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Billy Graham (1918-2018)

February 22 2018
February 22 2018

As a Wheaton graduate with a son currently at Wheaton, I know that there is a special solemnity on campus right now. Philip Graham Ryken (president and PCA minister) and Timothy Blackmon (chaplain) took questions from the press yesterday. If you need to catch up, Laurie Goodstein, Religion Correspondent at the NYTimeshas written a respectful obituary. Justin Taylor has interviewed historian, William Martin, regarding the life of Billy Graham in this article. Finally, Al Mohler (president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) knew Billy Graham and comments on his influence here. With the recent death of R. C. Sproul late last year, we are without two special theologians.

I never met Billy Graham, but my wife's parents were very impacted by his Los Angeles crusade (she herself remembers his crusade in Sacramento). In turn, I was very impacted by my wife's parents. They were the ones who opened the door to a thoughtful Evangelical theology, encouraged me to pursue this path, and were no doubt encouraged when Karen and I moved to Chicago to attend 'Billy's school.' It means a lot to me that they cherished Billy.

While at Wheaton, Billy Graham met Ruth Bell, daughter of Dr. L. Nelson Bell, a medical doctor and longtime missionary to China. Dr. Bell was a champion for Evangelicalism within the PCUS, the denomination from which the PCA was born. Dr. Bell fought ardently to preserve historic Protestant and Orthodox rootedness within the PCUS, founding and editing in 1942 the Southern Presbyterian Journal (renamed Presbyterian Journal in 1959) and serving on the Board of World Missions from 1948 to 1966. His daughter, Ruth Bell Graham, also contributed to the cause of historic Evangelicalism within American Presbyterianism. In 1973, 260 conservative PCUS churches gathered in Birmingham, Alabama, to found the PCA (a short history). Ten years later the liberal churches remaining in the PCUS joined with the liberal UPCUSA to form what is today the PCUSA (here's how to tell the difference).

Was Billy, though, a Calvinist? Over at the Church Society, a Cambridge-based organization run by an acquanitance of mine (Lee Gatiss serves on the board of Songs for Saplings), Ros Clarke has unearthed a gem. She highlights an excellent article, "The Theology of Billy Graham," that I had never seen before. The article is written by noted American theologian, Carl F. H. Henry. Billy Graham hand-picked Dr. Henry to serve as the first editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, a magazine founded by Billy and his father-in-law in 1956. I got to hear Dr. Henry speak at Wheaton just months before he died.

Carl F. H. Henry writes, in 1954:

"Graham's theological sympathies are of a moderate Calvinistic framework, though not a Calvinism which erases the urgency of personal decision, and perhaps too mildly Calvinistic for some observers."

So, there you are.


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