24/09/2008

The Secret of Happiness (by Billy Graham)

I have a lot of respect for Billy Graham, who is now almost ninety years old. The American evangelist is known all over the world for his campaigns to introduce people to Christ; he has some detractors, of course and his methods seem rather dated in the 21st century, but he is - or was, in his younger days - a man of vision, who followed God's call and reached out to millions.

He's also written several books, a few of which I've read and enjoyed. So when I saw 'The Secret of Happiness' on a second-hand bookstall, I bought it without hesitation, despite the rather dodgy sounding title!

It was written in 1956, when Billy Graham was still in his thirties, so I expected it to be a bit immature theology-wise, as well as rather dated in style. I was right on both counts. The thesis of the book is the Sermon on the Mount - or, more particularly, the Beatitudes: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall receive the Kingdom of God' and so on. After an introductory chapter, Graham takes one Beatitude at a time and expounds on them.

He makes the point that the word translated as 'Blessed' also means something like 'happy', although it's not the kind of shallow happiness that so many people seem to search for in material possessions and casual relationships. He looks at what is meant by each of the statements made by Jesus in the Beatitudes, how they are of relevance in the modern (or at least mid-20th century) world, and why they could lead to 'happiness'.

It could have been excellent - the Sermon on the Mount was, after all, one of the greatest talks Jesus ever gave, full of wisdom and insight for Christians, and admired by many who are not believers. But Billy Graham is primarily an evangelist, and could not resist putting a short evangelistic message into almost every chapter. Happiness, he keeps explaining, can only be found by trusting in Christ and asking him into our lives. True, but not the point of the book, and rather distracting to read so often.

I was also a bit disappointed that he didn't seem to say anything particularly deep or thought-provoking, or, indeed, anything I had not already read or heard many times. Perhaps he was one of the first to look at these sayings of Jesus; maybe other writers used this book as their research - I don't know. All I can say is that I kept hoping for something more interesting or profound.

It wasn't a bad book - I read a chapter per day for about ten days, and found it fairly easy reading. Other than being full of exclamation marks, the style wasn't so old-fashioned that it couldn't be read by most people today, as the English is fairly simple. It might even be a good book for young Christians to learn some basic doctrine, based firmly on Scripture.

Evidently it remains popular since it's still in print, in both the UK and USA, over fifty years after it was first published.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 23rd September 2008

1 comment:

Serge Ragonnaud said...

Videos Billy Graham's sermons in France at Paris Bercy in 1986 on: http://evangelistsergeragonnaud.blogspot.com/