The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism
by Garth M. Rosell
Baker Academic
288 pp., $19.99 (paperback)

On the afternoon of April 23, 1950, Billy Graham preached to a crowd of 50,000 on the Boston Common, the same place where George Whitefield had proclaimed the gospel at the height of the Great Awakening in 1740. The dashing young evangelist's rally culminated months of revival in Boston, which had begun with two weeks of packed auditorium meetings across the city and ended with return engagements throughout New England and Boston, reminiscent of Whitefield's famous tour.

"We have humanized God and deified man," Graham proclaimed to his admiring audience, and we "have worshiped at the throne of science."

The usual story of Graham's rise to national prominence dwells on his spectacular Los Angeles crusade the previous fall, but as Garth Rosell points out in The Surprising Work of God (5 stars), Graham's follow-up triumph in the less congenial atmosphere of Catholic-dominated Boston, in the shadow of leading universities, was crucial for proving that he "could hold his own in any context."

The Rev. Harold John Ockenga, pastor of the influential Park Street Church at the edge of the Boston Common, brought Graham to Boston and did as much as anyone to give Graham's mission its larger shape. Ockenga and Graham both heralded the revival of 1950 as the greatest in New England since the Great Awakening. While Graham could well assume the role of Whitefield, the revival had no towering theologian to assume the role of Jonathan Edwards, who wrote several works defending the 18th-century awakening.

Yet Ockenga, a scholarly pastor who had earned a Ph.D. under J. Gresham Machen ...

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