Billy Graham: His Life and Influence
Billy Graham is an important 20th century man, and David Aikman tells the story of His Life and Influence exceptionally well. The standard stories are all included, the bases are all covered. Aikman is certainly appreciative of Graham, but he is willing to be critical. I recommend this book, especially if you want to read just one Graham biography.
Many others have reviewed this work—because they got it for free like I did* in exchange for reviewing it!—so I want to focus on just one chapter.
Aikman spends significant space on Graham’s fight against racism. One of the most notable early decisions Graham made in that battle was to ask the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to pray from his crusade platform during the 1957 New York meetings. Aikman rightly praises Graham for his efforts against segregation—and he rightly encourages his readers not to judge Graham too harshly for waffling on the issue before 1957. It’s too easy to be critical from our safe historical distance.
Graham was emphatically right to fight racism. Except for the fact that King was a theological liberal, King’s prayer was a good thing for which Graham deserves praise.
But I want to make what I think is a key point: if King’s presence on the platform is significant enough to warrant praise for Graham, then the presence of liberal and Roman Catholic clergy is significant enough to warrant censure. If King’s presence implies Graham’s endorsement for the righteous cause of civil rights—as well it should—then the presence of what the NT calls “false teachers” does imply Graham’s support for at least something in their unrighteous cause. The Bible doesn’t give us the option of qualified support for false teachers. Even a greeting makes you guilty of “taking part in his wicked works” (2Jo 1:9-11).
Graham insisted long ago, “I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the gospel of Christ if there are no strings attached to my message” (p.152). But when you put preachers of another gospel on your platform, you’ve just tied on a string. Admittedly, it’s difficult to say exactly what strings you’re tying. Few would doubt, I think, that Graham is personally opposed to Marian devotion, for example. And “the-Bible-says” is a mantra meaning only one thing for Graham—what I’m about to say is truth straight from God—whatever it means for the United Methodist clergywoman sitting on his platform.
But to have preachers of another gospel sitting behind you supporting your preaching of the biblical gospel says, at the very least, “These people represent a valid expression of Christian faith, even if we disagree on a few particulars.” When the simple fact is that they are not true Christians, you are, at best, creating confusion. At worst, you’re inviting people to consider the differences between the true gospel and false ones as insignificant.
Aikman deals with this issue fairly evenhandedly; I only wish he could have found a better exemplar of continued criticism for Graham’s inclusion of liberals than an extremist such as David Cloud.
But as they said on Reading Rainbow: don’t take my word for it! Read it for yourself!
*I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson as part of their BookSneeze program. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions expressed are my own. I make this disclosure to remain in accordance with FTC guidelines.