In this episode Kurt speaks with Lon Allison on his forthcoming book, Billy Graham: An Ordinary Man and His Extraordinary God. Allison is the Pastor of Teaching and Outreach at Wheaton Bible Church and former Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So nice to be with you here. Baseball season is underway and the Chicago Cubs are one and one. Last night was a heartbreaking loss in 17 innings. I stayed up to watch all of the game and it was quite sad. Eddie Butler did very well throwing 90 pitches in relief. I think he threw six innings which is what a regular starter would do, but it was all in extra innings, so there was two 7th-inning stretches, the 7th inning and the 14th inning. It was a long game, but I think that’s what makes baseball fun. I know there has been talk of people making extra innings shorter, but for all of us baseball nerds, I love when a game, every once in awhile, every blue moon, goes that late. It’s quite a bit of fun. Yes. Very happy that the Cubs are going to win the World Series this year. I think they’re going to do it again. It will be great. My grandfather lived all 82 years of his life and never saw the Cubs win the World Series, so if I lived for 31 or 32 years and saw them win twice, that’d be great. Very excited about my Cubbies. I told Chris earlier before the program got going here that I forgot to wear my Cubs hat. Forgive me. I’ll try to wear that on next week’s episode.
A couple of announcements for you. A reminder, in two weeks we will be livestreaming the podcast from West Hartford, Connecticut, where we will be at the Saturday seminar, Apologetics in Evangelism. Very much looking forward to being at Calvary Church there. We’re also bringing in speakers, Ted Wright, David Montoya, and Richard Porter who’s our local associate there. Again, that’s apologetics and evangelism and if you want to learn more details about that event in Hartford, Connecticut, you can go to thedefendersconference.com and you can read about the talks that we will be giving. We’d love for you to share this event with your friends and we are planning on recording the talks and at some point, we’ll make those available to the public and we’re definitely going to be livestreaming the podcast as usual.
To that end, if videos of apologetic talks are of interest to you, Chris has told me that we are almost done with the Reformation conference videos from last November so looking forward to getting those up hopefully in maybe a few weeks or so and mark your calendars as well for this year’s Defender’s Conference, September 28-29. We are talking about the divine genocide commands. There are some passages in the Old Testament where God instructs the Israelites to go kill the women and the children in multiple passages. How as Christians are we to understand God’s goodness in light of that instruction. Well, there are varying Christian perspectives on how to do this. We have invited a number of different speakers, Dr. John Walton of Wheaton College, Dr. Clay Jones of Biola University, Dr. Paul Copan of Palm Beach Atlantic University and Dr. Kenton Sparks of Eastern University. They each represent a different perspective on that. This is going to be an awesome conference. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been an event whose theme is on this topic and it’s a very popular theme or objection I should say by atheists and skeptics against the Christian worldview and so should we be prepared to give an answer for these passages? I’d love for you to join us even if you live anywhere in the nation this is the type of event that you want to fly in for because of these speakers and this topic. Presently, we’re still looking for a venue. We’ve reached out to a couple folks, different churches. Once we get that venue down, we will be doing loads of promotion for the event, but mark your calendars now, September 28-29. I’m going to have a lot of fun I think hosting and moderating, I know we plan to do a panel so that should be really interesting for the event.
On today’s program, we are talking about the life and legacy of Billy Graham. He passed away a few weeks ago and I know there was a lot of material online being shared, especially by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association about his life and ministry and I reached out and was able to find someone who not just has written a book that is coming out this week, but has met Billy Graham personally as well so joining me on the program today is Lon Allison. He’s the pastor of teaching and outreach at Wheaton Bible Church. He’s an internationally recognized speaker with a gift for explaining how everyday people can connect personally with the God who loves them. He came to Wheaton Bible Church in 2013 from his previous role as the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College so joining me on the program today is Lon. How are you today, Lon?
Lon: I’m great, Kurt. Good to be with you.
Kurt: Thanks so much for coming in studio here. It’s always nice when we get that guest every once in awhile to come in studio. Tell me, before we get going about talking about the life and legacy of Billy Graham, what got you interested in writing a book on his life.
Lon: I never thought I’d write a book on Billy’s life, but a publisher approached me in late August, early September, and said Billy turns 100 this year and he’s outlived all of his friends and we want to do a book, but we want to do a book that would introduce him to a generation of people, some who have heard his name, some not, so would you be willing to do that and they kind of liked my conversational style. It’s just a popular biography on Billy that I think can be very winsome for people.
Kurt: I had the opportunity to receive an advanced uncorrected proof here. Certainly, what you just described is absolutely accurate. From what I’ve read, it is not heavy, heavy material at all. It’s very easy to understand. The stories move so quickly and so I think when you say it’s for a popular audience, especially for a generation whose attention spans are shrinking, what you’ve written here I think is very accessible. I’m glad to see that you’ve hit exactly your target audience there.
Lon: That means a lot to have you say that, Kurt.
Kurt: It’s the sort of thing, I was thinking, you read it in a weekend. It’s a Saturday-Sunday read.
Lon: It is, and as you saw since you’ve already read it, in almost every chapter, I bridge from Billy to Jesus, because that’s what he was devoted to. He hated books about himself. I still remember him saying, “Why would anyone want to write a biography on my life?” You may have seen the first quote in the book is from him pre-1966, where he says, “I am so tired of hearing the name Billy Graham”, and something like….
Kurt: I’ve got it here.
Lon: What’s it say there?
Kurt: He says, “You have no idea how sick I get of the name Billy Graham and how wonderful and thrilling the name Christ sounds to my ears.”
Lon: Yeah. That’s great isn’t it? Man.
Kurt: Yeah. The focus really was not about him and he tried not to let it get to him. It was about someone else. We’ll talk about that someone else, I’m sure throughout the program and especially towards the end. For many people, especially I think my age, Billy Graham is a famous evangelist of the 20th century, but knowing about his life, is something that is missing. We sort of just know, “Oh yeah. He’s that evangelist guy.” Who was he and what was his background? I’m wondering if you could, if you will, start at the beginning for us.
Lon: Okay. Alright. The subtitle of the book is “An ordinary man with an extraordinary God” and one of the fine historians of our day, Grant Wacker, who did one of the great biographies on Billy.
Kurt: He’s at Duke University.
Lon: Yeah. I met with him several times, but he picked this up early on. He said, “One of the most unique things about Billy Graham was that he wasn’t unique.” He was a regular guy. He grew up in the South near Charlotte, North Carolina. His dad was a dairy farmer, fairly successful, but of course, Billy being born in 1918, the Great Depression’s going to hit and his family got hit with that like everyone else. He grew up going to church every Sunday and hated it. Thought it was boring. Incidentally, I’m going to speak later this year for the denomination, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, that he was a part of when he was young and they’re all excited because they claim Billy Graham and I have to tell them he really hated it. He was a typical kid. He had a couple of dreams. One, he wanted to be a baseball player. He wanted to be a professional baseball player. I’ve never been able to find the whole story, but I know he met the great Babe Ruth one time, but as he played baseball and then started heading toward high school, his skill set didn’t match his vision and so he couldn’t be a baseball player, but typical kid, he liked girls a lot, he liked cars, and he really liked baseball.
Kurt: Sounds like a classic American guy.
Lon. Exactly right.
Kurt: Baseball, cars, and girls.
Lon: And not much time for religion even though he was in a religious home.
Kurt: Yeah. Interesting. When you say he was in a religious home, his father, his parents, were just regular Christians, they would go to church every Sunday, but his father wasn’t in the pastorate or anything like that.
Lon: No. He wasn’t. He was a dairy farmer.
Kurt: Yeah. Just a lay level guy.
Lon: Good business man in the sense of running a farm and had several employees that worked for him, but as I said, they got gripped by the Great Depression too and he lost most of whatever little wealth he had he lost during the Great Depression. Billy grew up in that kind of world.
Kurt: For someone like Billy, who hated going to church, when was it in his life where he realized, “Hey. This is actually a good thing.
Lon: 1934. Remember, he’s born in 1908[NP1] so just add it up. 1934 is when an evangelist came to Charlotte, North Carolina and Billy’s dad and mom were actually two of the people of Charlotte that wanted to invite this guy. His name was Mordecai Ham and Mordecai was, if you read some of his stuff, he was actually a very thoughtful guy. He was a pastor in Tennessee I think, I’m forgetting the exact place, but he also would go out and do these campaigns, and this is the era where they had been Dwight Moody at the end of the 19th century and then that led to a guy named Billy Sunday and so this kind of, the big event was still in vogue. Mordecai Ham came and Billy wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, there were prayer meetings going on at the dairy farm in preparation for him to come and Billy is supposedly said, “Well the religious nuts have shown up again.” Something like that. That’s not an exact quote, but it’s pretty close. But, Ham was there for, gosh, many weeks, and he had the capacity to study a city. find out the holes, where were there social issues or political issues that just didn’t seem quite right? If he couldn’t pick on them, he’d pick on churches, and so through challenging things, he would start to draw a crowd. Several weeks after it began, finally, Billy has the sense, “Well he’ll go first” and the friend that invited him to go said he’d let him drive the truck if Billy went and so Billy wanted to go and so he went.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s where for him, the truths that he had been raised with began to manifest.
Lon: Yeah. They would. He was a smart kid. You and I would be a bit surprised by this, but as a young boy, he had memorized the shorter Westminster Catechism. His mom made him do it. That’s the kind of thing a ten year-old wants to do.
Kurt: Yeah right. I think I’d hate my mom forever.
Lon: So he had some of the undergirding. When he first went, he didn’t like the crusade at all, but the guy was interesting. He would yell. He would challenge things. He was meddling in Charlotte and so all of that kind of created an energy of interest and so he kept coming, but he had no intention of any kind of religious conversion at that point, but he got gripped by God is what happened.
Kurt: Yeah. So the Lord began to work on his heart.
Lon: Yeah. If you read it in his own autobiography, Mr. Graham says that before long, he felt that that guy way upfront was talking only to him and that when he would point, he was pointing at him, and Mr. Graham says “One night, my friend and I, Grady Wilson, who’d become his partner later, we actually sat behind a woman with a big hat so that Mordecai Ham couldn’t point at us anymore.” This notion that many of us have and I hope most Christians, that no one can become a Christian apart from the Holy Spirit drawing them, he was beginning to be drawn toward God and what happened is he realized he wasn’t nearly as good a kid as he thought he was and that his life was a mess and broken and it was, of course, the conviction of sins that started to get to him.
Kurt: I know there are many people who think, “Oh. I’m a good person. I live a good life.” Their shortcomings are something that they have blind spots too and really when the Holy Spirit convicts us of that, it’s a humbling experience and it really opens us up to accept the truth about who we as humans are.
Lon: That’s right. Absolutely humbling and absolutely necessary.
Kurt: So what happened next then?
Lon: So one night at the campaign, he reluctantly felt he was irresistably drawn and he got up and walked what they always called, you’ve heard it, the sawdust trail, cause they built these buildings and when they do these campaigns that could hold 5,000 people and dirt floor often and lots of sawdust so walking the sawdust trail Billy Sunday had been famous for so Billy walked the sawdust trail, went forward, made a decision to commit his life to Jesus Christ, said he felt nothing, even though people around him were crying and everything else and he wondered if he’d made a stupid mistake, but later when he got home that night, he started really having a sense of the reality of God, his own brokenness, and I think it’s one of the first times he really got down on his knees and started to pray, so Mr. Graham had a dramatic conversion at a mass meeting. Doesn’t surprise then that his life would go that direction.
Kurt: That’s right. That his ministry was on these mass meetings and what are called the Billy Graham crusades. So how does he go from a recent convert to one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century?
Lon: So he becomes a Christian and he becomes a true Christian, in other words you start to see the desire for holiness, you start to see the desire for intimacy with God, God really had him gripped. He decided he would go to Bible College and he went for one year to Bob Jones University and then that didn’t work out real well. That just didn’t fit his personality. Then he goes to a place called Florida Bible College. Boy, he was a voracious learner. At Florida Bible College, it was an old country club that got sold during the Great Depression and turned into a Bible College so lots of Christians would come down from the north in the winter and play golf there. Some of them were big church pastors and everything else and Billy Graham got to meet all these people, carry their bags playing golf.
Kurt: He was a caddy.
Lon: He was a caddy, and then golf would be a big part of his life. He’d play golf with I don’t know how many American presidents. He just got closer and closer to God. He still didn’t know what God wanted him to do with his life. He didn’t sense that he was called to specifically evangelism or the pastorate. He struggled speaking and, that’s a great story, the first time he preaches, but he loved God, he wanted to serve God, and slowly the call came upon him.
Kurt: During his time at Florida Bible College, he met a girl there.
Lon: Yes. Emily broke his heart. Oh man.
Kurt: He had fallen in love with a girl and he even proposed marriage.
Kurt: And she turned him down.
Lon: She didn’t say no exactly so he thought it was yes, it was just a matter of time to get ready, and then…
Kurt: She was going steady with another guy.
Lon: She was going steady with another guy and it literally broke his heart.
Kurt: He got friendzoned.
Lon: He did. Friend took his girl. Now, here’s an interesting thing. I don’t know if I say it in the book or not, but years later, Emily, her name was Emily Cavanaugh, and her husband, forgetting his name, he became a great pastor in the U.S. and Billy and Ruth, they became friends, and it was the first time Ruth was going to meet Emily and she said “I was hoping that she was plain and not very attractive. She was a knockout. She was a knockout. That helped him. That started drawing more deeply to God.
Kurt: From Florida Bible College he goes to.
Kurt: That’s right. Wheaton.
Lon: Where God lives. Those of us who teach at Wheaton, we know that’s where God lives.
Kurt: God lives just fifteen minutes away from here.
Lon: That’s right. We’re in West Chicago and we can still feel the aura in our direction. What got him at Wheaton was a couple of leading Christian businessmen went south in the winter and played golf at Florida Bible College and one of them was the brother of the president of Wheaton College, Dr. Edman, and he got to know Billy and he thought “This young man’s got talent. We’ve got to get him to Wheaton. He finished his full degree at Florida Bible College and then came up to Wheaton College, so I actually started at Wheaton a little bit older than most of the students. He was almost 22, and then Wheaton only recognized one year of his four-year degree at the Bible College, so he had to go through three years.
Kurt: I see. Maybe there were different degree programs or was he in the graduate program at Wheaton College?
Lon: No. No.
Kurt: So it was the undergrad.
Kurt: So he spent seven or eight years getting his undergrad degree or something like that.
Lon: Four years at the Bible College and then three years at Wheaton to get his equivalent.
Kurt: And one year at Bob Jones.
Kurt: So he was…
Lon: One semester really.
Kurt: One semester, but it was like seven years for an undergrad.
Lon: He majored in anthropology at Wheaton which he never regretted because it started opening his eyes to the global world, what humans were like.
Kurt: There at Wheaton College, of course, he meets Ruth, who is a missionary kid, MK, and he also begins to do some preaching.
Lon: Yes, he does.
Kurt: Tell me about that.
Lon: Wheaton had these groups that would go out on weekends to churches and would hold these little revivals and stuff like that and Billy, he’d already done quite a bit of preaching and was getting better even at Florida Bible College, so when he got to Wheaton, he had more experience, and he was two to three years older than almost all of the kids. He immediately became a speaker at all these sorts of things. Dr. Edman, the president of Wheaton, saw great talent in Billy, great calling, and Dr. Edman at that time, I hope this isn’t boring. This is fun for me. Dr. Edman was actually pastoring a church while he was president of Wheaton College and it was a church that a lot of students went to and it was held in the Masonic Temple in downtown Wheaton which is still there. Right? On Wednesday nights, tons of kids would come and then they’d have Sunday services. After being at Wheaton for one year, Doc Edman asked Billy if he wouldn’t become the pastor of that, so at age 22 Billy is actually going to school full-time and pastoring several hundred people in the Masonic Temple.
Kurt: Of Dr. Edman’s former congregation.
Lon: Yeah. Dr. Edman’s former congregation. Pretty cool, when you think about the kind of trust he put in him, and he was there to watch him and mentor him. I do a whole chapter in the book about mentoring, and Dr. Edman was someone who really tied in to Billy’s life, stayed with him as long as he needed, supported him even just through prayer.
Kurt: A lot of us might think that Billy was a mentor to many people, but we don’t ask who were his mentors. You mentioned Dr. Edman here. Who were some of his other mentors throughout his life?
Lon: Yeah. In the book I highlight two or three key people and Edman’s #2. The first was Dr. Minder[NP2] at Florida Bible College who was the dean of students I think. In fact, the night at Emily broke up with Billy and he couldn’t sleep and his world was over, Minder stayed up with him all night just to say, “Come on, you silly college kid. You’ll get through this.” I don’t know what he did. And he’s the one that opened the door for Billy for his first time preaching because he took Billy with him to meet the pastor of a large church who has Minder to come and do a weekend. In the course of that, with Billy along, he said, “By the way, Billy will preach on Sunday morning”, and that was his first big church speaking occasion. Minder was there for him all the time and he will later say he may have been the most strategic person in Billy’s life. Him, Dr. Edman, Torrey Johnson, who will start Youth for Christ in America is going to be key in that role and then Billy really understood the need to have peer mentors his whole life. Same age group, but people who could help him where he was weak.
Kurt: Yeah. It seems you always have that need for growing.
Lon: Oh yeah.
Kurt: Nice. So it really is amazing that his first preaching, he’s got to be, 19 or 20, something like that. How frequently today do we let 19 or 20 year-old kids, I mean adults legally, do preaching?
Lon: We don’t.
Kurt: We don’t.
Lon: All of this has caused me to say are just a little bit too rough? Come on. I look back on my life too. I can’t believe the privileges I was given in my early 20’s to plant a church that would grow really really fast and be called the senior pastor at age 25. I don’t know how I got that gig. My mentor was watching over me the whole time.
Kurt: It seems like maybe we should be looking to provide opportunities for the younger generation.
Lon: There is more there, even if the character isn’t fully formed like ours is.
Lon: Like we ever get it altogether. We just need to open doors. A big part of mentoring is open doors. Opening doors.
Kurt: Maybe that’s something that is missing too is that discipling that has to be happening and it doesn’t.
Lon: In fact, I define mentoring as lifelong discipling that is whole life-centered. It has to do with every aspect.
Kurt: We’ve got just a couple minutes here before the break. Billy’s at Wheaton College. He meets Ruth. He starts pastoring a church. Where does he go from there?
Lon: He will graduate and he and Ruth will finally decide to get married, although they’re still not sure whether they’re going to end up on the mission field…
Kurt: In Tibet.
Lon: In Tibet, because Ruth really thought she was called to that and she came from a missionary family in China. All the pedigree, and she was a strong will too. She was pretty sure she was called there. He was pretty sure, he wasn’t sure he was called there. It took the Holy Spirit over a period of time for her heart to really realize that she had been called to stand alongside him, even before his career broke loose.
Kurt: Why don’t we take our break here and when we will come back we will talk more about how it was that his career broke loose and I think for many people, they already know about that, but we’ll cover briefly, and I want to talk about as well, his views, maybe his regrets in life, and some of the social issues and his views on politics as well, really how he didn’t really get too involved on that so we’ll cover that too. Alright, so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Welcome back to today’s program. Today we are talking about the life and legacy of Billy Graham, the famous evangelist and joining me in studio is Lon Allison. He’s the pastor of teaching and outreach at Wheaton Bible Church and he’s also the author, I guess I failed to mention this in the first half of the program, he’s the author of this forthcoming book, Billy Graham: An Ordinary Man and His Extraordinary God and it’s a very easy read. It’s something that could take you just a weekend, a Saturday afternoon, a Sunday afternoon, and you could be done reading it. It just reads so quickly and easily. Very accessible if you’re interested to get. It’ll be available on the…
Lon: April 4th.
Kurt: April 4th is the publication date. We’ll be sure to put a link at our website for those who purchase it. Lon. I didn’t tell you about this segment of the program coming up here intentionally. This is a segment of the show we call Rapid Questions.
Lon: Oh, good.
Kurt: For long-time listeners, you’re already familiar with how this works. Really, Chris, we need to maybe get some new questions. We’ve been using the same sheet for so long here.
Lon: Chris is agreeing with you.
Kurt: Yes. We’ll have to upgrade these questions soon enough here, but some of them are just so good. I’m going to start the game clock here. It’s sixty seconds.
Kurt: We’re just going to ask you again goofy questions about yourself as fast as you can.
Lon: And they got to be real quick answers.
Kurt: Yeah. Are you ready?
Kurt: Alright. Let’s go. What’s your clothing store of choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Lon: Taco Bell.
Kurt: What school did you go to?
Lon: Pleasant Hill High School, Cal State University Hayward, Fuller Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell.
Lon: I could have made a living on going to school.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Lon: Southern California.
Kurt: SoCal. What’s your favorite sport?
Kurt: What’s your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Kurt: What is your most hated sports franchise?
Lon: The New York Yankees.
Lon: New England Patriots. Even worse.
Kurt: Amen to that brother. Okay. Favorite movie?
Lon: Return of the King.
Kurt: Nice. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: Okay. What’s the one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you were stranded on an island?
Lon: My Bible.
Kurt: If you were a baseball pitch, which one would you be?
Lon: A screwball.
Kurt: Nice. Thank you for playing that round of Rapid Questions.
Lon: That was fun.
Kurt: And boy, your answers to the most hated sports franchise, Yankees or Patriots. You got it? What is it? Why is it? The Yankees probably because they just have all the money and they can take any player they want and free agency and the Patriots because…
Lon: Because of their quarterback.
Kurt: Or Belichick.
Lon: Yeah. I grew up in San Francisco so I grew up under the era of Joe Montana, the greatest of all quarterbacks, until this crazy Brady comes along and gets five Super Bowls and Joe only had four, but I have relented because Joe Montana has now said publicly that Brady is the greatest quarterback ever so…
Kurt: If he’s willing to admit it.
Lon: If Joe can handle it, I can handle it.
Kurt: Right. Let’s get back to today’s discussion on the life and legacy of Billy Graham. In the first half of the program we went into his early life and his conversion experience and his college education, but at the age of 30 or so, 31, things began to take off.
Lon: I call it all Heaven breaks loose.
Kurt: So what happens?
Lon: Alright. At this phase Billy Graham’s no longer a local church pastor. He actually got approached by the new organization called Youth For Christ and they started doing these rallies all over America for kids and for men and women coming home from World War II and Billy was one of their two great speakers for that. He started to see the value of large rally gatherings, so then he and a couple of his friends put together a small evangelistic organization which will become the Billy Graham Evangelistic Organization, and they weren’t very successful, and they didn’t have any big venues, but by this time he knew he was called primarily to the role of an evangelist and so he and Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea and Grady Wilson started this small organization that accepted places like Modesto, California or names that you and I wouldn’t even know, but what happened is Los Angeles, California, September, 1949. The evangelist that was supposed to go there got a better off and so he turned it down and said to the committee in LA, “Well there is this young man called Billy Graham and he might be able to do it well for you”, so they contacted Billy and suddenly, he’s going to be in the biggest venue he’s ever had. Downtown LA in a tent. I don’t know to define it in any other way. God decided to break loose there. Now. Let’s think for a second what was going on in the world. Right when the LA meetings were starting, Russia had denotated its first atomic bomb and China was in the midst of revolution and Communist takeover, so realize we’re only talking four years after World War II and everybody in America was hoping World War II was the end and now we could get on with life, so I think it’s very important that people understand that there was world things going on.
Kurt: World affairs.
Lon: That would cause people to start thinking about things and since you guys care a lot about politics here as well, that’s all part of this thing. So when he gets to LA, the meetings are relatively meager at first and then they start to grow and then God ordained that a movie star and a World War II hero, Louis Zamperini, would come to faith in Jesus Christ and then the large, huge newspaper magnet Randolph, gotta have this on the tip of your tongue, he owns newspapers all over the world, he came to see Graham one night and because Billy was such a pro-American and he liked his style, Randolph Hearst says to his newspapers all over the world, “Puff Graham.” In other words, promote this guy. Whoa. Things start happening! Now you’ve got a movie star who does a radio show every day, Stuart Hamblen, who’s a cowboy, who’s a singer, and is good friends with John Wayne and he comes to faith in Christ, a story all in itself, you got Zamperini coming and you’ve got William Randolph Hearst and suddenly Billy’s before movie stars and everyone else and everybody wants to be in the tent in downtown L.A.
Kurt: How long would these crusades go for?
Lon: Normally 3-4 weeks, but it went eight weeks because they kept extending it, because people kept coming. By the time it was over, 3,000 faith decisions for Jesus Christ and well over about a quarter of a million people attended. They had to extend the tent during it too. Billy was more surprised than anybody and he preached during those events, he preached 65 sermons and he went way beyond what he had prepared and this is very interesting, Kurt. You’ll appreciate this. This is a theologian. You want to know what he preached on the last Sunday afternoon of the LA campaign? He read word for word Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
Kurt: I was actually going to guess that.
Lon: That’s what he did.
Kurt: That’s hilarious.
Kurt: Oh no. It is not. And from what I understand historically about Edwards’s piece there, he just read it in a very monotone voice.
Lon: Supposedly thick glasses, small voice.
Kurt: Imagine someone like Billy Graham now. Very different personalities here.
Lon: Oh my goodness. I’ve never seen any footage on that. That would be fascinating and I surmise that we don’t have it.
Kurt: Because it was too early on.
Lon: They did some videoing, but I don’t think each sermon was videoed then.
Kurt: Not yet anyway, but of course, the Spirit moves and Billy Graham’s career just absolutely takes off.
Lon: Absolutely takes off.
Kurt: Yep. Into what many of us recognize as these crusades across the globe.
Lon: Across the globe. Yeah. And it happened almost overnight. No one felt less ready for it than he did, except, if I might say, his heart was ready, because Billy even then had this profound sense of humility that God can trust.
Kurt: That’s sort of the background story. It’s the prequel if you will to who we all know as the most famous evangelist of the 20th century. I want to now talk about some of the particular issues that were important to Billy. He wasn’t really involved with politics in a sort of partisan way, maybe like his son Franklin has been, more so, and Billy did that on purpose intentionally, but there were still social issues that he really got involved with and that he was a part of early on so for example here, racial reconciliation.
Lon: Yes. It took him awhile to get there though.
Kurt: Okay. Tell me about that.
Lon: Actually, if I might do just a tad of correction, he was too partisan early on.
Kurt: Oh really? Okay.
Lon: With Communism, Russia, and now China, he was a hawk like nobody’s business and so Eisenhower was a good friend and used Billy and Billy was used and it took him awhile to find his place dealing with the political world, but he would get so so destroyed by the Richard Nixon reality. He would become a close friend and then Billy learned that he man he knew was not the man because of the Watergate tapes and Billy was sick to his stomach for days. It comes out of the Nixon thing, he said, “Man. I will never again let myself show any political leanings either way. #1, because how do I lead to presidents to Christ that are not of my own political persuasion, but secondly, I have made giant mistakes.”
Kurt: So even on in his career where he does, say, talk about the social structures and philosophies of Communism vs. more Democratic issues, he wouldn’t say in like today’s discussions, he wouldn’t say, “Don’t support the Omnibus bill” or something like that. Right?
Lon: He wouldn’t get there.
Kurt: That’s right. He wouldn’t go that far.
Lon: He was with twelve American presidents and eleven of them sought him out. The only one he ever sought out was Truman and that was a big mistake when he was very very young. He knew his primary calling was to be pastor and evangelist to presidents.
Kurt: Now at his crusades, some of them, there were seats for white people and there were seats for black people.
Lon: Yes. Until 1952 and in 1952, we think it took place in Jackson, Mississippi, but some argue Chattanooga, the truth is in both places Billy Graham himself went down and took the ropes out that separated the whites from the blacks. Remember he was a man of the South and so it would take years to put all of this together and really see it rightly from God’s word, but he started out pretty well. By 1952, 49’s when LA took place. By 52, he was demanding the ropes be taken down.
Kurt: And his first sort of exposure to segregation occurred at Wheaton College. He’s from the South. He goes to southern schools.
Lon: Yeah. He’d never been in a classroom with blacks because of segregation. It’s shocking to us and your generation especially, but he’d just never seen it, plus studying anthropology. The Lord was really at work in him, and then the Lord would use African-American leaders to bring him along. As Leighton Ford, Billy’s son-in-law said, “The most compelling quality of Billy Graham has always been teachability.” Howard Jones was the first leading black pastor from Ohio that he had consultation with and when they were doing the big huge crusade in New York in 1957, Billy couldn’t understand why more blacks didn’t come and he brings Howard Jones and he says, “That’s because you’re in Manhattan. Let’s go to the Bronx.” So he took Billy to great black churches and Billy started hearing the stories and then Billy wanted to get to know a guy by the name of Martin Luther King. I’ve talked personally with Leighton Ford about this, his brother-in-law, because Leighton was over all of the pastors in New York in 57 and he remembers Billy saying, “Do you think we could get Martin Luther King here?” Leighton was able to get him and he comes up to New York and Billy actually puts him on the platform to lead the opening prayer of an event and this is in 1957.
Kurt: Yeah. This is before all the Civil Rights stuff happens. Wow. That’s amazing.
Lon: So later on, both Martin Luther King and not surprisingly, Lyndon Johnson, would lean on Billy at times to say things and go to certain places which could really help with Civil Rights. He was even willing to do the marches. Dr. King said, “Don’t do that. What you will lose of your constituency by doing that will hinder you from being able to influence them at a slower pace.” Billy opened the doors for Martin Luther King too, especially with the Southern Baptist denomination. Remember by this time, they still were very very segregated, and Billy arranged dinners and all sorts of things. Somebody has even said he even got Dr. King out of jail one time and I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Dr. King invited Billy to call him Mike. If you got asked, if Martin Luther King said, “Call me Mike,” it meant that they had a relationship.
Kurt: Nice. Tell me about the Modesto Manifesto. That has a nice…
Lon: Doesn’t it? Isn’t it cool? The Modesto Manifesto. The Modesto Manifesto takes place in 1948. For our listeners and those that are watching, remember LA is late 49, so Modesto 48 is when Billy Graham….
Kurt: This is before.
Lon: He’s a nobody. Okay? But they’ve got this little evangelistic association and they’re already picking up the kinds of negative, not only press, but even some of the churches have against evangelists. Now you remember, because you’re a thoughtful guy.
Kurt: Not because I was alive back then.
Lon: Nor was I. Let’s get that clear, but in the 1920’s, the great novelist, Sinclair Lewis, wrote his book on Elmer Gantry and Elmer Gantry was a shady evangelist, wine, women, and song, evangelist and he gets the Pulitzer Prize so that influenced the whole thing. Many evangelists were very good guys, but there were lots of those that fell off. Burt Lancaster played the lead role in the movie and got the academy award for it so evangelists have been ripped to shreds by culture by this time.
Kurt: So in order to prevent something like that, Billy and his friends come up with this agreement.
Lon: And his dear friend Cliff Barrows lived in Modesto and they tried to do a campaign in Modesto and it was moderately successful, but Cliff lived there, and one day, Billy brought the four guys together. Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson, and himself, and said, “Guys. Let’s make a list of all the complaints that people have about evangelists. You just go off on your own and we’ll meet in an hour.” This is how he did it. “And we’ll meet in an hour and we’ll talk through these things. They did. They each went out on their own and they prayed. I’m seeing the Modesto beanfields myself. Then they come back and they had 15-20 different things which they hammered down to those four key statements that they wanted to hold to. That became the Modesto Manifesto, the most famous of those is of course…
Kurt: The Billy Graham rule of…
Lon: The Billy Graham rule.
Lon: That our vice-president has adopted.
Kurt: That’s right.
Lon: That he was slaughtered for.
Kurt: He was slaughtered for a year ago and then the MeToo movement comes out.
Lon: Absolutely right, man.
Kurt: It’s like, come on people. Here you are, critiquing a guy who has this rule about not being in another woman with a woman who’s not his wife alone and Mike Pence gets all of this trash for it, but the one thing Mike Pence will never get trashed for are accusations about sexual assault.
Lon: Amen. I couldn’t agree more with you, Kurt. I just think it’s turned 180 degrees and gone the other direction now. And of course, in the last couple of weeks we’ve had several evangelical leaders too where there’s stuff going on.
Kurt: Just last week, Willow Creek in the news.
Lon: Which I find extremely sad and I’m praying for everyday. That was the one, never be alone with anyone else other than your wife and Mr. Graham would say he broke that one time because Hillary Clinton asked him to have a lunch, so he was willing to do it if they say in the middle of the room and lots of people could see it, but he was very committed to that, very committed to it. Of course, he was a ruggedly, handsome guy. He looked like a movie star.
Kurt: Tall guy.
Lon: Yeah. He was the Americana. What is the All-American male? It’s Billy Graham. Loves his wife. Loves his kids. Stands 6’3″ and has a rugged chin.
Kurt: That’s great. Upon reflecting of his career, what did he say were some of the biggest regrets? I’ve heard him say family time.
Lon: That’s the big one. Once or twice when I was with him, I had the privilege of being with Mr. Graham I think seven or eight times in my years. He was already 80 when I went to work for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, but in a way that allowed you to get more of him in reflection when you were with him, but that was the big one. There were times when he was literally gone from this family six months out of twelve in a year. I think I tell the story in the book of the one time that his little five-year old son, Franklin, is chasing the cars, Billy’s going down the hill and saying, “Don’t go, Daddy. Don’t go.” Deep regrets over that. You know? I ponder this a lot. Why did the Lord allow Mr. Graham to live until 99 and really up till around 97 be fairly cognizant? I wonder if those last 20 years weren’t to….
Kurt: Give him more family time.
Lon: As much time as any of his kids or grandkids wanted, he was ready. Franklin, until Mr. Graham died, Franklin would travel from Boone clear over to Black Mountain where Billy lived, couple hour drive, every Sunday Franklin wasn’t gone, he went to see his daddy and when you’re with his daughters or his sons, it’s always, “My Daddy. My Daddy. My Daddy.” But, would he do it that way again? No.
Kurt: Right. He would have changed it. One of the things he also talked about is he would speak less and study more.
Lon: Study more. He was a voracious reader. His sister Jean whose still alive says she still remembers him as a boy on the floor in the living room in their home with books all around him and the fireplace going just reading and reading and reading. A lot of people think that Billy Graham didn’t have a bright mind. They are wrong. He was reading Niebuhr and Barth on the side.
Kurt: Yeah. I don’t know why anyone would want to read Barth. I’m not even sure Barth understands Barth, but he’s reading these deep theologians and philosophers.
Lon: And then he talks to pastors that are theologians, but he was so committed to make the gospel understood by regular people, that he was willing to, if you will, just as I’ve tried to do in this book, I wanted it to be as clear and simple and winsome as could be because I want people who don’t know God personally to know that they can know God personally through Jesus Christ.
Kurt: To that end, this is not just a story about Billy Graham is it? It’s the true story of God’s work through the life of Billy Graham and that’s what it’s about when you think of the big picture. We think about how God used him and his life for kingdom purposes.
Lon: He existed to know Jesus and then make Him known. There’s a whole chapter in the book that’s just devoted to Mr. Graham’s devotional love life with God. It’s stunning.
Lon: How much he loved the Lord. The more you love the Lord, the more you want other people to know the Jesus that you knew and Billy Graham was sold out to that and so am I so I think in this little book, five or six times, I try to present the gospel in a different way, and finally at the end of the book I give a full-out invitation.
Kurt: Yeah. I read the last chapter.
Lon: I’m an evangelist. You can’t just go any other way.
Kurt: Yeah. You can’t have someone read 140 some pages and not have 10 devoted to just a straight-up gospel.
Lon: Straight-up gospel and I lean into the gospel in every chapter trying to open up the chasms of human longing to consider God.
Kurt: Amen. Hopefully someone who hasn’t yet manifested those deep truths in their lives, will read this book, learn about Billy Graham and realize now, yes, that’s it.
Lon: I brought home six copies and we’re in West Chicago, that’s where we’re doing this from, and I live this here too, and this afternoon I’m delivering those to all of our neighbors, because I actually wrote this book not just for Christians, I wrote this book for people that are intrigued about Billy Graham, but don’t know Jesus. It’s meant to be an evangelistic book.
Kurt: That’s awesome. Lon. Thank you so much for coming on today’s program and to inform us of Billy Graham and his life and the things that he was passionate about and the things that he thought about and really who it’s all about, about the Lord.
Lon: Lord Jesus Christ.
Kurt: Thank you, Lon. I appreciate that.
Lon: My joy to be with you, and you guys are doing a great thing here.
Kurt: Thanks so much.
Lon: There in downtown West Chicago, one of the thriving suburbs of Americana.
Kurt: We’re the best international apologetics podcast out of West Chicago. That’s right. You got it.
Lon: Good job guys. Thank you.
Kurt: Thank you. Before I let you go, I just have a couple things that I want to talk about. I was reading a couple news articles. One was a disastrous piece by NPR on the Pope’s rejection of Hell and I know some of this is just too broad and not specific enough. What Pope Francis here is saying is he doesn’t believe in say, the eternal state, that he is what we might call an annihilationist. He’s not a universalist as some might suggest, but rather that the souls of non-believers, I think he used the term snuffed out or something like that, cease to exist, that’s the annihilationist perspective, but here’s why this article was disastrous. Not because of Pope Francis’s remarks, but because the reporter at NPR said that Easter was the day celebrating the idea, I’m quoting here now, “The day celebrating the idea that Jesus did not die and go to hell or purgatory or anywhere at all, but rather arose heaven.” This NPR reporter is so misinformed about what Christians believed, you would hope that there would be some editor that even went to church on Easter and paid attention once or twice maybe as to what Easter means for Christians and what it represents. It’s about the resurrection of Jesus. It’s not about, this is, it’s not that He did not die or go to hell or purgatory or anywhere at all. Just a disastrous miscue from NPR on that. Thankfully, they’ve issued a correction, but it’s just indicative of a trend among reporters for being illiterate on religious matters, not just Christian matters, but religious matters, and you’d think that for a nation like ours with the diversity of religious beliefs, you could have people informed on these issues.
Second article, sports. My favorite sport to play is basketball. As some of you know, I gave up rooting for the Chicago Bulls this last off-season so I’m currently teamless, but I came across this article by superstar Kevin Durant, formerly of the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he won the MVP, became famous. He said, “Mom. You’re the real MVP.” He goes over to the Golden State Warriors because he wants to win a championship. He ends up being a traitor to the people of Oklahoma City. Here’s what he says. He says, “I thought championship would fill the void, but it didn’t.” Championship would fill void, but it didn’t. He realized the emptiness that has come from trying so hard to win the pinnacle of sports, the championship trophy, and yet still being empty. I think this is really indicative of human nature, striving toward those human goals, those earthly goals, and really what we need is a relationship with the creator. That’s what fills the void in our lives and sadly, Durant, someone who we should pray for, still doesn’t get it because now he still talks about here, he talks about all I care about is my love for the game, the pureness of the game, and so for him now it’s just about the game, whatever that even means. It’s clear that he’s lost. He hasn’t found that fulfillment in his life and so someone to pray for and pray that he can realize his place in the world and for all of us, our own places in the world, whether it’s becoming an NBA superstar or becoming vice-president at some organization, some company, these things will not provide the everlasting joy that the Lord provides and so it’s just a reminder here that these earthly things are of little value compared to the eternal joy of knowing the Lord.
That does it for today’s program. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons. Those are folks that just chip in a few bucks each month to help this program run. I’m also grateful for the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank our technical producer Chris, and our in-studio guest, Lon Allison, and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
[NP1]The real date is 1918, but he says 1908
[NP2]It sounds like Midner, but what I found made it look like the man was Minder. If I am wrong, change all spellings.
[NP3]Can’t hear at 39:00