The Best Books I Will Read In 2015

america's pastorIt’s only April so how can I possibly know the best books I will read in 2015? I get that I’ve already read some good books and that I will hopefully read more in the course of the next several months but I just can’t imagine that I will find two that I enjoy more than America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation by Grant Wacker and The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. If I do, then 2015 will be a banner year in reading.

These two books combine some of my favorite genres: history, biography, and politics. Then throw in some religion and it gets even better. Billy Graham was the seminal force in American Christianity in the 20th century defining evangelicals from fundamentalists (an evangelical was someone who liked Graham and a fundamentalist was one who thought he was too “liberal”), rallying Christians to be involved in government, an important voice on desegregation, and a possessing a relationship with every president since Truman.

preacherpresidentsGraham was married to the same woman, Ruth, for 64 years until she died in 2007. His ministry was a model of financial integrity and Graham always lived a modest lifestyle. For 49 consecutive years he appeared on Gallup’s list of most admired people in America.

His record on race relations and desegregation was far from perfect and yet he was a leading voice ahead of his time. In 1953, one year before Brown vs. Board of Education, he desegregated his crusade in Chattanooga personally knocking down the ropes that kept the races apart and threatening to leave if anyone put them back up. In 1957 he invited Martin Luther King Jr. to offer one of the opening prayers at his crusade in New York.

The only president that he didn’t have a good relationship with was Truman and Graham acknowledged later it was his fault. Following the 1949 Los Angeles crusade that served as Graham’s entry onto the national stage, he wanted to meet President Truman. That meeting was finally arranged and along with a couple ministry associates they were brought into the Oval Office. During the course of the conversation, Graham asked Truman about his personal faith. Truman said he believed in the Sermon on the Mount and tried to live by the Golden Rule. Graham responded, “That’s not enough.” What Graham realized later is that if he wanted to have a relationship with the President, he was going to have to develop a more tactful approach.

His problems with Truman were really centered around what happened outside the White House when he talked to the press corps. Unfamiliar with the ways of Washington, Graham recounted exactly what everyone, including Truman, said in the meeting and even knelt down on the ground to recreate the prayer scene that occurred inside providing a picture for the press to run with.

Truman thought of Graham as a self promoting publicity hound and wanted nothing further to do with him. The next time Graham was with Truman in 1967 he apologized to the former president.

One theme that runs through The Preacher and the Presidents is the temptation to power and partisan politics that Graham’s relationship with the presidents afforded him. It wasn’t necessarily that he was a Republican or a Democrat. After all he stayed overnight in the White House on Johnson’s last day as president and then the next night after Nixon’s first day in office. Graham’s temptation was to become a political advisor and get more involved in the politics than he should have. He became increasingly aware of his own weaknesses culminating in 2002 with the release of White House tapes that reflected very poorly on him and for which he publicly asked forgiveness from all those involved.

There’s far, far more in these books that I find incredibly interesting. I’m sure that I will share more in the future. If you’re only sort of familiar with Graham’s life, I would read A Prophet With Honor by William Martin before wading into either of these books as neither of them is a biography. (I can’t find A Prophet With Honor on Amazon but maybe you’ll have better success than me.) I’m sure that I will reread the Martin book, considered the best biography on Graham, before the summer.

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