When you hear the name “Billy,” only one man in Christendom comes immediately to mind — “Billy” Graham. And, when you think of a person who knew (and knows) this evangelistic giant well enough to tell his story from personal knowledge, you can’t help but think “Woody” Wirt.
This book (Wirt’s 26th) is at once a biography and a tribute. As Ruth Bell Graham points out in her forward to the work, Wirt devotes about four pages to each year of Billy Graham’s life. Yet in reading it, because of Wirt’s comfortable, easy to read style, you get the feeling that a very dear friend is revealing some of his “special” secrets to you. For while much of what you read is, indeed, a historical chronicle, it is delivered with a genuine sense of admiration, devotion and love.
Because of his closeness to Graham and his family over several decades, Wirt really is able to give his reader rarely seen insights into the man he used to call “boss.”
And what we see is fascinating and illuminating. We see the “man” and not the “image.” And we come to know this great messenger of the good news of the Gospel. We share with him his anointing and his frailties, his glory and his humility, his weakness and his strength. We share his sorrows and his remarkable sense of humor. In the face illness, we also see his magnificent spirit. And we see Graham’s own view of his preaching when he said that the Bible felt like a rapier in his hand.
The “history” of Graham’s crusades and the telling of how the most widely distributed Christian magazine on earth came into being makes wonderful reading as Wirt paints the word picture of himself being awakened in the wee-small hours and knocking over his water glass at the sound of Billy’s voice.
Pictures of the “inside” and letters from little children are sprinkled throughout the book and serve as a continuous series of reminders about the breath and scope of what Mr. Graham has done in one short lifetime. And while I found some sadness in the chronological pictures of Billy, his wife and team members growing older and older through the chapters, there was an instant joy in searching the intensity in the smiling eyes of a young itinerant preacher shown in the beginning of the book, and finding them the same at the end.
And speaking of the end, if your eyes are dry after reading the end of this book, I will assume that you’re clinically dead.
Over the years I have been writing this column I have variously been educated, entertained, and been profoundly effected by the words of the authors I have reviewed. But with this book — to my mind perhaps the most important by Woody Wirt in his long and illustrious literary career — I am enthralled.
Paul McShane of Carlsbad is an author, businessman and journalist.