While I was at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1993, I was fortunate to see Billy Graham on one his visits there. Rev. Graham helped found Gordon-Conwell in 1969 and later served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1989 to 1993. In addition to his administrative duties, he was there that day to meet with the student body. When I first saw him outside chatting with some students, I was struck by how tall he was (6’2”). Later inside the school chapel, I became concerned when he slumped into the chair. He explained to us that he was suffering from early stage Parkinson disease. The conversation with the Gordon-Conwell student body was open, unrestricted, and wide ranging. One striking remark was his regret that he never completed his theological studies. Writing as one who found studies at Gordon-Conwell helpful to my journey to Orthodoxy, I wonder where rigorous theological studies might have taken Rev. Graham.
The Billy Graham I saw that winter afternoon in the early 1990s was a mature elder statesman, not the young firebrand preacher I had read about. I came away from that meeting grateful for the opportunity to have met one of Evangelicalism’s great leaders. With Billy Graham’s passing, Evangelicalism has lost one of its guiding personalities. Among the things we can appreciate are his moderation and theological stability in the midst of massive, wrenching changes sweeping through American Evangelicalism. When we look at his character and conduct, it is admirable how Billy Graham’s life was untouched by sexual scandal. He reportedly received a relatively modest salary from his organization and lived a relatively modest lifestyle. We can only lament that American Evangelicalism has become unrecognizable to those of us who became Christians during the 1970s and earlier.
I also appreciate Rev. Graham’s openness to Orthodoxy. His willingness to meet with Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2014 is striking evidence of the openness that Evangelicals can have with the Orthodox. In many ways the spirit of theological conservatism combined with openness to other religious traditions that I saw in Billy Graham and experienced at Gordon-Conwell helped me begin my journey to Orthodoxy. I approached Orthodoxy with friendly curiosity, not with fear and paranoia. Today as an Orthodox Christian I am convinced that Orthodoxy has the fullness of the Faith, but I am also grateful for the many valuable lessons I learned from Evangelicalism: the need for personal faith in Christ, the importance of reading the Bible, and daily prayer. These lessons I have retained as an Orthodox Christian.
Robert Arakaki. 2014. “Evangelicals Talking With Orthodox.” Reformed–OrthodoxBridge
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. 2018. “In Memoriam: Billy Graham.”
Michael Hyatt and John Maddex. 2018. “6 Things Orthodox Christians Can Learn From Billy Graham.” Ancient Faith Presents . . . .