Mohler introduces Billy Graham to new dean of school named for the famed evangelist
In a rare meeting, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reported to Billy Graham — the world-renowned evangelist and evangelical leader — about Southern Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at the 20-year anniversary of its establishment. He also introduced him to the school’s new dean, Adam W. Greenway.
“It was a tremendous privilege to visit with Dr. Graham and to affirm the friendship that has existed between him and Southern Seminary for so many decades,” Mohler said of the Oct. 29, 2013, meeting at Graham’s home in Montreat, N.C. “My personal friendship with him goes back to when I first came here as president. He played such a pivotal role in the establishment of the Graham School and in my inauguration as president, and I owe to Dr. Graham such a deep personal debt.
In October of 1993, Graham spoke at a worship service held the evening before Mohler’s inauguration as the ninth president of Southern Seminary.
“You have elected a young man here with a tremendous vision, not only for the future of this theological seminary but the future of evangelism and missions in the Southern Baptist Convention and in the world,” said Graham, speaking directly to the seminary’s trustees and broadly to the 9,000 people in attendance at the service. “I support him with all my heart and will pray for him daily from now on.”
When Mohler became the president of the seminary, the school’s board of trustees charged him with returning the school to its founding commitments, from which the school drifted during years previous. Upon his hiring, Mohler faced criticism from the seminary faculty and even uproar among the students.
“There will come difficult times,” Graham said during Mohler’s inauguration. “There are many decisions that you have to make. And one of the things that will be difficult for Dr. Mohler will be the great expectancy there is of him at this moment. And he'll have to make hard decisions. And it won't be a decision that everybody will like.”
Graham’s words proved both prophetic and as source of encouragement to Mohler since then.
“Dr. Graham’s coming in 1993 to speak at my inauguration was such an incredible gift, and it was not only a gift in his presence, but in his words,” Mohler said.
Now, 20 years later, Graham “continues to marvel at what he calls the ‘new Southern’,” according to Graham’s chief of staff, David Bruce, who was present in the meeting. Graham expressed to Mohler his “joy at knowing that the school is reliant on the truth of God’s Word as the focus of study,” Bruce recalled.
“Praise God for the faithfulness of Dr. Mohler and his leadership of Southern Seminary,” Graham said.
Addressing Mohler directly, the evangelist said, “I am grateful to you, Dr. Mohler, for leading Southern Seminary in a reaffirmation of the truth of God’s Word.”
Also in 1993, when Mohler first assumed leadership of the seminary, he announced the establishment of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. Last week, Mohler reported to Graham about the only school he permits to use his name and introduced him to the school’s new dean, Greenway.
“The invitation to visit with Billy Graham personally was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Greenway, who became the fourth dean of the Graham School in June. “Being dean of the only school Dr. Graham ever endorsed with his own name is a singular honor and a sacred trust, and I took great pleasure in being able to report to him that we remain unwavering in our commitments to the same gospel message and urgent mission that he has so faithfully embodied.”
Greenway is the first dean of the school since it expanded as the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, combining the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism and the School of Church Ministries. The new Graham School serves students of both international and domestic missions, church planting, worship leadership and both local church and educational leadership.
“Seeing [Graham’s] face light up with great joy as Dr. Mohler and I shared about the incredible work God has done and is doing at Southern Seminary in general, and the newly expanded Billy Graham School in particular, was a deeply moving experience,” Greenway said. “I know with certainty that Dr. Graham has a special affection for the Billy Graham School and Southern Seminary, and I left his presence with an even greater conviction about the tremendous stewardship entrusted to me as I lead this flagship school for Great Commission training — a school from which I am a proud alumnus.”
In the meeting, Mohler asked Graham to offer advice for the students at Southern Seminary. In reply, according to Mohler, Graham spoke about the necessity of devotional life to “lead a preacher to truth, spiritual power and ministry effectiveness.”
“Tell them to study more and speak less,” Graham told Mohler and Greenway, Bruce recalled.
Mohler and Greenway’s visit came only a week before Graham’s 95th birthday. Mohler said the two were able to wish the evangelist a happy birthday. A week later, Nov. 7, Graham attended a birthday celebration, where he, in the form of a video recorded during the past year, preached his familiar evangelistic message. The video, titled My Hope America, represents Graham’s “last message to the nation,” his son, Franklin, told USA Today.
In the video, Graham says “how far people have wandered from God” has caused him to weep for the United States and calls for a spiritual awaking in the nation.