Concerns of the Evangelist
This article originally appeared in the April 5, 1985 issue of Christianity Today.
The log house belonging to evangelist Billy Graham sits at the end of a long road slithering up to the crest of Black Mountain. It is a sturdy and warmly appointed place surrounded by thick stands of hardwood and jackpine and blooming mountain laurel. One can hardly imagine, peering through the ethereal haze draping the hills of this North Carolina hamlet, a more idyllic and soulful setting for a retirement home.
But for Graham, who now is 66 years old, his all-too-infrequent visits to the family homestead in Montreat provide him only the barest respite from his relentless public and private journeys. As long as he is persuaded the hand of God is upon him, the evangelist says he is dutybound to continue his ministry of preaching throughout the world, adding to the flock of 100 million people who have poured in to his crusades.
It has been for him an astonishing and supernatural run as the twentieth century's most recognized and decorated preacher, confidant to presidents and royalty, and counselor to millions of common folk. But Graham says he will be content with a simple epitaph for his life and ministry: "A sinner saved by grace; a man who, like the psalmist, walked in his integrity. I'd like people to remember that I had integrity."
Still, there is much to do. It is, the evangelist says, "God's hour for the world," a time of unprecedented danger and new opportunities, of thunderous approaching hoofbeats and wondrous breakthroughs for the cause of Christianity.
He worries that the world stands at the brink of nuclear holocaust. He laments a resurgence of racism and the uneasy peace in South Africa. He wonders about the morality of the distribution of wealth on the globe, and anguishes over the economic disparities in his own homeland. Yet somehow, through it all, he sees signs of hope.
He has, in fact, changed in considerable ways since he burst from the halls of Wheaton College in 1943 to take charge of his first pastorate in the nearby Chicago suburb of Western Springs. He became the pastor of the First Baptist Church, a small congregation in a town dominated by parishes of a more mainline stripe. Even then Graham was dropping broad hints that he would not be content with a merely parochial ministry. He was instrumental in changing the name of the congregation to the Village Church in an effort to attract fallen-away Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Methodists who may not have known of the Baptist denomination or who may have harbored a bias against it.
Since those early days, Graham has become something of a patriarch for the whole of American Protestantism, admired chiefly by adherents of the more conservative and evangelical faction, but also regarded with growing respect by members of many more liberal denominations. His most persistent detractors, in fact, have been religious extremists largely from the far Right, who fault Graham for his long-standing cooperation with mainline churches that help sponsor his city crusades. More recently, those same critics have charged him with being naively soft on communism in the aftermath of Graham's widely publicized trips to the Soviet Union and his other forays into Eastern bloc countries.
"You can't help but grow and become more tolerant," Graham asserts. "Man is really the same the world over, and the gospel is universal in its application. It's been amazing to me to find believers in every part of the world we've been to. There is no force in the world that can destroy Christianity, and history has proven that."