World on Fire
AS A STUDENT AT WHEATON, Dr. Samuel Faircloth ’43 remembers Billy Graham praying, flat on the floor, that he might win souls for Christ. Graham went on to become an evangelist to the world, preaching in 185 countries and territories to some 215 million people in live audiences and hundreds of millions more through television, video, film and webcasts.
His crusades began in Los Angeles in 1949, and wrapped with the last official crusade in New York City in 2005. In 1959 he led a crusade on Wheaton College campus, and his 1973 crusade in Seoul, South Korea, drew more than 1 million people, the largest gathering of humans for a religious purpose up to that moment in time.
Call centers around the country, including one at Wheaton College, currently field phone calls from people responding to Billy Graham’s televised crusades. Since 1984, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) reports that Wheaton’s call center alone has answered more than 93,000 calls, with more than 37,000 of these callers making commitments to Christ (as of March 2014).
Given the longevity and global reach of Billy Graham’s evangelistic experience, we wondered what wisdom he might offer to spark the next generation of evangelists. Following are five essential insights—compiled by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA)—excerpted from his past speeches, presentations, and writings.
1. WE ARE OUR OWN GREATEST THREAT TO EVANGELISM.
In many ways, the greatest threat to modern-day evangelism is ourselves. The church, at times, has lost sight of the legitimacy and importance of evangelism. One of the greatest needs in the world church today is the recovery of belief in the necessity of evangelism. Our greatest need for God’s people today is true spiritual revival–a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church, a profound repentance and turning from sin, and a deepening commitment to God’s will in every area of life. Evangelism is the fruit of revival among God’s people. If we have little interest in reaching our world for Christ, it shows that the work of revival (or renewal) needs to begin in our own hearts.
2. EVANGELISM IS ESPECIALLY URGENT TODAY.
We have learned that the evangelistic harvest is always urgent. But, there seem to be periods of special urgency in history when it can be said with peculiar relevance, “the fields are white unto harvest.” I believe that we are in such a period. Because of technology, this is the most critical period in modern history—not just for world events, but for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. And, that should give us a sense of urgency greater than anything the church has ever experienced. We stand at the heart of a world revolution. Our world is on fire, and humans without God cannot control the flames.
3. BELIEVE THE BIBLE IS GOD'S INSPIRED, AUTHORITATIVE WORD- EVEN THOUGH YOU MAY NOT UNDERSTAND IT ALL.
In 1949, I was high up in the Sierras in California at a conference center for a speaking engagement. Some of the other speakers there would sort of smile at the fact that I was naive when it came to the Scriptures. I began to doubt, and say, “Well, maybe I’m wrong to believe the Bible and accept it as it is.”
I went out into the woods one moonlit night. The mountains were beautiful. I came to a stump of a tree. I opened the Bible, and I said, “Lord, I do not understand this. There are many things in here that appear to be contradictions. There are things in here that I cannot interpret properly. And, these men are telling me that I am wrong in accepting it by faith. But I do, I accept this book by faith. I cannot understand it all, I cannot explain it all, but I accept it by faith.” And, that was it. From that moment on I went totally on the basis of faith.
Many scholars would disagree with my point of view, but I never had a doubt from that moment on. The Bible is God’s inspired, authoritative Word, and I do not understand it. I was asked questions throughout my ministry that I would never be able to properly explain in an answer. But, I accepted by faith that there is an answer and that I am to do my best to be faithful to God in prayer, Bible study, and ministry.
4. WE ARE ALL BROKEN SINNERS IN NEED OF THE GOSPEL.
One of the most important truths I learned as an evangelist preaching around the world is that the gospel cuts across every cultural, political, and social barrier. The human heart doesn’t change. The human heart is filled with sin. We have broken God’s commandments. We are estranged from God. We are separated from God. We need reconciliation and the only reconciliation is the cross and the resurrection, and repentance and faith. Wherever I have been, I know that the gospel works because God made it for the whole human race. The gospel speaks to people at a university, a street corner, a tribal village, a stadium, a cathedral, or anywhere. The basic needs of the human heart are still the same.
5. NEVER CHANGE THE MESSAGE
My encouragement for the next generation of evangelists is this: never change the message. When the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented with authority—quoting from the very Word of God—He takes that message and drives it supernaturally into the human heart. We tried to preach it in the context of the group to whom we were talking. We tried to use something the audience is acquainted with to illustrate a spiritual truth, but the spiritual truth remains the same. The gospel never changes.
ALL ANSWERS COMPILED BY THE BGEA FROM EXCERPTS OF REV. BILLY GRAHAM’S PAST SPEECHES, PRESENTATIONS, AND WRITINGS. FOR MORE, SEE “A GATHERING OF SOULS: THE BILLY GRAHAM CRUSADES,” BY THE INSTITUTE FOR AMERICAN EVANGELICALS (VISION VIDEO, 2014).