I just received my copy of America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (Belknap/Harvard, 2014) by Grant Wacker, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Christian History at Duke University Divinity School.
The gold standard of Graham biographies has been William Martin’s Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story (W. Morrow, 1991). Wacker refers to this as “magisterial” and “by far the finest and most comprehensive biography” of Graham, and notes that its revision is scheduled for imminent release from Zondervan.
Professor Wacker explains that his book is “an interpretation rather than a strictly chronological account of the evangelists’s life.
The rise, singularity, and longevity of the career of a lanky farm kid from North Carolina help us understand how Americans constructed and experienced leadership.
More important, Graham’s story sheds light on the formation of a moral vocabulary that expressed the grievances and aspirations of millions of people. Graham’s voice helped guide that process.
And most important, his story reveals the influences of religion, especially evangelical religion, on larger trends in the culture. After all, Graham intersected with many of the most compelling public events of the era, including the growth of a celebrity ethos, the geographical expansion of Southern habits, the galvanization of the evangelical movement, the normalization of religious cooperation, the awareness of military threats, and the quest for global justice. His tenure also coincided with the public discussion of many of the most compelling private events of the era—aging, loneliness, broken marriages, wayward children, and, of course, the ever-present fear of death. Though private experiences of this sort had marked American life from the beginning, people described them in the vocabulary of the time.
This book provides a tool for making sense of the complexities of American culture in the six decades following World War II.
Here are some early commendations for Wacker’s work:
“A striking and authoritative account of one of the most influential Americans of recent times. Wacker writes gracefully and offers a fund of astute insights. By exploring Graham’s background, his character, his beliefs, and his work, he reveals how Graham could move so comfortably among the powerful and at the same time always be able to speak effectively to so many ordinary people. Both Graham’s admirers and his critics will come away from America’s Pastor with a fresh appreciation of the man and his world.”
—George M. Marsden
“Grant Wacker has given us a superb—and richly detailed—portrait of Billy Graham, presented in the context of a solid cultural and historical analysis of the era in which Graham served as the kind of religious leader we are not likely to see again. And all of this from a marvelous storyteller. Wacker’s deeply moving epilogue can stand alone as a model of inspiring prose!”
—Richard J. Mouw
America’s Pastor is a masterful study of the life and influence of Billy Graham. With power and grace, Grant Wacker explains who Graham was, how his message and organization developed, and why he came to exercise such extraordinary influence in America. It is the most incisive—and accessible—study of Billy Graham that has been written.”
—Nathan O. Hatch
“Billy Graham has finally gotten the book he deserves. Written by one of the finest American religious historians of our time, this book is as captivating as Graham himself: eloquent, incisive, witty, and empathetic. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Catherine A. Brekus