This article originally appeared in the November 18, 1988 issue of Christianity Today.
Billy Graham celebrated 70 exceptionally good years this past November 7.
Can this actually be true? Many of us think of Billy as eternally youthful, his boundless energy and vision flowing from his determination to spread the gospel. And no wonder. In the 19808 he has implemented his unique vision of equipping Third World evangelists through Amsterdam '83 and '86, passing the torch on toGraham then: one simple message thousands now communicating the gospel worldwide. Already in 1988 he has preached in China and the Soviet Union—meeting with top leaders of both those countries—and he has spent time planning events in Europe, holding crusades in numerous U.S. cities, and along the way offering prayers al the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
All of this and realities such as having spoken face to face with over a hundred million people have, in fact, taken a toll: both he and his wife, Ruth, have faced some tough health problems. But this time of celebrating Billy's seventieth birthday catches them both fully active and looking to the future.
Among Billy's many accomplishments during his more than 40 years of ministry was the founding of this magazine. In 1955, he conceived the vision and was preaching it in detail to a group of handpicked leaders. He explained, "I have called you together for prayer, for consultation, to seek the will of God in this matter, and to present some concrete proposals." Billy's proposals called for hard-hitting editorials on current subjects, full religious news coverage, biblical articles, book reviews, and other elements you now regularly read in CT. He insisted on a 9 positive, broad-based approach. This positive viewpoint was to extend to "the great social issues of our day, such as the starving people in India, the racial problem, and others. We must be for the underdog and the downtrodden, as we all believe Christ was." He suggested the name of this magazine be Christianity Today.
More than 20 years later, at a very difficult time in CT's history, a group of board members were evaluating the magazine's future. Harold Ockenga stood and read the complete text of Billy's original speech. As soon as he finished, the board members declared unanimously, "That's it! That's exactly the vision!" All were amazed at Billy's remarkable prescience.
This cover story, then, is unapologetically a celebration-a commemoration of Billy Graham's unique contributions. In it, three of CT's former editors make specific observations. (A fourth editor, Kenneth S. Kantzer, discusses the Graham legacy in his editorial on page 14.) For Billy's own thoughts on various topics, executive editor Terry Muck and I traveled to Montreat, North Carolina, just after Billy's return from China and Russia, to conduct a free-wheeling interview. To complete the package, University of Chicago historian Martin Marty writes a personal retrospective. Throughout our interview in Montreat, it was clear as Billy responded to questions that his world impact has been no fluke, that he still has the same broad spirit seen in that original call to create Christianity Today. His natural responses to questions reveal a lifetime of action and thinking shaped by involvement with a great cross section of concerned ministers, scholars, and world leaders.
By Harold L. Myra, publisher
What should be the Christian's role in our complex world?
We live in a volatile world. About 15 nations have the atomic bomb. An accident could drag the whole world into war.
Even without war we're in danger of planetary destruction. A recent Newsweek article told about how the greenhouse effect is heating up the world. It took from 1980 to 1988 for our average temperature to go up a degree, and this past year alone it's heated up a half a degree. Newsweek showed the devastating implications of that for the future if the trend continues.
It's a situation beyond man's ability to cope. Only God can intervene and help us. Christians ought to be on the vanguard speaking out and calling people to prayer that God's will be done. We need to especially emphasize the coming again of Christ, because he's the hope we should be looking toward.
How can Christians avoid spending so much energy on infighting and project a common front to the world?
I would like to see a conference held to see if we could uncover some more C. S. Lewises or Francis Schaeffers, people of that caliber.
They're out there, because in our travels we meet people with tremendous intellectual ability. But they're not known. They're in the East as well as the West. A conference could bring together 300 or 400 of these bright minds and encourage them to work on the world's problems from a Christian point of view. The whole world would listen to a group like that.
When we were in China we met with scholars in different places. During the question-and-answer periods I noticed that the Americans who were there (mostly exchange students) asked questions about what they have read about politics and the scandals back home But the Chinese asked philosophical and religious questions. You couldn't help but see the difference. The Chinese are thinking very seriously about the meaning of life and death. I've found that true in so many countries around the world—an emptiness among the youth, especially.
Five years ago you returned from the Soviet Union and were savaged by the American press for the reconciliatory approach you took, trying to be salt and light to Soviet Christians. Now, with glasnost, everyone seems to favor cooperation. How do you handle such a changeable press reaction—daggers one minute and …
Well, the daggers didn't bother me it the slightest because I knew we were it the will of God. Once that has beer settled in one's heart, then nothing bothers you.
But I remember agonizing over whether to take that first Russian trip. I asked several people's advice, including Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. Nixon said, "Let me do some thinking about it." Finally he called me from Jamaica and he said, "Billy, you know I believe in taking big risks. This is a big risk, but I believe that in the long run it will be for the benefit of the gospel that you preach. You'll be criticized, but take the long view."
But at the core of my deliberations I went over and over the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians where Paul said he became all things to all men that he might win some. The Lord just seemed to bring a peace in my heart that we were to go.
We went with the understanding that we'd be invited back. The Russians kept their word, and we were invited back. Our purpose in going had nothing to do with political or even peace problems—it was just the chance to preach the gospel.
We went from church to church and the people opened up beautifully to us. I remember the last day that we preached in Moscow, in the cathedral of Patriarch Pimen. He introduced me, and I got up and preached on "you must be born again." When I finished, he stood up and said, "This is what we need in our churches. I would like to see Billy Graham go to all parts of our country and teach our pastors and teach our students how to communicate the gospel that way."
You describe the spiritual hunger in countries like China and the Soviet Union. Are you optimistic about world evangelism as we move into the next century?
I read recently that there are about 100 organizations planning to evangelize the whole world by the year 2000. I wish them the best; but no matter how good a job they do, there will still be more. Every generation needs reevangelizing.
I am optimistic, though. Some say parts of the world are closing to evangelism. But I don't think evangelization of the world is necessarily dependent on political conditions. I'll give you an illustration. I was sitting beside a top Chinese Communist leader at a luncheon hosted by the American ambassador. I asked him, "Why is Christianity growing so fast in China?" He said, "Persecution. If you want to evangelize China, just persecute Christians. The more they are persecuted, the faster the church grows."
The Lord is moving in a tremendous way, from what I am told, in Africa south of the Sahara. New converts are being won at amazing rates. Old churches are coming alive again. Those I've talked to say the Lord is moving greatly even in southern Africa, despite the political problems-among whites as well as blacks. People are coming to know the Lord in a remarkable way.
I'm not a prophet; I can't predict what's going to happen in the next century. But I am encouraged.
At the same time, I must admit to some discouragement at times. When you look at the world you see a tremendous increase in Islam and the reawakening among Buddhists and Hindus. It seems to me that the whole world, regardless of culture and religious tradition, is searching for something spiritual.
I'll give you one illustration.
We met an American woman teaching English in China. She told us of taking a little holiday in the mountains of southern China. As she went up the mountains to the place they were going, she passed an older man sitting alongside the road. "The Lord spoke to me about speaking to him about Christ," she said, "but I didn't do it." She prayed the whole time. She was up on the mountain on holiday that the old man might be there when she came back. She felt guilty. So on the way down she saw him. She went over and told him about Christ. The old man said, "You know, I've prayed to him all my life, but I didn't know his name."
I think that's happening all over the world. The Holy Spirit is pre-evangelizing in tremendous ways that we can't reduce to formulas or restrict to certain groups or denominations. It's just the Holy Spirit working worldwide.
What changes in evangelistic methodology do we need to consider?
Evangelism's like an arrow. There's a sharp point, which is the gospel. But then an arrow broadens in many different styles. There are many effective methods in evangelism. But they all depend on the Holy Spirit. And we often have difficulty measuring the relative effectiveness of each, at least right away.
I was in Moscow's Red Square on a walk. And out of the thousands of visitors wandering around Red Square, two Koreans came up to me, and one of them said he had accepted the Lord in one of our meetings in Korea. Another man walked up to me. He was a clergyman from Nairobi who had been converted when I was preaching there. A third, one girl in a group of American students, came up and said, "You know, it was in one of your meetings that I accepted Christ as my Savior." Three in Red Square in just a short time. You never know what effect your efforts at evangelizing will have. And yet I feel we've accomplished so little. I feel the terrible inadequacy of it.
What do you recommend to young people who want to be evangelists?
I recommend they get all the training they can. At Wheaton I had this urgency to go and win people to the Lord. Yet the Lord said to me, through some wise counselors, "Study now. If you ask for it, God will give you grace to study now, and then, when you go out he'll give you the grace for evangelism." So I say get all the training you can.
Go to Bible school or an evangelical college or a university-there's a right place for everyone. I have two sons, each one took a separate route. My youngest graduated from Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma, and now he's an assistant minister in a Conservative Baptist church. My oldest son went to a secular school, and he is also a preacher and has a burden for missions.
What role do you see in the future for television evangelism?
I don't have the answers to that. A couple of big names have crashed. But it's like the thousands of flights at O'Hare in Chicago. The overwhelming majority don't crash. We have so many television evangelists doing marvelous work for God. There are the Jim Kennedys, Ben Hadens, Charles Stanleys, and people like that who are on television blessing millions. And there are the pastors on television: Jerry Falwell and Bob Schuller, to name just two.
I think there has been a wound, but l don't think it's a deadly wound. It may be a cleansing wound. A cleansing is taking place. It's making everybody look to their financial integrity and responsibility. And to their personal lifestyles. Public evangelists must watch themselves very carefully.
What safeguards have you taken over the years to protect yourself and maintain personal spiritual purity?
Well, first of all, I have a marvelous wife. She reared our children while I traveled. She travels with me most of the time now, at least, because our children are all gone from home. It's good to have her with me.
Also, as a young man I heard about two or three classic examples of moral failure. One was an official of a Christian school. It was frightening to see how quickly a man's ministry could be destroyed that way. Those were object lessons the Lord allowed me to see to warn me.
I decided there were three areas that Satan could attack in—pride, morals, and finances. Over the years I tried to set up safeguards against the dangers of each.
Take the third one, finances. In the early days I, like most other traveling evangelists, financed crusades by receiving love offerings. After a crusade like Los Angeles, Portland, or Atlanta, the people would give a love offering. After the Atlanta crusade, though, one of the Atlanta papers printed a picture of me getting into a convertible and waving my hat. Next to that was a photo of a great big bag of money—my love offering. Cliff [Barrows] and I used to divide the love offering. I think the highest amount I ever got was $18 thousand. But that was big money in those days for two people just out of school. I knew I had to do something to protect us against misunderstandings about the love offerings.
So I went to Jesse Bader, who was then secretary of evangelism with the Federal Council of Churches. I said, "Dr. Bader, I want your advice. How should we handle our finances?" He said, "Billy, you're going to have to do something that will take tremendous courage. But if you do it you could set an example for all evangelists in the years to come. Form a board of trustees, let them pay you a salary comparable to the salary of a large-church pastor, and then let the board handle the financing of all your crusades and expenses."
That's exactly what we did. I asked him to do one other thing: "Will you and the council of churches' evangelism committee set my salary?" He said yes, and set my salary at $15,000 a year.
Was that a struggle for you at all? Were there any temptations?
No. Not at all. It was a great relief, because already the Lord was speaking to me about it. I was very uncomfortable, especially after that picture came out.
And there were some tight times financially. Sometimes we didn't have money enough. When I went to England in 1954, for example, everybody who worked for us took a half-salary during that whole period. In fact, we all paid our own expenses. And we took another cut, I think, when we went to New York in 1957. We all took half-salary. It was marvelous that the team was willing to make that kind of sacrifice at that time in order to save money.
How have you built safeguards in the other two areas: pride and morals?
Pride is an insidious thing. Sometimes I've never quite known whether I was proud or humble. The Scripture says humble yourselves. The Lord gave me some associates like Grady Wilson to help keep me humble. If they sensed any pride creeping in, they'd have a way of knocking me down.
And then concerning morals: I'm sure I've been tempted, especially in my younger years. But there has never been anything close to an incident.
I took precautions. From the earliest days I've never had a meal alone with a woman other than Ruth, not even in a restaurant. I've never ridden in an automobile alone with a woman. Those kinds of precautions can lead to some misunderstandings.
There was a time when Ruth thought I was too cold to women. But I always had this in the back of my mind. There is always the chance of misunderstanding. I remember walking down the street in New York with my beautiful blonde daughter, Bunny. I was holding her hand. I heard somebody behind us say, "There goes Billy Graham with one of those blonde girls."
We had another experience on our first crusade to Germany. The meetings went well, but the East Berlin press just tore into us from every angle. They even ran editorial cartoons with me flying through the air like an angel, with atomic bombs under my arms. Bev Shea, Cliff Barrows, and I went out to eat at a restaurant. The next day the papers reported that "Billy Graham ate at a restaurant last evening in the company of a woman named Beverly Shea."
I've never had anybody seriously question me in the area of morals, and I'm thankful. I have to get on my knees and say Thank you, Lord, because I know he has surrounded us by his Spirit, and angels have protected me.
What are your dreams for the future?
One is the Cove, our new conference center we're developing down here on the edge of Asheville. We plan on turning it into a place where laypeople can come to study nothing but the Bible—perhaps a speech course on how to teach the Bible, or how to witness one-on-one. That's the core of our vision. We are looking at some other ways to enhance it as a conference center, too. But as a retreat and training center for lay leaders—that vision started with us seeing people like Chuck Colson and Eldridge Cleaver come to the Lord and then need training. Sometimes they get it and sometimes they don't. Chuck Colson, fortunately, was in with the right group who helped him grow rapidly. But not all have that. We hope the Cove will be a place where they can go and spend six weeks or a month or a year if necessary and be quiet, and nobody would come for autographs.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the next generation?
I'm very optimistic. We put on these two Amsterdam conferences, and the average age of those attending was about 40. I told them that they were the new leaders of Christianity. I hear of great things happening on Christian college campuses. At my alma mater, Wheaton, for example, I'm told that on Sunday nights hundreds of students come to a missionary and prayer group. In my Wheaton days we would be lucky to get 100 to a meeting like that. I'm even optimistic when I go to the universities; I always find fired-up Christian young people there.
What do you read to keep up on what you need to know about the world?
I take several daily newspapers: the New York Times, Washington Post, Charlotte Observer, Asheville Citizen, Wall Street Journal, London Times—daily as well as the Sunday Times. I also take the [London] Mail, which gives me more of the other side of British political thinking. Then I take the Telegraph and the London Observer, which is a weekly.
Of course, people here help me read them and check things they think I ought to read. But I get the whole paper, and most days I at least thumb through them all. Ruth reads everything, too. She's my number-one source of knowledge in some areas.
And then, of course, we get Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. The only Christian magazine that I really read is Christianity Today; I also take the Christian Century.
Every night Ruth and I watch the evening news. We never go out to eat—we're not socializers. While we're watching the news we have a bowl of soup and a salad for dinner.
What message would you bring to the pastors of America?
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