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Considered by many in the American Evangelical community to be the premier evangelist in the world today, Billy Graham has earned the respect of many persons within the Christian faith as well as others. Graham’s straightforward approach to the fundamentals of Christian identity, coupled with his urging of new converts to seek out and support a local church home, have helped him to minister to persons over a broad range of denominational lines. Beginning his preaching career in the late 1940’s, Graham and his work continues to inspire large numbers of people today.
Born William Franklin Graham, Jr. on 7 November 1918, Graham’s early religious training was in the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church. According to several sources, Graham experienced a personal religious conversation at the age of sixteen. After graduating from high school, Billy Graham enrolled in what is known today as Bob Jones University. However, Graham found the approach of the institution to be overly strict and legalistic. While he came close to expulsion due to infringements against the rules of the college, Graham was urged by Bob Jones, Sr. to not throw away his gift and continue to pursue formal training as a minister.
Transferring to what was then known as the Florida Bible Institute in 1937, Billy Graham continued his studies, although he eventually obtained a degree in anthropology from Wheaton College in 1943. His time at Wheaton was also a period in which Graham’s core understandings of Christianity solidified, and helped to set the stage for his ministry. Billy Graham formally became an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention in 1939 while still studying at Wheaton. The college was also where he met and married his wife and partner in ministry, Ruth Bell.
During the decade of the 1940’s, Billy Graham engaged in a number of ministerial roles, including a radio program and as the co-founder of the national Christian organization Youth For Christ. He also began his time as a traveling preacher in both the United States and a number of locations in Europe. Wherever Graham preached, local churches reported increases in new membership, as the preacher often urged new converts to seek a local church and live out their Christian stewardship within a covenant community.
While not possessing a wide number of degrees in theology, Billy Graham proved to be a powerful public speaker, and had no trouble inspiring many persons to make a commitment to the Christian faith. The end of the decade saw Graham establish a series of tent revival meetings in Los Angeles, California that lasted for five weeks longer than originally planned. This is often considered to be the point at which Billy Graham truly became an international figure in the world of Christianity.
Over the next several decades, Billy Graham traveled extensively around the world, holding evangelistic crusades that allowed him to come into contact with millions of people. There are estimates that during his career, over two billion people attended the 48 crusades that he conducted by the early years of the 21st century. His direct approach to the basics of Christian faith and identity led to Billy Graham maintaining friendly ties with a number of United States presidents, earning him the informal title of “pastor to the presidents.”
Billy Graham is one evangelist who has managed to avoid scandals and controversy that has often been common with other high-profile Evangelical and charismatic ministers over the years. Graham’s organization provided full disclosure regarding their finances long before other international ministers felt the need to do so. His devotion to his wife Ruth was constant from the date of their marriage to her death in June 2007. Because he refused to become embroiled in denominational competitions for members, Billy Graham appealed to persons across the Christian spectrum, not just the Evangelical sector of the faith.