Tomorrow, Billy Graham, a pastor to presidents and preacher to millions, will turn 90:

Evangelist Billy Graham, who turns 90 on Friday, is frail from multiple falls and ailments, far from the strapping revivalist who roamed the globe for six decades.

Yet before Graham retired in 2005 to his mountainside log cabin in Montreat, N.C., he preached to 215 million people — and changed the course of American Protestantism.

Back in 1998, First Things reviewed Graham’s autobiography, Just as I Am :

Graham emerged from a divisive brand of Protestant fundamentalism that in the 1930s and 1940s—for example at Bob Jones University in South Carolina and Wheaton College in Illinois—was fighting for its life, in all senses of the phrase. Graham took to heart the Cross-and Christ-centered focus of that tradition but early on he began to outgrow its combative boundary-setting. In 1957, fundamentalists broke with Graham (not Graham with fundamentalists) when he invited non-fundamentalist churches to help sponsor a major crusade in New York City. So too Graham reached out across racial lines earlier than all but a few of his southern (or even midwestern) evangelical peers, and that at a time when Graham’s publishing brainchild, Christianity Today, was being funded by wealthy Americans who equated civil rights agitation with the Communist threat. He was also one of the first Protestants, evangelical or mainline, to exploit the common ground of the Apostles’ Creed (“my own basic creed,” he calls it here) with Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. By so doing, Graham has done more than any person in the twentieth century (with the possible exception of C. S. Lewis) to promote from the Protestant side the enriching concerns of a meaningfully specific “mere Christianity.”

Articles by Ryan Sayre Patrico

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