spent time with totally alone without someone sitting with them. They had that kind of an intimate relationship; he trusted Billy completely.

What do you think of William Martin's assertion, "No president ever made such a conscious, calculating use of religion as a political instrument as did Richard Nixon"?

Part of my role as Nixon's assistant was to mobilize the religious community, find those disaffected Democrats and win them over. It was said at the time that it was the first time there had been this sort of concerted effort to get religious people into the White House.

I asked many religious leaders for access to their mailing lists. Even in 1972, it was pretty sophisticated to do this. We were aiming at a 20-million-voter database so we could identify by precincts. Graham had a list of evangelicals that was pure gold, and we asked him for it. His assistants checked ...

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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... [...]

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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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... [...]

Someday You Will Read or Hear That Billy Graham Didn’t Really Say That
The quote that went viral after Graham’s death actually came from D. L. Moody—but he probably wouldn’t mind. In the wake of Billy Graham’s death, many have recalled the evangelist’s most pithy phrases and memorable lines in posts across social media. The onslaught of quotes comes as a fitting homage to a man who was known for his words, which brought the good news of the gospel to millions. [Read CT’s special tribute issue.] The most viral quotation from the late preacher—at one point shared every 15 seconds on Twitter—addresses Graham’s own view of his death: Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God. It’s a stirring remark that captures the heart of the evangelist’s life and message—his focus on the gospel and his confidence in eternity. No wonder denominational leaders, commentators, Christian musicians, evangelists, reality TV stars, pastors, and thousands of others posted this popular quote attributed to Graham after his death. The saying makes for a particularly apt tribute given that Graham, the most prominent preacher and evangelist of the 20th century, actually adapted it from the most prominent preacher and evangelist of the 19th century, Dwight L. Moody. The original version appears in the first line of Moody’s autobiography, released in 1900. It reads: Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal—a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned ...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... [...]

Graham and the Jews: A Complex Connection
The Nixon tapes revealed a shocking quote, but there was much more to his relationship with Judaism. New York City gave Billy Graham a national stage like no other US city when he arrived in 1957. And the evangelist saw a special opportunity in its ethnic diversity, with "more Italians than Rome, more Irish than Dublin, more Germans than Berlin, more Puerto Ricans than San Juan." He also knew that one out of every ten Jews in the world lived in New York. Graham capitalized on the city's ethnic character, notably inviting Martin Luther King Jr. to offer an opening prayer, preaching a Saturday afternoon Spanish service through an interpreter, and in his free time meeting with various Jewish groups. He developed a long-lasting friendship with Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, then director of the Synagogue Council of America. Both were men of enormous influence in their own circles, and they did not hesitate to use their influence to advance each other's interests. Over the years, the Jewish community recognized Graham for his key role in interfaith relations. In 1960, it was Israel Prime Minister Golda Meir, presenting him with a Bible inscribed, "To a great teacher in all the important matters to humanity and a true friend of Israel." In 1969, it was the Torch of Liberty Plaque awarded by the Anti-Defamation League. In 1971, it was the International Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In 1977, it was the American Jewish Committee's first interreligious award, with Tanenbaum declaring, "Most of the progress of Protestant-Jewish relations over the past quarter century was due to Billy Graham." The community's appreciation for Graham stemmed in part from his repeated refusal to "single out the Jews as Jews" in his evangelism—despite his role as ...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... [...]

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... [...]

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 ...Continue reading... [...]

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 with ...Continue reading... [...]

Commentary: What ‘Black Panther’ Means for Christians
This celebration of black culture and black success points to a bigger story for the church. A while ago, I stopped watching a certain type of black movie. In the wake of the black suffering that I saw in real life, I didn’t want to see another black slave scene. I didn’t want the water hoses of Alabama to once again wreck my hopes. I didn’t want to see us integrate another school, sports team, or profession despite the overwhelming odds. I didn’t avoid these films because I was ashamed of our history, but because my soul needed rest. The film Black Panther presented itself differently. It did not set out to highlight black suffering, but black achievement. Furthermore, it was black achievement in a black context. For black people, this was a film for us, by us, and about us. The Marvel movie—set in a fictional, futuristic African country (Wakanda) and featuring an African and African American cast—has even inspired black viewers to come to the movie dressed in traditional African clothing. This response might seem excessive, but given the history of cinema, the chance to center the black experience outside of the setting of extreme poverty is no small thing. Black audiences are celebrating the vision for a bigger story for black boys and girls; their support is a call to attend to the whole of black life and culture. American evangelicals might look to Black Panther as a starting point for dialogue and reflection as they increasingly address concerns about diversity, reconciliation, and representation in their churches and the church at large. This movie milestone exemplifies how deeply we as a people want to be our whole black selves and tell our whole stories. We resist the expectation that we must conform to cultural norms in order to be accepted in white spaces, including evangelical ...Continue reading... [...]

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God
Why a fiery evangelist changed his emphasis. Billy Graham debuted on a national stage during his Los Angeles Crusade in fall 1949. Just 30 years old, Graham met his audience with a fiery call for repentance from sin, boldly announcing on the opening night that "this city of wickedness and sin" had a choice between revival and renewal—or judgment. At first, Los Angeles responded rather coolly to Graham's ire. But after a publicity boost from news magnate William Randolph Hearst, Graham's crusade entered its "5th Sin-Smashing Week!" A week later, the "Canvas Cathedral" overflowed as Graham presided over the "6th Great Sin-Smashing Week!" Graham was no false advertiser. According to The Los Angeles Times, when the sawdust settled, some 6,000 souls had either "re-consecrated their lives" or converted to a life in Christ, "weeping forgiveness for their sins." Their tears were understandable since, according to Graham, they had narrowly missed hellfire and damnation. “Those who reject Christ,” Graham bellowed in an early sermon, "will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone to spend eternity." He emphasized the point even more vividly in a sermon about Judgment Day. Upon Jesus' return, Graham warned, he would condemn the unrepentant with “fire coming from his eyes,” and a “sword coming from his mouth.” The young evangelist rounded off the theme of condemnation near the end of his crusade with a recitation of Jonathan Edwards's “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Such firebrand sermons produced restless nights among some audience members, forcing Graham to employ a “‘swing shift’” evangelist to handle decisions ...Continue reading... [...]

How a Humble Evangelist Changed Christianity As We Know It
Churches were divided. Leadership was concentrated in the denominations. 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 ...Continue reading... [...]