Billy Graham Was The Same in Public and Private, Says Cornerstone President. But Who’s Next in Line?

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Joseph Stowell Billy Graham cutline No. 1Joseph Stowell: “Everything he was in public, he was in private and more in fact.” Evangelist Billy Graham, who held his first evangelist crusade in 1947 at the former Civic Auditorium in Grand Rapids, was humble and genuine, said the president of Cornerstone University, who served on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association board for about 12 years.

Whether preaching to a throng of people at his evangelistic crusades or engaged in a private tête-à-tête, his character was consistent, Cornerstone's Joseph Stowell said of Graham who died Feb. 21.

No cause for concern

But is there another Billy Graham waiting in the wings to preach the gospel worldwide via mass rallies? Probably not, but that's not a cause for concern, added Stowell.

"Everything he was in public, he was in private and more in fact," said Stowell, who attended Graham's funeral service held outside the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, NC.

"He was humble and genuinely interested if you were to talk to him. He was not self-serving or self-promoting in any respect, if anything he was self deferring. If he said anything about himself it was things he wished he could do better. He was a man who took counsel and advice and relied on the wisdom of others. He had a genuine love for his wife, Ruth, a deep love."

Stayed on message

What made Graham's life, and hence, his ministry, effective was his consistent and uncompromised communication of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to Stowell.

"The message never changed," he said. "As the culture began to change, he didn't change the message. He was committed to the clarity of the call of the Gospel for the lost to come to know Him. That would be his legacy."

Unswerving integrity typified Billy Graham, who preached to live audiences of 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories through his various meetings, according to Graham's website.

"He never made us ashamed," said Stowell. "He was always above reproach. That's hard to do when you're such a major headliner and people are always picking for the flaws and to magnify the flaws. He loved Christ and he loved the Gospel."

When it comes to seeing who will succeed Graham, Stowell said, "time will tell" who God will tap, with the understanding that methods change when it comes to evangelism. The Gospel, nonetheless, remains timeless.

In God's timing

And that's not to diminish the ministry of Graham's son, Franklin, who is now president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and president of the international Christian relief organization, Samaritan's Purse.


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"God in his sovereignty chooses to anoint the global voice of the gospel," said Stowell. "I think only time will tell if there will be another Billy Graham. I think Franklin holds evangelistic crusades and cares for the lost, but the scope and scale of what Billy has done, I'm still waiting to see if that will happen. It's a different day, a different culture. It's God in his finding Who appoints a special person.

"The precursor to Billy was Dwight L. Moody so there was a huge gap between those two," added Stowell. And that's not to diminish Franklin. The scale and scope is so huge. He (Billy) was loved around the world."

Even so, the mass evangelistic crusades Graham is known for may not resurface, and that's all right, according to Stowell, referring to 1 Chronicles 13:2 where the sons of Issachar understood the times they lived in and knew what to do.

"I'm not sure we're going to see that with this culture," said Stowell of mass evangelistic rallies. "I think there's so many methods. There's friendship evangelism, there's church evangelism programs of all kinds— evangelism happens — but citywide, two, three week long crusades, I'm not sure that's compatible with our culture."

What do you say to Billy Graham?

Stowell remembers when around 20 years ago he sat next to Graham during a dinner engagement. Initially tongue-tied ("What do you say to Billy Graham?) Stowell asked Graham what he enjoyed most in life?

With a storied ministry, Stowell imaged Graham reply might be meeting the world's dignitaries, leading millions to Christ or serving as the "pastor to the presidents" as he came to be known.

No, none of that, Graham told Stowell.

" 'The thing I've enjoyed the most has been my fellowship with Jesus,'" Graham told Stowell. 'To sense His presence, to know His guidance, to know His wisdom.' I was convicted and challenged because I do want to say that in my life. That little story reflects the kind of man Billy Graham was."
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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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