Billy Graham: A baptist saint?
On February 21st 2018 Billy Graham died, after explaining, preaching and teaching the Bible for almost seventy years. Graham lived an interpretive life and led multitudes of believers not only to Christ; he also led them to the Scripture. His own life was informed and dedicated by the Word of God, and for that reason he could become the preacher he was.
His life bore the marks of the Scriptures, the so-called identity narratives of the Christian people. With the marks of Scripture I mean that his life was a living document of the message, the promises, the struggles and the blessings that the holy library entails. For that matter his life is an interpretive life for others to look at and to reflect on. It displays embodied reflections of everything the community stands for as regards faith, hope, life expectations, and viable pathways for others to take. Graham’s life is the living example of the wisdom that biography and theology belong together, if theology is to be interpretive and offer redemptive orientation for many people to hold on to. Somehow, his life is an embodiment of the storied identity of many Baptists.
Jim McClendon states that Christian communities need heroes of faith to embody the convictions they share (‘Do We Need Saints Today?', 1986). Paul Fiddes, Brian Haymes and Richard Kidd, too, have shown that for Baptists saints belong to the legacy of the Church (Baptists and the Communion of Saints: A Theology of Covenanted Disciples, 2014). We honour our fathers of faith because their lives do reflect our shared convictions, the great story of the faith. Their dedicated lives embody the faith, hope and love of the Church, and as such they provide the rich and costly ground of divine disclosure. Their stories make a venue for the Spirit to act through.
Their lucid examples also re-define and transform the role of leadership in the Church. Their type of leadership differs significantly from the kind of leaders churches tend to appoint these days. An interpretive life cannot be taught or purchased by training, because it is the story of a life that is visited by Christ’s sufferings and decisions. Therefore it functions as a storied space for people to step into and meet Christ, not the saint. This is why Billy Graham may be considered a Baptist saint, because his life is a life storied by Scripture, bearing the marks of Scripture, which are the marks of an interpretive life.