With the Rev. Billy Graham, possibly the world’s most famous contemporary Christian evangelist, set to turn 100 on November 7, publishers are releasing a boomlet of books on his life, his message, and his impact on American culture.
First to the shelves will be the updated edition of biographer William Martin’s 1991 magisterial portrait of Graham, A Prophet with Honor, coming in March from Zondervan. It features the story of Graham’s life and ministry through his 2005 retirement from global crusades up to President Trump’s inauguration where his son gave a prayer. Martin has added 100 pages of text and Zondervan has added photos from Graham’s later years.
“It’s a thorough and serious look at his life but not hagiographic. It’s sympathetic but frank,” said David Morris, v-p and publisher at Zondervan. “It’s not just for history majors or for academics. Anyone who cares about American spiritual or religious history has to reckon with Billy Graham, understand and appreciate him.”
Martin also reckons with the person who may be reshaping Billy Graham’s legacy — his deeply conservative son Franklin Graham. Franklin, often seen in photos with his friend President Donald Trump, has taken more controversial positions on religious and social issues than Billy Graham did in his last decades in the public eye. Morris said Martin “reports on how Franklin has spoken and lets his words stand in the light a bit so readers can make up their own mind how Billy’s legacy may be continuing.”
Another renown scholar of Graham’s life, historian Grant Wacker, author of a comprehensive look at Graham, America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation in 2014, is wrapping up a new “narrative biography” of the evangelist. One Soul at a Time: A Short Life of Billy Graham will be released in late 2018 by Eerdmans.
“Wacker’s 2014 book was brilliant but it was organized by themes, not chronologically,” said David Bratt, Eerdmans executive editor. With the narrative format, Wacker “brings the eye of a lauded scholar and marvelous storyteller to the task of telling the story in a condensed way but one you can trust to tell you what you need to know.” It stretches from Billy’s childhood on a farm to his life traveling the globe preaching the gospel and advising presidents.
Also in the works but likely to be released in 2019, will be a narrative look at Billy’ Graham’s beloved wife, Ruth Bell Graham, by scholar Anne Blue Wills, associate professor of religion at Davidson College. “Ruth was very important to a whole generation of evangelical women who took their cues from her on how to be a strong woman in a traditional role,” said Bratt. He described her as more conservative than her husband and a great influence on Franklin. The working title is “An Odd Kind of Cross to Bear”: The Life of Ruth Bell Graham.
A new book by Edit Blumhofer, also due in 2019 from Eerdmans, looks at one of the most significant aspects of Graham’s global preaching events: His insistence that gospel music was infused into every gathering. Blumhofer will look at the influence of his crusade partners George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows, Bratt said. The title and release date are not set yet.
All four authors were among the 15 academics who contributed essays on Graham’s message and influence to a collection released in 2017 by Oxford University Press, American Pilgrim.
Two other books, also timed to Billy Graham’s centennial year, speak from personal experience with him, not from a scholarly remove.
In time for Graham’s birthday, his grandson, Rev. William Graham, is publishing his first book, Redeemed, November 6. It’s a devotional from Thomas Nelson that weaves stories from Will and Billy’s lives with quotes, photos, and inspirational messages, according to the publisher.
By October, Paraclete Press will release Billy Graham: The Man and His Message for Today by Lon Allison, who worked for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for years before moving to the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and now to pastor AT Wheaton Bible Church in Illinois.
Paraclete publisher Jon Sweeney said he recruited Allison to do the book because he wanted “a strong evangelical book by someone who was sympathetic to Graham and who would be able to offer something new. This book doesn’t break new ground in biography but it is a retelling from an insider’s perspective.”
Just as Graham never passed up a chance to call people to salvation, Sweeney said, “Allison, an evangelist himself, ends each chapter with a gospel invitation. In this way, it’s a very Billy Graham-ish kind of book. Those who are new to Billy and those who knew him will see a book very much in his mold.”