R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., reflects on the life of Billy Graham who died today at the age of 99. The Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at Southern Seminary is the only graduate school the famed evangelist granted permission to use his name. Establishment of the Billy Graham School was announced in 1993 at the inauguration of Mohler, at which Graham spoke.
“An epic era of evangelical history has come to an end. Billy Graham was not only a titanic figure in evangelicalism, but in world history and perhaps represents the last of a kind. He dominated 20th century American evangelicalism and remained a major figure on the world stage throughout most of the 20th century in a way that we can envision no evangelical leader in our times.
“Billy Graham was a supremely gifted man. He was a man of deep conviction whose passionate heartbeat was for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was an evangelist, and was unashamed to be called an evangelist.
“In many ways, Billy Graham did not pioneer mass evangelism and crusade evangelism; he perfected it. What others had done on a smaller scale and infrequent regularity, he began to do in a way I do not think can be replicated or equaled. He was one of the first to recognize the importance of the media – first in radio and in print media, then with television and even film. By the end of his life, his organization was pioneering new ways to reach people with the gospel by digital and social media.
“In addition to his role as an evangelist, Billy Graham was also the organizing center of evangelicalism in the 20th century, having played a dominant role in the formation of key evangelical institutions. Along with his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, an entire constellation of assorted evangelical ministries were founded by Graham, perhaps most notably, Christianity Today magazine. Surveying the list of major evangelical organizations, it’s difficult to imagine what many of them would be today — if indeed they would exist today — without the human agency of Billy Graham.
“Long maintaining his Southern Baptist identity, he was for many years a member of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and counted W.A. Criswell as his friend and pastor.
“Billy Graham had a long, close relationship with Southern Seminary dating back to the 1950’s. He was a close friend of Dr. Duke McCall, who was the institution’s seventh president. During the McCall years, he was frequently a speaker in Southern Seminary chapel. In 1960, the seminary established the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, and in 1965 the Billy Graham Chair of Evangelism was established and held successively to this day by faculty members who have taught in honor of Dr. Graham.
“In 1993 when I was elected president, Dr. Graham eagerly encouraged me and the vision that brought me to Southern Seminary by speaking at my inauguration, and by allowing us to establish the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth, as it was then known. Dr. Graham was very directly involved in helping me to begin my presidency, and throughout my presidency he was an active encourager and always a partner in prayer in this task. In 2001, I was privileged to serve as chairman of the Billy Graham Crusade held in Louisville.
“I’m so thankful that on Oct. 29, 2013, I was able to introduce Dr. Graham to Adam Greenway as the new dean of the Billy Graham School and to bring a report to him on the progress of the school.
“During that meeting at his home in Montreat, N.C., I’m so glad I asked him what message he would want to give to our students. His advice on the importance of their devotional life and to ‘study more and speak less’ takes on incredible new poignancy these days. I had the very strong awareness that would be the last time I saw Dr. Graham on this earth. Over and over again he said, ‘I’m ready to be with Jesus.’ He missed his wife, Ruth, horribly, and knew he had run his race. It was a marvelous thing to see a man who knew he had finished his task. He was not eager to die, but was eager to see his Lord. He knew, even as he was dependent on oxygen at that time, at nearly 95, he was near his earthly end.
“Billy Graham also has to go down in history as a man who protected the moral integrity of his ministry from the beginning to the end. A man against whom there was never any hint of moral scandal. And thus, he needs to be recognized for having finished the race and having run a course in a manner that should serve as an inspiration to us all.
“On behalf of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary we extend our deepest condolences and prayers to the family of Dr. Billy Graham and to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association upon the death of that great ambassador for the gospel. I was so privileged to know Dr. Graham and to have his have personal imprint on my life and on this ministry. We celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Billy Graham and we are thankful to have known one who ran his race and finished his course with such dignity and valor.”