Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis, and Me

On Wednesday we all received news of Billy Graham’s passing. There were few figures my mother loathed more than the Rev. Billy Graham. It was the politics that she couldn’t stand, taking the position that given his public support of people like Richard Nixon, he was either a naïve or a despicable person: in either case he shouldn’t be speaking with authority. Intriguingly, she shrugged off the revivals, and may have simply passed them off as sheep being sheep in a culture with stadium-sized pastures. When as a young adult I became the kind of Christian that called Billy Graham a partner; we simply never mentioned his name again.

I was never able to have the kind of ire or idolization for Billy Graham that others have. As a child I felt mild annoyance that his revivals would take evening slots on one of only two television stations, but it’s hard to be reasonably mad about that for long. Given the hypocritical lifestyles of American TV preachers in my early teen years and the predatory traditions of pastors that hit the news ever month or so, Billy Graham looked pretty good in his modest Sears suit with his southern disinclination to bluster.

Later, as a pastor and scholar, my views became more complex. Although I have friends that had their lives changed in the crusades—including some quite recently—working in pastoral support for these events became increasingly disturbing. The preaching was too often about whether or not people were really saved, and less about Jesus. I always enjoyed the music, but working in crowds of 10 or 15 people who came forward, trying to help them process their feelings—it was not something that I saw could build lifelong discipleship. Some of this is that the next generation is now in charge, and the way that Franklin Graham manages his social media profile may be some indication that the organization’s culture has shifted. But the mass-model conversion itself is Billy Graham’s framework.

In scholarly networks I began to hear rumours from people closer to the Graham epicentre, rumours that suggested that at the core, Billy Graham seemed to live consistently with his ideals and that he and his wife shared something special. These are just rumours, and we would expect that a person in power will have flaws, but I used that assumption when I set Graham up as a figure of importance in teaching about Western Christian history.

Graham leveraged early superstardom to do very specific things that shaped American Christianity for the next three generations. In particular, Graham’s insistent and consistent ecumenism, his global interest, and his unapologetic views of racial integration—even going so far as to bail Martin Luther King, Jr. out of jail—are imprinted upon post-WWII American Christianity. In particular, it was Billy Graham who shaped what is now known as evangelicalism, distinct from and overlapping with both fundamentalism and mainstream liberalism. With all the things we may quibble about, for millions of people around the world, Graham made faith personal.

This legacy can be forgotten in the anti-Muslim Facebook ravings of Franklin Graham or in a media franchise insistent on knowing as little as possible about the diverse realities of evangelicalism. In 2012 I opposed Graham’s endorsement of Mitt Romney’s candidacy—not because Romney is Mormon, but because the narrow end-game of choosing an issue or two (in this case same-sex marriage) would mean choosing candidates who were unfit for office in other ways. I was concerned that American evangelicals might sacrifice something greater to a narrow end-game. Given the 2016 election, I think I am right. More importantly, though, a staffer from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association office began a series of conversations with me by phone to try and explain their position and win me to their view of things. Disagreement about politics and strategy aside, that Graham’s organization would invest time in a pretty unimportant Christian leader like myself is indicative of a cultural value that might be transformative to the next generation’s work.

I don’t know what Billy Graham’s passing will mean for the organization, but I do hope that his complicated legacy will include the good that he has done. It was as a scholar of religion that I turned to both Billy Graham and C.S. Lewis, and I think a note about their connections is worthwhile.

They met once at Graham’s invitation. Here is how Lewis described the meeting in an interview for Decision Magazine:

I had the pleasure of meeting Billy Graham once. We had dinner together during his visit to Cambridge University in 1955, while he was conducting a mission to students. I thought he was a very modest and a very sensible man, and I liked him very much indeed.

Despite an apoplectic response by sensible Brits in the intellectual elite, the Cambridge meeting was encouraging to the students who had invited him and transformative to Graham’s approach to student ministry. The interviewer’s question to Lewis wasn’t actually about the meeting with Graham, but about what Lewis thought about revivalist preachers like Billy Graham. Lewis was not someone in great sympathy with the revivalist tradition, and this answer could look like a dodge. But Lewis went on to discuss Graham’s ministry in an unusual way:

In a civilization like ours, I feel that everyone has to come to terms with the claims of Jesus Christ upon his life, or else be guilty of inattention or of evading the question. In the Soviet Union it is different. Many people living in Russia today have never had to consider the claims of Christ because they have never heard of those claims.

In the same way, we who live in English-speaking countries have never really been forced to consider the claims, let us say, of Hinduism. But in our Western civilization we are obligated both morally and intellectually to come to grips with Jesus Christ; if we refuse to do so we are guilty of being bad philosophers and bad thinkers.

The interview was in 1963 when Lewis was not well, and this is not the grandest vision of preaching that Lewis ever cast upon the world. He took the interview, perhaps, because Decision Magazine was reprinting part of Joy Davidman’s Smoke on the Mountain, and Lewis was grateful to the attention to his late wife’s work. Speaking more generally of revivalist preachers, Lewis contrasted his own vocation with theirs. In response to a critique of Mere Christianity and other words by General Theological Seminary professor Norman Pittenger (see here on the Pittenger debate), Lewis explained what he felt called to do:

When I began, Christianity came before the great mass of my unbelieving fellow-countrymen either in the highly emotional form offered by revivalists or in the unintelligible language of highly cultured clergymen. Most men were reached by neither. My task was therefore simply that of a translator – one turning Christian doctrine, or what he believed to be such, into the vernacular, into language that unscholarly people would attend to and could understand. For this purpose a style more guarded, more nuanced, finelier shaded, more rich in fruitful ambiguities—in fact, a style more like Dr Pittenger’s own—would have been worse than useless. It would not only have failed to enlighten the common reader’s understanding; it would have aroused his suspicion (“Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger”).

I believe this to be a cutaway from a Cambridge meeting photo with Billy Graham (left), John Stott (centre), and Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher (right)

It is not a denial of the role of this kind of preaching, but it is an implicit criticism. The criticism, though, has to do with the quality of the preaching–not the style–and Lewis struck out most often at the high-browed clergy who were not able to translate the gospel into terms that everyone could understand. Lewis suggested a change to that approach:

I sometimes think that all entrants for the preaching office shd. be faced with an exam in which they are set a passage from some standard theological work and told to translate it into language that the People can understand (28 Jul 1962 letter to Walter van der Kamp).

Whatever else Billy Graham was, he was someone who could preach with a broad congregation in mind.

He was also someone who, like Lewis, knew his vocation—and knew it to be radically different that Lewis’, whose role was to invite people into an imaginative and reasonable response to faith, using tools other than revival-style preaching.

Where they differed most, however, was in their approach to social life. While both men built a public career upon social spaces of power, Billy Graham was unique in leveraging his platform for political movements. Graham opposed the USSR and its brand of communism, supported integration and shared a pulpit with Martin Luther King, Jr., and was pastor, friend, or prayer partner to every President from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama. Graham was a member of the Democratic party, stumped for candidates, and openly endorsed people he thought should be President. Billy Graham’s legacy will always include a particular leveraging of power—not just to share the central message of Christ, but to shape what he saw was the best for America.

C.S. Lewis’ approach to politics was quite different. Though Lewis had views that might be shaded as progressive today—such as a critique of Britain’s colonial project, animal rights activism, support for socialized health care, a rejection of teetotalism, his openness to homosexuals as people worth of dignity, his willingness to leverage generous immigration laws, and a rejection of social status as a test for access to justice—his cast of mind was conservative. He loved the past, living in other ages (though not uncritically), and his own father had toyed with political office as a Conservative. Famously, Lewis and Tolkien openly rejected progress for the sake of progress. Later in his life, the post-war Labour government’s bungling of austerity measures and social organization sealed him in as a party man, though he was very private about that status.

A key example of that anxiety about retaining his political privacy came in December 1951, just after Winston Churchill recovered his Conservative party’s position in parliament. C.S. Lewis received a letter from Prime Minister Churchill offering to recommend him for the Honours List of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Lewis’ response to the PM’s office is overly-cautious but indicative of his state of mind about taking a public political stand:

I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always however knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there. I am sure the Prime Minister will understand my reason, and that my gratitude is and will be none the less cordial.

Correspondence with American fans and his students throughout the world would help Lewis put politics in a more global scale, but after his WWII-era controversialist period, he resisted any opportunity to allow his name to be linked with divisive politics.

Lewis is not a total recluse from society, but after WWII he appeared in public very few times. In the summer of 1956, he attended a garden party given by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, and he gave a couple of short literary talks on the BBC in his last decade of life. After WWII, though, his most significant public event was his inaugural lecture at Cambridge in 1954, where he cast himself as a dinosaur. Though he is being cheeky, and his own political views would challenge the comfort of those both on the left and the right, it is a decidedly anti-public stance to make. In 1939 Lewis wrote that,

“no inference can be drawn from [my theology of creation] to any political proposition whatsoever” (Problem of Pain, ch. 7).

I think he was wrong about his theology, but his desire to distance himself on the verge of WWII—when “left” mean communism and “right” meant fascism—is not a terribly bad move.

Lewis’ mission can be stated in the preface of Mere Christianity:

Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.

While Lewis breaks that rule often enough in his speculative theology, he never plays denominations off one another and he never equates his faith with political ideology.

Billy Graham’s approach is much different, and he felt duty-bound to apply his theological perspective to his political place of power. This might be rejecting same-sex marriage in 2012, standing opposed to the Moral Majority of the late 70s, or making this now famous statement to a Ku Klux Klansman in the 50s:

“The ground at the foot of the cross is level, and it touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross.”

Graham and Lewis were quite different as public figures. Intriguingly, what unites the two is the story of what shapes evangelicalism in America. Graham shaped American evangelical culture as it emerged from fundamentalism after WWII by public preaching and organizational activities, like founding Christianity Today. Though less important in Britain, Canada, and Australia, Lewis’ books—and Mere Christianity in particular—were essential to building faith in those that wanted to root themselves in Scripture but rejected the narrowness of fundamentalism.

Indeed, Christianity Today’s list of the “Top 50 Books That Shaped Evangelicals” places Mere Christianity 3rd behind Donald McGavern’s book that has dominated the way evangelical churches function in North America, and Rosalind Rinker’s book on intimate prayer (which few have read but it has changed everything about the way evangelicals pray). Also telling on that list of books is that #4 is Francis Schaeffer—a disciple of Billy Graham’s—and #5 is J.I. Packer—a disciple of C.S. Lewis’.

While great divergent in public platform and vocation, Lewis and Graham shaped English-speaking evangelicalism in North America like no one else. And because of their commitment to ecumenism over other dividing lines, American evangelicalism is today a surprisingly big tent. As a historian, it is difficult to ignore their impact.

In addition to best wishes to the Graham family and the many that have been touched by his work, I will close with Graham’s own account of his meeting with C.S. Lewis, drawn from his autobiography. I think the excerpt is telling of both C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham.

On Saturday I spoke to the senior members of the university in the afternoon and to the CICCU in the evening. Among the professors I met privately with that day was C.S. Lewis. A decade before, he had captured the imagination of many in England and the United States with his remarkable little book The Screwtape Letters; in 1947 he had been on the cover of Time magazine.

John Stott [who helped organize the meetings in Cambridge] was very anxious for me to meet Professor Lewis and went with me. Lewis was not as well known in the United States as he would become in later years, particularly after his death in 1963. But I had read Screwtape, and Ruth would later read the Chronicles of Narnia series.

We met in the dining room of his college, St. Mary Magdalene’s, and we talked for an hour or more. I was afraid I would be intimidated by him because of his brilliance, but he immediately put me at my ease. I found him to be not only intelligent and witty but also gentle and gracious; he seemed genuinely interested in our meetings. “You know,” he said as we parted, “you have many critics, but I have never met one of your critics who knows you personally” (Just As I Am, 258).

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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32 Responses to Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis, and Me

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.


  2. Will Vaus says:

    Hi Brenton, thanks for this thoughtful post on Graham and Lewis, their connections, approaches and influences. You can read about my family connection to Billy Graham here:
    Due to my closeness to the subject of your post, I tend to view what you have to say with a critical eye. I think you are closer to the mark on Lewis than on Graham. Your mention of suits from Sears strikes me as a cheap shot. Graham was actually known and criticised for being too fashionable back in the day. But that would have been before your time, and it is a minor point. Yes, Graham was too cozy with Nixon and later regretted it, and distanced himself from politics. I cannot think of any time when he publicly endorsed a particular candidate for public office though he was close to many presidents of different parties. I would be interested in seeing your proof of such assertions. Furthermore, I sincerely doubt that the advertisements purchased by the Grahams in North Carolina stating a position against same sex marriage originated with Billy. I have a strong hunch that Franklin was the source of that. I think you would be hard-pressed to find any recorded statement direct from Billy Graham’s mouth espousing anything even remotely close to the homophobic statements of his son. Many things were written by others in Billy’s name over the years. But generally speaking, Billy refused to be drawn on issues which he viewed as not being central to the Gospel. Same sex relations and marriage was one of those issues. Larry King tried to draw a statement out of Billy on that issue in a 2005 interview, and Billy was very reluctant to talk about it. Personally speaking, I have seldom met a more humble, sincere, loving and committed Christian than Billy. As I share in my own post, I am naturally biased on this issue, because it is questionable whether I ever would have been born were it not for Billy’s positive influence on my father’s life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Will, just to clarify: the Sears suit comment was a compliment, testifying to his ability to ignore the trappings of what so many televangelists were brought into. I didn’t know he was too flashy at one point, but he certainly must have had some on-air quality that led him to get morning show offers in his early career.
      I hope the contrast between Billy Graham and the alligator shoe-wearing, toupee styling, philandering televangelists of the period is clear.
      I saw the 2005 Larry King interview, but I don’t really want to get into whether the 2012 endorsements were from Franklin or Billy or the team. I just don’t know what that would mean to know the difference when it happens in his name. I think there is enough to consider of Franklin’s ministry right now without that 2012 campaign (including both the social media comments and the facilitating of millions of gifts for poor kids each Christmas).
      I do want to point out to readers that the blog link that Will provided is a recent post in a form of memorial and worth reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      • William Vaus says:

        I think it’s very important to distinguish between the style and content of Billy Graham versus Franklin. The two are rather different. Billy was much more frugal than his son who, in my opinion, gets paid far too much by BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse. Billy and Ruth lived far more simply on much less money., and that is a matter of public record.


  3. Brenton, there’s so much in your post I agree with, so much I take exception to… I’ll limit myself to a couple of criticisms you made of Billy Graham.

    Dr. Graham was burnt a few times for speaking out on politics and backing political candidates.and regretted doing so. (He was battered from each side no matter which one he took.) God led him back to His specific call: preach Jesus and salvation (and keep his mouth shut on issues). He got lots of criticism from Bible-believers for letting Roman Catholics and others on the platform with him. He pointed out that their being there indicated they supported him–or rather, the gospel he preached–not that he necessarily supported them.

    He was always very concerned about discipleship, saying “Decision is five percent, following through on the decision is 95 percent.” In 1950, as Billy’s evangelistic ministry grew, he challenged Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, to come alongside him and create a plan to follow up on the hundreds who committed their lives to Christ at the crusades.

    “I have spent sleepless night wondering what happens to the converts after a crusade is over,” Billy told Dawson. “You must come with us.”

    Dawson declined, pointing out that he was already too busy with Navigator work. Later, Billy asked him again. Dawson still refused. Finally, the next time they were together, Billy gripped Dawson by the shoulders and said, “Who else has your understanding of follow-up? If not you, Daws, then who?”

    Finally Dawson agreed, dividing his time between The Navigators and the Graham crusades. Daws developed a method for training local believers to counsel those who came forward at the crusades. The plan made sure each convert’s name was given to a local church. This was the kind of follow-up Billy longed for. (I remember hearing this during the 9 months I worked for the Billy Graham Crusade and found this confirmation just now on the Navigators website at . Discipleship was a strong focus for staff and volunteers, to help ground decision-makers in a life-time of following the Lord and studying the Word of God.)


    • Jessica, you are welcome to critique anything I say!
      If I can summarize, you are suggesting that there is a concern for follow up after the crusades, and that the BCGE created systems for that? If so, I would agree, but I don’t think the systems were terribly effective in my pastoral years (late 90s, early 00s). They may be great now.
      It isn’t just the organization, though, is it? It is up to the sponsoring churches that invite a crusade to do the follow up. That’s probably where things falter.
      Furthermore, cultures change. The word “crusade” meant “under the cross” at one point, and had an energy to it. Now it is a terrifying word to many of us. Culturally speaking, there used to be well-staffed churches filled with people that made the church the centre of their community. When people went to a big tent meeting, though could stumble into any church and get support. Outside of American suburbia, I’m not sure that’s the case today.
      But even if I thought the whole thing was bunk, what would that matter? Each follows a calling. Lewis’ was different than Graham’s. People like Tony Campolo and Eric Metaxis are on opposite ends of a political spectrum they feel called to engage (as academics and Christian leaders). Marilynne Robinson is a Christian essayist and novelist and her critique is at the core of American culture, not so much individual party-line problems. I could go on. It isn’t up to me to judge Billy Graham’s calling, but here wanted to point out that these two Christian leaders took pretty different pathways to create a movement.


  4. robstroud says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful analysis. As you alluded in the essay, and elaborated upon in your conversation with commenters, “Each follows a calling.” Thus your approach, contrasting rather than weighing the two approaches, is a wise (and biblical) one.

    I’m a big fan of Graham, the man. At the same time, I am hyper-attuned to the shortcomings (and dangers) of revivalism. Graham’s integrity is uncontested. Still, the way the very nature of “revivals” makes incorporation of new converts into existing congregations more challenging, explains (sufficiently for me, at least) why the “statistics” are sometimes disappointing. Not all who experience something at those events follows through with their “decision.” Jesus did, after all, describe seeds that erupt to new life only to wither and die.

    I’ve met many individuals who were personally blessed through Graham’s ministry, including the crusades. Yes, they were the most visible aspect of his work, but you’ve also acknowledged his legacy as it continues in Christianity Today.

    Another program with lasting fruit was the “Decision School of Christian Writing,” which encouraged writers for a number of years. I had the pleasure of attending that brief course while living in Minnesota during my seminary years. Sherwood Wirt, editor of Decision Magazine, wrote that “Billy Graham was in fact deeply committed to literary evangelism…” And that devotion extended beyond writing his own books.

    Only the Lord knows the full measure of the fruit produced for his kingdom by these two great men… but there is no question in my mind that it was a least a “hundredfold.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Rob. I didn’t know about the writing school and I wonder what quiet revolution of creativity and quality it has caused.
      By the way, Sherwood Wirt was Lewis’ interviewer.


      • Lewis’ last interview. Woody was humbly grateful for that privilege.

        Re: financial concerns of BG vs his son Franklin. I would consider it a lie if told that Samaritan’s Purse organizes their finances with any less integrity than BGEA does. Billy took a salary and didn’t handle the money directly at all. Both organizations are members of ECFA, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which keeps a tight rein on their members. (In fact if you wish to donate to a Christian organization, that alone is a good criteria to go by.) Franklin got and followed sound advice in every area from his father and the BGEA who were like an extended family in raising him and scrupulous about all things legal, financial and moral. F. was a really wild child for years and would have come to Jesus with a clear understanding of how things can be done wrong and how Christians should do them right.

        Billy surrounded himself with a small group of men who held him–and he them–accountable for everything he did. Early on, he had been framed–a hooker and newspaper photographer were planted in his hotel room before he got there. He walked in, she pounced, the man snapped a picture. Billy would never let himself be alone with a woman again even in an elevator. He kept himself squeaky clean.

        I think of all the Christian leaders over his 99 years of life, I think he is easily the one most respected by non-Christians.


  5. joviator says:

    The comments (not just here) about Graham avoiding politics surprise me. Pretty much every time Graham’s name was in the paper, it was because some President or other had behaved horribly. Graham was always there to grant absolution, but I never heard of him asking them to atone, nor did I see any politician’s behavior improve afterwards.
    As regards political evangelism, I can’t think of any force that’s been more destructive over the last half century, and Graham deserves a share of the blame. I’m on your mom’s side.


    • I don’t know, Joe. I admire MLK for doing a doctorate in theology and then giving his lifeblood on the street. I think we are different ages so I didn’t experience it first hand as you did, but my whole life has been determined by “culture wars” where my brothers and sisters in Christ have believed that the best way to show the cross in culture–to capture the moment where Christ chose to lose instead of win–is to beat the other side. It’s pretty easy to be negative. One of my colleagues at a school I teach at told a national audience that if they didn’t vote for Trump in the last election then God would judge them.
      So it’s easy to be negative. But I have neither the power that these men had, nor the temptations, nor the calling. So I don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. louloureads says:

    Thanks for this really interesting and nuanced post. I agree with you on a lot of points – I respect Graham and am grateful for his ministry, especially the fact that he met and witnessed to politicians of all stripes, but I have a lot of discomfort with the unhelpful way that the evangelical church interacts with politics and a focus on salvation without emphasis on Jesus or on discipleship. (I know he spoke about the importance of discipleship and the centrality of Jesus, but as far as I can see neither was the focus of his ministry).

    Speaking as a single woman trying to be involved in leadership in the church, the “Billy Graham Rule” (where men are not allowed to be alone with any woman other then their wives, even for professional reasons) has made things very difficult for me at times, and I think it has had a net negative effect on the church in some ways. Though I understand where the original rule came from and why, I think it frames women unhelpfully as temptresses just waiting to entice every man they meet! I guess I have lost friendships and positive working relationships to that rule so I am a bit stung by it. In recent years my own church has moved away from that idea, and I think things have improved pastorally and logistically now that men and women are now allowed to work together. Maybe it was never Graham’s intent for that rule to become so widely and strictly followed, but I think it is an example of the kind of legalism that is associated with American evangelicalism in general (and slipping into other countries), and which, to my eyes, does not always sit comfortably alongside the gospel.


    • An interesting perspective. I chose not to follow the Billy Graham Rule as a young pastor–we called it something else–but I was very careful. Unless we had a secretary or other pastor in, I never met with women alone in the office. I did most of my meetings with young women (and young men) out at cafes or on campuses.
      But there were pastoral meetings with older people at home, and the secretary or other volunteers and I would have been in the same building alone at times. Most of my leaders were women, and so I was constantly with small groups of women.
      But all of that was not about “temptation.” Goodness, temptation is everywhere, always, and sin will find a way if we want. It helped–and this isn’t false humility–that I’m not a terribly attractive male, and that I have a keen attention to the fact that people come into my world with complex stories. I also never had the false idea that I could really help in counselling, as some untrained pastors feel.
      For me, the caution was always about two things: 1) have I left a trail of accountability in case of an accusation? 2) do the women under my care feel safe (some of who would have had pasts including abuse)?
      By the sounds of it Graham got burned once and set up a rigid response. That’s his prerogative. It doesn’t mean we don’t show wisdom in other ways as it sounds your church is moving.
      All of this, though, has a finer moment in the #MeToo realities. It was histories of authority figures being abusive that tuned my ear to the issue back in the day. We are in another one of those moments.


  7. pcbushi says:

    Great post! I must admit I don’t know much about Billy Graham, so this was interesting for me. I’ve tended to limit my Christian theological studies to Church Fathers and Catholic apologists, with Lewis as the main exception. Recently became familiar with William Lane Craig and have begun to think I should branch out a bit when I have time.


  8. L.A. Smith says:

    What a wonderful post, thank you Brenton! Fascinating to see how the Lewis and Graham both differed from and complemented each other’s ministries. Speaking for myself, it was at a Billy Graham produced evangelical movie that I made the decision for Christ, but it was Lewis who helped my faith grow. So I see both of them as spiritual fathers, in a sense. As for which of them had a more effective ministry, well, meh. They had different gifts and used them accordingly, to great result in both cases, as far as I can see. Billy Graham walked a path that very few of us are called to (or if we are called, we ignore it). As far as I can see he walked it with grace and integrity. I’m glad he was there as a spiritual advisor for so many presidents. And I really don’t care if he was a Republican or a Democrat. He was a faithful follower of Christ.


  9. Pingback: Billy Graham in black and white | Khanya

  10. Steve says:

    Thanks very much. As Christian “influencers” go (horrible word!) Billy Graham and C.S. Lewis were were among the most notable in the 20th century, the former by the spoken word, and the latter by the written word. When I saw all the initial hype on his death, I thought I’d refrain from saying anything, but your post changed my mins, so my take on it is here Billy Graham in black and white | Khanya


  11. Dorothea says:

    I think your relationship with Graham makes sense. I don’t think it’s good to have only ire or idolization for any individual anyway. Each person has their strengths/weaknesses.


  12. Photini says:

    Re: Lewis: I remember a quotation from one of his collections of essays in which he writes about his vocation as an academic and says that what the world really needs is an evangelist who can appeal to the emotions. He then puts in parentheses: (“Come to Jesus.”) and concludes, “But in the meantime we academics must do what we can.” Apologies that I’m not sure if I got the wording of that quotation right, nor do I remember which book I read it in, but I must admit I was hoping your post would address this remembered quotation. Do you remember ever coming across it?


    • Well done. It is from an article called “Christian Apologetics,” which was a leture for an assembly of Anglican priests and youth leaders at the ‘Carmarthen Conference for Youth Leaders and Junior Clergy’ of the Church in Wales at Carmarthen during Easter 1945. There he said, Your approach to apologetics “may be either emotional or intellectual. If I speak only of the intellectual kind, that is not because I undervalue the other but because, not having been given the gifts necessary for carrying it out, I cannot give advice about it. But I wish to say most emphatically that where a speaker has that gift, the direct evangelical appeal of the ‘Come to Jesus’ type can be as overwhelming today as it was a hundred years ago. I have seen it done, preluded by a religious film and accompanied by hymn singing, and with very remarkable effect. I cannot do it: but those who can ought to do it with all their might. I am not sure that the ideal missionary team ought not to consist of one who argues and one who (in the fullest sense of the word) preaches. Put up your arguer first to undermine their intellectual prejudices; then let the evangelist proper launch his appeal. I have seen this done with great success.”


      • Photini says:

        Thank you for finding that quotation. It’s good to refresh the memory a bit.

        Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Finally catching up with this post! If I did not encounter it by the end of the comments-to-date, I was about to go looking for the last part of that passage – “I am not sure that the ideal missionary team ought not to consist of one who argues and one who (in the fullest sense of the word) preaches. Put up your arguer first to undermine their intellectual prejudices; then let the evangelist proper launch his appeal. I have seen this done with great success.” I was wondering if it was in that 7 May 1963 interview with Sherwood Wirt – or perhaps the 18 April 1944 ‘One Man Brains Trust’ questions and answers. I think I first read all three of those in the 1982 reprint of God in the Dock I bought at the Wheaton College bookstore.

        Do ‘we’ know – or have good surmises about – when Lewis saw this “done with great success”, and who “the evangelist proper” was on that occasion (or, indeed, those occasions), and who, if not Lewis himself, “the arguer”?

        And what do the more experienced among the readers – whether those who have commented above, or any who have not yet commented, here – think of this consideration of Lewis’s about perhaps “the ideal missionary team”?

        I think I have long had a sort of extrapolated sense of Lewis and Billy Graham more generally constituting such a team – though as, for example, Lisa Smith indicates, in varied and complex ways.

        One of my other most vivid abiding images of visiting Wheaton College to do research at the Wade Center is the Billy Graham Center.

        Does anyone have any reminiscences and observations – or links – about Billy Graham and Clyde Kilby and Marion Wade in particular and Wheaton in general, and how Ruth Bell and Billy Graham’s Alma Mater became probably the premiere Inklings/Seven reference center in the world?

        I just listen to a very friendly and fairly brief podcast where someone said Billy Graham was not a theologian and someone else that he was not a writer – which surprised me in varying degrees, as I grew up regularly reading and sometimes deeply benefiting from his column, “My Answer” (which on reflection seems a very Lewisian title, not ‘the’ answer – but his attempt to give a concrete, pastoral answer in the light of Holy Scripture and (dare I say) ‘mere Christianity’), and remember the excitement at the appearance of his book, Angels: God’s Secret Agents (1975) (checking its date, I see Wikipedia notes that it “had sales of a million copies within 90 days after release”). That seems in a lot of ways a ‘Lewis-compatible’ book, whether one is thinking of, say, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, the Ransom books, The Discarded Image, or A Preface to Paradise Lost.


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