Thursday, February 22, 2018

After Billy Graham

When news of Billy Graham's death spread, my Facebook feed became filled with friends asking the same question: "Who will be the next Billy Graham?" I've been thinking about this question too, but I keep having this nagging thought that perhaps we're all asking the wrong question.

I dearly loved Rev. Graham, partly because my Mom made a profession of faith under his preaching. I read his books, and admired and respected so very much about the man. In its coverage of his death, USA Today included this pretty dead-on descriptive quote:

"He was so real, he made Christianity come true," said Susan Harding, an anthropologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz. "He was homespun, historical and newsworthy all at once. He could span the times from Christ to today, from the globe to you, all in one sentence."

Billy Graham was a product of his time. He came to Christ in a tent revival and it was a natural progression for his ministry to find its expression in revivalist form. He could speak of God and Jesus and people understood to Whom he was referring. This is what gives me pause about the "next" Billy Graham. In 2018, does our world need a celebrity preacher? I wonder about this. We have plenty of "celebrity preachers" out there, I know, but none have achieved Graham's preeminence. I wonder if any really can.  Today, can we still speak of Jesus and be universally understood as to Whom we are referring or do we need to define our terms? Is it the Jesus who preached love and acceptance without judgment as presented by many popular authors and preachers today? Or, it is the Jesus of Scripture who declares exclusivity ("I am the Way") and requires followers submit to Biblical parameters in their lives?

In this post-Christian age, I honestly wonder if a revivalist is what is needed today. We no longer have a shared national experience that synthesizes us. It is really possible for one person to represent Christianity? Maybe in 2018 evangelism is better done in the trenches - person to person, neighbor to neighbor, coworker to coworker, and student to student. It may be that the way forward is not found in the successes of the past. Perhaps this is a moment when we need to reevaluate and be like the children of Issachar "who had an understanding of their times and knew what Israel ought to do" 
(1 Chronicles 12:32).