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What can Billy Graham teach us about preaching?

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 06/25/15


An Anglican priest, Robert Hart, offers his thoughts about one of the most popular and effective preachers of the last century:

Dr. Graham’s televised “crusades” were old-fashioned Baptist revival services, and they came across with a simple and profound dignity that others lacked. They looked honest because they were straightforward. There were no gimmicks, no special offers, no salesmanship, nothing phony, and no evidence whatsoever of the preacher’s ego—indeed, Graham was a man who spoke of himself in down-to-earth, humble terms. He was on the air as a clergyman, not as a star; and that made him a star, someone whom millions of people tuned in to watch and to hear. Apart from certain popes, no other Christian clergyman has ever commanded so large an audience. …A friend of mine and fellow priest in the Anglican Catholic Church, Fr. Laurence Wells, once said this about Graham: Unlike so many celebrities, he was a humble, unassuming preacher. When I was waiting tables at Assembly Inn, I once had the honor of serving him. Being physically close to him gave me a certain sensation which I have felt only one other time in my life. That was only last year when I had the awesome privilege of almost 10 minutes’ conversation with Fr. Benedict Groeschel. Anglicanism had given me the name of this sensation: I knew I was in the presence of great sanctity.

So, what can the rest of us who preach learn from Dr. Graham? Rev. Hart offers several key points, including:

Call sin, sin. Do not hesitate to go against the grain, against the Zeitgeist. Do not fear, at times, to mention actual sins by name if need be, and to denounce their destructive and dangerous end. Graham, who in his youth wanted to be admired as a learned and sophisticated intellectual, thundered with the authority and power of a prophet. He spoke against sin with that special authority that cuts across cultural and class barriers, that reaches the conscience directly. Call death, death. Do not fail to remind your hearers that we are all mortal. This was not only characteristic of Billy Graham’s preaching—strange as it has sounded in modern times—but of all Christian preaching through the ages until now. It is really the universal Christian tradition to preach sermons with a reminder of the inevitable placed before all. Today, however, we are afraid to spoil the fun. We do not want to ruin the “warm fuzzies” by mentioning death and dying—as if church were about a nice, cozy feeling—even though death is certain, and even though we know the remedy for it. None of us is guaranteed to live through the day. What better venue than the pulpit in which to remind people of that inescapable fact? Speak of God’s love, grace, and mercy often, but only in the context of Christ crucified. Graham denounced sin in no uncertain terms, but only to make the hearers aware of their need for mercy. Then he spoke of the Cross. His Jesus was not only the great compassionate Healer, but also the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, who could save each person from sin and death. Graham simply preached Christ and him crucified.

There’s much more. Read it all.

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