Guest / Limited Access /

This article originally appeared in the November 18, 1988 issue of Christianity Today.

Why invent something new about Billy Graham as he enters his eighth decade? Integrity demands that, when invited, one say to his face what for years one has said, as it were, behind his back. This I shall do.

The task for the church historian begins rather simply: Locate the subject in space and time. And Graham's space has been global. From an almost hardscrabble early life in North Carolina, the precincts of small Bible colleges, and Los Angeles tent revivals, he has come to be, with the Pope, one of the two best-known figures in the Christian world—or in the world, for that matter. From the years when, still in insecurity, he was a name-dropper of kings and celebrities, he has come to be the one whose name statecrafters and notables drop. And Graham made the move in status without any evident malformation of his ego.

To locate him in time: Certainly, a hundred years from now, people in my historical profession will cite Graham as the shaper of evangelism in our half-century, as, in their time, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Grandison Finney, Dwight L. Moody, and (alas!, I have to say) Billy Sunday served in theirs.

However, Graham had a more difficult task, for he was the first to carry on his work in a culture not decisively shaped by a Protestantism that was responsive to evangelism. He has had to build community in a pluralist America, one in which neither his kind of camp nor any camp singularly "ran the show." He had to rely on old evangelistic vocabularies where he could, as in leftover parts of the oldish South. Then he had to translate them as it became the newish South, the worldly Sunbelt. Graham had to find languages to communicate, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedPhilip Yancey: Be Pioneers of Grace in a Post-Christian America
Subscriber Access Only Philip Yancey: Be Pioneers of Grace in a Post-Christian America
The author lays out a way to witness after churches have lost their cultural privilege.
TrendingPope Francis Learns What Rick Warren, Russell Moore, N. T. Wright Think about Marriage
Pope Francis Learns What Rick Warren, Russell Moore, N. T. Wright Think about Marriage
(UPDATED) Warren turns Vatican conference into 'revivalist meeting,' while Moore explains why marriage crosses theological boundaries.
Editor's PickMedical Missionaries' Ebola Pullback: No More Kent Brantlys?
Medical Missionaries' Ebola Pullback: No More Kent Brantlys?
As ministries report record interest in serving, Samaritan's Purse shifts strategy on what expat doctors do.
Comments
Christianity Today
Reflections on Graham by a Former Grump
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

October 2008

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.