Book Review – Billy Graham, His Life and Influence

Growing up in a fundamental, Baptist family, I heard comparatively little about Billy Graham and the little I did hear wasn’t positive.  When Thomas Nelson offered David Aikman’s biography of the man for review, I was curious to see who exactly this man was and whether or not he really was the false prophet of the antichrist.

In Billy Graham: His Life and Influence, Aikman offers an interesting and well-written account of Graham’s life.  Recognizing that other, more comprehensive accounts of Graham’s life have already been written, Aikman focuses instead on the worldwide impact Graham had through such avenues as his friendships with various presidents and his worldwide “Crusades.”   In three rather lengthy chapters, Aikman tells of Graham’s friendships with every American President from Eisenhower to George W. Bush.   Especially interesting is the friendship Graham had with Richard Nixon and how Graham had completely misread – or perhaps had been completely mislead by – Nixon’s character or lack thereof.

While Aikman chronicles Graham’s crusades around the world, much of Aikman’s emphasis seems to be on the political affects of these Crusades.  Although the longer lasting effects of the Crusades in general are mentioned, it is comparatively little with little emphasis being placed on the specific regions.  Given my background, I was very interested to read of Graham’s “falling out of fellowship” with more conservative evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones, among many.  Graham was ready and willing to welcome non-evangelical religious groups to join him in his Crusades, stating that even those who denied fundamental doctrines of the faith (such as the Virgin Birth of Christ, the Trinity or even the resurrection of Christ) were counted as fellow Christians.  The only complaint I would have with this particular topic is that Aikman doesn’t really go into detail as to how Graham could marry holding to these beliefs (which Graham himself never explicitly denied) while at the same time claiming Christian fellowship with those who flatly denied them.

Throughout the book, there are two main character traits that Aikman returns to, one positive and one negative.  For the latter one, Aikman shows that Graham wanted almost above anything else to be liked and not to offend anyone.  This is perhaps what may have lead to his willingness to accept religious affiliations of all shapes and sizes and might explain his friendship with Richard Nixon.  More than this, however, Aikman focuses on Graham’s humility.  Time and again, Graham has been able to diffuse difficult situations or attacks on his character by his pronounced humility.  I especially appreciated this focus since it shed light on a side of Graham I was totally unfamiliar with.

Overall, Aikman writes a very readable biography of Graham’s life.  If you are looking for an in-depth biography of Graham, this perhaps isn’t the best book to read.  But if you want an overall glimpse of the various influences Graham has had, especially in the political arena, Aikman’s book is a good start.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s Book Sneeze book review program for providing a review copy of this book.

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