Wake Forest University School of Divinity Professor Bill Leonard said the Rev. Billy Graham was “the most enduring and perhaps the most beloved preacher in American religious history.” Leonard is available to talk about the impact Graham has had on American religion and culture. Graham died today at age 99.
Leonard said: “Graham is a major historical figure, not merely to American evangelicals, but to American Christianity in general. Although not so well known among a younger generation of evangelicals, he has been the closest thing to a national Protestant chaplain that the U.S. has ever had. Unashamedly Christian, he demonstrated a graciousness that extends to persons inside and outside the church.
He had the ability to articulate in a very powerful and charismatic preaching style a relatively simple explanation of what it means or meant to be a follower of Jesus. He always said his calling was not as a theologian but as an evangelist. The focus of his ministry and his message carried him until the end.
He pioneered a variety of religious engagements with modern culture–radio, TV, film, syndicated programming, crusades – many of the first elements of what became media religion in the United States. He used the early stages of radio and speaker systems to perpetuate his message and the longevity of his career. The technology enabled him to preach much longer than others and gain this large audience.”
In the 1980s, Leonard wrote a Christian Century article called, “Who will be the next Billy Graham?” and concluded even then that he would have no one successor, but a variety of “successors” in various segments and communities of America’s public faith.
Leonard, the James and Marilyn Dunn Chair of Baptist Studies and Professor of Church history at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, studies American church history and has closely followed Graham’s career. Widely recognized for his work in American, Southern and Baptist religious studies, he is the author or editor of some seventeen books including “The Nature of the Church” and “Becoming Christian: Dimensions of Spiritual Formation.”
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