Anne Graham Lotz has done her share of thinking about the past, present and future of evangelism — which is understandable since her father Billy Graham liked to call her the “best preacher in the family.”
But in recent years, Lotz has had other serious issues to think and pray about, while caregiving for her husband before his death in 2015 and then her own surgery and a year of treatments after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
At this point, Lotz believes “that the Lord has healed me.” Thus, she is inching back into public life.
She has been doing lots of thinking about the health of the modern church in an era of strained family ties, a rising tide of loneliness and legions of online demons lurking on digital screens. Consider, for example, a sobering dinner conversation she had with the president of a major seminary, as described in “Jesus In Me,” her new book.
“As we conversed, he confided that the number one problem that he faced with students at his school was pornography,” wrote Lotz. She was shocked and asked him to repeat his statement. “Was he talking about the men and women who were studying at his seminary in preparation for Christian ministry as pastors, youth leaders, music directors, Bible teachers, seminary professors and other leaders in the church?”
Yes, the seminary president replied. The problem surfaced when staff examined the online search files on computers in a hidden corner of the campus library that students assumed was private.
Lotz is still struggling with that image and all that it symbolizes.
Thus, when asked about the future of evangelism — such as the “Just Give Me Jesus” revivals she led from 2000-2012 — she stressed that she needs to focus her AnGeL Ministries work elsewhere, at least for awhile.
“The key is whether people are actually trying to live Christian lives and touch other people,” said the 71-year-old Bible teacher, in a recent telephone interview. “People need something larger and more authentic than having more social-media followers on some website. …
“Right now, I feel that the Lord wants me to focus on the personal side of all this, on the lives of Christians who have taken a first step of faith — but now they need to go further. … I’m just trying to be authentic and talk about what it means to have a deep, personal faith.”
At one point in the book, Lotz shared a four-page litany that can be used by believers who are open to some spiritual “house cleaning.” It is not a political document, but there are times when she looks at the state of affairs in American life and, especially, the church.
“We switch labels to make sin seem less sinful. We call lying, exaggeration. We call fornication, safe sex,” she wrote. “We call drunkenness, illness. We call jealousy, ambition. We call pride, self-esteem. … We repent.
“We have expected pastors to be CEOs. We have made spiritual leaders into celebrities. We have turned ministries into businesses. … We repent.”
All of this doesn’t mean that Billy Graham’s daughter has written off preaching or evangelism efforts. But when people ask an old question, “Who is the next Billy Graham?”, Lotz repeats something her father said many times in the final decades of his life — watch what is happening in Africa, Asia and the Global South.
New evangelists will emerge. New forms of evangelism will emerge.
“If what my father did is what people think of when they hear the word ‘evangelism,’ I don’t know if that will come our way again,” she said. “It might take a natural disaster or something even worse to inspire some kind of mass revival here in America. … I’m not sure I should pray for that kind of crisis right now.”
Lotz paused. Having faced great sorrows and a battle with cancer, she said, she is moving forward — slowly and carefully.
“I never take for granted when God gives me a chance to talk to people — at any time or place. … But I just don’t know what that means for me, right now,” she said. “The Spirit hasn’t shown me a big picture yet. I’m just seeing the next step that’s right in front of me.”
Terry Mattingly (tmatt.net) leads GetReligion.org and is Senior Fellow for Media and Religion at The King’s College in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn.