By Joy Allmond
The 1949 tent revival in Los Angeles that catapulted Billy Graham onto the national scene might not have happened if he hadn’t boldly confronted a brief crisis of faith with prayer.
Just a couple of months before the eight-week revival, Graham—then president of Northwestern College—spoke at a California college retreat. Also on the platform was Charles Templeton, another evangelist who happened to be a good friend of Graham’s. Templeton’s trust in the authority of Scripture had been waning.
He challenged Graham with his relatively newfound approach to the Bible, saying Graham’s approach was outdated. People no longer accept the infallibility of the Scriptures, claimed Templeton.
After the challenge, Graham was prompted to grapple with his own beliefs.
Could a Bible college-trained preacher and former Youth for Christ evangelist question his own faith? Yes, apparently.
“I had no doubt concerning the deity of Jesus Christ or the validity of the gospel,” he wrote decades later in his biography, Just As I Am.
“But was the Bible completely true? With the Los Angeles campaign galloping toward me, I had to have an answer. If I could not trust the Bible, I could not go on. … I would have to leave pulpit evangelism.”
After the weight of Templeton’s challenge stirred him, he went for a stroll on the grounds of Forest Home retreat center—where he was scheduled to preach the gospel the next day—and stopped at a tree stump.
During his Florida Bible College days, he was known for standing on tree stumps and practicing his sermons at least 25 times before he delivered them.
Now, he found himself kneeling at one, Bible open, praying through doubt—something that was foreign and uncomfortable for him.
“O God!” he recalled praying. “There are many things in this Book I do not understand … There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science.”
Moments later, he said he felt the Holy Spirit began to move in a clear way.
Graham then prayed, “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”
After his prayer, he recalls his eyes brimming with tears.
“I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but … I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.”
As the world remembers Billy Graham on the one-year anniversary of his death, this particular victory can be recognized not only as one for Graham, personally, but for the millions who would hear him proclaim the gospel over the decades.
Joy is the executive communications manager at Lifeway.