Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind


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by Nora Ephron (2006)

As early as Graham had spoken out against the nuclear arms race, but on this trip, a visit to Auschwitz affected him so deeply that he began to make world peace a frequent theme in public talks. This, in turn, opened the door to the Soviet Union, which after much negotiation invited Graham to attend a pro-Soviet peace conference in After an initial go-ahead from the Reagan White House, Graham indicated he would accept the invitation, only to come under strong pressure from the State Department, other evangelicals, and his own organization to decline it.

He went anyway, but at times must have wondered at the wisdom of his decision. But the Soviet government came away from Graham's visit with new respect for his diplomatic skills, and this opened the door to visits to East Germany and Czechoslovakia. After that came a very successful preaching tour of the USSR, and then a remarkable visit to repressive Romania, where over , people poured into the streets. Graham used every trip to arrange private visits with government officials, which he used both to present the gospel and to press them to ease religious restrictions in their countries.

His team also used these visits to strengthen the churches and ease tensions between them. The extent of Graham's influence is impossible to measure, but it is a fact that in the s religious restrictions behind the Iron Curtain eased while the churches grew stronger. This put them in position to shelter and nurture the pro-democracy movements that helped bring down the Communist regimes. There's no doubt that those regimes thought they could exploit Graham to bolster their image. He actually is the head of the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, the Protestants—everybody—in a spiritual way … because he is above these religious strifes.

By the s, Graham possessed tremendous international prestige, and his institutional location in an independent parachurch organization made it easy for him to work with Christians from all denominations. His first attempt to pull together a worldwide evangelical movement was the Berlin Congress on Evangelism, which he hoped would pull together an ecumenical movement along lines envisioned by Dwight Moody.

Henry led the 1, Berlin delegates—only from the US—in a day effort to work out a global theology of evangelism. So in the years following, the BGEA organized and financed conferences in those regions, as well as in Europe and North America, making sure that each conference had leadership drawn from its region.

The success of these conferences led Graham to begin planning for a major international conference to work out worldwide strategies for evangelization. That planning bore fruit in , when some 2, evangelicals—half from outside Europe and North America, more than half under age 45—gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland.


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Lausanne gave a tremendous boost to evangelical foreign missions. Delegates learned from Fuller Seminary's Donald McGavran and Ralph Winter that nearly 2 billion of the world's people were unreached by the gospel. Since they had no form of indigenous Christianity in their midst, renewed efforts at cross-cultural missionary work were absolutely essential. The result was unprecedented contact and collaboration between evangelicals across national and denominational lines, especially in the non-Western world. Despite this quantum leap forward in global evangelical cooperation, Graham wasn't finished.

The group really on his heart was those who shared his calling as itinerant evangelists. So in the BGEA brought nearly 4, of them to Amsterdam for nine days, almost entirely at its own expense.


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  7. They came from nations, 70 percent from non-Western ones. Only 40 percent had any formal training, and only 10 percent had ever before attended a conference. Plenary sessions and some workshops focused on the priority of proclaiming the gospel, and on practical strategies—how to gather a crowd, keep their attention, preach a message in a few minutes, and get local churches to help with preparation and follow-up.

    The conference was so well-received that Graham's organization immediately started preparing a sequel in , which drew over 8, attendees from nations. The Amsterdam conferences gave the BGEA a contact list of 12, evangelists all over the world, which it then tapped to organize a series of satellite crusades between and The first three targeted Africa, Asia, and Latin America, respectively; the final two reached 1, and 3, locations around the world—the latter requiring translation into different languages.

    And still there were evangelists from all over the world who pleaded for a reprise of the Amsterdam conferences. So in the BGEA, again at its own expense, brought 10, conferees from countries. Graham himself was not healthy enough to attend, and though the delegates wanted to see him, his absence probably had little effect on the impact of the conference. Amsterdam and the satellite crusades may have been Billy Graham's finest moments.

    Many of the characteristic elements of his early years were absent—calls to save America, striving to make evangelicalism respectable, hobnobbing with celebrities, audiences of the middle class. Amsterdam was evangelism purified.

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    Graham and his organization poured themselves out for the entire world, encouraging and empowering men and women, great and small, who shared Graham's burden to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. William Martin observed that the forces gathered and unleashed at the Berlin, Lausanne, and Amsterdam meetings constitute a third worldwide ecumenical movement, every bit as important as the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church.

    The amazing thing about the evangelical movement is that it is sustained not by a single organizational entity, but by multiple parachurch organizations, independent of each other but dreaming a common dream. Graham's genius was his ability to inspire people not to follow him, but to strike out on their own, following Jesus by proclaiming the gospel in their own way; and then to call them together, to inspire and equip thousands more to do the same thing.

    We may never see his like again. And he and Moody, whom Graham was sure he'd meet in heaven, can stand together and look on in wonder at what God hath wrought. Michael S. Hamilton, vice president for programs and special initiatives at the Issachar Fund, is currently working on the book Calvin College and the Revival of Christian Learning in America Eerdmans, forthcoming.

    I f you go to Charlotte, North Carolina, you will find that the farmland where Billy Graham grew up has been transformed. The rolling fields of the earlyth-century agricultural South have morphed into the strip malls, office buildings, and subdivisions of the New South. But Charlotte of , the year of Graham's birth, was a sleepier town. Its first streetcars, creating new suburban residences, had just been built, and it wasn't until Billy was three years old that one of the nation's first radio stations graced Charlotte's airwaves. A year later, Efird's Department Store, which described itself as "the only store south of Philadelphia with escalators," opened.

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    It was in this Charlotte—straddling rural and urban, and experiencing the first pangs of transition into the world-class city people know today—that Graham was born. Frank and Morrow Graham built, and reared their four children on, a thriving dairy farm. The children grew up in a colonial-style house with indoor plumbing.

    The family was close-knit. Indeed, Billy and two younger siblings, Catherine and Melvin, shared a bedroom until Catherine was Jean Graham Ford—the youngest Graham sibling, born almost 14 years after Billy and his only surviving sibling today—recalls the special bond shared by Billy and his mother. Billy was always doing little things to please her, like going out into the fields and bringing her wildflowers.

    Jean also recalls that young Billy loved Morrow's cooking and had a seemingly insatiable appetite: "When you walked in the back door during the spring and summer months, Mother would always have tomatoes on the shelf in the back porch. He would pick up the tomato and eat it just like he would an apple. She would fix it by the quart, and he would drink it down. The Graham children's early years were quiet but full. Morrow Graham recalled it as "just a quiet country life. The story of Billy Graham's conversion is well known. In the fall of , Mordecai Ham, a Kentucky-born Baptist revivalist, came to Charlotte and preached a powerful sermon.

    The revival stretched over weeks, and for the first week or so, the Grahams didn't attend. Billy was persuaded to check out Ham by Albert McKain, one of his father's most trusted employees. There, in response to Ham's powerful teachings about sin, Billy famously made a decision for Christ.

    Later that night, standing in the Grahams' breakfast room with fixings for a sandwich, Billy shared his experience with his family: Putting down his sandwich, he turned to Morrow and said, "Oh, Mother, I've been saved tonight.

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    Doubtless, Billy's sense that stirring preaching could inspire a dramatic personal commitment to Christ inspired his own lifelong ministry. And yet it is worth remembering that, as decisive as this experience was, it wasn't the beginning of Graham's Christian life. To the contrary, by the time Graham found his way to Ham's revival, he had already experienced nearly two decades of powerful formation in his local Presbyterian church and at home. Both of Graham's parents were raised in the Presbyterian Church, although Morrow was more active than her husband before they married.

    As children, Jean recalls, the Graham family was at church every time the doors opened, and prayer was part of their daily life. They prayed together and read Scripture together—even on their honeymoon they knelt together. Throughout Billy's childhood, the family had devotions, usually at night, in which Frank or Morrow would read a Bible passage and then family members would take turns praying. Sabbath was a special day in the Graham household.

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    Morrow cooked all of Sunday's food on Saturday so that no more work than necessary cows do always have to be milked would be undertaken on Sunday. This was the strong foundation on which Billy's decisive moment at the Ham revival was built.

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    But Billy's early Christian formation was not the only aspect of his life in Charlotte that made an impact. His experiences at various schools would shape his intellectual life, and his understanding of Christian institutions, for decades. Scholarship was not Billy's great strength; indeed, at first it was not clear to anyone that he would graduate from high school. His sister Jean recalls the day his homeroom teacher came to the house and warned Morrow that her eldest son wouldn't pass his senior year.

    He graduated from Sharon High School in His lackadaisical attitude toward schoolwork may have been more of a comment on his desire to follow his own intellectual interests than anything else. He loved to read and read what he wanted to, even if it meant letting some of his assignments fall by the wayside. Jean remembers Billy often sitting cross-legged in a chair, "biting his fingernails and reading, letting the rest of the world go by. That Morrow Graham's children would attend college was a given, but before matriculating came Billy's storied stint as a Fuller brush salesman.

    He surprised his friends—who thought he was not the most hardworking person on the planet, and that he would be a flop—by selling brushes throughout the Carolinas. Is it any coincidence that America's most famous and successful proponent of the gospel had his first career success persuading people that they needed a Fuller brush? Then came college. Where should a lanky farmer's son from North Carolina study? Morrow had her heart set on her children attending Wheaton, but Bob Jones College then located in Cleveland, Tennessee came to seem a better option because it was close to home and less pricey.

    Yet Billy struggled at Bob Jones from the moment he arrived. As he recalled in his memoir, Just As I Am , students' social life and intellectual life were strictly regulated; students' mail was even checked to make sure nothing untoward got through the postal service. Perhaps foreshadowing the showdown he and Jones would have years later, Billy chafed against the regulations. Indeed, Billy and his friend Wendell Phillips both broke enough rules to rack up about demerits—one more, and they'd be out.

    Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind
    Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind
    Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind
    Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind
    Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind
    Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind
    Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind
    Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind
    Winning a Generation Without the Law: How to Preach Good News to the 21st-Century Mind

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