A scholarly, analytical and sympathetic biography of the evangelist Billy Graham (b. 1918), who for decades was what the title proclaims.
Wacker (Christian History/Duke Univ.; Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals in American Culture, 2001, etc.) is not interested in exploring Graham’s personal life (although some cannot be avoided). Instead, he offers a thematic approach, looking at Graham through a variety of lenses and trusting that this multiple-image approach gives readers a more comprehensive portrait of this unique man—and it does. Although some readers might wish for more National Enquirer or People magazine (and still others for either a paean or a disembowelment), Wacker sticks to his objectives throughout, and so we emerge with a more complete, nuanced understanding of Graham’s personality and ministry. The titles of Wacker’s chapters tell the story: “Preacher,” “Entrepreneur,” “Pastor,” “Patriarch” and others. In each section, the author focuses on what Graham said and wrote—though the latter is sometimes difficult to determine, for once he became successful, Graham employed a number of “editorial assistants” and, with their help, produced more than 30 books and countless sermons, newspaper columns and other writings. (Graham did not preach from a text, but he did have topics listed.) About the best Wacker can say is that the ideas were always Graham’s, if not all the words. The author also shows us a profoundly authentic Graham, a true believer, a man who was not mercenary, who practiced what he preached, whose principal weaknesses might have been his name-dropping and hobnobbing with the rich and the powerful—including American presidents. (He liked Nixon and prayed with Clinton; only Truman disdained him.)
Some readers may tire of the uniform patterns of the chapters and the author’s dispassionate voice, but vast research composes the foundation of a very sturdy structure.