Book Review: Billy Graham's Autobiography, Just as I am

Just As I Am, by Billy Graham

Graham, Billy. Just as I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham. New York, HarperCollins, 1997. 801pp. Available at CBD and Amazon.

This is a fun and interesting book. Billy Graham walks through his whole life, and willingly gives his readers the juicy stuff about meetings with different presidents and foreign dignitaries, all the while maintaining his signature grace and child-like amazement. Overall, the man has led one of the most amazing lives I can imagine.

He started out as a Presbyterian farm boy down in rural North Carolina. He became a Christian at a touring revival that was coming through the country at that time. It is interesting that in his account, his summer as a kitchen utensil salesman was very important for him. He talks about his sales spiel:

He would go from house to house, knocking on doors all day long. When someone answered (usually it was a woman), he said, “Now Ma’am, I don’t want to sell you anything, I just want to give you a gift.” And he would give the freebie utensil to her and show her how it worked. Before he was done, she would usually buy several things from him.

From the sound of it, Billy Graham was a natural salesman, and certainly the best of those he worked with. But he wanted to go to Bible school, so he went to a two-year unaccredited school down in FL. It was there that he began to preach. He wrote sermons and memorized them, and would swim out to a little island in the middle of a lake to practice them by himself.

Graham was baptized three times: once as an infant, again at the bible college, and once more by a congregation of Southern Baptists when they ordained him to ministry (this was just a couple of years after the second baptism). He raised all of his children in the Presbyterian Church of his mother- and father-in-law, which meant that they were all baptized as infants, too.

After he graduated from Wheaton College, Billy Graham’s career essentially took off: he accepted a pastorate, became involved in radio evangelism, and was sought after for speaking engagements. The crusades in London and Los Angeles were the most significant in his early career. LA was something of a tipping point, where the crusade went from being an insider’s interest, to a must-see event.

When listening to Billy Graham’s recollection, two factors seem to align perfeclty: 1. dependence on God, 2. complete human practicality. With this comes humility, good humor, a firm belief in the Bible, and a certain kind of epistemological agnosticism regarding what you can and can't know about other people's faith. Maybe the most fascinating thing about Billy Graham is that he seems to have extended an open hand to everyone, and called them “brother” until proven otherwise.

This strategy resulted in some big problems, especially in the NYC crusade when he attempted to partner with local churches of all stripes, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. The way he reports it, his modus operandi got him into trouble with two groups: the most liberal, and the most conservative. Many people from his own denomination (SBC) refused to participate in the crusade because it was too ecumenical.

Graham’s life I think is a testimony to what’s important: the Good News of Jesus.