Pasadena’s Fuller Theological Seminary Mourns Death of Former Trustee, Evangelist Billy Graham

Published : Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | 7:58 PM

Charles E. Fuller, trustee Billy Graham, and Edward John Carnell in front of Payton Hall on the Fuller Theological Seminary campus in Pasadena in an undated photograph. J Allen Hawkins image via Fuller


The Reverend Billy Graham, who died Wednesday at age 99, was long-connected Southern California. Fifty-five years after the 1949 crusade in Los Angeles which placed him on the world stage, Graham packed the Rose Bowl in 2004 for one of his last crusades.

Graham made two breakthroughs in the Southland. The first was as a young man whose faith was shaken and whose career as a minister was on the brink of failure.

He and a friend, fellow evangelist Charles Templeton, were traveling the U.S. and Europe together preaching in the years after WWII. A poorly attended crusade in Altoona, Pennsylvania had been a “flop,” so much so that Graham considered packing it up and returning to his farming roots. Templeton, meanwhile, was also having doubts and beginning to believe science and academia held the answers to life in a way the Bible did not. He urged his friend to look deeper and question the Bible’s intellectual challenges.

Graham fled to Southern California. He landed at the Forest Home retreat nestled in the San Bernadino mountains. It was there he prayed for answers—and got them.

“He decided to simply preach the Gospel and not worry about the intellectual challenges of the faith. He literally climbed down the mountain and never looked back, said Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Dartmouth University. ”

Rejuvenated, he headed to LA and over the span of a few weeks, became an international sensation. On September 25, 1949, in a Ringling Brothers-type tent pitched downtown, he preached as a man with a passion reborn.

The tent revivals were yet to be jammed packed; initially, they only reached half the number of attendees. Organizers declared if the weather heated up, they would continue. If it didn’t, the tent revivals would fold. A heat wave blew in, and Graham’s fate was all but sealed.

For reasons unknown, William Randolph Hearst started backing Graham, and sent an edict down to his writer’s saying, simply, “Puff Graham.”

The Hearst papers heralded “new tide of faith” turning under the big tent in downtown Los Angeles, and a star was born. By the time the crusade ended on November 20 of that year, 350,000 people had packed into to the Canvas Cathedral. A year later, Graham preached to over 1.8 million and the numbers rose exponentially from there and stayed steady throughout the rest of his life.

Graham was unofficial chaplain to 10 U.S. presidents, starting with Harry Truman. He attended inauguration ceremonies for eight of them before started to slow down in the early 2000s. Graham preached to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories on every continent except Antarctica. He wrote countless books, founded Christianity Today magazine, produced many, evangelical movies, films, videos and television programs and was even honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

In Pasadena, he served on the Board of Trustees at Fuller Seminary.

Fuller president Mark Labberton said of his passing, “As a figure of enormous influence, Billy Graham will be remembered for his contributions to evangelicalism, and by the counsel he provided to an untold number of leaders throughout the world.

“Fuller Seminary is indebted to Billy for his contributions during the foundational seasons in the life of the school. Billy was close friends with our founder, Charles E. Fuller, and our founding faculty, and invited Fuller’s Old Fashioned Revival Hour choir to perform at his 1949 L.A. crusades. A few years later, Charles asked Billy to join the Board of Trustees of the newly formed Fuller Seminary. As a trustee of Fuller from 1959-1968, Billy was involved in a pivotal time that saw the beginning of the School of Psychology and the School of World Missions (now School of Intercultural Studies), and remained a trustee emeritus until his death. I give God thanks for him and for his hope in Christ. His presence will be deeply missed by the Fuller community and by the world,” Labberton said.

Graham last crusade in Southern California, and his second to last ever, drew about 82,000 people to the Rose Bowl. There, for four days, the faithful flocked to see the frail Graham preach his message of salvation which, over the years, never wavered. “I really pray … on speculation that this may be the last sermon I’ll ever preach,” he said. “Because it may be. But I don’t know. It’s all in God’s hands.”



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