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Billy Graham at Fuller

The Legacy of Billy Graham at Fuller Seminary

Billy Graham: Evangelicalism’s Prophet

By Scott W. Sunquist
Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies and Professor of World Christianity

Billy Graham died on February 21 at the age of 99½ years. Current events seem to indicate that evangelicalism is drifting into the realm of political power, a racist ethos, and uncritical support of a politics of entitlement and exclusion. Billy Graham was familiar with the temptation of all of these, and, after some stumbles, he resisted. It is for this and other reasons that we should take time to reflect on the life of this icon of evangelicalism, the man whom Grant Wacker called “America’s pastor.” Here are six reasons I believe he should instead be called “evangelicalism’s prophet.” 

  1. Billy Graham, from a Southern racist tradition, resisted racism, insisted on including African American pastors in his crusades, and suffered a large loss of support for his prophetic stance. Few people realize what a bold step this was and what it cost him.
  2. Graham’s evangelicalism came with open arms. He promised that he would work with anyone who would work with him to help lead people to faith in Christ. Thus, his partners in ministry were fundamentalists and Roman Catholic Bishops. More liberal Episcopalians as well as Presbyterians were also ministry partners.
  3. Humility marked his life, even with his boldness in preaching. After snuggling too closely to Nixon and realizing that he had been used by political power, he admitted his error and stepped back. He publicly recognized this error in being seduced by power.
  4. He showed an unwavering commitment to Christ and respect for sin and temptation. Graham was the great public Christian leader who was never confronted about infidelity. He made a public law for himself that he would always travel with men and he would never have a woman in his room when he traveled. He knew the power of temptation and the desire of others to bring him down. Oh, to have leaders with no hint of scandal again.
  5. Graham was unwavering in his concern for the gospel to be preached and to help build institutions that would support the evangelistic enterprise (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christianity Today, and Fuller Seminary). He displayed both evangelistic zeal and support for building strong institutions.
  6. Graham married a missionary kid (Ruth Bell), and she kept his heart beating with a concern for all of the world and for unreached nations. The point is not to marry a missionary kid, but we can model his concern for the unreached as well as the other great characteristics described above. I am thankful for the life of Billy Graham, evangelicalism’s prophet.

Scott W. Sunquist is dean of the School of Intercultural Studies and professor of world Christianity at Fuller Seminary.