WASHINGTON – Billy Graham is arguably the most well-known preacher, familiar to people both inside and outside of the Christian church.
Yet still, five months after his death, a more intimate picture of the prominent pastor is coming into focus through a new exhibit at the Museum of the Bible called Pilgrim Preacher: Billy Graham, the Bible, and the Challenges of the Modern World.
While the evangelist's influence is difficult to measure, his presence looms large in the exhibit space with dramatic black and white floor-to-ceiling murals and quotations sprinkled throughout the fifth-floor room.
"We really wanted to explore how Billy Graham understood and interpreted the Bible and then how that shaped his ministry," explained Anthony Schmidt, an associate curator at the Museum of the Bible and the exhibit's designer. "But then we wanted people to better understand culturally how he shaped post-war America in terms of his use of the media and the reach that he had around the globe."
In his more than 60 years as a preacher, Graham pioneered the use of radio, television, film, and mass crusades to teach from the holy scriptures.
"Very early on, he embraced technology and media, and that's what set him apart," Schmidt said.
It was when he was a little boy watching television with his parents that Schmidt first recalls seeing Graham. Then in college, he attended the evangelist's last crusade before retiring. The museum contains the pulpit used from that New York City revival in 2005 in addition to one from one of his first crusades.
As overseer of the exhibit, Schmidt has helped to collect more than a hundred of Graham's books, Bibles, and other personal belongings, which display the "pilgrim preacher's" journey from a boy born in Charlotte, North Carolina to a man who reached millions around the world.
From now until January 2019, the exhibit shows never-before-seen items on loan from the Billy Graham Library, where visitors can see his handwritten class notes from Bible school and a personal inscription he wrote in his father's Bible. There's even a pair of war-issue military boots that he wore during a trip to Korea in 1952 in sub-zero temperatures.
Collectively, the displays show his wide-ranging reach, which extended beyond the confines of the church and affected both culture and politics.
Still, Graham's son and ministry successor told CBN News earlier this year despite his father's prominence, he always understood his calling.
"My father never wanted to be a celebrity," insisted Franklin Graham. "Maybe that's why God used him."