Sometimes you read a biography because you want to know if what you believed about a person is true or not. This can also be a dangerous endeavor because the author’s perspective will color the light in which that person is seen. And with that reality comes the real possibility that your perception will be changed. This is definitely true with Jerry Falwell.
I was still relatively young when Falwell’s public life was winding down. At the same time his presence and influence could be felt in so many different facets of American culture. The evangelical community felt his influence because of the size of Thomas Road Baptist Church and the church’s influence in the trends that it set. The academic arena felt the challenge of a competing university that offered a liberal arts education, while maintaining a strong evangelical point of view. The political realm was forever changed because of the rise of the religious right and the formation of the Moral Majority. Jerry Falwell was very much a larger than life person, but that was not what motivated the man.
Falwell’s widow, Macel, lovingly and honestly provides the reader with an insider’s view of Who shaped the man and what made the man. The conviction of Falwell’s life was that God sent His son into the world to provide salvation to whoever believed. This was what led the young and inexperienced pastor of the newly formed Thomas Road to knock on one hundred doors a day, six days a week. This was what motivated him to start radio and television ministries before the idea of preaching in these mediums became popular. This singular conviction was what drove Falwell to attempt things that the “normal” pastor would have thought foolish or ill-advised. But, that was exactly what appealed to Falwell, dreaming so big that only God could make it happen.
If anyone knew what made Falwell tick it was his wife. And yet in many ways the picture that is shaped by her recollections is not inflated or exaggerated. The difficulties and the heartaches are described and detailed as only she could have done. Seeing into the life of a man that was portrayed according to the most public facets of his life only creates a caricature of the whole man.
One event spoke to the devotion and intensity with which Falwell followed the leading and prompting of God. Liberty University was, and will possibly be, Falwell’s greatest achievement. The lengths to which he went to bolster its success is captured by a difficult time in the school’s history. While enrollment and growth was increasing, the school was carrying too much debt. This caused Liberty’s accreditation to be jeopardized. So what does Falwell do? He fasts for forty days, calling upon God for a financial miracle. While this may sound extreme, Falwell did this twice within a eight month period. A liquid only fast, twice in one year. The miracle came. Falwell’s faith was vindicated and the university was spared.
I found myself moved by the faith of a man that many portrayed as close-minded, bigoted and extreme. I am glad that I read this book and would recommend it to you as a testimony of what God can to in a man and women that become single-minded in their trust and devotion to God. On multiple occasions my heart was touched to tears. Not so much because the man was great, but because God was great in this humble servant. I was convicted and challenged to surrender, not just more of myself, but all of myself to the will and work of God.