My wife, kids, and I recently had the chance to visit the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, NC. We’ve long been impressed with Graham’s life and ministry, and this trip only increased our appreciation for Graham.
As I reflect on Billy Graham’s six decades of ministry, four words stand out:
As we looked over various exhibits and heard stories about Graham’s life, Veronica commented to me, “He wasn’t complex, and not usually ‘profound.’ But you can tell that he really believed what he was saying.” And it’s true: Billy Graham had struggled with the hard questions, so when he spoke with assurance, it wasn’t the naïve assurance of a neophyte. It was the absolute assurance of someone who has wrestled with questions of faith.
During the beginning of Graham’s ministry, theological liberalism was on the rise in mainline denominations, and Graham’s faith was shaken. He often told the story of a moment when, in the height of his doubts, he took a walk in the woods. During that walk, he finally acknowledged, “I either believe God has spoken or I don’t. I believe Jesus Christ is God’s Son, and I believe the Bible he authorized is his Father’s word, just like he said it was. I’ll believe it by faith—even the parts I don’t quite understand.” (my paraphrase)
Graham’s conviction was contagious. Conviction always is. It reminds me of David Hume, the 18th-century atheist philosopher, who consistently went to hear the preacher George Whitefield at his evangelistic rallies. Someone recognized Hume, and—surprised to see him there—said, “I thought you do not believe in the gospel.” Hume answered, “I don’t, but he does.” That was the draw that Billy Graham had at his rallies: he believed in his message so deeply that he drew in some of the most skeptical and non-believing.
At this point, you can’t name a single one of Billy Graham’s friends who drifted with the tide of theological liberalism; but Billy changed the world.