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Honoring Billy Graham

Preaching Today's contributors share lessons they've learned from Billy Graham.
Honoring Billy Graham
Image: Larry W. Smith/Getty Images

On February 21, 2018, Billy Graham passed away at the age of 99. We reached out to some of Preaching Today’s contributors and asked them to share how Graham inspired them as preachers and teachers.

John Ortberg (Senior Pastor at Menlo Church)

There is no longer shadow that has been cast, there are no larger shoes to be filled. No one defined and united the evangelical world for half a century and more the way that he did. For anyone who was a part of that tribe, he was our representative and ambassador and voice.

For those who grew up thinking that we might preach, he was the preacher who called people to Jesus like no other. His message grew simpler and clearer with the passing decades. He was captivated by Jesus, and devoted above all else to challenging all who heard to devote themselves to Him. He conveyed a reliance on God to empower his words. He conveyed that his one purpose in preaching was not to impress or succeed but simply be a conduit for the gospel of life. The intensity and clarity and unapologetic boldness of the request that people respond to the message of Christ imprinted itself on any of us who sought to preach the gospel. He was that rare presence who grew simultaneously more inclusive and more single-mindedly devoted to Jesus’ gospel. From him I learned, as did thousands of others, that to call people to Christ is to stand in the valley of decision.

Samuel Rodriguez (President NHCLC and Lead Pastor of New Season)

Billy Graham changed the world via the conduit of preaching the gospel. He modeled and taught us that if you preach the Word and “live” the Word, God will convict the hearts of man.

Simply stated, Billy personified a continuum of orthodoxy and character. The preacher’s preacher modeled integrity, biblical knowledge, and a dynamic delivery that spoke to the heart (affective), the head (cognitive), and the hand (practical) of mankind.

At the end of the day Billy leaves with us a legacy that constantly reminds us that if the message does not point to the saving grace of Jesus, it is just an inspirational speech.

Footnote: Arguably, Billy Graham did more for the cause of Christian unity than any other person in modern history. When certain quarters of America insisted on racial segregation, Billy demanded integration. Billy Graham Crusades served as some of the first integrated public gatherings in certain parts of America’s southern region. In addition, he likewise helped address the divide between non-charismatic evangelicals and the ever-growing Penecostal/charismatic community.

Scott M. Gibson (Haddon W. Robinson Professor of Preaching and Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

We mourn Billy Graham’s home going. He was a stalwart, faithful and gracious preacher of the gospel. His impress upon 20th and 21st century evangelicalism is immeasurable. We are all the more deficient without him but heaven is all the more efficient with him!

I learned that preaching takes courage and commitment. Billy Graham modeled that. He understood his times and addressed them with the gospel of grace. Thank God for Billy Graham!

Mark Buchanan (Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Ambrose Seminary)

I heard Billy Graham preach in person twice. I was in my mid-twenties, and a new Christian. I had no idea that preaching would be part of my future. What I most remember, more than 30 years later, was the simplicity of his message and the sincerity of his person. He spoke unvarnished truth with an unguarded heart. Many times since, standing in a pulpit, I have asked the Lord to give me the same clarity, directness, and guilelessness that I witnessed in Billy Graham.

Dave Ferguson (Lead Pastor at Community Christian Church)

Billy Graham, second only to the Apostle Paul was perhaps the greatest Christian evangelist we've ever known. He helped millions and millions of people find their way back to God. I remember as a child going to McCormick Place in Chicago and being impacted by Graham for the first time in 1971. He continued to influence me through the Billy Graham School of Evangelism which I participated in while in college. I later earned a masters degree at Wheaton Graduate School in the Billy Graham Center where I now have the privilege of being adjunct professor. In an era where many leaders are distracted by money or lacking integrity, he has been a brilliant role model from my days as a child until now. Billy Graham has always been a profound influence in my life.

John Koessler (Chair & Professor of Division of Applied Theology & Church Ministry at Moody Bible Institute)

Billy Graham was a master at moving from the concerns of the audience to their ultimate need for Jesus Christ. In his sermons he nearly always begins with his listeners. At the same time, the gospel was the centerpiece of his message. His sermons were personalized for his listeners and focused on the person of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus was at the center of his life, Jesus was the center of his message. Billy Graham was just as straightforward in his reliance upon the Bible as the basis for his message. The simple phrase that rings out repeatedly in his preaching is "the Bible says." His example taught me to be unabashed in my appeal to Scripture as the basis for my authority.

Steve Norman (Teaching Pastor at Central Wesleyan)

Today I heard a clip of Franklin Graham asking his father Billy what he wanted on his tombstone. The answer was a single word: “Preacher.” In the last generation, it seems the religious vernacular has started to steer away from “preacher.” In a world of TED talks and YouTube stars, we have “speakers” and “teaching pastors,” but “preachers” seem to have fallen out of favor. Maybe that’s why it’s refreshing to hear someone of Graham’s stature embrace and affirm the title and the role.

Graham, at his core, captured the pure essence of “preacher.” His passion was undeniable, his character unassailable, and his conviction unmovable. In his 1991 biography A Prophet With Honor, William Martin notes that Graham, as a young man, “poured every possible ounce of his talent and commitment into his preaching … His exuberant gestures and high-speed delivery won him the nickname, the Preaching Windmill, and nearly everyone who heard him mentioned the uncommon amount of noise he could generate in the pulpit.” But for all his flair, Graham seemed to transcend the perpetual temptation toward self-promotion. For Billy, the objective was to present the gospel, not to push the brand.

He was an evangelist through and through. One mentor told me “The evangelist makes everything simple. The prophet makes everything messy.” In a chaotic world, Billy distilled the gospel down to its core and always, always “put the cookies on the bottom shelf.”

Thomas R. Schreiner (Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

Billy Graham reminded us in his amazing ministry that true evangelicalism always centers on the gospel. We are faithful to the gospel when we invite and summon others to be saved, to turn from their sin and to confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

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