Of Edman, Billy, and Heroes

By Scott Armstrong

Have you ever heard of V. Raymond Edman?

Except for graduates and employees of Wheaton College, probably not.  Edman was an American minister and writer who served as the fourth President of Wheaton College in Illinois from 1940 to 1965.

Recently Ed Stetzer, the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton, spoke at the Exponential Conference in Orlando.  He highlighted the fact that, soon after Edman became president of Wheaton College, his brother happened to hear a young preacher while they were vacationing in Florida. Edman’s brother and another member of the Wheaton College board decided to hire the preacher as a caddy on a golf course, and then offered to pay his first year of tuition if he attended college there

The name of that young preacher?

Billy Graham.

Graham accepted their offer and enrolled at Wheaton in the fall of 1940.  Many years later he wrote in his autobiography, “Edman won my heart at once. Crossing campus one of my first days there, I was greeted by a person I did not recognize. ‘Hi, Bill!’ he said. I found out the next day he was president of the college.” Billy couldn’t get over the fact that though he’d never met the man, Edman already knew his name!

Their second meeting took place at a prayer meeting when Dr. Edman told Billy that he’d heard good things about him from his mom and brother and that if he needed anything not to hesitate to contact him. Graham would write, “I never dreamed this was the beginning of one of the warmest, most enduring and important friendships of my entire life. Here was a man deep in the things of God, his life saturated with Scripture and prayer. Here was a man of courage and integrity—but most of all compassion… He was a marvelous listener. His counseling and his prayers were usually brief but to the point.”

Joel Woodruff notes that Dr. V. Raymond Edman became a spiritual father and friend to Billy Graham, and he would have a lifelong impact on Graham’s life and ministry. He even recommended that Billy succeed him as a preaching pastor at the local Tabernacle Church, while Graham was still a student. To make Billy’s preaching assignment easier, Edman would provide him with sermon outlines that he could adapt since he knew Billy had a full academic load and didn’t have time to prepare.

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As you probably know, last week – on February 21, 2018 – Billy Graham died.  Many worthy tributes were written in his honor, and the outpouring of love expressed from Christians and non-Christians alike spanned the entire globe. It is not hyperbole to say that he is perhaps the most famous and fruitful evangelist since the Apostle Paul.  However, it is the story of his mentor that is currently grabbing me.  The president of a university knowing his students’ names.  An unimaginably busy leader who not only allowed a university student to succeed him as pastor but took the time to provide him sermon outlines.  Is this not astounding?! As the leaders of the Exponential Church Planting Conference would say: Edman was truly a “hero maker.” He did not see Graham – or any young leader – as a threat, but rather invested in them and raised them up to be world-changers.

You may not have heard of V. Raymond Edman until 10 minutes ago.  But you have definitely heard of – and likely been impacted in some way by – Rev. Billy Graham.  And that’s the point.

Will you be a V. Raymond Edman?

Will you choose to serve and release and empower new leaders?

Will you be a hero maker?