Billy Graham, Great Britain, and the Launch of the World’s Greatest Evangelistic Ministry

by J.I. Packer

Billy Graham’s address, based on Habakkuk’s prayer that God would revive his work, averred that God was working a modern-day revival through the remarkably fruitful large-scale missions that he had been leading. He was relaxed, humble, God-centered, with a big, clear, warm voice, frequently funny and totally free from the arrogance, dogmatism, and implicit self-promotion that, rightly or wrongly, we Brits had come to expect from American evangelical leaders.

He was engaging in his style, displaying the evangelist’s peculiar gift of making everyone feel that he was addressing them personally. He monologued for 90 minutes and answered questions for another hour. Though somewhat prejudiced at that stage of my life against all forms of institutionalized mass evangelism, I ended up admiring the speaker, and rejoiced that I had been squeezed into the meeting. In retrospect, it stands in my memory as something of a landmark.

This meeting was held to consider whether to invite Graham to lead a crusade in London. Two days after his star performance, the invitation was issued—the first step on the road to the Harringay crusade, by far the most momentous religious event in 20th-century Britain. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lasting conversions, spinning off into dozens of vocations to evangelical pastoral ministry, led to high morale and significant spiritual advance through the next generation, despite the inroads secularism had made into British life. That Billy Graham left an indelible mark on England is not open to doubt.

It has been said that in spiritual things, when you are being attacked on both sides, you are probably positioned right. Graham came to England in the 1950s. During that time, he was under constant fire in America for not being a combative, non-cooperative fundamentalist. In England, however, he found himself consistently opposed by Anglican and Free Church leaders, who railed at him for being precisely that, and therefore a thoroughly undesirable influence on the British scene.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today

J. I. Packer, a native of England, is professor emeritus of theology at Regent University in Vancouver, British Columbia.