I had an odd emotion when I saw the news of Billy Graham's passing. "Finally..."
It seems like we've been writing Graham's obit for years, as he did a slow fade out of the public eye. That link is from a 2006 post on a Graham statue that the SBC put up, and closes thusly,
Graham's not dead yet, just in deteriorating health. Were he dead and Catholic, he'd be on the fast track to sainthood like Mother Teresa or John Paul the Great; people would flock to his grave-site asking for him to intercede with Jesus.
Evangelicals cut out the middleman and pray straight to God; there isn't a market for a evangelical capital-s saint. However, he's a singular figure in 20th Century American Christianity; none of the big televangelists can come close to the impact that Graham has had.
How do you honor that body of work? A nice museum is inevitable; things are likely to err some on the high-tech Disneyesque side given the scope of interest in Graham. However, we'd best honor it by trying to better present the Gospel ourselves, with more humility and less pride, more universality (not universalism, mind you, but the idea that the Gospel transcends nationality and culture) and less parochial thoughts.
It took 11 more years to finish deteriorating. It seems like another era already. Graham was America's Pastor that largely transcended politics (over-coziness with Nixon not withstanding) well into this century. The Obama inaugural had Rick Warren filling that role, but by 2012, even a largely apolitical preacher was too toxic to the left to do a reprisal. Louie Giglio got vetoed by the LBGT lobby even though he was even more apolitical than Warren; merely being an orthodox Christian was enough.
However, it's not the civic religion role that drove Graham, it was a simple drive to tell the world about Jesus. That's more important than who's in the White House or the Supreme Court.
It's also needed even more than it was when I did a VBS presentation on Graham in the early 1990s. I remember closing my presentation with the idea that Graham was getting up their in years and that one of the kids from Kent's Grace Baptist could be his successor.
They're now in their 30s. Time flies.
It feels like the Church is on the back foot these days, fighting a rear-guard action against an advancing hostile culture that makes the idea of Graham somewhat quaint. However, the Common Era has has darker ages.
If you cheated and read the end of the book, the good guys win. Keep that in mind. Billy did.