"Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me," released this week from Simon & Schuster, is a unique hardcover anthology documenting the life and legacy of the world's best-known evangelist.
Subtitled "101 Inspiring Personal Stories from Presidents, Pastors, Performers and Other People Who Know Him Well," this unprecedented collection marks the first, and presumably, only time in its twenty-year history that the iconic Chicken Soup for the Soul series has developed an uplifting title focused on a single individual rather than a topical theme.
This authorized compilation contains 101 personal and anecdotal stories by some of the most significant world-changers and influential leaders in government, business, sports, entertainment and religion, as well as friends and relatives of Mr. Graham who know him best.
Just as Billy Graham's influence and impact transcends religious, racial and political boundaries, so does the list of contributors to this volume as they reveal and confirm his place in history. Prominent Christian clergy, leaders from other faiths, celebrities, heroes, regular citizens - and remarkably, every living U.S. President - collectively document the effects of Mr. Graham's worldwide ministry over more than six decades.
Contributors include a sheer diversity of leadership representing myriad professions, geographical locations, political persuasions and faith traditions, all of whom coalesce around the common denominator of utmost respect for one individual - including those who do not share his perspective or worldview.
Considering the current polarization and politicization of our nation, it is extraordinary to have voices from all walks of life, representing a full spectrum of ideology and methodology, joined in praise for an inclusive Christian leader known for unwavering conviction in a biblical worldview. During this arguably unparalleled period of divisiveness in America and our world, there is, perhaps, no other individual who has been able to unite diverse people like Billy Graham has.
Because Mr. Graham never compromised his integrity nor watered down his message to achieve consensus or reach critical mass, it is his character and integrity that have engendered such an unprecedented tribute. In a sense, this celebration of friendship and influence is a first look at the evangelist's legacy - while he is still alive.
This volume reflects Mr. Graham's counter-intuitive, inclusive approach to public ministry, agreeing to have his story chronicled not by an official biographer, but rather through the lens of others sharing how his message influenced or impacted their lives.
Billy Graham faithfully preached a timeless message in a timely way at the intersection of faith and culture. He put the green grass of the Gospel down low where "even the goats could get it," showing how the Bible speaks to personal and societal problems, always providing an opportunity for audiences to respond by making a personal faith commitment.
Early in his ministry the evangelist helped define and give credibility to Evangelical Christianity. His crusades brought unity, visibility and credibility to the local church. He was a catalytic unifier of the Church around shared priorities rather than differences, cultivating mainline churches and prompting Protestant/Catholic cooperation in evangelism.
In the absence of an official spokesperson, for years Billy Graham was perceived as a senior statesman and the perennial "go to" authoritative resource for the media on issues related to the Christian faith and a biblical worldview. While his emphasis was evangelism, not ecumenism, during his travels Mr. Graham also met with and gained the respect of leaders of other faiths.
Though primarily an evangelist, Mr. Graham worked tirelessly as a man of conscience, compassion and peace, often facilitating rapprochement between disparate groups. He provided leadership influence by example in racial/denominational reconciliation, civil rights, social justice and de facto international diplomacy by pioneering early ministry efforts behind the Iron Curtain. As a spiritual entrepreneur, his vision had a seminal influence to found or encourage others to seize a timely opportunity to initiate more than thirty separate ministry organizations.
But the remarkable thing about him is that there is no difference between the public and private Billy Graham. He is the same individual one-on-one over a meal or in a meeting back at the hotel as he is behind the pulpit. Though he is a spiritual confidant to some of the world's foremost leaders in government, entertainment, sport and business, he made anyone in his presence feel like the most important person in the world at that moment.
Regardless of one's familiarity with Mr. Graham or identification with his message, more important than the person are the transferable principles by which he lives his life. This unique compendium introduces him to a new generation, providing a glimpse into his heart, soul and character as seen through private interaction with those around him and public contributions on the world's stage.