Billy Graham: A Life Centered on Jesus Christ

Billy Graham, world-renowned evangelist, author, and Pastor to Presidents, has passed into the presence of his Lord and King, Jesus Christ. He was 99.

Group Photo

By God’s grace, Graham’s voice has echoed across the world calling unknown numbers of men, women, and children to faith in Jesus Christ.

by Marty Duren

After a lengthy battle with Parkinson's disease and other physical ailments, Billy Graham, world-renowned evangelist, author, and Pastor to Presidents, has passed into the presence of his Lord and King, Jesus Christ. Graham’s physical condition had been largely a matter of speculation since he left public view in 2014. He was 99.

Since 1947, Billy Graham conducted more than 400 crusades in 185 countries and territories on six continents. Using the altar call method made famous by Dwight L. Moody, Graham would preach the gospel and invite people to come forward, giving them the chance to make a decision for Christ and speak one-on-one with a counselor to clarify questions and pray together.

By the time Graham’s age began to slow him down in the mid-1990s, he had preached in person to more people than anyone in history. Some estimate that Graham has preached to as many as 215 million people. His last live crusade was in 2005 before a reported 90,000 people in New York City Park.

Dr. Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, said of Graham: “Mr. Graham preached about Jesus for most of his life. The message of the gospel was at the heart of his ministry. He understood the brevity of life. And he knew, when it is all said and done, our relationship with Jesus Christ is all that really matters.” 

 

Billy Graham's Ministry

Billy Graham’s evangelistic ministry began with his own conversion at a crusade hosted by evangelist Mordecai Ham. A few years later, Graham answered the call to ministry on the 18th green of the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club in front of Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida).

While attending Wheaton College, Graham pastored United Gospel Tabernacle (1941-1943) and later pastored First Baptist Church, Western Springs (1943-1944), both in Illinois. He received a degree in anthropology from Wheaton in 1943. 

In 1945, Graham became the field representative of the evangelistic movement known as Youth for Christ International. In this role, Graham traveled the United States and much of Great Britain and Europe, teaching local church leaders how to organize youth rallies. After a brief stint as a radio show host, Graham was hired as president of Northwestern Bible College in Minnesota in 1947 at the age of 30.

As history would prove, evangelism better suited Graham’s calling and gifting than academia. In 1949, Graham scheduled a series of evangelistic revivals in Los Angeles that ran five weeks longer than planned. During the eight week Los Angeles crusade Graham preached 65 times, with more than 6,000 people committing or recommitting their lives to Christ. Graham gained heavy coverage from the wire services and national magazines. 

Graham continued to gain exposure through a decade of successful evangelistic crusades in major cities across the United States, Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia. To run his ministry on an orderly way, Graham, along with his wife and co-workers, incorporated the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in 1950. (Read more about how Billy Graham left a remarkable evangelistic legacy.)

The message of the gospel was at the heart of Billy Graham’s ministry. He understood the brevity of life. And he knew, when it is all said and done, our relationship with Jesus Christ is all that really matters.

Thom Rainer, President and CEO, LifeWay

The same year BGEA became incorporated, Graham began the weekly radio program called The Hour of Decision. In 1956, Billy Graham founded Christianity Today magazine because of a deep desire to express historical Christianity to the present generation. Carl F.H. Henry left his teaching post at Fuller Theological Seminary to serve as the magazine’s first editor. Using the magazine’s platform and his international connections, Graham and close friend John Stott launched the World Congress on Evangelism (now known as the Lausanne Movement) to challenge and unite evangelical Christians in the great task of world evangelization. 

Graham’s influence became notable among some of the world’s most powerful leaders. He met with every U.S. president from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama, who visited Graham’s home in 2010 for a private prayer. Graham’s public friendship with President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon helped established him as “The Pastor to the Presidents.” He was also called “America’s Pastor,” and, sometimes, the “Protestant Pope.” From Eisenhower to George W. Bush, Graham served as a spiritual adviser to the Office of President of the United States of America. 

Graham has also ministered to untold millions via radio, television, and print media. He authored more than 30 books including Angels: God’s Secret Agents (1975), Approaching Hoofbeats (1983), Storm Warning (1992), and his 1997 autobiography, Just As I Am. Several of his books became best-sellers. (Read more about Billy Graham's legacy through his written works)

The ground at the foot of the cross is level.

Billy Graham

“It would be difficult to overstate the evangelistic impact of Billy Graham,” said LifeWay’s Executive Vice President Brad Waggoner. “Churches from various denominations worked together preparing for and following-up Dr. Graham’s crusades. These efforts have born eternal fruit for churches all over the world. His personal godliness and integrity were displayed in such a way that even secular leaders and those in media respected him.”

 

Billy Graham's Family and Legacy

William Franklin “Billy” Graham, Jr., was born November 7, 1918, to Morrow and William Franklin Graham, Sr., near Charlotte, North Carolina where he was raised on a dairy farm. While a student at Wheaton College, Graham married classmate Ruth Bell (1920–2007) on August 13, 1943. Billy’s and Ruth’s marriage was such that, according to Billy’s longtime assistant, T.W. Wilson, “There would have been no Billy Graham as we know him today had it not been for Ruth.”

The Grahams had five children together, boast of 19 grandchildren, and a number of great-grandchildren.

It is no exaggeration to state that Billy Graham has been one of the most influential Christians of the 20th century. In eternity, however, Graham will not be known for the Congressional Gold Medal he shared with Ruth. Though heroic and honorable, Graham will not be known for his civil rights activism either. Like every other confessing follower of Christ, Graham will be known by the grace of God. 

As Graham often said, “The ground at the foot of the cross is level.” In the new heavens and new earth, Graham will be known simply as a child of God, a sinner who has been shown grace. Only God knows why He saw fit to place a tall, lanky country boy in front of stadiums full of people to preach the gospel. It is by God’s grace that Graham’s North Carolina accent has echoed across the world calling unknown numbers of men, women, and children to faith in Jesus Christ.

Following Graham’s 95th birthday party in 2013, Rainer noted, “When all eyes were on him during his birthday celebration, it was noticeable that he wanted the focus to be on one thing: the cross of Jesus Christ.” 

As in Graham’s life, so in his death. Well done, faithful servant.