ANALYSIS: Billy Graham’s legacy is fading ‘into the mists of history’

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Billy Graham

San Juan, Puerto Rico - Billy Graham launched Global Mission, the largest evangelistic outreach in the history of the Christian church. RNS photo by Russ Busby / RNS file photo

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WHEATON, Ill. (RNS) “No matter how badly you have messed up,” Graham biographer Grant Wacker said, echoing a lifetime of Graham messages, “there’s a second chance.”

  • David

    English web translations of Icelandic newspapers, who describe Billy’s son Franklin (09-27-2013) as, ‘the homophobic Franklin Graham’ show how far the culture has moved since the more sober (and less self-indulgent) optimism of the late 1940s. Whatever the legacy of Billy, it must be placed inside the context of a culture humble enough to be actually looking for good news, within a theocentric framework. Now, however, there are lots of naive folks who actually think that ‘good without God’ is possible…

  • But why is Graham’s legacy dying? Has balm finished in Gilead – no more miracles? Or have they become unbelievable? As a journalist, will you say that God performed miracles through Billy Graham?

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  • Tracy

    Just when we might have begun to forget about Graham’s disastrous relationship with Nixon, and unfortunate taped comments about “the Jews,” he got pulled into last year’s political fights, sponsoring ads in North Carolina newspapers opposing same-sex marriage .and encouraging voters to “cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principals and support the nation of Israel.” Many of us thought the ads were more likely to have been Franklin’s doing — but alas, Billy’s name was attached. Franklin has also done inestimable harm to Billy’s reputation by making repeated hateful remarks about Muslims, and by drawing what many of us saw as an unusually large salary as head of Samaritan’s Purse, while publicly presuming to have inherited Billy’s mantle. The brand has been tarnished, its fair to say. The next generation of Christians might prefer a hero without this sort of baggage.

    It is unfortunate, as Billy seemed unwilling to be drawn into the Culture Wars when he was younger and more vigorous, but he seems — either under Franklin’s insistence or through a change of heart — much more willing to go there of late.

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  • The wording of the headline is probably ill-chosen: while the article’s content may be accurate–that Billy Graham’s NAME and personal history is becoming unknown to younger generations–his LEGACY (the term used in the headline) is ever-expanding.
    The publishing houses, international organizations, intellectual maturation of the evangelical scholarly movement, racial inclusivism, equipping of third world evangelists, and training of international scholars at places like Wheaton Grad School, broadly thoughtful Lausanne covenants (and the Lausanne conferences themselves, where representatives of virtually the entire world-wide church gathered together in joyful and purposive unity), continually-updated use of whatever media was at the forefront of culture (from full length movies in the 1950s to simul-cast broadcasting worldwide more recently), financial lucidity and accountability for ministries, unprecedented willingness to engage any and everybody for the sake of the Gospel (Francois Mitterand, Woody Allen, you name ’em), unifying of local churches who normally sniffed disdainfully at one another, and of course his signature emphasis on the need for individual DECISION (a perhaps not-incidental correspondence to what the predominant philosophical influence of the time, existentialism, flourishing at exactly the same moment he did, calls for) . . . there are so many aspects of what Christianity is today that can be traced directly back to Billy Graham that it is laughable to suggest that his legacy is fading. On the contrary, even as his name and personality transition from “known” to “historical,” what he set in motion & supported & encouraged is growing in every direction. I know he is pleased by both, the lessening of attention to himself, and the flourishing of the Kingdom through those many, many venues that he opened up.

  • Rick

    I believe that as long as Jesus continues to be glorified Billy Graham could care less about his legacy. I think he attracted so many precisely because many sensed that his one singular focus was proclaiming Christ and not himself.

    What is the point of this article anyway? I sense improper motivation for the writing of this article. Just my opinion, but I may be wrong.

  • Bill Rushby

    I was never a great fan of Billy Graham, but I think that he was the pivotal figure in shaping modern Evangelicalism. The persona may fade, but the legacy lives on! Praise God!

  • Kevin Smith

    I’m 55. I served as Vice-Chair of the Executive Committee for Billy Graham’s 1995 Mission Ontario at the Sky Dome (now Rogers Centre) in Toronto. Billy has had a great influence on my life. But Ken’s point is well taken. There are probably few under 40 who know much about him.

    It is the same in baseball where few writers still writing remember Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

    It is interesting how Christianity is becoming so tied to the current generation that it loses the perspective of any past.

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  • Fran

    One of the persons we should definitely be looking at and imitating in action and words is Jesus Christ, the son of God, as found in the Bible. His most important focus was doing the will of his Father, God, which included being the ransom sacrifice for all mankind (which we don’t do), and preaching the good news of God’s kingdom or heavenly government (which we should do) as the only hope for mankind on and which will set ALL matters right on earth (Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 11:1-9).

  • Eric Korn

    Billy Graham’s legacy will always live on in the lives of those who heard the call of Jesus Christ during Billy’s crusades. Many of those who heard Christ’s call will share the good news with others and so on. It was and is always about Jesus, not about Billy.

  • ACS

    I’m not much of a BG fan – too many aspects of his theology I find unbiblical. Yet, I believe even he would agree that the point of the article is off-track. It’s the message, not the messenger, that is sovereign. That is, the most important thing for any preacher is not the person (the weak vessel), but the the gospel message that s/he proclaims, since it is from God. We’re just heralds for the Great Lord and King.

  • Robert Long View

    Tracy wrote: “…Billy seemed unwilling to be drawn into the Culture Wars when he was younger and more vigorous…”
    I blame Franklin for that hooey. In my opinion, he is nothing more than a spoiled brat. And of late, he appears to be the sort to run rough-shod over other people. I believe it was Ruth Bell Graham that kept Billy out of politics. What is so sad about Ruth’s legacy is that she is buried in CLT at the “BGEA Show Barn” against her earlier expressed wishes. It makes me weep on Ruth’s behalf. And what to make of the Billy Graham 95th Birthday Big Bash and Grove Park Hob Nob with such morally superior types as “Drill Baby Drill, Palen,” The Donald “Birther” Trump, and “Faux News -eves dropper- Murdoch.” But i guess there are those out there that would say that God is punishing Billy for the sin of vanity?

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