November 22, 2017

Who’s On “The Next Billy Graham” This Season?

portrait_hr.jpgNOTE: I will not publish hateful, conspiratorial comments. You can critique, but be respectful.

“You most faithful readers know that ultimately, I’m a fan of Mark Driscoll. Fan — can’t help it. Somebody has said that there isn’t a “Billy Graham” for 21st century Christianity, and I totally disagree — I think Driscoll is in the running to be such a thing, if I can say that and not cause a complete melt-down of the blogosphere and everything that’s holy.” –Frank Turk

It could be a reality show: “The Next Billy Graham.”

I’ve used the phrase “the next Billy Graham” a few times, and it’s fairly common in evangelicalism. If you know my own working definition of evangelicalism- and post-evangelicalism- then you know that Billy Graham features largely in both. Graham, in symbol, substance and style, is the single most defining figure in post WWII, American evangelicalism. To try, as more than a few of the Truly Reformed regularly attempt, to blame him for all that’s wrong and ignore his massive influence on what is and should be right, is complete foolishness.

But this post isn’t primarily about Graham, it’s about what we mean when we use the phrase “the next Billy Graham,” something I haven’t seen anyone discuss as yet. Maybe because it can’t be done. We’ll see.

Try this.

1. A person whom the majority of evangelicals recognize as a representative leader in his entire ministry.

This is important, because most evangelicals did not have to disavow any of the major emphases of Graham’s ministry. I am aware that some rejected some aspects such as ecumenism and invitationalism, but those were methodological issues, not core issues. No one dislikes invitationalism more than me. I loathe it, but I realize that if Graham does or doesn’t do it, it doesn’t affect his core message and ministry.

2. Someone who personally and intentionally bridges major divides in evangelicalism.

This is going to be a lot harder for someone in the future, because there are more divides and more groups and sub-groups than ever. I’m fairly pessimistic on this one. No one I have ever heard nominated for the “Next Billy Graham” mantle is as comprehensive a bridge builder as Graham. With resurgence among many conservative groups who oppose any kind of ecumenical efforts, this may be a deal breaker on ever seeing a leader like Graham again.

3. Clearly and authoritatively articulates evangelical essentials.

I realize that Graham did this much less well in his later years and many Graham haters dwell on these gaffs, but the majority of Graham’s ministry dependably articulated the beliefs of evangelicals in “Mere Christianity” terms.

Some of my readers will join me in rejecting aspects of Graham’s message like his rapture eschatology, but I see no way to reject the assertion that Graham represented the beliefs of evangelicals, and did so clearly and consistently for most of his ministry.

4. An embodiment of the evangelical idea and experience of charismatic leadership.

This is huge with Graham. He is a true “charismatically” gifted person. There’s no way to avoid the place of this in evangelicalism. I don’t like it most of the time, but I believe it is a “God-thing” and a “human-thing” on deep, mysterious levels. Certain kinds of persons- physically, voice tone, eyes, stance, small cues- have a leadership advantage. They may be disasters in their family or ordinary conversation, but in the settings of public leadership, their gifts excel and are effective.

Graham is one of these people. So is Osteen in many ways. So is Joyce Meyer. So was JFK. So are all kinds of failures and crooks in evangelicalism. (Any of the current Presidential crop?) How the transformation happens is beyond me and why God uses or doesn’t use a particular personality is a mystery. Graham was once the living embodiment of a geek. But look at him in the 1960s and early 70s. Listen to him. It’s a real thing and you can’t deny it.

5. A sense of divine call that animates his ministry.

This is a very strong characteristic with Graham, and it’s remarkably absent in much contemporary evangelicalism, especially on the non-Pentecostal side. It is the “Moses” factor that allows a person to have a certain confidence in situations where those with worldly power and influence are setting the agenda. Graham had plenty of screw-ups in this category, as any of us would, but it’s undeniable that the man could be with journalists, popes, presidents, the wealthy and the powerful in a way that spoke “God has called me to be here and to speak his Word at this time.”

Think of John Macarthur on Larry King, for example. He knows he is called and is confident without overwhelming anyone by trying too hard to make the point. It’s simply there.

This characteristic can get wrapped up in a lot of the flaws in any human personality, but it’s important. And it isn’t automatically bestowed by writing successful books or having a big church. The sense of a divine call to be and do is simply mysterious, but I can’t see anyone becoming a “Graham level” leader without it.

6. Exceptional manners, ethics and integrity.

This is truly exceptional with Dr. Graham. He stands far above the crowd at this point and really sets the standard. Many so-called leaders are unworthy to even use the word integrity these days. Liars, thieves and con-men abound. We need the “Tetzel Awards” in evangelicalism. Maybe TBN would televise it.

Future leaders are going to face much more hostile scrutiny than Dr. Graham faced and the highest standards will be necessary. The current financial investigations of televangelists show what a cesspool this has become.

7. A World Christian Vision.

Dr. Graham embodies the spirit of the world Christian movement. His career contains many examples of bold moves to take the Gospel to the nations, encouraging churches and training pastors and evangelists. His trips into the communist world, his investment in Lusanne and Amsterdam, his public ministry in difficult places and, of course, his uncompromised proclamation of Christ in atheistic, secular situations…all of these are more needed now than ever.

The next “Billy Graham” can’t be building a palatial church facility that seats 80,000 to hear bands and motivational talks. Not while Africa, Asia and the world need the encouragement and resources American evangelicals can provide.

There is more to say, but these are a good beginning. I could list mistakes to avoid and use Dr. Graham’s political foibles as an example. I could critique theology from the reformed perspective, but I’d trade about 100,000 American preachers for Graham any day.

So who is going to be the “Next Billy Graham?” A few thoughts on some of the nominees.

1. Rick Warren: Probably the top of the list today. Doesn’t have the clear Gospel presentation or the preaching gifts of Graham, but has many gifts that are important. A heart for the world. Integrity. Not very Charismatic, but very humble.

He’s not Billy Graham, and that may be why he should be the next perceived leader of evangelicalism. He’s got his own shoes.

2. Greg Laurie: On the crusade preaching side, he is very good and has obviously studied Graham. He is too identified, however, with one movement in evangelicalism and not well known enough to be a Graham level leader, which is a shame. I think he’s one of the best at what Graham did best.

3. Joel Osteen: The media may try to make this coronation happen after Graham passes and Christian publishers would love it for the reasons they love him now: money. But Osteen doesn’t represent Christianity of any kind, and his star is hopefully going to fade in the future. Thinking of Osteen in a stadium in Beijing makes me ill.

4. T.D. Jakes: Jakes has tremendous gifts and is the most naturally charismatic of the group. He also doesn’t affirm the essential doctrine of the Trinity and is in the middle of the Prosperity Gospel. He may be the king of the Pentecostal world, and as an African-American he will have a lot of supporters, but Jakes divides evangelicals. He doesn’t unite them. If he had a clear Gospel message and ministry, then perhaps, but he doesn’t. He’s the biggest fish in the pond of evangelical heresy.

5. Mark Driscoll: Despite the crucial support of a prominent blogger like Frank Turk, Driscoll isn’t the next Billy Graham. Driscoll is a brilliantly gifted, charismatic polarizer. He can lead, but he also shoots himself and evangelicals in the foot about once every six months. His message is sound and his vision is great, but he is lacking something that Graham level leaders must have- a confident maturity. Driscoll seems to me to be more the former youth evangelist than the Graham level evangelist. His identification with the emerging movement will always be controversial. Also, Driscoll’s critiques of the unbelieving world are very hard-edged and, while usually correct, will make him a media target. He will hit back, and Graham level leadership isn’t a version of Ultimate Fighting.

I realize many dislike Graham for being winsome and call it compromise, but I can’t see the next Billy Graham popping off witticisms and inside insults like Driscoll.

6. Franklin Graham: A great person who will do a better job than his dad in many ways. I am a big supporter, but Franklin doesn’t seem to have the intangibles that Billy has. He’s his own person, as he should be. Stay with Samaritans Purse.

7. John Piper: I had to do this to watch the Calvinists get excited. Listen guys. You are like 6% of evangelicals. Like it or not, your little farm isn’t the entire ranch and isn’t going to be. I love Piper, but it’s not happening. Same with Mohler, etc. Besides, anyone liked by bloggers must be questionable. (jn)

8. N.T. Wright: An interesting and gifted person, but a scholar, not a leader of movements. More the Lewis than the Graham.

9. Beth Moore: Gotcha. She’ll be too busy preaching to what’s left of the SBC.

10. Van Til, The BHT’s Magic Tail Chasing Wonder Dog: Amen! An obvious choice, but often stays out all night without explanation.

Perhaps the next Billy Graham is not an American, not a man, not even an evangelical. Maybe he’s not even known yet. Maybe God doesn’t want there to be anything like a Graham level leader. Maybe there will be ten or twenty. Maybe it’s impossible.

Whatever the phrase means, we can pray that God will raise up leaders in the footsteps of Dr. Graham, with his heart, calling and integrity.

Comments

  1. I would add two more. One is absolute and the other is a historical fact.

    The absolute is the sovereign choice of God. I think that is implied in #5, but I would suggest it be listed. Of course, only time will tell if another has that.

    The historical fact is that Graham rode the crest of the wave of another movement – the rise of evangelicalism. The emerging church could have been that, but imo could never really define themselves and are now too fractured to be a similar movement.

    Mr. Graham’s own statements and actions seem to indicate that he felt that an army of evangelists would be his successor (thus, Amsterdam ’83, ’86, and 2000). This was not arrogance but a willingness to fulfill Ephesians 4:11 and context in equipping others.

    Perhaps the growth of the Kingdom of God in the southern hemisphere is an indication of what may be next. My prayer is that God would move in our hemisphere as he has in the southern.

  2. Excellent points.

  3. In the Rick Warren press conference I covered a couple of weeks ago, Warren said this:

    “I really, really wish people would stop making comparisons to me and Billy Graham. I am not the next Billy Graham. Billy’s one-of-a-kind; no one can replace him.”

  4. Michael,
    I believe the whole “next Graham” is a paradigm that no longer applies. It’s only a question we boomers think needs to be asked. I’m not sure the generations following us really care. In the ubiquitous network where we all now live, there will be thousands of Grahams and there will be none.

  5. Billy Graham wasn’t seeking to be the Evangelical Pope, but that is what happened over time. He has played an important role that I think now will have to be filled by various people called by God. Interesting post. I don’t think he can ever be replaced or that anyone could fill the same roll he has.

    Thanks for the shout out to Greg Laurie. Being a former CC member I love his style of simple Gospel message, but he can also do some great indepth teaching.

    I just had to laugh at the Calvinist comment. That was too funny. Piper is great, but I he doesn’t speak to my soteriology view. 🙂

  6. here in nashville we were visited by Luis Palau (www.palau.org) and his type of crusade. i never made it to the events themselves (which drew over 100,000), but a friend who attended a youth pastor luncheon really liked palau’s message and methodology. which surprised me. i’ve heard him being call the hispanic bg before.

  7. I have seen Wright speak several times, and while his views for the future of Christianity are amazing and important I don’t think he is a Billy Graham. He is also the only scholar to engage Post-Modernism and fully intergrate it into Christian Theology that I know of.

    But maybe a Billy Graham type of individual is not in the future, maybe he was just a product of post-WWII culture.

    In my opinion I don’t think we’ll ever have someone like Graham ever again, and it’s not a bad thing.

  8. Louise Norman says:

    I am wondering if anyone has read the web article “Letter from Mrs. Billy Graham.” (Was she the neck that could turn Billy’s head?) I saw this article on engines like Yahoo and Google. Louise

  9. I wouldn’t consider Jakes the “king of the Pentecostal world” on account of we never talk about him at my church. Neither, really, do any of the Pentecostals who recognize God is a Trinity. We’re very big on the movement and gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as the authority of and growing relationship with Christ Jesus, and I don’t think it helps one’s relationship grow much when one thinks Jesus and the Spirit are the same person.

    I always figured the need for a Billy Graham, or someone like him, was because individual Christians weren’t getting off their collective behinds and preaching the gospel to their neighbors. The fact that we “need” a Graham, or that his position needs to be passed down in any way, is an embarrassment to Christianity. Yes, it’s nice to have leaders we can look up to; but it’s much nicer when there are too many to count, and not just one or two or ten.

  10. I don’t know about replacing Billy Graham, but one guy I think has the potential to be a world wide mass evangelist is Greg Laurie. Fantastic communicator.

  11. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    I’m not sure Driscoll wants to be the next Graham, and I agree he’s got some qualities that would make it almost impossible for him to have the mantle of “the next Billy Graham” if such a mantle even exists.

    Ditto for Piper, no chance. 🙂 Not that I don’t enjoy books by him. Gordon Fee probably has a better chance of being the next Billy Graham than John Piper!

  12. Actually, I’m hoping there isn’t one. Billy Graham was a once in a lifetime guy who was, by God’s grace, “in the right place at the right time.” He was a hyped celebrity evangelist at the time when the concept of celebrity hadn’t been tuned into the formulaic, focus-grouped to death, robots we have today. In a sense, he rose to notoriety on the wave of celebrity in general – and for that reason was able to stay ahead of the wave for the most part without getting tanked by it.

    He’s a Divine “accident of history,” let’s celebrate his love of Jesus, and the work he’s done in Jesus’ name, without making his legacy into another brass serpent.

  13. I respectfully dissent. The names are all from the US (except for Wright who is a from our cousin across the pond). BG rose not just to national but international prominence in a time when America was the unique leader and rescuer of the free world. The next BG will probably come from Africa, South America or Asia if at all. Also, BG arose at a time when there was a cultural consensus in the West which allowed him to be accepted (or at least not attacked) in many quarters where he would be savaged today.

    Brilliant break down of what made BG, well, BG.

    Let’s remember to pray for Michael and Denise this week as he requested (see August 18).

  14. >Perhaps the next Billy Graham is not an American, not a man, not even an evangelical.

    I did discuss primarily Americans because I am discussing American evangelicalism. Was Graham perceived as the leader of evangelicals in England?

    Thanks for the prayers. Much appreciated.

  15. Graham was definitely perceived as a leader of evangelicals in the German-speaking world. Three Americans who currently have much influence over here are Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Gordon MacDonald. All three, as well as UK Alpha Course leaders, are regulars at huge conferences organized by Willow Creek Germany. The Alpha Course folks additionally have a lot of credibility with parts of the Catholic scene here — Alpha Course in Austria for example is at least 70% a Catholic phenomenon.

  16. Tom Huguenot says:

    As far as France was concerned, Graham was only seen as a leader in those churches planted by American missionaries after WWII. In other circles, he was, well, just the typical example of what you have not to do (and to be).

    Maybe there will be another Billy Graham. I do not think iy would be a good thing. I am not sure it would be a bad thing.
    I just know he/she would most certainly be irrelevant in my life, in my ministry and in my culture (and, probably, that he could not care less), so why bother?

  17. Here’s a different paradigm … preaching the “gospel” or good news needs to happen in a venue where there are those present who need to hear it. I would gently suggest that we need to look outside the established church for the next Billy Graham. Perhaps to someone like Bono … everywhere he goes, he ends up preaching the gospel to those who desperately need to hear it. Kinda makes you step back and think a little.

  18. Coming from that 6% minority, I’ll see your John Piper and raise you one Tim Keller.

  19. Someone already mentioned the Alpha course – my take on this is that the ‘next Billy Graham’ has been around for a long time, and is Nicky Gumbel. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he’s had a far greater impact on global evangelism than Dr. Graham ever had.

    Stadium rallies may have made sense in the 50s and 60s. I suspect Alpha-style groups were their equivalent in the 90s. I’m not sure what comes next, but perhpas the trend is from big and authoritarian to intimate and relational.

  20. Tom Huguenot says:

    But again, do we NEED a Billy Graham-type of personality? Why? For what kind of semi-official role?
    Or is it just a tendency to aknowledge the existence of a bigger guy among all the “big guys”?

  21. One more from the 6% minority in support of Driscoll, Piper and Keller!

    Driscoll is definitely a man to reach today’s culture, maybe not a Graham, but i think with similar relevance and humble connection of transcendant (and reformed) truths.

  22. Interesting post
    There will always be famous/respected/noticed Christians whether there will be one who hits the same level as graham on all the same playing field.

    Have to totally agree that if there were one he would be more likely to come from Africa or possibly, another part of the third world.

    Ironically probably here in the UK we’d go for some American before we’d go for one of our own or an African. We’re that stupid

    I have to say in terms of the younger crowd over here in the UK Rob Bell has made the biggest waves in the last years (after a few people realised that Mel Gibson probably wasn’t gonna turn out to be the next Billy graham although the angle of it not coming from the same media quarter is quiet interesting) In fact the same leader I heard saying that is now raving about Bell. Which is why I was surprised he wasn’t on your list but Driscoll was. Over here in the UK Driscoll is probably only slightly more known than Doug Pagit who is an unknown over here. The only time I’ve seen Driscoll mentioned by a Brit was a really small new church network conference on reaching men that was in Scotland (so not really mainland). Where as Bell has done a national youth worker conference which has to be one of the biggest stages in the country and also had a UK speaking tour, plus his video’s are popping up in every youth or young adult bible studies. Probably closely behind Bell as a young preacher is Giglio. The other big American names over here are those mentioned before Bill Hybels and Rick Warren are pretty big names, warrens books are big over here but I couldn’t see him taking the graham place however the willow creek satellite conference are getting to be a pretty big deal over here building on the status he’s gained through his books.

    If I were to suggest some UK contenders because of our obsession with youth culture and young people Mike Pilavachi leader of Soul Survivor (both a church plant in Watford England and a youth organisation with summer festival/conference in England and now being reproduced over the world) He’s probably the single biggest name in the evangelical world over here. He could do it if he doesn’t go the way of Steve Chalk (youth speaker/Baptist minister/outcast of the evangelical world{but nothing to do with the emerging church}) another possible had it not been for that book(The lost message of Jesus). Nicky Gumbell maybe but possibly being an Anglican would put him off for new churchers. My Vote would go either for Archbishop of York John Sentamu is pretty cool and already a man of status.

  23. Before anyone gets to cozy with Marc Driscoll being the next Billy Graham you might want to use a little discretion and discerment and read between the lines.

    http://theresurgence.com/md_blog_2007-09-21_vegas

    http://www.challies.com/archives/book-reviews/confessions-of.php

  24. The next Billy Graham? There will not be another in my view. The internet, cable TV, and other media have made city wide crusades a thing of history.

    Dr. Graham is the last of the great modern day evangelists the likes of D L Moody, Billy Sunday, Gypsie Smith, John R Rice, and others.

    Billy Graham was faithful to the simple gospel of Jesus from the start to the finish and tens of thousands were introduced to the Saviour through his preaching.

    Today we have many great orators, men who have large numbers of followers, but what is sorely lacking is the simple gospel of Christ. All the other stuff is largely usless when it is presented at the expense of the good news about Jesus.

    Paul had great results without the cunning words of man’s wisdom, without stories and fables, without glitz and glamor…yet many men today think they can be sucessful using those things Paul rejected.

    The next Billy Graham? Nope, and there will not be a next Spurgeon or Alexander Campbell or Winston Churchill or Patton or ……

    His Peace,
    Royce Ogle

  25. When I was in the dining hall at Gordon-Conwell one night as a student, I made the mistake of quoting Neil Postman on Billy Graham while his nephew L. Nelson Bell, Jr. was sitting on the other side of the table. His ears pricked up and he turned in my direction. I quickly tried to make it clear I was quoting somebody and not setting forth my opinion of him. I think I succeeded, but it was yet another reminder to be careful what you say when you’re talking about someone who could be somebody’s hero.

    I don’t think people ever really get replaced by other people. The roles tend to just break apart and re-coalesce around others. But I have to say that as a whole, the coming crop look like pygmies compared to their forbears of even a generation ago.

    Can the whole list from the post together make up for even Billy Graham, J.I. Packer, John Stott, Corrie Ten Boom, and Francis Schaeffer? Perhaps their books have been exceeded, already. But I think the question is really about another category. Something like “personality” but without the celebrity connotation.

  26. Oh and another thing perhaps watching this short clip should get us to consider whether or not we really want another Billy Graham.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNCnxA91fHE

    Where has his teaching really led? His ecumenicalism has reached new highs or lows depending on how you look at it and also consider that he said he thought Bill Clinton would make a wonderful evangelist.And Mr Schuller is another one whos gospel I would highly question.
    Im not trying to be disrespectful here but I think Mr Grahams judgement has become somewhat delusional and putting anyone on a pedestal without discerning what they really think and teach is spiritualy unwise.
    This ecumenical emerging church movement should be very carefully looked at by each and every one of us and discerned with the utmost scrutiny and dillegence.If we substitute harmony for substance we are in very deep trouble.My 2 cents!!!

  27. I’ll put in a vote for Luis Palau. There won’t be another Billy Graham, but Palau comes the closest. I saw him preach in Akron back in the early 90s before he was well known in the US; he had Graham’s humility and ability to present the Mere Christianity type of gospel.

    Beth Moore might be the surprise one on the list. She has a following outside of the Southern Baptists (my wife was part of a women’s study of a Moore book at our old Vineyard church in Michigan) and might become a leading speaker to a broader evangelical audience.

  28. This is a great post. People are looking, and the front runner is Warren. Lucado was talked about too. We will see.

    http://www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org

  29. What about Ray Comfort? Is the fact that he doesn’t immediately come to mind a result of unconscious prejudice against short kiwis? For shame. :p

  30. No one has mentioned Pastor Bob Coy from Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale. Much of his teaching and live internet services are available at http://www.calvaryftl.org/.

  31. There is only one Jesus. He is the one that counts. Forget Billy Graham.