Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Billy: A Book Review

(See my book review policy here).

The first free book I received through Thomas Nelson Publishers blogger review program was Billy: The Untold Story of a Young Billy Graham and the Test of Faith that Almost Changed Everything by William Paul McKay and Ken Abraham, published in 2008.

Billy was written as an accompanying volume to the recent theatrical film release by the same name. Both the movie and the book tell the story of a young Billy Graham in his formative years as a preacher and evangelist. Both frame that story with the deathbed remembrances in 2001 of Charles Templeton, a friend of Graham’s during those formative years and, at that time, an even more famous evangelist than the future world figure. Templeton, in both the book and real life, began to doubt the truth of the Bible and turned away from Christianity, abandoning his ministry. He later became well known as a famous sceptic.

Although Templeton is an actual historic figure, the framing scenes in the book involving a television producer attempting to obtain some form of dirt or scandal on Dr. Graham from his dying, pathetic old friend are surely contrived. I should say that they are contrived, yet effective for dramatic purposes.

The pivotal scene in the book is a night in California in 1949, just prior to Graham’s Los Angeles Crusade which catapulted him to international fame. Templeton has mocked Billy for his continuing belief in the Bible as a trustworthy source of truth, telling him that it would be intellectual suicide to continue to believe and preach the Bible as true. With his life-long characteristic modesty and integrity, the young evangelist began to question his faith himself. While wandering down a forest trail he finds a stump that serves as an altar of prayer. Billy Graham knelt at that stump and wrestled that night with his doubts. In retrospect, the significance of that night for his future career cannot be overstated. He ultimately decided in that forest clearing that he believed the Bible to be the Word of God, and that even if he could not explain away all the questions, he would take the Word by faith and stand on the Bible as his solid foundation. He recommitted his life to the Christ revealed in the Scriptures. For the rest of his life Dr. Graham confidently pronounced his characteristic phrase “the Bible says” with full conviction and unerring faith. From what I have read in other biographies of Dr. Graham, this story is basically accurate.

Is this a great book? No. Is this the best work written on Dr. Graham’s life? Of course not. But is Billy a good book? Yes it is. It would be very hard to write a bad book about such a good man. Greatness is its own literary inspiration.

I had wanted to see the movie when it appeared in theaters earlier this year. Unfortunately for me, ratings and profits were apparently so poor that it disappeared form our local theater before I could see it. I must say that the book Billy has accomplished one thing for me that should be the goal of any movie tie-in book: It increased my desire to see the movie. I fully intend to obtain a copy once the film is available for purchase on DVD.