Book Review: America’s Pastor (Grant Wacker)

Some biographies have the energy and immediacy of a radio broadcaster’s play-by-play. America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation has the measured, thoughtful analysis of an end-of-year magazine analysis. Dialogue and narrative tension never speed the place up. But Wacker also never gets so bogged down in details that the pace slows to a crawl. There is a consistent, moderate tempo throughout.

The analogy to a year-end retrospective applies in another: America’s Pastor isn’t really a biography. It’s a topical summary of Graham’s life. There are eight chapters: Preacher, Icon, Southerner, Entrepreneur, Architect, Pilgrim, Pastor, and Patriarch. Most of the titles are fairly self-evident; Pilgrim deals with his relationships with Presidents and other political matters, while Southerner deals with his position on civil rights and other issues of particular relevance to his region of origin.

It has the academic objectivity one might expect from a book published by Harvard University Press. Wacker holds a relatively favorable view of Graham in most areas. He levels a few fairly reasonable critiques, and in quoting Graham’s critics, occasionally quotes a word that would not be used in polite company.

One particularly odd linguistic note: When speaking of Graham, Wacker kept switching from the past tense to the present. Graham the man is alive while Graham the evangelist is retired; it would be understandable if Wacker used the past tense strictly when speaking of his career, but at times the past tense is used of Graham the man.

If you want only one book about Graham on your shelf, this probably isn’t the one for you. (Start with a biography.) But if you already have several biographies, this topical study is a thoughtful, measured perspective worth the time to read.

Overall rating: 4 stars

Scholarship: 5 stars

Pace: 3 stars

Objectivity: 5 stars

Clean Language: 3 stars