Billy Graham book focuses on hard-line sermons

Tim Funk
Charlotte Observer

At nearly 97 years old, Billy Graham has a new book out.

The cover of “Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond” features the face of Graham in his grandfatherly years, when the Charlotte, North Carolina-born evangelist appeared to mellow, emphasize God’s love and even offer what some interpreted as an inclusive vision of the afterlife.

But on many of the 259 pages of Graham’s 33rd book, the words about heaven and especially hell echo his hard-line sermons from the 1950s, when he stressed God’s judgment, man’s sin and the lies of the devil.

One Billy Graham scholar said the book reads like it was written not by Graham, but by his son, Franklin, an evangelist who has a combative style.

But Franklin Graham, in an interview with the Observer, said his father is the author: “It’s all him. Nothing in the book was written that’s not in his words.”

In “Where I Am,” heaven is reserved for Christians who commit their lives to Jesus and hell is real and delivers fiery punishment or worse.

“Hell is a place of sorrow and unrest, a place of wailing and a furnace of fire,” the book reads. “And it is where many will spend eternity. If you accept any part of the Bible, you are forced to accept the reality of hell, the place for punishment for those who reject Christ.”

‘It was on his heart’

Franklin Graham acknowledged that his father “stressed certain things more than others” during different times in his life. But he said Billy Graham “never backed away from” the message in the Gospel of John that belief in Jesus’ divinity is necessary to get to heaven.

Graham added that his father originally wanted his latest book to focus entirely on hell.

“Maybe this was a burden, that he felt he didn’t preach (about hell) strong enough in his latter years. I don’t know,” the younger Graham said.

Graham’s son said he didn’t write any of the book — “I don’t have time for it” — and that his role in the project “was to encourage Daddy to do it ’cause it was on his heart.”

But some Billy Graham scholars say the book echoes the stands and style of Franklin Graham, rather than his famous father.

“It (is) clearly, indisputably Franklin,” said Grant Wacker, a professor emeritus at Duke Divinity School who authored “America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation,” a study/biography released last year. “Over the course of (Billy) Graham’s career, he talked less and less about hell until the end (of his career), when he barely mentioned it.”

The reason?

“He wanted to bring people to Christ, not scare them away,” said Wacker.

Change in tone

Though there is plenty in “Where I Am” about God’s love and forgiveness, its tone is harsher overall than the one Graham projected in the latter years of his public ministry.

In 2005, as Graham was preparing for his final crusade, in New York, CNN’s Larry King asked him whether Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians would go to heaven.

“That’s in God’s hands. I can’t be the judge,” Graham said.

However, Wacker said it is true that Billy Graham always said that the only way to heaven was through Christ.

‘Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond’

Billy Graham

HarperCollins Christian Publishing