Billy Graham’s Life
“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
Billy Graham is dead. Long live Billy Graham! Open thread for your comments and remembrances. I agree with this Roman Catholic Princeton professor:
Billy Graham was like John Paul II, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was firmly rooted in a particular tradition of faith, yet somehow spoke to–and in a sense belonged to–all of us.
— Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) February 21, 2018
As a child, I remember watching Billy Graham crusades on television. The “Just As I Am” altar calls at the end were deeply moving. I haven’t thought about them in many years, but that’s what remains in my mind as my deepest impression of Billy Graham. As a kid, I had never imagined that Christianity could be like that. These first two verses of the hymn, which ended every Graham crusade (at least every one that I watched), capture the simple but enormous power of Evangelical Christianity:
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
UPDATE: My friend Doug LeBlanc, an Episcopal journalist, writes in memory of Graham. He talks about how he grew up in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge as a real believer:
But my understanding of the gospel was impoverished. I thought it amounted to this: God is holy, we are not, and at the end of time our lives will be measured for the balance between good deeds and evil deeds. I knew Jesus died on the cross, but I thought it was because he was too good for this world and the time when he was present in it.
In the early 1970s, God brought many changes to the spiritual life of the LeBlanc household. My older brother, Randy, became a Jesus Freak, as hippies-turned-converts were called then, through a coffeehouse ministry called the Looking Glass.
My father was bewildered and thought Randy had joined a cult. Dad began reading Scripture more, and I think he was searching for a verse in which Jesus said, “Follow me, but don’t be a nut about it.”
I adored my older brother, in the way that causes older brothers endless grief: I wanted to hang out with him, to be friends with his friends, and to let some of his hippy magic rub off on me. Because of this, I responded well when Randy helped me grasp the more personal nature of Jesus’ death on the cross. It took the Jesus Movement for me to learn about the Atonement.
For a time the faith I shared with my brother felt like a great struggle between the with-it kids and their square parents, which gave it a flavor of forbidden fruit.
But then the Billy Graham Crusade came to town, stopping at LSU’s Tiger Stadium in 1970. Mom sang in the crusade’s choir, just as she sang in the choir at St. Luke’s. I cannot remember if Dad attended the crusade with us, but Graham’s message — which included references to Jesus’ Second Coming and the Last Things — began sowing seeds that what my brother had discovered might not be so fanatical after all.
LeBlanc talks about how the Graham crusade led his parents to deeper conversion, and led him to embrace Evangelicalism within the Episcopal Church, of which he remains a member.
I hope at least some of you readers will tell stories about how Billy Graham’s life, his words, and his deeds changed your lives.