Billy Graham In Glasgow 1955
[See also the paper entitled “Am I Evangelical?” for more information.]
In this paper I will consider the impact that the 1955 Billy Graham crusades in Glasgow have had and I will begin by looking briefly at the context of the visit to Scotland. I will explore why what happened in London in 1954 was significant for what followed in Scotland. I will also consider the impact of the crusades as witnessed to by the support that they received, and by criticisms that were directed at them.
I will consider the response of the media and others, both at the time of the crusades, and since. I will finally make some concluding remarks and observations, as well as considering some general questions and issues that, while not related directly to the crusades themselves, were raised as a result of methods and ideas used in the crusades. We begin in London.
In 1954, Billy Graham conducted a series of crusades in Harringay, London, which were heralded as being wonderful successes that made a lasting impact on many people’s lives. According to Fitch, “the All-Scotland Crusade, 1955, was born in the floodtide of the blessing of Harringay” and Allan said that “planning for the All-Scotland Crusade benefited greatly from the Harringay experience.”
According to Murray, the London crusades “had done much to encourage Evangelicals across the nation” and the Bishop of Barking spoke of “the glorious possibilities these coming years hold for us.” Reflecting on Harringay, Robertson declared that Billy Graham had “permanently influenced the preaching of many thousands of our preachers, and he has offered the Churches a new opportunity for evangelism.”
Indeed, after Harringay, Billy Graham spoke of his “belief that Britain is on the verge of the greatest spiritual awakening in her history.” When the evangelist responded to the invitation of ‘Tell Scotland’ to lead the ‘All Scotland Crusade’ of 1955, it appeared that “the advance of the Kirk was unstoppable” as Bisset said. On to Scotland, then, on a wave of success and optimism.
PLANNING AND BANNING
After the apparent joy of Harringay, churches and Christians across Scotland came together in a show of unity to support the Billy Graham crusades in Glasgow that would not only be seen by those who attended the Kelvin Hall each night, but also by many thousands who watched by television relay in halls and church buildings across the nation, and even into England.
Since the overall policy of the Graham organization was to “attain prestige and influence for evangelicals”; in order to do this there had to be a successful image for the crusades that was free of division among ecumenically oriented churches, since Graham exacted their endorsement as the price of city-wide meetings.
The unity, however, was not as deep as it looked. It included those who strongly supported Graham but had no interest in Tell Scotland; those in favour both of a Graham crusade and of Tell Scotland; and those who would not have supported Graham, but, being committed to Tell Scotland, were loyally behind a crusade of which they did not fully approve. Deeper still lay a fundamental cleavage on the meaning of the Cross and the nature of the Gospel. The long term effect of the crusade would depend upon these hidden tensions being resolved.
There were also those who were unhappy at the style of evangelism used by Billy Graham, and some were particularly critical of the perceived lack of follow-up of those who had ‘made a decision for Christ’. Lloyd-Jones believed that the base of claim for Harringay’s success on the numbers going forward to ‘receive Christ’ was an entirely unscriptural assessment. He said the the virtual identification of saving faith with the decision to walk forward was bound, in many cases, to “confuse individuals as to their real spiritual condition.”
John Matthews highlighted this danger when he wrote, “People are content simply to believe, whereas the developing, nourishing and sustaining of Christian faith and practice is impossible apart from the life of a believing community.” Therefore, many people saw the ‘decision for Christ’ as a false indicator of spiritual birth, and were seriously concerned that discipleship was nowhere to be seen.
According to the Baptist Union of Scotland, “The aim of conversion is to make disciples, so discipleship and conversion must not be contrasted with each other or separated.” There were those who were unhappy at exactly this division in the Billy Graham crusades, since the evangelist left follow-up in the hands of local churches.
What also concerned Lloyd-Jones about the London crusades was the frequent triumphant cry that there was no emotion in those who responded to the appeals and ‘made a decision for Christ’. “Can a man”, Lloyd-Jones asked, “see himself as a damned sinner without emotion? Can a man look into hell without emotion? Or conversely, can a man really contemplate the love of God in Christ Jesus and feel no emotion?” Evangelism had become “too obsessed with results, and decisionism was no substitute for the proclamation of the truth in all its fullness.” In truth, the necessary foundation of unity for the Glasgow crusades was only skin deep.
PREACHING AND REACHING
On Monday 11th April 1955, as the Glasgow crusade opened in the Kelvin Hall, thousands of people were gathered in halls and churches all over Scotland to watch the Glasgow meetings on television; they were a vast and unseen audience all over the land. Furthermore, with a television audience second only to the Coronation, “it was unquestionably the vastest [sic] audience addressed by a preacher in Britain” according to Pollock.
Many people still remember the crusades, and so does the media. Early in the new millennium, the [Glasgow] Herald looked back on the success of the Glasgow crusades that took Scotland to what they called ‘fever pitch’. Over the six weeks of the crusades the paper reported on, the crusades reached more than 2.5 million people and prompted 50,000 Scots to come forward to ‘make a stand for Christ’. Allan said that “First, and before everything else, many thousands of people were won for Christ and many thousands more were led, through the Crusade, to new levels of consecration and commitment to the Lord of Life.”
For Pollock, the crusades “influenced clergy more than social leaders, and influenced them profoundly”; so that, “probably the most lasting results will be in the lives of hundreds of ministers.” But the enthusiasm for results was tempered with caution, as voiced by Allan: “It would be impossible to over-estimate the importance of these particular Crusade meetings, although they present some difficult problems from the evangelistic point of view.” How would people reflect on the impact of the crusades in Scotland?
Was Billy Graham’s visit to Scotland in 1955 a success? Not if Ronald C Paul’s biography of Billy Graham is anything to go by. He devotes two chapters totalling nineteen pages to the Harringay London crusades, but dismisses the Glasgow crusades with only one sentence: “A Scotland Crusade followed, with a return to Britain in 1955.” One of the saddest reflections that John Pollock made on the Glasgow crusades was summed up in a short sentence: “Unity did not outlast the crusade.” Unity has not existed since the crusades, either. As always with any evangelistic crusades, follow-up was one of the areas that caused people the greatest concern.
Pollock observed that “once again the churches were not truly ready for their opportunities, and many converts did not grow to maturity.” In considering the after-effects of the Crusade in Glasgow, Tom Allan asks very pointedly: “How far is the Church as we know it able to receive and nurture and train those who have been won? How far is the present pattern of life within the Churches geared to the fruits of evangelism? How far can those so lately won out of the world find themselves at home in the Church?”
Billy Graham and crusade-style evangelism got the blame, but not from everyone. Indeed, for some, “crusade evangelism got the blame which rightly belonged to churches who had failed to welcome and nurture their potential new members.” Colin Holmes observed that, “When the hard work begins at the close of a mission, churches are rarely prepared or willing to do effective follow-up work.” So, the hope of Graham, Allan and many others that the crusades would “set in motion a progressing evangelism through local congregations” was not fulfilled.
In truth, some, like Wimber, do not hold out much hope for the crusade style of evangelism: “By its very nature and assumptions, programmatic evangelism tends to have as its goal decisions for Christ, not disciples.” According to Wimber, this type of evangelism is fatally flawed because “many people who make these decisions do not encounter God’s power, and thus frequently do not move on to a mature faith.”
Is crusade evangelism little more than a museum piece? It is hard not to get the impression from many churches that the task of evangelism has been set aside for the few and the few set aside for the task of evangelism. Perhaps, then, as Holmes said, this kind of evangelism “allows the church to escape its responsibility to pass on the message.” Perhaps, also, according to Olyott, all too often “we have thought of evangelism as a thing which exists with its own identity and character, which is somehow connected to the life of the church” rather than being an integral part of church.
TWENTY-TWENTY VISION WITH HINDSIGHT
One impact of the crusades was to show that they did not reach anywhere near as many unchurched people as had been thought. Of the enquirers who came forward at the Crusades, 62% described themselves as ‘regular church attenders’. Tom Allan comments on the lack of the unchurched coming forward by proclaiming that “there is no possibility of effective evangelism until something is done to destroy the barriers of indifference which separate the Church from the people whom it is here to serve.”
Since Allan wrote those words, the barriers of indifference have grown larger than the church itself, and the church has declined accordingly. There is no evidence whatsoever (despite the availability of various analyses of results) to show that any of the ‘crusades’ of the 20th century served significantly to reverse this decline. And this suggests that the problem of the declining church has more profound origins than in any paucity of evangelistic missions.
Yet the crusades did touch many people. I have personally spoken to a number of people who attended the Kelvin Hall Crusades in 1955, and most remember it fondly. But perhaps one of the biggest impacts is seen not in those who responded at the crusades, but in how churches and Christians have responded since. For example, Holmes writes, “After spending nearly eight years in ‘normal’ evangelism, I have come to question the real long-term value of short (crusade evangelism) campaigns.” Allan has written that “New Testament methods of evangelism which do not lead into a New Testament commitment to teach, guide and shepherd the new Christian will never result in very much.”
The Glasgow crusades seemed to have caused (or assisted) a degree of polarisation about the methods involved, but so much of the focus appears to be on Billy Graham and the crusades, and so little on the churches that were also involved. Perhaps the greatest impact Billy Graham’s crusades have had is to make the church believe that evangelism is the responsibility of the para-church organisations who are ‘specialists’ in this field. I am sure that Graham himself, serving his Lord in the way that he believes is God-led, would be heartbroken if he thought that he had caused this belief.
John Allan, ‘The Local Church and Evangelism’, The Harvester, Vol LIX No 1, January 1979, pages 16-20
Editor: Tom Allan, Crusade In Scotland, (London, Pickering & Inglis, 1955)
Baptist Union of Scotland, Heart, Mind and Mission, (Glasgow, Baptist Union of Scotland, 2001)
Christopher Catherwood, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, (Eastbourne, Kingsway, 1995)
Charles T Cook, London Hears Billy Graham, (Edinburgh, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1954)
Peter Cotterell, ‘But What Is Evangelism?’, The Expository Times, Vol 102 No 9, June 1991, pages 259-262
Editor: Eddie Gibbs, Ten Growing Churches, (London, MARC, 1984)
Colin Holmes, ‘Evangelism Explosion’, The Harvester, Vol LVII No 5, May 1978, pages 148 and 149
John Matthews, ‘Facing Fragmenting Cultures’, The Baptist Minister’s Journal, April 2001, pages 6-8
Iain H Murray, D Martyn Lloyd-Jones – The Fight Of Faith, (Edinburgh, Banner Of Truth Trust, 1990)
Stuart Olyott, ‘What is Evangelism?’, The Banner of Truth, No 70-71, July-August 1969, pages 1-4
Ronald C Paul, Billy Graham – Prophet of Hope, (New York, Ballantyne Books, 1978)
John Pollock, Billy Graham, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1966)
John Wimber, Power Evangelism, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1985)
‘Square Pegs Round Holes’, Today, March 1984, pages 23-27
‘Taking Scotland To Fever Pitch’, The Glasgow Herald, Vol 220 No 36, page 27