Billy Graham at Fuller

The Legacy of Billy Graham at Fuller Seminary

Merlin CallBilly Graham:  Friend to Fuller Seminary

By Merlin W. Call

Chair Emeritus, Board of Trustees

The beginning of Billy Graham’s career as an evangelist was intertwined with the early days of Fuller Seminary.  Their symbiotic relationship formed the basis of a close friendship.

Fuller students helped in the 1949 Christ for Greater Los Angeles campaign that launched Billy Graham to national prominence. Mr. Graham spoke at Fuller Seminary’s chapel service during that campaign. From Los Angeles he went to Boston, Massachusetts, for a campaign there at the invitation of Harold John Ockenga, chairman of Fuller’s Board of Trustees.

In the year following the Los Angeles and Boston campaigns, Dr. Carl Henry, an initial faculty member of Fuller, and Dick Curley, Fuller’s business manager, organized a Mid-Century Rose Bowl rally featuring Graham. The seminary rented the Rose Bowl for this event.

Dr. Fuller, Dr. Ockenga, and Wilbur Smith, another initial faculty member, were trusted counselors of the young Billy Graham. Later, Fuller President David Allan Hubbard provided guidance to both Mr. Graham and others in the family.

Most significantly, the early evolution of Fuller Seminary and of Graham, the evangelist, shared the courageous effort to chart a course that retained a robust orthodox theology, but risked the criticism of more rigid conservatives by being willing to interact with theologically more liberal groups and with the broader community. Graham’s insistence on racial integration of his crusades and cooperation in those crusades with a breadth of churches resonated with similar emphases brought to the scene by the seminary. In his book Reforming Fundamentalism, historian George Marsden described this by saying, “Graham and Fuller Seminary were thrown into each other’s arms.”

Billy Graham respected Charles E. Fuller as the leading evangelist of his day. When Graham invited Dr. Fuller to join him on the platform of his 1958 crusade in San Francisco, Fuller asked him on that platform to join the Fuller Seminary Board of Trustees.

In confirming his acceptance of this invitation, Graham wrote to Dr. Fuller, “There is no doubt that the extreme liberals and extreme fundamentalists are unhappy about the particular road down which the Seminary is going.  I, for one, believe you have taken a New Testament position and will stand with you all the way.”

For that unwavering friendship of Billy Graham, Fuller Seminary expresses its gratitude.

Merlin W. Call has been a member of Fuller’s Board of Trustees for 50 years.