Billy GrahamNovember 7 was Billy Graham’s 95th birthday, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, whose CEO is his son Franklin, used the occasion for a sort of mini-crusade, which had two main components. One was a 30 minute video production called The Cross, which was a mixture of comments from Graham concerning the spiritual state of America in 2013 with scenes from the other, a similar production called Defining Moments. The latter was a mixture of video of Graham preaching during his active years with comments by three converts about their former and current lives. On that date I happened to be on the Wheaton College campus, where Graham earned a graduate degree and founded the Billy Graham Center, and I thought I’d watch them there. For some reason they weren’t showing The Cross, but their showing of Defining Moments allowed us to see it there and be back at our digs in time to watch The Cross on Fox News.

Defining Moments was a video narrative that interwove three stories of conversion featuring what today are ‘ordinary people’—a young white female, a young black male, both drug addicts, and an illusionist whose stage career was cut short by cancer, punctuated by video montages that included scenes of Billy Graham preaching, mostly from the 1980s, I’d guess. The video narratives were pretty predictable, I’m afraid, and I found it hard to cope with the ‘mockumentary’ approach to such seriously broken lives as these seemed to have once been, but Graham’s preaching, after not having seen it for many years, hit me with all the power for which it was famous. I left the Barrows Auditorium hungry for more.

The Cross was publicised as ‘A Long-Awaited Broadcast From Billy Graham To Our Nation’, but it turned out to be less than that. It used the video footage of two of the subjects of Defining Moments, but punctuated them with footage of the 95-year old Graham speaking from his arm-chair. The passion of his preaching years had been replaced by a great peace, and I suspect that if he had spoken about the source of his peace, his words would have had the same impact as his words about the source of his salvation did during his preaching career. Instead he made a few comments on the need for a spiritual awakening in contemporary America, but was never given time to develop his thoughts into a message for the nation, and I think the production will soon be forgotten.

Much of Graham’s greatest preaching is on film, though, and if the BGEA really wants to get America thinking about its spiritual state, the best thing it could do would be to rent every cinema in the nation for six or seven Sunday nights in a row and show one of the surviving films. I think they’d be surprised at the attendance, as well as at the continuing effectiveness of his preaching style. His comments about American society in the 1950s and 60s seem as relevant today as then, except that Communism has been replaced by Terrorism as the perceived threat to our safety. Most people under thirty will have never seen anyone like him, and his plain statement of the truth found in the pages of the Bible, in simple words from a heart overflowing with passion for Christ, is bound to have an impact that neither the slick productions nor the smooth evangelists of today can match. Check out this one, or this, or this, and see for yourself.

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