Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Notes: Billy Graham (5/5)

I read Billy Graham's autobiography, Just As I Am, about 10 years ago when I was first considering a life of ministry.  His autobiography is long and detailed, but extremely moving.  Graham has preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to more people in person than anyone in history and has influenced a whole generation of Christian leaders around the world.  When I received David Aikman's biography of Graham, I was excited to read about his life from an outsider's perspective.  Aikman, as a senior writer for Time magazine earlier in his life, is well versed in world religion and world politics.  Because of this, Aikman brings a unique perspective to covering Graham's ministry and life.

First, let's talk about the structure and style of the book.  While Graham's autobiography is primarily written chronologically, Aikman's biography is written categorically, covering Graham's crusade ministry, his relationship with other Christian leaders, his teaching and example on racial issues, his friendships to American presidents, and his legacy one at a time.  I really appreciated this approach as it allowed the reader to think about Graham's ministry in larger terms than simply one-time events.  Aikman's book is much shorter than Graham's autobiography (about 300 pages compared to 800 pages) and moves quickly.  Graham's life, experiences, and relationships gives the biographer plenty of material to work with, and Aikman doesn't get bogged down in too much detail.  Rather, Aikman tries to interpret the impact and influence of Graham's life and ministry.  Also, as an insider to the Christian community, I can testify that Aikman understands the inner-working complexities of the community very well and writes about them lucidly.

Second, let's talk about the content.  Aikman is obviously a big fan of Billy Graham, and it is hard not to be.  Very few people are this faithful to their calling over the course of 70 years in the public eye.  So many ministers in the public eye have fallen prey to the temptations of power, money, or sexuality.  Yet, Graham has stayed true to his original call to preach the gospel for seven decades.  Aikman carefully examines Graham's missteps along the way, most of them the result of Graham's desire to be liked by those around him.  The part of the book that grieves my heart the most (as a pastor with four kids) is Aikman's discussion of how Graham's traveling ministry impacted his five children.  Three of the five have been divorced, and they have all talked publicly about their struggles with their dad being gone so much of the time for his crusades around the world.  At the end of the day, however, we all have much to learn from the example of Billy Graham - most clearly from his faithfulness and his humility.  The last paragraph of Aikman's book is so poignent that they are worth quoting in full:
Some of the results of Graham's ministry may become clear in time; others may not be known until - if we believe in its existence - we are in eternity.  But we do know that Billy Graham, evangelist, one of the most successful men in America of the second half of the twentieth century in any conceivable endeavor, was also one of the most humble.  When speaking of how people would recognize his followers, Jesus taught, "you will know them by their fruits."  What fruits?  The fruits of moral virtue in their lives, sometimes referred to as "the fruits of the spirit."  by that criterion alone, Billy Graham, world-famous evangelist, sometimes called the Protestant Pope, a seven-decade long servant of the call to preach the gospel, has been singularly and to the end a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Maybe Karen would enjoy this one, too? She has really become a biography reader as of late. I'll try to remember to mention it to her.