During a career spanning sixty years, the Reverend Billy Graham’s resonant voice and chiseled profile entered the living rooms of millions of Americans with a message that called for personal transformation through God’s grace. How did a lanky farm kid from North Carolina become an evangelist hailed by the media as “America’s pastor”? Why did listeners young and old pour out their grief and loneliness in letters to a man they knew only through televised “Crusades” in faraway places like Madison Square Garden? More than a conventional biography, Grant Wacker’s interpretive study deepens our understanding of why Billy Graham has mattered so much to so many.
Beginning with tent revivals in the 1940s, Graham transformed his born-again theology into a moral vocabulary capturing the fears and aspirations of average Americans. He possessed an uncanny ability to appropriate trends in the wider culture and engaged boldly with the most significant developments of his time, from communism and nuclear threat to poverty and civil rights. The enduring meaning of his career, in Wacker’s analysis, lies at the intersection of Graham’s own creative agency and the forces shaping modern America.
Wacker paints a richly textured portrait: a self-deprecating servant of God and self-promoting media mogul, a simple family man and confidant of presidents, a plainspoken preacher and the “Protestant pope.” America’s Pastor reveals how this Southern fundamentalist grew, fitfully, into a capacious figure at the center of spiritual life for millions of Christians around the world.
While Billy Graham was a household name for many it was not so in my home. As a child of the 80’s raised in a non-evangelical denomination I knew very little about Graham prior to listening to this audiobook. Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation by Grant Wacker was both academic and inspiring. Wacker’s approach was neither flattering nor terse – it walked the fine line of being both honoring and honest.
Readers, or in this case audiobook listeners, gain a better understanding of Billy Graham as a man, a leader, a servant of God, and an impact maker on American culture. From his humble beginnings as a dairy farmer Graham built and empire of influence through the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA). Wacker attributes his success to his natural charisma, careful image management, connections to people in power, and perhaps most importantly his passion for taking the gospel to the lost. Although the author doesn’t forthrightly state that God is the reason for Graham’s success, to this listener it was clearly the case.
Finishing this title, I have a great appreciation for Graham. I admire how from the outset, Billy and his crusade leadership team resolved to be financially transparent, to avoid perceived improprieties with members of the opposite sex, and to admit when they were wrong – all potential pitfalls for Christian ministries. His life illustrated to me that when you have a plan you are far more likely to overcome the schemes of the devil.
I applaud Grant Wacker’s research, structure, and the overall cohesiveness to this title. However, had I been reading instead of listening I probably would have fatigued and left the book unfinished. Despite the pleasantness of Bob Souer’s narration, the language tended to be overly verbose. During the 12.5 hours of listening, I took frequent, sometimes prolonged breaks from listening. For this reason I believe this title would appeal more to the academic than the casual reader. As the latter, I award this title a good – 3/5 star rating.
**I received this book for free as a member of the christianaudio reviewers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”