For at least the last half decade, there's been speculation as to who could replace the Rev. Billy Graham as the next greatly esteemed and world-renowned leading Christian evangelist. When his 2005 New York crusade was billed as most likely his last, we began wondering if anyone could rise to the task. Or should any individual do so?
Since emerging on Christianity's landscape in the mid-1940s, Graham has never let up in his simple belief that people need Jesus. His way of presenting the gospel message of hope through accepting Christ as Savior has touched millions of hearts.
Graham has a personality and philosophy that helped him cross many of the world's largest divides.
He spoke with Martin Luther King Jr. about racial reconciliation. He was the first white evangelist to invite an African American preacher to tour with him (Howard O. Jones).
Graham was able to travel behind the Iron Curtain and speak with Soviet leaders when the fall of the curtain was just a glinting hope in America's eye. He's been an acquaintance turned friend or spiritual advisor to multiple U.S. presidents.
As he aged, he crossed generational boundaries by seeing the importance of modern music as a way to reach out to youth. His crusade schedules blended the use of favorite old traditional hymns with the appearance of popular young contemporary Christian artists.
In today's social environment where Christianity faces a tarnished image and God is dismissed as a myth, who else can do this instead of inciting anger in people's minds for "pushing" salvation through Christ?
Graham's son Franklin Graham speaks out for Christianity worldwide and leads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the nonprofit charity organization Samaritan's Purse. But he has yet to overcome a bad reputation earned for political incorrectness when he called Islam "evil" after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Next Billy Graham?
Articles in a variety of publications from faith-based to economics have mentioned these leading pastors and evangelists among others as possibly the next Billy Graham.
Evangelist Luis Palau has been called the Billy Graham of Latin America. He began preaching God's word in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a pre-teen. Today he's best known for throwing party-type evangelistic events with Christian music for young people in the United States and other countries as well.
Pastor Rick Warren was named most powerful evangelist in America by The Economist website in 2008. To be sure, his book The Purpose Driven Life challenged Christians and non-Christians alike to realize life isn't about us but something grander – it's all about God's purpose for our lives.
Joel Osteen pastors the largest church in America, Lakewood Church in Houston, and has of late been trying to overcome the image that his message is just one of prosperity. He stated to CNN's Larry King in a 2007 interview that his desire is for people to come to know Christ as their Savior; but nevertheless, we won't get anywhere just preaching the negatives.
Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., has packed houses both on the road and at his home church with his ability to reach multiple generations in easy-to-understand, yet uncompromising speeches, sermons and books.
Laurie rejected a 2005 comparison of him to Graham, especially after spending two days with the man. The two discussed 2 Chronicles 7:14 as written for God's people, not non-believers, to turn toward God in repentance with the hope of seeing a spiritual revival in America.
Graham Challenges 21st Century Christians
Not every church pastor has the nature of a traveling evangelist. But in a way, every Christian is called to be an evangelist.
Billy Graham published a challenge to Christians for the new millennium in a 1997 article for Christianity Today. Within its text, he mentions society, and especially the youth population, facing a multitude of non-Christian religious ideas and anti-God secularism. He says Christians shouldn't retreat, but keep in mind Jesus' goal of having disciples who would reach the ends of the world (Matthew 28:19-20).
He reminded us that Christianity was spread throughout the post-biblical world not by a few, but by many, and outside of church walls. If we are to see Christianity grow, it will not be done by waiting for people to walk through church doors, but by Christians being faithful to Christ's calling to outwardly mobilize the whole church again.
It seems Billy Graham himself has answered the question, "Is there a next Billy Graham?" He wants it to be everyone who knows Christ.