Friday, August 28, 2009
I recently finished Marshall Frady's Billy Graham: A Parable of American Righteousness. I'd had it for some time, but in my recent spate of biography-reading I decided to finally buckle down and get it finished.
I've always admired Billy Graham. I've been to one rally, in Cincinnati in 2003. I find his speaking to be inspirational, and the speeches I have heard and seen on television have always brought me to my knees. He has a gift for inspiring.
I expected this book to be a laudatory account of his life. Much to my surprise, it was anything but. It did not attack Billy Graham, but it pointed out the conflict that has run throughout his life, resulting from his attraction to the halls of power and the way that businessmen and politicians have used him. Billy Graham has endorsed political candidates, political stances, and tried to influence particular bills. Early on, he was supporting businesses, all in the name of helping his ministry. Throughout the book Frady does an excellent job of portraying Graham as torn between his love of being close to power and the importance he places on his ministry and integrity.
As a minister I particularly enjoyed this book because it detailed many of the choices Graham had to make, especially in relation to supporting presidents, many of whom he considered friends. From the outside it looked like they were using Graham, but I don't think Graham reliazed or felt that. What would I have done in his shoes? Would I have turned down the offers, the money for the ministry, the support, the chance to proclaim the name of Christ in the halls of power, the chance to walk with a president? Would I have said no? Could I have said no? I probably would have made many of the same decisions Graham did, motivated by some combination of ego and faithfulness.
Graham loves his ministry. And yet throughout the years it has been an epic wrestling match trying to keep himself completely devoted to 'winning souls.' I will freely admit I have some recoil at this philosophy of measuring success by the number of decisions for Christ--where is the relationship, the education, the transformation? Many studies have shown that, of all the 'decisions' made, many never wind up in churches. At most crusades, the congregation is made up mostly of church members. But if just one is transformed, truly changed, does that make all the effort worth it? Christ, the shepherd for the lost sheep, would make the effort. Maybe the crusades are too elaborate, too production-line, but if they have truly converted just one soul, maybe that makes it worth all the expense, all the effort?
This book was a great depiction of Graham's struggles and triumphs, a true look at the man behind the ministry and the journey he has taken. If you want to know more about Billy Graham, this book is worth your time.