Billy Graham, the famous preacher who reached millions of people around the world through his Christian ministry, died on Wednesday at 99. Over the course of more than six decades, he reshaped the landscape of evangelism, sharing the gospel from North Carolina to North Korea and developing innovative ways to communicate the message of the Bible. He influenced generations of pastors and developed friendships with presidents, prime ministers, and royalty around the world. His death marks the end of an era for evangelicalism, and poses a fundamental question: Will his legacy of bipartisan, ecumenical outreach be carried forward?
Graham came up as a preacher during the post-war era, a time when American Christianity was being radically remade. “When Billy came on the scene, fundamentalism, as it’s called, was really prevalent,” said Greg Laurie, the pastor of the California megachurch Harvest Christian Fellowship and member of the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in an interview. “Billy wanted to broaden the base and reach more people.”
During this era, Christianity was becoming tightly twined with American nationalism—a shift helped along by Graham, who sent President Eisenhower regular updates on his crusades and corresponded about theology, according to one of Graham’s biographers, William Martin. Technology was also facilitating new ways of reaching audiences in America and abroad, and Graham was one of first pastors to use television and radio, along with books and a newspaper column, to build huge audiences across geographic lines.