Billy Graham changed the face of the Christian service, broadcasting his crusades globally and preaching to more than 80 million people throughout his life not including the vast amount reached through his radio and televised sermons. Although most agree he had a profound impact on
Christianity there is much controversy over whether that impact was good or bad.
It was in 1949 at the “Christ for Greater Los Angeles” revival that the name of Billy Graham entered the public arena. Graham was invited to preach and the revival was covered by the media, spreading his name and message across America. Shortly after this raise to fame, he realised the power of the new developments in media and began a radio podcast which was later converted to a television broadcast of his sermons. Graham’s crusades were characterised by modern music, including
Christian rock bands, a simple, common sense message and a focus on contemporary issues. This greatly appealed to the younger generations because it made the Christian faith relevant for adherents in a contemporary world. Unlike other religious leaders of the time, Graham emphasised the core beliefs of Christianity and ‘overlooked’ those doctrines which he considered irrelevant for the
20th Century Christian. He distinguished the core doctrine from the peripheral doctrine and spread this message globally, vastly impacting the beliefs of many Christians today. Although he belonged to the evangelical movement he did not hesitate to preach the gospel to all Christians alike declaring
“"Christians are not limited to any Church. The question is: are you committed to Christ?". This sparked great controversy as many fundamental evangelicals abhorred other denominations and were determined to save their fellow Christians from ‘deceitful’ Churches.
Graham’s attitude towards other denominations greatly influenced the ecumenical movement. He supported this movement through attending the National Council of Churches conference, his strong relationship with Pope John Paul the 2nd and his disregard for denomination when preaching the gospel. In this way he impacted the whole of Christianity through influencing the union of the Church.
His support of the ecumenical movement ironically sparked a division in Evangelicalism. The movement split into the fundamentalists who greatly opposed his association with other Churches and the new evangelicals who embraced his view of a common salvation through Christ. The fundamentalists were also enraged by his focus on core doctrines and accused him of preaching a modified gospel to achieve greater fame. Brad Gsell, author of
The Legacy of Billy Graham declared that Graham’s “ tragic flaw... is that he has increasingly... accommodated error in order to gain greater influence”.
Whether or not this is an error, Graham’s Jesus centred gospel reached millions changing the face of
Christianity today. He adapted the gospel to contemporary issues providing Christians with meaning in their daily lives and spread this through the media so that many could hear the word of the Lord and achieve salvation. One such issue was segregation in the 1950s. Billy Graham was one of the first
Christian leaders to address the issue and assert that a racist Christian was an oxymoron. Graham partnered with Martin Luther King Jr and did not allow segregation of his crusades. This support of the
civil rights movement exemplified Graham’s focus on the necessity of social justice in the gospel.
Today, social justice is part of the Christian identity shown by the large number of Christian charities.
Graham did not begin this initiative but his global influence had a profound impact, he gave adherents purpose in their life by preaching about the gospels call for Christians to serve others. He made
Christianity relevant for the Christians and non- Christians in the 20th and 21st century.
Although Graham split the Evangelical movement, his fame as a preacher raised the