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One Soul at a Time:
The Story of Billy Graham

by grant wacker
eerdmans, 256 pages, $24.99

The beloved evangelist ­Billy ­Graham (1918–2018) preach­ed the gospel face to face to more people than any other figure in history. During his lengthy career, more than three million individuals placed their faith in Jesus by confessing their sins and asking Christ to be their Savior and Lord.

In this informative, fresh biography, Grant Wacker paints a realistic portrait of Billy Graham the man, including his strengths and weaknesses. A perceptive historian, Wacker examines what accounts for Graham’s unique “power to connect.” He proposes that Graham’s “singular ability to appropriate the trends of the day” explains how the evangelist remained a “pastor for all seasons” in the lives of his followers.

In 1956, Graham himself identified a specific reason people came to his crusades: They were simply anxious to hear a word from God. Graham gave them that word by preaching the Bible (Hebrews 4:12). He urged them “to get right with God” and to come “just as they were” to accept the free gift of salvation. Often his audiences were seated in large stadiums—not exactly an ideal setting for personal contact with the evangelist. And yet individual listeners often recounted they believed Graham’s gospel message was directed just to them.

—John Woodbridge

The Profession of Widowhood:
Widows, Pastoral Care, and Medieval Models of Holiness

by katherine clark walter
catholic university of america, 432 pages, $75

The spiritual accounting for women in the medieval Church was straightforward: Virgins garnered a hundredfold heavenly yield for their piety, the married yielded thirtyfold, and widows yielded sixtyfold. This frame of reference, formalized by Jerome, became a medieval commonplace. The Church’s theological understanding of the widow was based on the ideal vere vidua of 1 Timothy 5 (recalling the Roman univira): the true widow who commits to her station (1 Cor. 7:8), devoting the remainder of her days and resources to the Church.

Katherine Clark Walter warily studies attempts to harmonize these standards with widowhood’s practical tensions. From the early Church through the early modern period, the vere vidua was encouraged through scriptural models (particularly Anna, Judith, and the widow of Sarepta/Zarephath), representations of the bereaved Church as a widow, and popular widowed saints (most notably Elizabeth of Hungary). Widows’ temptations to indifferent worldliness, or even licentiousness, also demanded attention. As the New Testament, acknowledging widows’ many adversities, concludes: Those who must remarry, may.

In the medieval Church, a more or less formal profession of widowhood developed, which handicapped delinquency and publicized a widow’s intention to live with devout integrity, within or outside the cloister. Walter’s book is an illuminating examination of how Scripture and tradition grant widows a station, if not strictly an office, with clear directives for living.

—Rebekah Curtis

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