Saturday, July 10, 2010

Billy Graham

A few weeks ago, I was discouraged about the books I'd been reading, so I decided to read and review Billy Graham: His Life and Influence by David Aikman.  I knew David Aikman was a very good writer so it seemed to be a solid choice for reading material.  Reading this book has really challenged me again to think about the books we read and whether they are edifying or whether certain information should be in a book.  I want to explain, but it's a little complicated.

The introduction of the book made it clear to me that this book is indeed well written.  It was very interesting.  It was informative, but not dry.  The first five chapters explain the history of Graham's life up to the crusades in England in the 50s.  In this section, it is as if Aikman is putting Graham up on a pedestal.  But, from that point on he begins to throw stones at him as he begins to examine Graham's interaction with communist leaders, racism, and with the presidents of our country, the US.  It's interesting because he's sly about the stones that he throws.  He doesn't throw them directly, but he implies conclusions and chooses certain details to include that can feed a feeling of cynicism towards Billy Graham and how he lived his life.  Our culture is one that thrives on cynicism right now--the belief that one can see through others to what the truth really is--and this book feeds that feeling by how it is written and the information that is presented.  

Let me begin by sharing one example that really struck me:

1) He mentions that all three of Billy Graham's daughters married at age 18.  One of them he describes this way "Anne married, apparently successfully, a college basketball star from North Carolina, Danny Lotz.  But her son, Jonathan, walked out on his marriage to wife Alicia and showed no willingness for reconciliation even though his wife expressed hopes that this might take place...In short, it is hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that there is a connection between Billy's long periods away from home and the broken marriages of three children, the unorthodox beginning of Franklin's marriage, and the troubled domestic circumstances of some of his grandchildren.  Certainly, none of the children strayed as far from the gospel as the children of Billy and Ma Sunday.  But just as certainly, Billy's family paid a high price for his single-minded commitment to crusade evangelism."  
                                           quoted from Billy Graham: His Life and Influences by David Aikman, pg. 290

In the example above he used the phrase "apparently successfully" to describe Anne's marriage.  And then he draws conclusions about their marriages in a critical way with language that is leading.  

I personally do not know David Aikman so I don't know if he realizes and is aware of how deeply cynicism has pervaded this book.  Dick Keyes' points this out in his book Seeing Through Cynicism-- "One reason that cynicism receives little attention is that many people do not even realize that it exists in their own thinking and conversation.  Cynical insights, perspectives and critiques are so much a part of modern vocabulary that we get used to them; they are nothing special, unusual or needing particular recognition, let alone justification." p. 13.

Yesterday, I discussed this book with one of my good friends Kim, and she gave me a lot of great food for thought.  Biographies are supposed to present both the good and bad, the strengths and weaknesses of a person.  I agreed with her.  If this book were published directly by a secular publisher (and not a Christian publisher owned by a secular publisher), I would understand how and why this book was written this way.  But, it has been published by Thomas Nelson.  I do hope and expect Christian publishers to publish books that will edify the body of Christ and not tear it down.  

Although this book is very well written, I do not consider it to be a book that is edifying to the body of Christ.  It includes details that feed a desire for gossip rather than truth.  The way that Ruth Bell Graham is spoken of and the things that are mentioned did not make me feel glad for her or encouraged by her life--rather, I felt deep sadness.  Yet, I know from her writings that she loved the Lord.  I know there were huge challenges in her life and marriage to Billy Graham, but this book seems to be written from a secular perspective--a perspective acknowledging her faith in God, but not looking at life through her perspective and her desire to glorify God in her life.

As I read this book, the desire grew in me to read his autobiography.  Aikman focused more on Graham's actions as proof of who he was and what he believed than Graham's own words.  Truly, his take on Graham was a cynical one often inferring that because of his actions Graham must have believed differently than he outwardly stated if his actions didn't always align with what he said.  As a reader, my cynicism was encouraged by how it was written and that's the reason I wouldn't recommend this book to any believers.  

I think it's clear from this review that I don't recommend this book.  I would recommend the book Seeing Through Cynicism by Dick Keyes if you or someone you love is a cynical person.  It is a challenging book that I think will encourage you and help you begin to heal from that cynicism.  I believe that cynicism is damaging because it is based upon pride and it can steal one's joy and contentment.  I think that rather than giving an unbiased view of Billy Graham's life, this book by David Aikman instead encourages a feeling of cynicism and mistrust towards this man, who he was, and who he is.

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review from Thomas Nelson Publishing.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Good review. Well written, concise and good explanations of your concerns.