Billy Graham died Feb. 21, 2018 at his home in North Carolina. Born Nov. 7, 1918, he was 99 years old.
Graham was arguably the most famous Christian preacher of the last 100 years. It is estimated that he spoke to nearly 215 million people in 185 countries and probably 100’s of millions more watched him on TV.
And his TV ministry had as much of an impact as his live preaching. He differed from many modern TV evangelists in that Graham’s TV ministry reached non Christians.
When I was going to seminary, there were two twin brothers, both who went into full-time ministry, who were saved watching Billy Graham on TV. The former pastor of the church I attend was also saved watching Billy Graham on TV.
In 1934, at the age of 15, he was led to the Lord by a traveling evangelist Mordecai Ham who was holding revival meetings in Graham’s hometown of Charlotte, NC.
So much is being said about Billy Graham, that I really don’t know what I can add. But I thought I would share a story about Billy Graham’s early days, that has always struck a chord with me.
One of Graham’s favorite passages that he used in many sermons was about people being in the “Valley of Decision” about faith in Christ:
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. (Joel 3:14 NASV)
But what many don’t know is that Graham faced his own personal “Valley of Decision.”
Some believe that Billy Graham was not God’s first choice to be the evangelist that would shake the world. Many felt that belonged to a Canadian evangelist named Charles Templeton.
Templeton (1915-2001) was a popular Canadian preacher in the 1940s and 1950s. As a Nazarene pastor, people lined-up outside the doors of his Avenue Road church in Toronto, Ontario to hear him preach.
At a Youth for Christ rally in 1945, Templeton met up with another up and coming evangelist Billy Graham and the two men established a close friendship and often shared the same pulpit.
As Templeton moved out from his pastoral role into an evangelistic ministry, he held rallies to packed out crowds numbering upwards to 30,000. He had a profound impact in Evansville, Indiana, where during a two-week campaign nearly 91,000 people attended the meetings in a city of only 128,000.
After Templeton left, attendance at churches in Evansville jumped by 17%.
He became so popular that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the government-owned national TV and radio broadcaster, gave him his own weekly TV program.
However, things began to unravel for Templeton when the leadership of the Nazarene church sent him to Princeton to study theology. By this point, Princeton was liberal. It was there that Templeton began to question his faith, and this led him to publicly renouncing his faith in 1957.
Templeton’s renunciation sent shock waves across Canada in both religious and secular circles.
Templeton even tried to influence his friend Billy Graham to go down a similar path of unbelief and was encouraging Graham to attend Princeton as well.
This attack eventually forced Graham into his own ‘Damascus road’ experience in the San Bernardino mountains. One August night while out for a walk, he fell to his knees and confessed he couldn’t answer Templeton’s questions but chose to believe the Bible.
In his auto-biography, Just As I Am, Graham writes what he prayed that night:
“Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word-by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”
Having made that decision, Graham said:
“When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won”
Having come through his “Valley of Decision,” God’s anointing fell on Billy Graham and millions were save through his ministry. He had an open door to world leaders and became known in the US as a pastor to the presidents.
During his crusades, so many people were drawn to his message that meetings were often extended. A crusade in Los Angeles scheduled for three weeks ended up going for eight with packed out crowds each night.
A 1957 crusade at Madison Square Gardens in New York city ran nightly for 16 weeks. Even in his older years, he was still sharing his faith. Just before his 95th birthday, he released a video on the hope of salvation and wrote Where I am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond his last of 32 books in 2015.
Having faithfully served the Lord for over 80 years, Billy Graham is now with Jesus.
As for Templeton, he went to work in the media. He wrote a number of fiction and nonfiction books including the Act of God in which the bones of Jesus were purportedly found. The last one he wrote was titled: Farewell to God: My reasons for rejecting the Christian faith. By this time, doctors had diagnosed Templeton with Alzheimer’s and there is strong evidence this was his motivation for writing the book.
Just before Templeton’s death, Lee Strobel interviewed the former evangelist. Despite all he had written, Templeton still said that Jesus was the most important man in his life and then with tears in his eyes Templeton said he missed Jesus.
- Strobe, Lee, The Case for Faith,
- Breaking: Billy Graham dies at 99: Charisma News