This week will see Billy Graham's 95th birthday, and it appears that he is not finished with his work of evangelism. This is Dr Graham's most recent publication, following the 2011 release of Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well. Although there have been numerous health concerns surrounding Graham in the past few years, it appears that his mind and his commitment to preaching the gospel is quite strong to the task. This book is as straightforward an evangelistic statement as any we have heard (and come to expect) from Dr Graham before.
I also believe that it is the type of statement which we needed right now.
Let me say that there are no surprises in this book, regardless of the context of the person who opens it. Billy Graham has kept a straight and strong message of evangelism, known throughout the world, for the past sixty-six years. Even those who have never listened to his sermons, read one of his books, or darkened the doors of a church (or revival meeting) will have reasonable suspicion of the type of message within its pages. And yet, Dr Graham was led to produce this work and proclaim once again the message that he has preached thousands of times to millions of people across the world. Why? Because even though we may have a sense of this book's message, the gospel must be heard fresh and proclaimed often in our culture.
When Dr Graham published this book he demonstrates his firm belief that our nation, and world, is in profound need of the transformative experience of the salvation that comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many churchgoers - and even church leaders and pastors - who might say that this is a great need, but who seldom do anything to share the gospel with anyone at anytime. (These might be the first ones to give Billy Graham a pat on the back, offer some niceties out of respect for his age and influence in the church, and move on without a further thought. Maybe they will purchase the book and keep it around for a while for social reasons.) What has made Dr Graham's ministry so effective is his unswerving dedication to preaching the gospel - in many forums and media - and demonstrating an uncompromising and unembarrassed belief in its truth.
With all that is going on in the demoralizing of our nation, and the threats that exist around the world, Dr Graham has done the right thing - namely, he has stood up and proclaimed the truth of the gospel without being ashamed of his acceptance of it, or his belief in its power. On the one hand, I thank God that he has given Dr Graham the ability to do so, even as he reaches 95 years in age. On the other hand, might we wonder why there is such a lack for spirited voices who are willing to do the same that we must rely on Dr Graham and leave so many questions as to who will lead the way when he has departed?
It seems that all of those voices which vie for influence and leadership among the church want to become involved with all sorts of things, to the degree that edifying the church and proclaiming salvation to the lost appears to be secondary at best. We might have to engage in various issues, and there is great need for working within the church to accomplish certain goals - this is the nature of discipleship. But, is the core of the church the proclamation of the gospel (to both believers and nonbelievers), or have we become so concerned with other things?
Dr Graham engages his context well in this book; he appears to be aware of the culture which surrounds him, both good and bad. He makes bold statements regarding the deterioration of our morality, the acceptance of behaviors that are destructive, and the general hopelessness that is rapidly spreading in many areas of our society. But he is also aware of the lives that have been - and can be - transformed by the gospel, and so he keeps those at hand to demonstrate repentance and salvation. And that - salvation - is the singular reason for the hope that Billy Graham has for the future. It is not a pie-in-the-sky hope that will someday come and someday establish heaven on earth. That is there, to be sure, but Dr Graham also sees the power of the gospel at work in the present to transform lives and redeem situations - to bring about God's salvation today.
This may be less of a book review and more of a book recommendation, but I believe that the significance and impact of Dr Graham's publication of this book should not be overlooked. He has shared a message of hope, and at no point does he speak of any one person, or any situation, as though it is beyond God's power to save. This is the trademark of his message and ministry, and it is an example for the preacher who must stand and proclaim in difficult times. At one point Dr Graham quotes his wife, Ruth (d. 2007), as once saying "If God doesn't punish America, He'll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah."
It is hard to deny that America is in the midst of difficult days, and that we are experience a judgment from God because we have refused to accept his presence. But we as believers can look deeper into our experience, and further down the road, to see that there is a genuine hope that needs to be share more today than ever before - the hope of salvation. Thank you, Dr Graham, for reminding us of such things.