02 (February 2015)

America’s Pastor

John Palmer
John Palmer John Palmer lives in Ormskirk, Lancashire.
01 February, 2015 1 min read
America’s Pastor

Grant Wacker
Harvard University Press
404, £20.00
ISBN: 978-0-674-05218-5
Star Rating: 1

This book is written by an American academic for American academics. 72 pages of footnotes follow 320 pages of main text. Although a short, simple overview of Billy Graham’s immense influence on American Christian thought might be useful, this is not it.

This is not a conventional biography. Rather than focusing on Graham’s private life, it sets out to evaluate his public career and influence.

The writing style is meticulous and dense, requiring concentration. The book cannot be read quickly and contains an immense amount of information and opinion.

The author is not unsympathetic toward Graham and is impressed by his sincerity and hard work. However, he is not wholly in sympathy with Graham’s message of the necessity of reconciliation with God through Christ.

The author confuses God-sent revivals (like the Great Awakening) with ‘revivals’ in the Finney mode. He seems unconvinced of the necessity of regeneration by the Spirit of God — even in the Arminian form of regeneration preached by Graham, as a work subsequent to a decision for Christ.

Having said that, some things stand out about Billy Graham. Positively, he was a man of personal humility and graciousness, maintaining sexual and financial integrity. He also had a sincere desire to see souls saved and remained loyal to the same, simple gospel message, as he understood it.

Negative aspects of his life are also addressed. These include his indifference to the church in theory and practice; his genius for self-promotion; and his gullible, wholly inappropriate and often fawning relationships with unbelievers in the political, business and religious spheres.

Had I received this book for review from a learned journal of church history, I would have been positive; it is doubtless an important contribution to the scholarly study of twentieth-century American church history. As it is, good reader, I have plodded my way across this heavy ground in order to say that you need not do the same!

John Palmer

John Palmer
John Palmer lives in Ormskirk, Lancashire.
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