Billy Graham—Man of Faith, Man of God
By Hal Lindsey
Billy Graham outlived much of his fame. Young people today have no idea the level of influence and celebrity he held for most of his life. By the end of 2016, even though he hadn’t preached at a crusade in years, he was again on Gallup’s annual list of “the 10 most admired men in the world.” It was his 60th appearance on that list!
His crusades were a phenomenon everywhere they were held. They filled stadiums and other large arenas. In the 1960s and 70s young evangelical preachers from every region in the country seemed to add a slight North Carolina twang to their speaking. The rhythm of his speech, his movement behind the pulpit, his gestures, and his cadence served as a pattern for a generation of young ministers.
It still amazes me that he was also a personal friend. When I was with Campus Crusade for Christ, I invited Billy to come and minister at UCLA. By that time, he had already been one of the most famous men in the world for a couple of decades. His crusades already filled stadiums. But when I asked, he came.
For Billy, it was never about money or prestige. It was always about human beings and where they would spend eternity.
On a couple of occasions, I was privileged to spend time with Billy at his North Carolina home. Though the whole world seemed to be clamoring for a piece of him, he was always generous with his time and wisdom.
But his influence on me went far beyond my personal contact with him. Like millions of others, I watched his crusades on television. I heard the powerful messages from God’s word. I saw the thousands streaming forward at the end of every such event. I’m still moved every time I think about it.
In his crusades, he spoke passionately about the signs of the times, and the soon return of Jesus. His preaching helped pave the way for my book, The Late Great Planet Earth.
Critics said his sermons were too simplistic. In its obituary, the New York Times wrote, “Some mainline Protestant leaders and theologians accused him of preaching a simplistic message of personal salvation that ignored the complexities of societal problems.”
But from long experience with pen and paper, as well as standing behind pulpits, I can tell you that keeping it simple is not easy. In fact, it’s easier to be longwinded and overly complicated. Billy Graham preached the way Abraham Lincoln wrote. He could say more in a few minutes than most could say in a couple of hours.
The point of his sermons was never to amaze people with his intelligence or grasp of issues. It was always about Jesus. It was about speaking the Gospel to his generation. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 explains Billy’s approach. “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (NASB)
Instead of “superiority of speech,” the New Living Translation says, “lofty words.” That’s an accurate translation and much more applicable. Billy was known for the excellence of his speaking. But he rarely used “lofty words.” In fact, his speech was made more excellent by the fact that he kept “lofty words” to a minimum.
Billy spoke, not to impress, but to be understood. He was a communicator of the highest level. And he preached in person to more people than anyone else in the history of the world. He preached in remote villages and great metropolises. He preached from a heart of love.
Billy Graham changed the world for the better. But he didn’t just change the world. Through him, God changed eternity — one decision at a time.