During a career spanning sixty years, the Reverend Billy Graham’s resonant voice and chiseled profile entered the living rooms of millions of Americans with a message that called for personal transformation through God’s grace. How did a lanky farm kid from North Carolina become an evangelist hailed by the media as “America’s pastor”? Why did listeners young and old pour out their grief and loneliness in letters to a man they knew only through televised “Crusades” in faraway places like Madison Square Garden? More than a conventional biography, Grant Wacker’s interpretive study deepens our understanding of why Billy Graham has mattered so much to so many.
Beginning with tent revivals in the 1940s, Graham transformed his born-again theology into a moral vocabulary capturing the fears and aspirations of average Americans. He possessed an uncanny ability to appropriate trends in the wider culture and engaged boldly with the most significant developments of his time, from communism and nuclear threat to poverty and civil rights. The enduring meaning of his career, in Wacker’s analysis, lies at the intersection of Graham’s own creative agency and the forces shaping modern America.
Wacker paints a richly textured portrait: a self-deprecating servant of God and self-promoting media mogul, a simple family man and confidant of presidents, a plainspoken preacher and the “Protestant pope.” America’s Pastor reveals how this Southern fundamentalist grew, fitfully, into a capacious figure at the center of spiritual life for millions of Christians around the world.
- The Cultural Impact of a Religious Icon
"Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation"
Billy Graham: ever heard of him? By far, the most famous Christian of the past seventy years, Billy Graham has left his indelible impression on probably hundreds of millions of people all around the world, though those impressions differ from person to person. Some view him as "God's Man" who has lit the path to salvation for countless souls. Some view him as a good guy, but of a different flavor than myself. Some view him as a shameless sell-out who's "done more to hurt the cause of Christ than anyone alive" (or some such nonsense that Bob Jones was once quoted as saying).
My own background in an independent, fundamental Baptist church (conservative, but not in the super-weird way) leaned more toward this latter opinion, for while I have certainly known the man's name from my youth, I've known little else about him other than "we don't agree with everything he does." When an elderly friend of mine whom I respect greatly finally told me her own opinion of the guy, that he's a wonderful man of God who has changed the landscape of evangelicalism for the better, I finally got curious enough to research him myself. About that same time, Grant Wacker published this book, America's Pastor, and shortly thereafter, ChristianAudio.com gave the book away for free! Now I had no excuse to be unable to form my own opinion of the great Billy Graham.
This book is fully engaging, more than I had anticipated. Far from being a biography, it's a cultural dissection using Graham himself as the scalpel. While Wacker views the man from so many angles you could easily call it a biography, he does so in a way that digs deep into the heart of the culture in which Graham was able to grow and thrive. Wacker unapologetically weeds his way through all information pertaining to Graham's effect on the nation and the world, from the negative journalistic opinions and fundamentalist attacks to the love letters and near-cult-like following he had as his crusades moved from city to city. Then between these two extremes, Wacker reveals a composite of who Graham truly was and what impact he really did have on the generations to whom he preached.
I'd like to focus this review on the things that I learned about Graham---specifically points regarding his approach to theology---and how I've grown to understand his relationship to the fundamentalists of my own background. Key to it all, I found, is Wacker's description that Graham formed a third stream in Protestantism between Mainline Protestantism and Fundamentalism, the stream of New Evangelicalism. Of course, many influential and even unknown pastors and theologians had been laying the foundation for this movement for decades before Graham arrived on the scene, but while Billy Graham might not be considered "The Father of New Evangelicalism," he's definitely the Doctor who delivered the Baby.
The fundamentalists blame him for turning the church into a "contemporary" church (not necessarily a bad thing) and for popularizing ecumenicalism (certainly not a good thing), while mainline Protestants viewed him as too dogmatic in some areas and otherwise too much a celebrity to be taken seriously. He had enemies on all sides, which is precisely how he became the bridge for so many others who were fed up with either of the other two extremes. As some had once called him "The Protestant Pope," others might now call him "the religious Donald Trump." In balancing two very divergent schools of Protestant thought, he helped form a middle-ground where countless Americans could once again become comfortably religious.
His own personal stand for truth was often misunderstood by these two poles, for he had made a commitment early on to fight for souls rather than to fight error. So long as he could preach the Gospel, he didn't care whom he partnered with to get his message out. He maintained fundamentalist doctrine for the most part, and remained a Southern Baptist throughout his life, yet he also shared the stage with persons of many faiths, never offending yet always offering an alternative opinion. He emphasized social reform as well as spiritual, and sought the limelight whenever he could---specifically in his close friendships with the rich and powerful---yet also sought to maintain integrity in those areas which were especially deadly to ministries: money and women (as the Modesto Manifesto records).
As a fundamentalist myself, I learned a great deal from this book about Billy Graham and why people of my flavor have disagreed with him for so long. Thankfully, as an adult who can now think for myself, I've also come to appreciate all that this man has done for the cause of Christ and will forever view him in a much more kindly light than perhaps my parents would appreciate. That being said, I now also have a trove of facts with which I can weigh my own personal standards against those of the great Billy Graham.
While I wouldn't accuse him of having hurt the cause of Christ in the way Bob Jones accused him, I would agree with many other fundamentalists that he could have done more to strengthen the Church of Christ than he actually did. I totally understand his goal of not simply winning souls to Christ, but also of getting those newly reborn souls into established churches, and it's a commendable goal. At the same time, however, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of concern for which churches would help foster those new believers in the faith. The "any church will do" approach came from his goal of never wanting to marginalize his audience, yet it also set up many new believers for weak growth and spiritually dead futures, because some of the churches he inadvertently supported were doctrinally weak if not altogether heretical, and others were spiritually dead. While he may have felt he had no recourse but to take whichever volunteers volunteered, this approach undoubtedly had dire spiritual consequences for many souls and increased the rosters of many churches he'd never have himself supported.
On the same note, his public stand to never offend (even in the face of outright heresy and godlessness) affected generations of believers who eat up this "tolerance" garbage like candy. Jesus ate with sinners, sure, yet he attacked religious leaders. Protestantism has such a long, healthy history of standing not only for truth but against error that Billy Graham's approach impacted this historical badge of honor in a very negative way. Too many new evangelicals now believe this hogwash because of Billy Graham, that it's OK for others to preach lies as long as we can preach truth just as loudly. But Jesus Christ isn't just one great option among many, He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life: no one can come to the Father but through Him. Unless we’re willing to state this truth publically---at the cost of marginalizing folks who believe otherwise---we run the risk of minimizing the importance of Jesus Christ, even if we purport to make a career in evangelism!
Granted, traditional fundamentalists swing too far in the other direction via their multi-degrees of separation. To the regular independent Baptist, it's not "I'll separate from you if I disagree with you" but rather "I'll separate from you, even if I agree with you, if you don't separate from someone who disagrees with us." It's a painful system that just reeks of disunity and a powerful misunderstanding of the teachings of Christ, and I've dealt with it my whole life. And I fear that if I intimate an appreciation for Billy Graham's godly work, they'll go that step further and say to me, "We'll separate from you, even though you agree with us, because you won't separate from someone who also agrees with us but who won't himself separate from someone who doesn't agree with us." And if that's really the case, then I'll have to say to the fundamentalists of my roots, "Good riddance." In this case, I need to agree with the Apostle Paul who claimed in similar circumstances: "in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice." And why wouldn’t I?
I learned many other things from this book about Billy Graham, America, and my own faith. I appreciate Wacker's intense research into this subject and find that I have gained a much better perspective of a Christian landscape that had been hidden from me by my own upbringing. I really enjoyed this book, and while I admit it's not for everyone, I would recommend it to those wanting to better understand the roots of New Evangelicalism.
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- Not Balanced
Couldn't listen past a couple of hours due to the extreme bias of the author--one would think it was Billy Graham who walked on water rather than Jesus.
- A different biographical perspective.
Excellent sociological analysis of the influence of Billy Graham and his ministry on American society.
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- Great used though imperfect.
This is more a study of the man rather than a biography which sets out a life in an historical.succession. It shows a man that has been used by God yet with many faults.
The book I found interesting but hard to remember because of the way it was set. Nevert he less it was well worth listening to because it in many ways gives encouragementioned in it mirrors the Bible in that even today God still uses people who are not perfect but devoted to Him.
- great book, hard terminologies.
great bio, shows that he was very human, but he loved to preach the gospel. A little abstract due to the use of hard terminologies. Had to consult the dictionary on a number of occassions
- boring with some parts worthwhile
Terribly boring. I could not wait for it to be over. A lot of the book consists of: This pundit said this about Billy Graham, and this pundit said that, and this magazine said this, without any insightful opinion by the author. There are 3 worthwhile sections: 1) Billy Graham and race relations including his relationship with Martin Luther King 2) the short section of letters from children to Graham 3) the short description of Wacker's personal visits to Graham. I think these were the only parts Wacker enjoyed writing. My recommendation is to just listen to these 3 parts and spare yourself the monotony of listening to the rest.
This book was scholarly but warm, and well read. It was very comprehensive, in my opinion - felt like three or four books' work. This is my first book review here - just had to stop and share of its merits.
- Most boring biography of the year!
I love biographies but this was the most boring one I have ever read or heard!
- Billy Graham and Evangelicalism, how they shaped each other and how Billy Graham shaped today's culture
This is an excellent book, Grant Wacker has done an excellent job of providing a historical and social analysis of Billy Graham, but has also provided a lens through which the current phenomena of the Evangelical subculture can be understood. Billy Graham has done much to influence and direct the passage of North America and shape the hearts and minds of conservative middle-class evangelical Christians.
America's Pastor provides a possible reason as to why America feels so conflicted about the role of Christianity within politics and Government. Wacker on numerous occasions pointed out that Graham too often seemed to enjoy having close relationships with the men in power, most notable of all being his disastrous relationship with Richard Nixon that did much to tarnish his (Graham's) name. Graham's also played the part of being the King Maker, commanding a great number of votes through his channels of influence upon the evangelical conservative subculture.
As a Millennial growing up in New Zealand within a non-denominational christian tradition influenced by Southern Baptist and Brethren denominational traditions, I have found this book to be a fascinating analysis that explains a great number of the things that define my tradition. For example, Billy Graham's emphasis on making a decision for or against Christ explains why many consider making a profession of faith so important.
Billy's influence also goes beyond his preaching. I was unaware that Christianity today was started by Billy Graham.
I felt that Grant Wacker was fair in his analysis, being both critical and complementary of Graham wherever criticism and compliments were due. For someone wishing to understand why Evangelical Christians are the way we are today, this book provides a key piece of the picture.
I enjoyed the writing style that Wacker employed, it is evident he carefully chose his words so as to be as precise as possible. This book is written at a higher level though, employing complex words and phrases, however if you can get through it, you will be much enlightened having done so. It would have been an injustice to the topic to use less complex and descriptive language.
I love Mr Graham and his messages.
- The Great Evangelist
America's Pastor by Grant Wacker is a fascinating look into the life of one of the great evangelists of the last hundred years. He has spoken to millions of people, seen many people come to know Jesus Christ as Lord, influenced many US presidents and changed the lives of many through his amazing ministry.
It is a very thorough look into his sixty year long ministry with plenty of highs and several lows. It is not just a puff piece as it examines his mistakes and the distinct doctrinal beliefs that were quite different from many of his fellow believers.
Unfortunately I never got the opportunity to hear Billy Graham live as his last crusade in Australia was before I was born but I have heard his son, which was a great experience. Also he still holds the record for a crowd in Australia at the MCG where the reported figure is about 130,000 people with thousands waiting outside who couldn't get in. I know people that were saved at his Australian crusades who are still serving God today, so he has had quite a major impact on many people's lives.
The narration was quite solid as the narrator sounded authoritative and presented this biography with a lot of heart and energy. It is quite a long book and it didn't seem like an effort to listen to it.
This book is a great insight into this amazing man of God and would be great for anyone interested in Billy Graham or learning more about evangelism.
This audio book was gifted as a part of the christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. More information can be found about this and other Christian audio books at christianaudio.com.
- An analytic approach to Bill Graham's success.
With tens if not hundreds of books written by or about Billy Graham, this book offered an interesting insight that is different from biographies or Dr. Graham’s autobiography. It tries to analyze why Billy Graham was so successful.
The author studied both positive and negative aspects of Billy Graham's life to try and determine factors within his personality and his organization that allowed him to become the world famous figure that he is.
After reading the book and the various possibilities, I came to the conclusion that we don't really have a very good understanding of exactly why this one man and his organization became such a world-wide force for God. A couple of factors which seem likely are the fact that he came along at the right time and the fact that he maintained a personal set of rules and principles for both himself and for his organization. I believe that it is these principles and rules that were in the long run that protected him from falling as many other nationally famous pastors and Christian leaders have over the years.
Both from a financial and from a moral standpoint Billy Graham appears to have lived as close to ideal Christian life as possible. One of Billy Graham's assets which I believe has been misinterpreted by many is that Dr. Graham was willing to meet and be associated with those outside conservative Christianity and therefore was thought by some to be too liberal. Jesus chose to live among sinners. Dr. Graham believed that if we do not associate with those who are not yet Christians we will have no opportunity to share Christ with them. In this, I believe Billy Graham succeeded more than any other Christian leader.
The narrator did a wonderful job of keeping the listener engaged.
I was given a free audio version of this book for my agreement to review it but this has not influenced my personal impressions of the book.
- Very good look at Graham's impact and legacy
I have been reluctant to read biographies of living people recently. Sometimes it just feels like we need more distance to be really able understand a person's contributions, and when that person is beloved, their weaknesses as well.
So I was not planning on reading America's Pastor. I have read Billy Graham's own way too long and detailed without being all that interesting autobiography(-ish) Just As I Am and I figured that was probably enough for the next decade or so. But after two pretty positive reviews by Mark Noll and Ted Olsen and then the same day being offered a review copy, I decided to pick it up.
And I am glad I did. America's Pastor is not a biography. There is a fairly short overview of Graham's life at the beginning, but the rest of the book is chapters focused on different aspect of Graham's work, image or legacy. The eight chapters are: Preacher, Icon, Southerner, Entrepreneur, Architect, Pilgrim, Pastor and Patriarch.
Grant Wacker is a real historian and uses all the academic historian tools. But this is an eminently fair evaluation, if anything I agree with Noll's assessment that the very fact of Wacker's grace toward some of Graham's weaknesses make those criticisms more real.
There is no white washing here. The more known mistakes around politics, especially with Kennedy and Nixon are dealt with well and the end result is that Wacker believes that political interest and the access to power is just one of the weaknesses that Graham had, despite is awareness of it in later years. But there are also a number of missteps that I (being too young for really knowing Graham as anything other than icon) did not know about.
Despite (or maybe because) of those missteps, Graham became trusted, more trusted than almost any person in history. And that trust was based in large part on Graham's character. He made mistakes and admitted them, he did not claim to be more than he was, his humility behind the scenes and in front of cameras, his willingness misunderstood for the sake of spreading the gospel makes him someone unique.
It is this uniqueness that I think Wacker best captures. Billy Graham could not have come to existence in any other age. He was a creature of his generation and made by the events of his generation. This is not to minimize what he did or who he was, but Wacker spends some time talking about who his mantle should pass to and comes to the conclusion that it is the wrong question. There will not be another Billy Graham because we will not live in a world that gave rise to Billy Graham again.
There was a few pages that dragged in the last quarter because part of the weakness of the topical view of Graham meant that there had to be some repetition, but I think this is going to be the best thing written on Graham for quite a while.
If you are looking for a straight biography, this is not it. But if you really want to look at Graham's impact and legacy, and how he shaped both American and American Evangelicalism, this is well worth picking up.
- I applaud Grant Wacker’s research, structure, and the overall cohesiveness to this title.
While Billy Graham was a household name for many it was not so in my home. As a child of the 80’s raised in a non-evangelical denomination I knew very little about Graham prior to listening to this audiobook. Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation by Grant Wacker was both academic and inspiring. Wacker’s approach was neither flattering nor terse – it walked the fine line of being both honoring and honest.
Readers, or in this case audiobook listeners, gain a better understanding of Billy Graham as a man, a leader, a servant of God, and an impact maker on American culture. From his humble beginnings as a dairy farmer Graham built and empire of influence through the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA). Wacker attributes his success to his natural charisma, careful image management, connections to people in power, and perhaps most importantly his passion for taking the gospel to the lost. Although the author doesn’t forthrightly state that God is the reason for Graham’s success, to this listener it was clearly the case.
Finishing this title, I have a great appreciation for Graham. I admire how from the outset, Billy and his crusade leadership team resolved to be financially transparent, to avoid perceived improprieties with members of the opposite sex, and to admit when they were wrong – all potential pitfalls for Christian ministries. His life illustrated to me that when you have a plan you are far more likely to overcome the schemes of the devil.
I applaud Grant Wacker’s research, structure, and the overall cohesiveness to this title. However, had I been reading instead of listening I probably would have fatigued and left the book unfinished. Despite the pleasantness of Bob Souer’s narration, the language tended to be overly verbose. During the 12.5 hours of listening, I took frequent, sometimes prolonged breaks from listening. For this reason I believe this title would appeal more to the academic than the casual reader. As the latter, I award this title a good – 3/5 star rating.
**I received this book for free as a member of the christianaudio reviewers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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