The Next Billy Graham

The story is told that, during the International Congress on World Evangelization at Lausanne in 1974, someone asked Billy Graham, “Who will be the next Billy Graham?” In answer, the nonpareil evangelist motioned to the panorama of Christian leaders around him, saying, “They will.”

Graham PreachingI agree with Graham. No one person will ever replace him. He has been extraordinarily called to share the gospel at a specific historical moment with more people than anyone before him. No one can “replace” him, any more than anyone could “replace” Alexander the Great, Lincoln, or Churchill. Great leaders break the mold. They can be succeeded but never replaced.

This month Billy Graham marked his 95th birthday with a heartfelt message, “The Cross,” putting a capstone on his long and fruitful public ministry. This seems an appropriate time, therefore, to discuss not who will be “the next Billy Graham,” but how we—his grateful successors—can carry on his cross-centered, proclamational legacy in the church today.

Not Via Politics

We need to remind ourselves that this legacy will not be continued via politics. While many people are alternately discouraged, outraged, or disgusted by our seemingly broken political system, and while a calling into politics is valid and worthy, our salvation will not come through the ballot box or a Supreme Court decision. Though often tempted by the lure of the political spotlight, Graham recognized this fact. For instance, after the fallout of the Watergate scandal, Graham stated, “It is a mistake to identify the kingdom of God with the American way of life.”

The reality of evil and the dehumanizing effects of sin will not find their ultimate cure in a new government program or reform agenda on Capitol Hill. As always, they must be confronted by the (inherently offensive) message of the gospel—that Christ “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).

Power, Humility, and Prayer

The first foundation stone of Graham’s legacy, thus, is his grasp of the gospel, which the apostle Paul says is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). While we are often tempted to forget the extent of this power, the many lives transformed through Graham’s preaching are a vivid reminder.

Such knowledge has also given Graham genuine humility, the second foundation stone. It’s easy to take Graham meekness for granted, having been accustomed to seeing it for so many decades—that is, until we observe the sins and foibles of other Christian leaders.

During his first crusade in Boston, when asked to identify the one item for which he most wanted prayer, Graham said, ”That I will not take credit for the successes of these things whatsoever, because if I do, my lips will turn to clay.”

The Boston church leaders came away from that meeting struck by Graham’s profound humility. In fact, after the meetings, one leader commented, “Never did Billy take any credit. He never let anybody make him a big shot. Such humility I have never seen in anyone else.” Graham’s humility is a model for all of his successors.

This incident also highlights another foundation in Graham’s legacy—one that we must not neglect in the days ahead: earnest prayer. Graham knew that whatever humility he had, it was not his birthright, and it wasn’t guaranteed to continue in perpetuity. This knowledge caused Graham to constantly return to the Source.

“Every time I give an invitation, I am in an attitude of prayer,” he writes. “I feel emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained. It becomes a spiritual battle of such proportions that sometimes I feel faint. There is an inward groaning and agonizing in prayer that I can’t put it into words.”

There are many tools, in the providence of God, that can help us more effectively do evangelism—sociological research, technology, and the like. These are all good things, and Graham gladly employed them when appropriate. But Graham’s successors must never get so enamored with these tools for evangelism that we forget the engine: earnest prayer.

Supremacy of Christ

The final foundation stone in Graham’s ministry I want to highlight here is his commitment to the supremacy of Christ. It is no accident that the name of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s magazine is Decision. At his every crusade, the great evangelist emphasized people’s need to see Christ not just as Savior, but also as Lord—and he always sealed this understanding with prayer.

In Graham crusades, there has been no room for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” While attendees were always called to make a decision, they were also challenged to make a thoroughgoing dedication to discipleship. Writing in 1956, Graham indicated the far-reaching importance of this commitment: ”After you have confessed Christ, yield every area of your life. Yield your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your family, your business, your career, your ambitions, your soul, the innermost thought and depths of your heart; yield them all to Christ. Hold nothing back.”

No, as much as we would like to, there is no way to manufacture “another Billy Graham” for whatever challenges God has for us in the future. The ministries of the great evangelist’s many successors necessarily will look different and almost certainly produce different fruit.

But there is no reason we cannot carry forward Graham’s cross-centered, proclamational legacy. This legacy is surprisingly simple, yet unmistakably profound: a commitment to the gospel’s power, genuine humility, earnest prayer, and the supremacy of Christ. Despite the cultural pressure we will likely encounter to neglect these foundation stones, this is a legacy any minister of the gospel can embrace.

In fact, we must. God will judge us if we don’t.

  • Curt Day

    We need to watch the yearning for a replacement for Billy Graham. Looking for such a hero can, on personal levels, take away from the supremacy of Christ. In addition, we might push some of our evangelical responsibilities on to such a hero.

    • Chris Castaldo


  • Tal Prince

    Great points all. I would also add that God called together a remarkable team around this ministry. Think about how few teams stay together even for one decade today – egos get involved and people involved in support roles are often only there until they can get their own pulpit or ministry.

    At Dr. Graham’s 95th birthday celebration, he stopped to program to thank Cliff Barrows for the years of service and told him that this celebration was for both of them. Those two men have been friends and co-laborers for nearly 70 years. Amazing.

    As the step-son of Mr. Barrows, I have been in a rather unique position to see how that team worked together. I am often asked what kept them, Billy, Cliff and George Beverly Shea, together. You pointed it out in this article – humility. Each one of those men did their best to shine the spotlight on the other two at all times. We just do not see that today in our current celebrity driven ministry culture and I find that sad. People that want to be “the next Billy Graham” have unknowingly made themselves as unlike Billy as possible.

    I often had the privilege of driving Cliff and Bev Shea into the stadiums and to the platform for the last 12 years of their crusade ministry and each time they were genuinely surprised at the number of people that showed up. After decades of setting attendance records in city after city, venue after venue, they were honestly surprised and humbled that tens of thousands showed up.

    The entire team and organization reflected this culture, and they all tried to lift everyone else up so that the Gospel could be preached. It was truly amazing. The organization was the body of Christ on display – each person gladly and humbly fulfilling their roles to clear the way for Billy to preach the Gospel.

    The question may well be posed, who will be the next Billy Graham Team?

  • Bob Schembre

    we’ll I surely believe that his proclamation of the gospel is something that we praise God for. But let’s not forget the fact that untold thousands have been given a false assurance of salvation through the decision ism of his methodology. even in respect to Mr Graham we cannot fail to warn of the dangers.

    • Mike

      Yes, Bob, you are spot-on! I’ve been trying to get a conversation going on just what you are getting at!

  • danny

    As one who is eternally grateful for the ministry of Mr. Graham, here is my conversion in brief on the rainy day in Boston… and a question:
    I was converted at a Billy Graham crusade, june 6, 1982 … my account is that I was converted while sitting in my seat, WHILE he was preaching. Deep conviction of sin, and the sweetness of Christ, who loved me and gave Himself for me, washed over my consciousness, much to my surprise, since I was not looking for this nor expecting it. (The same was happening to my Dad, sitting right next to me. He was in the midst of an extra-marital affair for 3 years). Some serious revelation of truth was shed abroad in my heart & mind, while sitting right there in the stands at Nickerson Field. Key here is “revelation”.

    My question is: Can the biblical word and concept of faith be defined as (an unregenerate) making a decision to make Christ’s work on the cross real and effective?
    Isn’t what’s happening to the soul more about Divine revelation than it is about human decision?
    It was for me…and my dad.
    Postscript: in the almost 32 years now, I am still finding it difficult to “yield all to Christ, and hold nothing back”. Grateful for His persevering mercy… and grateful for Billy’s gospel-power focus, humility, prayer & supremacy of Christ!

    • Brett Schlee

      Yes, praise God, there are many folks who have been converted in connection with Billy Graham, but as Bob (just above you in the thread) warns, you have been converted in spite of the unbiblical, Arminian methodology and appeals of Mr Graham and others in the Finney family line. God is to be praised that He is more powerful than our theological shortcomings, but that doesn’t excuse us for allowing them to persist.

  • Rico Naef

    I think the time of great single figurative leaders is gone. It will be a network like city to city or other networks. Unity is the key and commitment. I like movements like the gospel coaltion and Lausanne. Gods Glory to the whole world nothing less.
    Billy Graham shaped American Evangelism and it’s still strong. But if you watched the movie The Cross, you notice both testimonies come from a backgroud who knew the bible. How about the so called unreached. God will rise leaders, but thy will be a different kind.

    • Kathy

      Yes, I recently went to an event where Graham’s daughter spoke. It was very much along the model of her father’s crusades. What struck me about it was how “churchy” it was. I thought,”if I had come to this before I knew the Lord, I would have been intensely uncomfortable” and the discomfort would not have come from the gospel but from the strong subculture vibe. I came away feeling strongly that the day for that kind of thing is over…and I’m in my fifties.

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    • Alien & Stranger

      The problem in the interview cited, was more with Robert Schuller, who I realised, early on in my walk with the Lord in the early 1990s, preached “another gospel” that never mentions sin, judgement, the cross or repentance. I noticed how, in his “interviews” with guests on The Hour of Power, he cleverly led his guests along to affirming his “other gospel” of schmaltzy grace. Schuller is really a Universalist.
      On the other hand, I also heard a number of Billy Graham’s messages on TransWorld Radio, and he preached the Biblical Gospel. I have yet to listen to what Billy Graham preached on the occasion of his recent birthday, so cannot give an assessment.

  • Dave

    I’ve heard (recordings of) Billy Graham preaching the gospel and doing it well.

    But there are problems with the man and his methods we should not ignore.

    He compromised the gospel by his ecumenical approach to local church involvement wherever his mission went.

    His decisionism and use of altar calls reminds me more of Charles Finney than a faithful preacher of the gospel.

    I don’t doubt some were saved through his preaching. But many more were misled about the gospel through his implicit acceptance of Roman Catholicism as Christian, and many more were given false assurance based on a ‘decision for Christ’.

  • Cyle Catlett

    I watched Billy Graham’s special on Fox and was very encouraged by his legacy. I’m 24 years old and don’t know a whole lot about Billy Graham but I was very excited to see such as Christ-centered preacher reach the masses that Dr. Graham reached. However, I’m curious to know more about Billy Graham’s statements of God’s mercy being wider than that of Christianity. I heard a sermon where John MacArthur explained that Billy Graham stated that sincere individuals who believe that there is a God and try to live accordingly would be saved although they have no bible or haven’t heard of Jesus. I have no idea whether MacArthur’s statements are true, but I would appreciate a link or comment that speaks to the matter.

  • Morris Brooks

    Unless The Lord has consulted with or told you, I don’t think you can say what He will or will not do in regards to raising up spiritual leaders.

    • Rico Naef

      Well yes, I’m not insisting on my comment. It’s from my little perspective and I live in Europe. Fact is God does not like heroism in our understanding, and he chooses as he pleases not by mans election. We just guess and discuss here.

  • Carla

    When I read about great leaders of the past, I think, “What would it have been like to have been alive a the time and heard them speak.”

    I think my generation is very fortunate to have the personal witness of two great men, one of which is Billy Graham. Not only that he continued to give the message through the years, but that his own life has born up to the witness.

    About a month ago, our Bible study class was asked to share how they came to know Christ. Many of them accepted him through a Billy Graham crusade.

    He is truly one of the shining stars of the faith (Daniel 12:3.)

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  • Kathy

    I’m thankful for the way Billy Graham has faithfully preached the gospel for so many years. That’s why it was all the more disappointing when he publicly endorsed Mitt Romney and removed criticism of Mormonism from his website.
    You are right when you say that Graham has been tempted by the political spotlight, and the answer does not that way lie. We need to preach the gospel in a way that can be heard by all people regardless of their political persuasion. We don’t want politics to be what turns people away.

  • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.comw Steve Cornell

    And there is the sad story of the almost Billy Graham, see: “A Vulnerable moment for an atheist” –

  • Daniel

    Sorry everybody, but after my first sermon, my grandma told me I was the next Billy Graham, so….

  • Daniel

    Billy Graham did meet people in a very good way for his time. I see replacements as being people who meet people where they are. So people who go on missions are still on that list. People who preach online faithfully are now high on my list since they meet people where they are. Three names come to mind in revolutionary ministry, Evangelist Nick Hall from Reset Movement and Brother Emmanuel from Kingdom Warriors and Pastor Sterling from Cross Allegiance, but they are uniquely them and not Billy Graham. People like Luis Palau and Greg Laurie seem to carry on the same Billy-like ministry. But ministry is so broad and we need revival. Jesus is who we should focus on regardless of who we esteem and they should point us to Jesus anyway.

  • Major Hillman

    This was a fantastic read. Very motivating, encouraging, and a bit convicting. Caused me to think about what I can do to continue the work he did. Again, wonderful post.

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