Jesus Junk, Calvary Chapel, And the Commoditization of Billy Graham

This morning I read from Acts chapter 13. I try to read my Bible every morning to keep my day in perspective. The part that hit me was the last verse that described the disciples as being “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” The disciples were fulfilling the calling of God on their lives, thus experiencing what Maslow would have called self-actualization. I would call it being in the zone. No matter what, there is wholeness and purpose when we operate within the will of God for our lives.

If there is one thing I have learned over my life it is the vitality of having a living relationship with God; that each day as I walk down the path of life He is there with me teaching me, guiding me, and disciplining me. It is a life of fulfillment not perfection.

Additionally I read an interesting article about Billy Graham this morning. Yesterday he celebrated his 95th birthday. He is also having a televised event over the next few days. He is coming to the end of his life, and as such I am sure he is reflecting on the good and bad of his life. I am already doing that and I am thirty years younger than him. However, there are a couple of things that Kenneth Woodard stated this morning that I’d like to comment on.

Woodard makes a comment about the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which is now being run by Franklin Graham, that I think is a very interesting perspective. “The launch of ‘My Hope America’ is Billy’s gift to BGEA,” which is necessary, because “like the sons of lessor television evangelists of Billy’s generation – Oral Roberts, Robert Schuller, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson – Franklin Graham inherited his father’s organization but lacks his father’s personal charisma.” As a result the BGEA brand is suffering. I have no idea if this is true, but any organization that loses a dynamic entrepreneurial leader suffers during the time of change from the founder to the new generation of leaders.

Another dynamic Church leader died recently. Pastor Chuck Smith was a man of God who had a direct impact on my life. He emerged from the Jesus People movement to start Calvary Chapel which has impacted the world in an incredible manner, but probably not as extensive as Billy Graham. However, this could be debated.

The point is that life goes on and the entrepreneurial leaders of both of these organizations have left the leadership role they once held, and now the next generation is taking over. This is a critical time in both of these organizations life, which will determine whether they move into new areas of vitality or degrade into commoditization.

The second interesting comment Woodard is one that I am going to think about all day. He comments that Billy Graham has suffered “macular degeneration for years and cannot read either the Bible or the newspaper anymore, much less write books. For those of us who remember his robust days, there is something about this authorial pretense that recalls the story of the body of El Cid strapped to his horse and sent one last time into battle.” Realize that the Apostle Paul had eye problems too, and had someone else write his letters.

Woodard’s point is that BGEA is commoditizing Billy Graham in a manner to give the appearance of a vitality that has now been lost. Very interesting point! I am sure that the same thing is happening at Calvary Chapel as the next generation lines up to take the new role of leadership within the movement. As much as I ‘d like to think that Calvary Chapel is different, there could be a temptation to market Chuck Smith in the same manner.

Woodard ends his article with “Perhaps its time to give the Billy Graham brand a rest. It’s a shame to see a man who devoted his life to the Gospel turned into a commodity, even for a good cause.” I don’t think Woodard is trying to belittle Billy Graham or his organization, I think he is raising a good point. Does BGEA stay in the past or does it figure out where God is leading it in the future?

It the case of Calvary Chapel it needs to figure this out too. Both Billy Graham and Chuck Smith were unique individuals that God used to greatly impact the world. But now (in the case of Chuck he has passed over and Graham is very old), the next generation of leaders have to rebrand, if you will, or face the fate of commoditization of the brand. Each need to find the fresh wind of the Spirit, or we will be offered Chuck Smith t-shirts, Billy Graham coffee mugs, and other things that Keith Green called Jesus Junk.

The wonder of the Church is the fact that its foundation is Jesus Christ, not Billy Graham and not Pastor Chuck. All of us respect these men, and after the right amount of time of mourning, etc, whatever that is, the emerging leaders of these organizations will need to find the fresh vitality and joy to lead these groups in the new direction demanded by the Holy Spirit. The Jesus People movement of the 60’s was fresh and new, but this is a new age and new crop of young people. How will the new leaders of these groups adapt to the changes of society? How will they ensure the gospel stays fresh for this new generation?

These are huge issues that I hope Franklin Graham, and Greg Laurie, Mike Macintosh, and even Daniel Fusco at Crossroads Community Church think about and address. Other Church leaders like Scott O’Haver and Pastor Don Doe, leaders of Church’s outside of both of the organizations I am discussing, are thinking about these matters and are wrestling with what this means. However, all of us need to listen to that still small voice as He directs us.

God will never be without His witness in this world. As we look at the history of revival we see many different styles of presentation, but the one thing we don’t see is the change of the message. Humankind fell, but a loving God sent His Son to die for us, and by receiving Christ we can be repaired. This improvement then leads us to make a difference in our world. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith – and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

And that is my thought for the day!


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