Definitive pronouncements about a person’s legacy are best left to future historians, but in the case of Billy Graham, certain reliable observations can be made now. As I both mourn his passing and rejoice that he is now with the Savior whom he deeply loved, I offer these reflections on his enduring legacy.
1. BELIEVE IN THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE.
After struggling with a season of doubt, prompted by his friend Charles Templeton’s skepticism, Graham made a bedrock commitment to affirm the Bible as God’s certain and trustworthy Word. The signature phrase in his preaching became, “The Bible says.”
2. experience THE POWER OF PRAYER.
He repeatedly said, “There are three secrets to my ministry. The first is prayer; the second is prayer; and the third is prayer.” He pled with God for the souls of people. In his 2006 book, The Journey, Graham gives this advice: “Every man or woman whose life has ever counted for God has been a person of prayer. A prayerless Christian is a powerless Christian.
3. know THE FULLNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
The great Welsh preacher Stephen Olford helped Graham understand what it meant to have the fullness of the Holy Spirit fueling one’s life and one’s preaching. In his 1978 book, The Holy Spirit, Graham enunciates what was the heart of the matter for him: “It is not how much of the Spirit we have, but how much the Spirit has of us.”
4. FOCUS ON THE CROSS.
Like the Apostle Paul, he “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). In the midst of growing secularism and skepticism, when other so-called “evangelists” might shy away from preaching the cross, Billy Graham made clear that without the cross (and the resurrection) we have no gospel message.
5. prioritize PERSONAL EVANGELISM.
He realized that God had called him to be a preaching evangelist to millions, but he also understood that the majority of people who come to Christ would be brought through the witness of faithful believers. Over the years, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has sponsored hundreds of training opportunities.
6. Prepare FOR THE FUTURE.
He knew that should the Lord’s return not happen in his lifetime, the need for ongoing gospel ministry would continue after he was no longer preaching. Graham loved the Billy Graham School (the only graduate school in the world to carry his name) and was thrilled for the ongoing gospel training that men and women would receive here long after he was gone.
7. LIVE a LIFE OF HOLINESS.
Throughout his remarkable ministry, spanning some eight decades, there has never been a hint of scandal. Early in his ministry Graham set high standards for both financial accountability and sexual morality. Perhaps his wife Ruth said it best when asked how to explain his worldwide impact. She observed, “Billy isn’t a great preacher – but he is a holy man.”
During one of his extended crusades, Billy had his brother-in-law, Leighton Ford, preach one evening so Billy could rest his ailing voice. Billy wanted to be there to pray for Leighton as he preached, so he put on large sunglasses and pulled a baseball cap down low on his forehead, and went out and sat in the audience that night.
Billy sensed that the man sitting next to him had come under conviction during the message, and when Ford gave the invitation, Billy asked this man if he wanted to go forward to commit to following Christ. The man looked at him and said, “No, I think I’ll wait until tomorrow night when the ‘big gun’ shows up.”
The world has lost a gospel champion today. But Billy Graham would want to say to every believer, “Don’t wait for the next ‘big gun’ to come along. Go share Christ with your family member, coworker, classmate, neighbor, friend or acquaintance today.”
Timothy K. Beougher is the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry.