By Sarah Pride
Patrick Henry College
Upon entering the office of Dr. Aikman, Associate Professor of History at Patrick Henry College, one must move a coat and a plastic bag labeled “Best Nuts of Beirut” off of his spare chair before sitting down. As former senior and foreign correspondent for TIME magazine, Aikman has traveled the world extensively and interviewed several major world figures, from Mother Teresa to Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Boris Yeltsin to Billy Graham. He recently amused students in his evening class at PHC with the casual anecdote, “When I was at lunch today with an Egyptian diplomat…”
Exchanges like this are not uncommon in classes taught by Professor Aikman, whose depth of knowledge on such topics as the Middle East, the global spread of Christianity, and American politics have led to countless cover stories, documentaries, and books. His two interviews with Billy Graham, the famous Christian crusader, in fact, led to the recent release of Aikman’s ninth book, Billy Graham: His Life and Influence. What began as a single chapter on Graham in Aikman’s volume, Great Souls: Six Who Changed a Century, grew into a full-length biography when the publishers asked him to expand it into a book worthy of its subject.
“Billy Graham is an enormously interesting American,” says Aikman. “He was immensely influential in the second half of the twentieth century. Not only was he close friends with at least ten American presidents, but also with many rulers around the world. His version of evangelicalism became the dominant strain.”
Beyond his two formal interviews with Graham, Aikman has followed his activities for some time. Until the final push to publication, the book had simmered slowly in progress for almost a decade.
“At first there wasn’t any hurry, so I’ve been puttering away on the biography for several years,” says Aikman, “but recently [Thomas Nelson Publishers] came to me and said, ‘We’d like it now, while Graham is alive.”
The book describes Billy Graham’s career, putting it into theological, philosophical, and historical context, and deals with the way these themes developed in his life. It assesses his global significance in the Protestant evangelical movement.
Aikman says that his book describes Graham’s theological and political shift from a “fiery, anti-Communist crusader to an evangelist willing to engage with Communist countries on their own terms.” Strangely enough, this softer approach to Communists may have actually helped speed the downfall of their regime.
“Graham made many ministry trips to eastern Europe,” Aikman says. “For example, he traveled to Timisoara in Romania in 1985. Four years later, this is where the Romanian Revolution against the Communists began. Some say Graham’s trip gave the Protestants in Timisoara the courage they needed.”
Life and Influence was released in October, 2007. It sells for $24.99 in bookstores, or $16.49 on amazon.com.