This is an inspiring story of how a man of God grew into a man of great influence. Examining his life and ministry from the wise and humble perspective that has made him one of the world’s most beloved and respected leaders, in this memoir, Graham looks back at age 78 on his lifetime of personal relationships, ministry, leadership, and experiences. He chronicles such events and stories as his boyhood in North Carolina, his first steps in ministry, details of evangelistic trips and revivals, and meetings with world and local leaders.
Billy Graham’s gift has been to appreciate that in matters of faith there is no approach too simple, no argument too crude, no question too basic. The most striking thing to notice about Graham’s career concerns the most important matter, his view of God. Here the question is whether Graham’s strategies of access and ecumenicity undermine his message. The charge that perhaps they do arises from two ways in which Graham has seemed to reduce the Christian Gospel to a utilitarian device existing for other, more ultimate purposes.
In the first instance, it is possible to glimpse pressure on his message from the moral calculus, singularly American, of republican citizenship. This calculus suggests that in a republic the good health of the polity depends upon the morality of the citizenry; that the best thing for personal morality is religion; and that, since Christianity is the best religion, it is positioned to do the most for America. Especially in the first part of his career, Graham was prone to statements that seemed to make the destiny of the United States loom larger than the fate of the Christian Gospel.
“I seriously doubt if the old America is going to exist another generation unless we have a turning to Christ. ” Some who share Graham’s beliefs would agree with him, but also wonder if he was making the penultimate into the ultimate. In the second instance, Graham throughout his career has spoken of Christianity, again in his words, as “alone” pointing “the way to individual peace, social harmony, life adjustment, and spiritual satisfaction. ” For a Christian, true enough again.
But priorities seem disarranged when sermons conclude as, for example, one did in New York in 1957: “All your life you’ve been searching for peace and joy, happiness, forgiveness. I want to tell you, before you leave Madison Square Garden this night of May 15, you can find everything that you have been searching for, in Christ. He can bring that inward, deepest peace to your soul. He can forgive every sin you’ve ever committed. ” The charge that may be laid against the utilitarian drift of Graham’s Christian message is the charge that so troubled Martin Luther as he struggled to find a merciful God nearly five centuries ago.
The heart of Luther’s spiritual dilemma was the fear that his supposed search for God was really a search for his own ease of soul, the fear that he was seeking God primarily for what God could do for him. Luther may have been overly scrupulous, but he could tell idolatry when he saw it, and tell it most clearly when he saw it up close. Billy Graham claims for himself neither Luther’s theological acumen nor his penetrating powers of self-analysis. Yet what rescued Luther from himself was also what has preserved the authenticity of Billy Graham’s message.
The reason that Graham’s message, though admittedly soft at the edges, remains solid as a rock is that at its center is the Cross. In the early 1950s Graham solidified early practice by dedicating himself to the saving work of Christ as the heart of his message: “I made a commitment never to preach again without being sure that the Gospel was as complete and clear as possible, centering on Christ’s sacrificial death for our sins on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead for our salvation. “
At the close of his memoirs, as at the close of so many sermons, Graham restates the appeal for conversion that is the trademark of his career. As he makes that appeal in this book there is his customary attention to what the Gospel does for us. But under girding all, from first to last, is an equally full sense of what the Gospel does to us: We are not here by chance. God has put us here for a purpose, and our lives are never fulfilled and complete until His purpose becomes the foundation and center of our lives.
. . . When you [open your heart to Jesus Christ], you become a child of God, adopted into His family forever. He also comes to live within you and will begin to change you from within. No one who truly gives his or her life to Christ will ever be the same, for the promise of His Word is true: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).
We have seen this happen countless times all over the world, and it can happen in your life as well. Open your life to Christ today. If in the hands of Billy Graham, the Gospel bends, nonetheless, it does not break. To conclude that Graham has remained faithful to the message that God saves sinners for His own purposes, as well as for theirs, is the highest accolade a fellow-believer can bestow on this remarkable man. But Graham, of course, has become more than just a rallying point for Christian believers.
Graham’s apparently bottomless kindness, combined with the lightning pace of his narrative—so many visits, so many good friends, so many celebrities—means that Just As I Am is not a particularly challenging book. It is, nonetheless, worth reading carefully, both because Graham is the genuine article and because many of its details and much of its tone are in fact quite useful for attempting a more complex assessment of his career.