In an era when so many churches are rocked by sin and scandal, Billy Graham was respected by both Christians and non-christians for his integrity.
In an era where sexual harassment is rampant in seemingly every sphere of life, Billy Graham vowed to never spend time alone with a woman who was not his wife, mother, or daughter.
In an era where many of our most famous pastors live in mansions, Billy Graham vowed to not live lavishly.
In an era where there is so much hype, Billy Graham didn’t exaggerate attendance figures at his crusades.
In a Gallup poll of the most respected men in the world, Billy Graham made the top 10 a remarkable 50 times.
The most well known American Christian of the last century, and arguably the most influential evangelist since the Apostle Paul.
He had an audience with every president from Truman to Obama.
His books communicated Biblical truths in a way that was approachable. His crusade sermons told the gospel with clarity and a sense of urgency.
Billy Graham died today in North Carolina at 99 years of age.
During his 6 decades of ministry, Graham preached to over 215 million people in 185 countries, and hundreds of millions more through television and radio.
Born of humble beginnings just four days prior to the armistice that ended the first World War, Billy Graham was launched to national renown in the years shortly after the second World War. The last of his famous crusades happened in 2006.
While Graham was widely respected, that is not to say that he was without detractors. He could be criticized for not being strong enough on one issue or too accommodating on another issue.
“Fundamentalists saw him as excessively liberal, and liberals saw him as too literalist in talking about sin and salvation. His wonderful balance between them is critical to his legacy,” says John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture, a sister publication of Christianity Today magazine.
Within Christian circles, some disliked his evangelistic methods and Graham’s emphasis on making a decision for Christ. With alter calls and people coming forward, doubtless many of these conversions were influenced by the atmosphere rather than a true experience of conversion.
This is a fact that was not lost on Billy Graham and his association.
In a 2013 interview with Christianity today, Graham said:
There is a mindset today that if people believe in God and do good works they are going to Heaven. But there are many questions that must be answered. There are two basic needs that all people have: the need for hope and the need for salvation. It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible.
There is no doubt that many conversions (considering there were millions of them) were insincere. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives the parable of the soils and how not all who initially receive the word of God truly have it take root in their hearts and lives.
But it is equally doubtless that through Graham’s crusades, books, discipleship materials, many did truly come to faith in the gospel and many believers were nurtured in that faith through this ministry.
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.