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Evangelist Billy Graham celebrates 93rd birthday

Billy Graham caps an eventful autumn on Monday with his 93rd birthday.

Despite diminished hearing and sight, the Charlotte-born evangelist published his 30th book this fall. “Nearing Home” is built around Graham’s thoughts about getting old and finishing life well, a task he admits caught him almost completely off guard.

Graham's book comes not only as he reaches another year, but as America's huge Baby Boom generation moves into old age, its senior members now eligible for Social Security and retirement. And although in recent years Graham has stepped away from active public ministry, his willingness to be frank about the trials as well as the pleasures of growing old may still have an effect on the millions of Americans whose lives coincided with his time as the country's most famous preacher.

"I find that, talking to students and a lot of younger people, many of them don't know who Billy Graham is," said William Martin, author of "A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story" and a professor at Rice University. "But the people who will be most interested in this are older, and they do remember and adore Billy Graham."

Also last week, Graham’s evangelistic association put thousands of his sermons, TV shows and speeches online at www.billygraham.org.

“It’s hard to exaggerate how important this is as a resource,” said Duke Divinity School historian Grant Wacker.

Graham has said he wants to preach one last sermon before he dies, and while the new book is not quite that, it has a similar set of themes. Pondering Bible passages on aging and death, exhorting his readers to make sensible changes in their lives ("Take full advantage of your company's retirement plan, and borrow from it only in an extreme emergency") in down-to-earth language, Graham's ultimate focus is always on Jesus Christ.

"We were not meant for this world alone," he writes. "We were meant for Heaven, our final home."

All together, it's a set of advice that youth-fixated Boomers might not be immediately eager to hear, but coming from Graham it may have more influence. After all, Graham first rose to national prominence with a huge Los Angeles revival in 1949, just as the first Boomers were old enough to notice. Swiftly, Graham — who at the time was just 31 years old — became virtually synonymous with American Protestant Christianity, leading massive crusades at sports stadiums, traveling the globe, and meeting with presidents from Eisenhower to Obama.

Graham's appeal has not only been durable, it's extended far beyond the world of evangelical Christianity, according to Wacker.

To read the complete article, visit www.charlotteobserver.com.

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