Friday, May 18, 2018

No Figurehead Founder Part 3 of 4


Everywhere Graham traveled, he absorbed what he was hearing and reading. Before writing that 2 a.m. paper, he had long been listening carefully as he logged thousands of air miles in pre-jet travel. As a former pastor, he had great empathy for them and their struggles. His immersion in their concerns provided essential insights into the magazine's priorities and clear convictions about how it should be positioned.
One of his deepest convictions was his rejection of harsh, judgmental approaches, declaring in his seminal paper that CT should "take the responsibility of leading in love."
All through the years, that spirit has been at the heart of CT's editorial philosophy, often surfacing with use of the word irenic. When I joined the hallway, like many a new staff member, I had never heard the word, but soon learned it was a perfect fit for "hybrid" Christianity Today and was used regularly—with a self-deprecating edge. The dictionary definition for irenic is: "pacific, conciliatory; irenic theology, concerned with promoting unity among Christian churches." That's exactly what Graham had emphasized.
He sought out wise counselors and colleagues, chief among them L. Nelson Bell. Among the other evangelical leaders also thinking about the need for a magazine like CT was Billy's father-in-law and mentor. Billy's wife, Ruth, recalled her father and husband having intense conversations about it on their porch. Bell had spent decades in China as a medical missionary and had played a key role in launching another publication, The Presbyterian Journal.
They knew the launch of CT would require large capitalization. Graham wondered if the funds could be raised; business leaders were interested but not ready to make a commitment. He told J. Howard Pew, head of then Sun Oil Company, that he "was giving more thought to the possibilities of this magazine than to any other single thing in my life."
Bell had written to Pew to arrange a special visit and later wrote, "On 10 March 1955, we boarded the overnight train from Black Mountain, the station below Montreat, for the definitive discussion with Pew at Philadelphia. They had a two-berth compartment, and as we neared Philadelphia, Graham said, 'Let's pray.' He got down on the floor, not exactly kneeling but almost as if prostrate before the Lord." More than 10 years later, Bell told the CT staff, "I had never seen a man pray like that before exactly. There was an earnestness in his prayers."
Above All, Prayer
The hallmark of Graham's lifetime of leadership was the centrality of prayer. Many would point to that as the key factor is his "improbable" accomplishments. Allan C. Emery, longtime president of Billy's organization, once told me at a CT board meeting, "That's the difference between Billy and so many others. When he's wrestling with a major issue, he'll spend the entire night in prayer."
In Philadelphia, Graham and Bell persuaded Pew to provide significant funding for the first two years. A short time later, Graham wrote to him, "I am a relatively young man and I am determined to see this vision, that I believe is from God, carried out and properly controlled. I would suggest we form a board of trustees immediately."
Graham established a structure that fit the mission and hovered over it for five decades. Some urged Graham to make CT part of his own organization, but he understood that would lessen its credibility. That's why he did not become chairman of the new board but turned to Ockenga, with his academic and theological credentials. Graham became chair only after Ockenga's death 25 years later.
Harold Myra was named publisher of Christianity Today by Graham in 1975. Myra retired as executive chairman in 2007 and is coauthor of The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham (Zondervan).


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