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The marriage of Ruth and Billy Graham presents certain challenges to any writer who would portray it. How to write about a couple so beloved by evangelicals without slipping into hagiography? How to write about a famous man and his wife while giving equal consideration to both spouses?
Hanspeter Nüesch, the national director of Campus Crusade for Christ in Switzerland, attempts this balancing act in Ruth & Billy Graham: The Legacy of a Couple (Baker Books). Despite some missteps along the way, this honest, straightforward book is an important addition to our understanding of the Grahams.
Nüesch offers regular reminders that Ruth and Billy, for all their godly qualities, were also sinners. They "were not perfect Christians," he writes. For example, "although she was a very sensitive person, Ruth at times could confront people very bluntly, to the point of irritating them. Billy had weaknesses in other areas. There were times when Billy confused American culture with the kingdom of God, as he himself later admitted."
But their weaknesses were often one side of a coin along with their strengths. Ruth's characteristic bluntness, for instance, could be grating—but it was also central to her giftedness in truth-telling and encouragement. She was honest about her opinions and her faith, which gave strength to many friends and family. And Billy's confusion of the kingdom of God with American culture owed in large part to his deep concern that American culture be godly.
Ruth & Billy Graham is not quite a conventional biography. Nor is it a memoir, even though the author recounts personal experiences with Billy and his daughter Gigi, who wrote the foreword. Nor is it a personal devotion, although there are moments of sermonizing. (Some of the book's weaker points appear when Nüesch spends pages pontificating rather than staying close to the story of the Grahams.) Instead, Nüesch frames the chapters around ...