Billy Graham was a born salesman, and he knew it. In the summer of 1936, after graduating from high school, he crisscrossed South Carolina selling Fuller brushes door to door. By the end, he had posted the best record in the state. The experience taught him a lesson he never forgot: If you have the best product in the world, then herald it with fervent conviction and the best marketing tools at hand.
This background informs the story Uta A. Balbier tells in her new book, Altar Call in Europe: Billy Graham, Mass Evangelism, and the Cold-War West. Balbier, a senior professor of history at Oxford University, offers sparkling prose, razor-edged analysis, careful research in English and German primary sources, and the critical empathy of a self-identified Christian scholar. The result is one of the most important books about Graham published in the past few decades.
Balbier’s main argument is simple: Graham integrated evangelical Christianity with modernity in fresh and vibrant ways. He powerfully furthered what she calls “the seismographic shift in the religious landscape from a ‘culture of obligation and duty to a culture of consumption and choice.’” In the words of one journalist she quotes, “That old time religion has gone as modern as an atomic bomb.”
Altar Call in Europe focuses on Graham’s landmark crusades in London (1954), Berlin (also 1954), and New York City (1957) while glancing at crusades in other places. Balbier elaborates her thesis by examining five ropes that bound American, British, and German lives together in the 1950s, despite substantial cultural differences: Cold War fears, rampant consumerism, crusade experiences, Graham’s charisma, and the life-changing ...1
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