What happens when you get the world’s top interviewer together with the world’s top evangelist? You get a book something like today’s.
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review Billy Graham: Candid Conversations with a Public Man by David Frost. 224 pages, published by David C. Cook in August 2014.
A Free Book, Simple
I got this book for free from Faithlife. But it’s not free for you. Just me. I don’t know how the deal works, maybe it’s only offered to those in the mailing list because when I checked today, this book is offered for USD11.99 in Faithlife. It’s USD9.89 in Amazon Kindle. So I guess the lesson here is get on Faithlife’s mailing list to get free book deals? Crossway does the same thing. They just gave me two free books: “The Whole Armor of God” by Iain M. Duguid and “The Case for Life” by Scott Klusendorf.
Back to the free Billy Graham book. I’m glad I got this free book when I did. Because after reviewing a few heavy books recently: Dale Ralph Davis’ commentary on Daniel, Matt Rhodes’ manifesto on modern missions, Rula Khoury Mansour’s theology of reconciliation, it’s a welcome change of pace to read something lighter.
To read a book on “a simple country preacher who preaches a simple gospel,” as Billy Graham once described himself.
On the cover, this book says:
Most people know Billy Graham the preacher.
Many know Billy Graham the author.
In this remarkable book, Graham reveals a personal side that few have seen before.
And the one who reveals that personal side is the man who needs no introduction, the equally famous, David Frost, the legendary TV interviewer.
David Frost the Interviewer
David who? Billy Graham I know, but who is David Frost? I realise my ignorance is showing but perhaps to some listeners, Frost is a man who does need introduction.
David Frost was a British interviewer known for history-making interviews. A British Larry King, if you like. But better because none of Larry King’s interviews got made into an Oscar-nominated movie, titled Frost/Nixon. That famous interview elevated Frost and brought down Nixon who must have thought he could go no further down.
It just so happens, or as I prefer to call it, providentially, I finished today’s book, the Billy Graham book, in the same week as Watergate’s 50th anniversary. That was the extra push I needed to watch the movie, which I thought would be like “A Few Good Men” but on Watergate. You know that scene where Tom Cruise got Jack Nicholson to confess? Well, the British don’t do it that way. As much as I am tempted, I won’t review that movie, but the reason I mention it is because it sheds insight on the author.
What I saw on screen was the power of questions dramatised. Questions can be so powerful. Consider: A counsellor says, “You have told me what happened, now tell me how do you feel?”, or when an evangelist calls out, “When you stand before a holy God, what will you say to get into Heaven?”, or when you are all by yourself and you wonder, “Who am I?” Questions are powerful.
From what I saw of David Frost, the artistic-licensed version in the movie, and snippets of the man in his interviews with Mikhail Gorbachev, Benazir Bhutto, Paul McCartney, Ron Howard and others, they all expect Frost to ask the big questions, but they chose to be there so that they can answer them in a frame of sincerity. A private setting, two guys having a candid conversation, for a public revelation.
Now that you know more about David Frost, we can look at the book he wrote based on the interviews he had with Billy Graham.
Let’s open up the book and see what we have.
First, we have a foreword from Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian. He writes:
Reading about my grandfather’s doubts and failures in black and white offers a refreshing view of his life and his relationship with Jesus and demonstrates the unmerited grace of God for all of us. In these pages, Daddy Bill talks with David Frost about the things he wished he never said, his failures as a parent, as well as those difficult questions he feels he will never be able to answer on this side of heaven.
Next, we have a preface from David Frost, written in 1997. 1997? That’s odd. This book was published in 2014. Let me check and yeah… David Frost passed away in 2013 at the age of 74. And five years after David Frost, in 2018, Billy Graham passed away at the age of 99.
Coming back. The author’s preface was written in 1997. The book was finally published in 2014. Since then, we have newer books on Billy Graham. Billy Graham wrote “Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well” in 2013. Mind you, he wrote this in his 90s. And that was not the last book he wrote. Two years later, Billy Graham wrote “Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond”.
Thus, with newer books around, why read reflections on musty old interviews? The publisher, David C. Cook, wrote in the introduction:
Our only question was in regards to the relevance of the interviews. That is, were they still timely? We should have known better from the start. In reviewing the footage we found that far from being dated, they were more relevant now than ever.
“Far from being dated, they were more relevant now than ever.” And this relevance is clearly seen in how the book is organised. It is not organised chronologically, by the first interview followed by the second, instead it is organised topically, showing what Billy Graham said on this or that topic and you can judge for yourself whether it is relevant or not.
Chapter one is titled Billy Graham on Faith in God.
Chapter two is Billy Graham on Family and Marriage.
And so on the pattern goes: Three is on Politics, four is on Preaching, Evangelism and the Bible, five: Pain and Suffering, six: Presidents, seven: Sin and Temptation, eight: Moral and Social Issues, nine is titled Billy Graham on Billy Graham and the last chapter is Billy Graham on End Times and Heaven.
Finally in the book, we have an epilogue and a timeline of Billy Graham’s life.
Frost On Billy
This book is based on Frost’s interviews with Graham but it is not pages and pages of interview transcripts.
Do you know how it’s like after reading a good biography? You spend the next few days, weeks, reflecting on the person’s life? In this case, instead of reading a book, Frost is reading the man. He reflects not just on the many interviews he conducted, he also comments on interviews Graham did with Larry King and Phil Donahue, speeches Graham made at the Oklahoma City bombing, for example, and books and articles others have written on Graham.
He is thinking about Billy Graham and selects excerpts from his interviews to flesh out the man to the reader. Consider this exchange:
Frost: You’ve been battling Parkinson’s disease for three years or so. Now, is God responsible for that?
Graham: I don’t know. He allows it. And He allows it for a purpose that I may not know. I think everything that comes to our lives, if we are true believers, God has a purpose and a plan. And many of these things are things that cause suffering or inconvenience or whatever. But it helps to mature me because God is molding and making me in the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ suffered more than any man that ever lived, because when He was on that cross, He was bearing the sins that you and I have committed. He was guilty of adultery. He was guilty of murder. He was guilty of everything you can think of. And He was guilty of our sins. Now, He suffered in a way that we could never understand.
Frost: But, I mean, for instance, I thank God for having three healthy sons.
Frost: But, maybe that’s not logical, really, because if I am thanking God for three healthy sons, should the parents of a Down syndrome baby be blaming God?
And the two continue back and forth. Frost presses the issue. He asks how should parents of a deformed child look at their situation? He asks, “If you don’t blame God for ill health, you can’t thank him for good health, can you?” It’s not an inquisition, Frost is never hostile to Graham, or any of his interviewees, Frost is respectful but he wants to draw out a part of Billy Graham that the public may not know.
Billy on BLM, CRT, AOC and KKK
Let’s look at another chapter. In Chapter 8, “Billy Graham on Moral and Social Issues”, Frost recounts their interview in 1970 on the topic of race relations in the United States. Listen and let’s see what you think. Graham says:
One of the things that disturbs me in the United States at the moment is there’s a certain element in the black community, a small element to be sure, that wants separatism.
For example, I know a university right now where the dormitories are completely integrated, but where the blacks are saying, “No, we want our own dormitory; we want our own classes; we want separatism.” Now, whether this is going to be the beginning of something that will grow, I hope not, because I think the only hope for America to settle her race problem is an integrated society.
But there are those today that don’t agree with that, in the black community as well as the white community, and whether they will gain momentum or not, I don’t know.
What came to your mind as you listened to this? Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory? Is Billy Graham among the prophets? Is he speaking prophetically of the future, 50 years later from where he was? Consider this exchange:
Graham: … It seems to me that we’ve got extremists, David, the extreme right and the extreme left that are almost irreconcilable. And we’ve got a group of people now that really believe in the violent overthrow of the government. Now, they do not have any system that they would like to substitute. They’ve come forward with no plan as yet; they just want to destroy. And I don’t know whether you can carry on a dialogue with this type of person or not. I don’t—some of them I know. They’ll talk to me; some of them will. And I have met with them several times. And I just find that it’s almost impossible to reason. They’re not interested in reason. They’re not interested in dialogue. They’re not interested in sitting down quietly and talking about the problem. They’re interested in disruption, in violence, in destruction to bring down the system.
Frost: But then, if you come in a little from that, to on the one hand people like hard hats and on the other hand, you know, protesting students who are protesting violently, but really passionately against the system in some way or another, how do you bring those two groups together? I mean, given that you’ll never bring a Ku Klux Klan man together with a really violent Weatherman? You know what I mean. But how do you bring closer together a right-wing hard hat and a left-wing student?
The Bible says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Fifty years on, how true that is.
Most of the book is to be expected. Graham on Marriage. Graham on Pain and Suffering. Standard fare in any conference Q&A. Some are unique to Billy Graham. Frosts ask him on Richard Nixon. There is a whole chapter on Presidents. And he talks to Frost about being famous.
Things He Said That Make You Go Hmmm… Today
But those are all things that readers would expect. Let me now quickly tell you a few things that David Frost, Billy Graham and the publishers did not expect. Things that make us ponder a bit more in these times.
For example, Billy Graham talks about his controversial trip to preach the gospel in the Soviet Union. Graham was told, I quote, “You will get the strongest criticism from the Christian right, because they will feel somehow that you’re compromising with the Devil.”
Six months ago, this reference to Cold War Soviet Union would be antiquated. Today, the world finds itself wrestling with how to engage with the Soviet Union, I mean, Russia. There is nothing new under the sun.
Another unexpected turn of events is Billy Graham’s grandson. The cover of the book proudly states, “Foreword by Tullian Tchividjian”. At that time, Tchividjian was an upcoming evangelical influencer. Less than a year later, he resigns as a pastor from his church because of adultery.
Since the passing of Billy Graham, the famous evangelist, we also saw the passing of Ravi Zacharias, the famous apologist. Except in the case of Zacharias, his life’s work, the books he wrote, the speeches he gave, the people he helped are now overshadowed by the scandals that came to light after his death.
So we have Graham’s grandson Tchividjian and the famous fallen apologist, Ravi Zacharias, I read with a heavy heart what Billy Graham, the man behind the Billy Graham rule, and he said that his greatest fear was:
That I’ll do something or say something that will bring some disrepute on the gospel of Christ before I go. And I want the Lord to remove me before I say something or do something that would embarrass God.
This is a throwaway statement. Frost included it as a curiosity. Isn’t it funny what Billy Graham is fearful of. He is not afraid of death, he is afraid of embarrassing God. Oh, if only we had the same fear.
The book ends on a poignant note. I won’t spoil it here. I’ll just say it was a surprise ending to me. There is no final reflection, concluding thoughts, from David Frost the writer. The book ends with David Frost the interviewer, David Frost sitting across a pastor. It made me wonder, after drawing out the life of Billy Graham, the simple preacher, for the public, did David Frost hear the simple gospel for his own heart and soul?
In conclusion, if you are a big Billy Graham fan, you have read all the books, listened to all his sermons, then I don’t know how much you would gain from this book. For myself, I know the name but not so much the man. Much of what I know comes from bits and pieces and I knew more in the year he passed away with all the tributes coming forth.
This format is a nice one for the not-so-committed reader of Graham. There are many biographies of him but you may not know enough of the guy to want to hear his whole life story. Frost’s book is a light read which can convince you that this simple preacher is worth finding out what all the fuss is about.
Billy Graham wrote many books on various topics. But instead of reading all those books, you can get a taste, a small sample, from Frost’s book.
The nice thing about Frost’s book is we read Graham’s own words from those interviews. Nobody wants to read pages and pages of interview transcripts, so Frost wisely connects the interviews with his own observations. These are observations from a guy whose lifetime job was to interview the fabulously rich and famous and powerful. He clearly enjoyed Billy Graham’s conversation. Read this book, you might enjoy theirs.
This is a Reading and Reader’s review of “Billy Graham: Candid Conversations with a Public Man” by David Frost. 224 pages, published by David C. Cook in August 2014. Available for USD11.99 in Faithlife, USD9.56 in Amazon Kindle, at the time of this recording.
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