Will There Be Another Billy Graham?

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Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer asks this question and tries to answer it.

Here is a taste:

Ask Graham biographers and religion scholars today who will be the next Billy Graham, here’s their answer:

Nobody.

“I don’t think any single person will be ‘the next Billy Graham,’ ” says William Martin, author of “A Prophet with Honor,” long considered the definitive biography of Graham. “That’s in part because evangelical Christianity has become so large and multifaceted – in significant measure because of what Graham did – that no one person can dominate it, regardless of talent or dedication. It’s just not going to happen….”

America was a very different place when the young Billy Graham emerged.

He made his first national splash on the eve of the 1950s, a decade in which America – then fighting a Cold War against atheistic communism – added “under God” to its Pledge of Allegiance and started printing “In God We Trust” on its paper currency.

The preacher who came to be called “America’s pastor” thrived in this climate of religious revival: His image – wavy hair, burning eyes – showed up on magazine covers and in living rooms via the infant medium of television.

I agree.  There will never be another Billy Graham.  American culture is too fractured. The culture is too religiously diverse to sustain a Christian evangelist with a national reach like Graham had in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Graham and his predecessors–George Whitefield, Charles Finney, D.L. Moody, and Billy Sunday–all functioned in a largely Protestant culture.  No more.  Graham was the product of a particular time and place that no longer exists in the United States.

2 thoughts on “Will There Be Another Billy Graham?

  1. I think the Christianity Graham encountered was just as complex as the Christianity of today. Before Graham came along, his predecessor at Northwestern, William B. Riley and others had addressed the issue of Christian union with theological liberals and said that true Christians couldn’t work with liberals. Iain Murray( (Evangelicalism Divided) points out that when Graham began working with the liberals, evangelicals (most of whom in America were then called fundamentalists) faced a new question: can we work with somebody who works with theological liberals? Those who said “no” were known as fundamentalists and those who said “yes” became New Evangelicals.

    So it’s true that there can’t be another Billy Graham in exactly the same way, but I don’t see why someone couldn’t come along and possess a similar breadth of influence as long as the focus is different. Ken Ham is a good example of someone who has a different focus but possess wide influence in both New Evangelicalism and even in fundamentalism.

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  2. Could (what I deem) the failure of the core message that Billy Graham preached to America be a factor in why we won’t see his like anytime soon? He preached that personal salvation would lead to national betterment. Does it not go like this: If individuals turn their lives over to Christ and join churches that the “new life in Christ” would lead to living more moral, upright lives pleasing to God, and that would lead to a Christian nation that would be pleasing to God. Did this happen? Well, there were a lot of “conversions” at his crusades. Even if those decisions led to better lives, did that translate into a better country?

    Interesting enough your podcast on Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out the disconnect between individual ethics and the ethics of the institutions that people inhabit. Niebuhr and Graham were influential at approximately the same time. To my way of thinking, Niebuhr was closer to understanding the role of religion on a nation. It may be that the reform of institutions might be more influential in changing a nation.

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