Bishop of Hereford's Article - Hereford Times 05/04/18
It’s several weeks now since the death of Billy Graham, the American evangelist. He lived to the age of 99 and had had failing health for some years, so many people today will hardly have heard of him, let alone been present at one of his rallies.
I vividly remember going to hear Billy Graham speak at Ashton Gate football stadium, Bristol, in 1984. I was impressed by him and think he was a very fine man whose positive influence was remarkable.
I admit that I find quite a bit of Billy Graham’s early preaching somewhat simplistic and unsatisfying. What’s more, the naming of his early rallies as “Crusades” seems in 2018 both dated and inappropriate.
But that’s not really the point. The fact is that Billy Graham preached to millions of people, and there are many thousands across the world whose living Christian faith today has flowed from responding to his preaching.
I believe there were three particular things about Billy Graham’s preaching which were both the reasons why some couldn’t stomach him at all, and which also have much to say to us today, albeit perhaps couched in different language.
First, Billy Graham was unafraid to acknowledge the part which emotion plays in religious commitment. Traditionally, British people have been renowned for their reserve, especially when it comes to expressions of religious belief. The actress playing the Queen Mother in The Crown, watching a televised London crusade of Graham’s, seeing the crowd shedding tears in religious fervour, said, “What’s happened to this country?” But faith is about the heart as well as the head.
Secondly, what Billy Graham said was all about Jesus, and that can seem a bit “in your face” to British people. We’ll talk about the church, or even about God, but talk about Jesus is a bit much.
At least that’s how it used to be; my hope is that in a culture in which there are few if any no-go areas for conversation and debate, it’s increasingly acceptable to speak directly about Jesus and his message for today.
Thirdly, Billy Graham always presented his hearers with a choice. He highlighted the fact that Jesus invited people to become followers, disciples. Yes, Jesus was a supreme teacher, but as Billy Graham never tired of proclaiming, the Christian faith is at root not about signing up to some teaching, but becoming a follower of Jesus.
+Richard Frith – Bishop of Hereford.