Billy Graham's Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Graham's engagement in New York opened on May 15, 1957 to a gathering of 18,000. Originally slated to conclude after six weeks, as a result of its unprecedented success, it kept being extended for a total of four months. When all was said and done, a total of more than two million individuals heard Graham speak in-person, of which 61,000 made personal faith commitments, with at least 10,000 new members added to mainline church registers.

In Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century, David Aikman reflects that Graham, more so than any other Protestant leader in ages past, has "successfully articulated the central features of the Christian doctrine...and at the same moment mobilized global Protestant Christianity in pursuit of them." Graham was able to do so by emphasizing that Christians' disagreements over particular doctrines were inferior to the beliefs and burdens they held in common, particularly to impact the culture and communities with the Gospel.

Ross Douthat writes in Bad Religion that Graham "almost singlehandedly revitalized" the tradition of revivals in America; his crusades encouraged evangelicals to relinquish the more exclusionary tenets of fundamentalism and to foster cooperative relationships with the mainline. No evangelist leader since Graham has, in Douthat's eloquent phrasing, managed to achieve a "delicate balance between evangelical rigor and openhanded ecumenism, between a Christian particularism and a universal Americanism, between warnings of God's justice and promises of God's all-encompassing love.

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Grant Wacker concludes, "In the end, assessing Graham's legacy for his own evangelical subculture may be less important than assessing his legacy for the mainline...That said, the hardest challenge might be to remember that the man and the mountain were not the same."

8/5/2013 4:00:00 AM
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