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Southern Baptists dedicate statue of Billy Graham

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–Billy Graham’s impact on the Southern Baptist Convention will last for generations, and a bronze sculpture unveiled June 14 at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention will likewise cement forever the famous evangelist and his Gospel message for passersby in downtown Nashville, Tenn.

Representatives from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), sculptor Terrell O’Brien and financiers Chris Fryer and Matt Samuelson joined officials from LifeWay Christian Resources and SBC President Bobby Welch to dedicate a larger-than-life sculpture of Graham during a brief ceremony.

Graham’s grandson, William Franklin Graham IV, who pastors a small Southern Baptist church outside Winston Salem, N.C., closed the ceremony in prayer.

The sculpture features a seven-foot-tall depiction of Graham standing beside a 17-foot cross.

Graham’s arms are open wide, an open Bible rests in his left hand and, as Welch pointed out during the ceremony, the famous evangelist’s mouth is open in full Gospel proclamation. At the foot of the cross rest three nails and a stone inscribed with the words of John 3:16.

The sculpture will stand in a grassy area in front of the LifeWay Christian Resources complex and the SBC Building in Nashville.

Cliff Barrows, BGEA vice president and Graham crusade song director for more than six decades, said the sculpture illustrates well the evangelist’s five passions.

“It represents a passion for the Word of God,” Barrows said. “He believes [the Bible] is the Word of God. You have heard him say in countries around the world as I have, ‘the Bible says.’ That was the foundation for his message. Then there was the passion for proclaiming it. You see that his mouth is open. … He had the power and the passion to proclaim the Gospel.

“And then the message preached is so clearly portrayed with the favorite text (John 3:16) that he has used in country after country …. He made that so clear, and people believe that he believed it and he meant it. He said that was the first verse his mother ever taught him when he was a little boy,” Barrows continued.

“Then there was the passion for the lost. I love to see his arms outstretched, inviting people to the cross …. Then finally, there is his fifth passion, portrayed in the life of the Apostle Paul [when he said], ‘God forbid I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.’ He would tell us as a young team many years ago, ‘Fellows, we dare not glory in anything but the Lord Jesus,’” Barrows said. “He will not share His glory with another. Let’s be sure to give Him the praise and the glory and the honor that is due to Him.’”

The sculpture was created by O’Brien, a bivocational pastor from Wyoming, and funded by Fryer and Samuelson, two Southern Baptist businessmen from Atlanta. O’Brien said he sought to capture both the man and his message.

“This is certainly about Dr. Graham, but it is also about the Gospel and that is what I want it to portray and I hope that comes across strongly and profoundly because we are about preaching the Gospel …,” he said. “I have tried to bring the Gospel to the forefront in this sculpture and pay tribute to a man who has dedicated his life to preaching all over the world without compromise. So this has been a great privilege for me.”

Welch, who is pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., said the memorial to Graham’s ministry and message should serve as an inspiration for ministers young and old.

“If an older pastor were to wonder how he should go out of the Gospel ministry, he should look at that statue,” Welch said. “[Go] with the Word in your hand, preaching the cross, your mouth open, letting Jesus be known to the world.

“If there is ever a young pastor [who] wondered, ‘What route shall I take for my whole ministry?’ take a look at that statue. Go the whole way with the Word of God as the inerrant truth, with the cross of Calvary as your message and with your mouth open preaching the Lord Jesus. That’s exactly what this man [Graham] would do.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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