Book Review: Answers to Life’s Problems

Book Review: Answers to Life’s Problems

Author: Billy Graham

Date: 1960-1988

Publisher: Chicago Tribune / Word / Grason

ISBN: 0-8499-0642-3 (Grason, 1988)

Length: 306 pages plus 6 pages of index material

Quote: “For nearly thirty years I have been writing a newspaper column called ‘My Answer’…My answers are based on what the Bible says.”

My copy of Answers to Life’s Problems was published in the year Billy Graham turned seventy. At the time when I wrote this review, more than twenty years later, the voice of twentieth-century American Protestantism was still alive and still, occasionally, preaching. Some people who buy books from me feel that this fact alone represents some sort of supernatural seal of approval on Graham’s work.

Graham may also be the best known American Protestant minister whose public career has not been marred by scandal. Although the position of this blog is that anyone can choose to avoid the tacky little sins that have discredited so many other preachers, the extravagances and adulteries and desperate bids for attention, I’ll agree that any of us who manage to avoid public displays of tackiness during public careers as long as Graham’s will have had some sort of supernatural help.

Not every Protestant will agree with every one of the interpretations of the Bible that shape this book, but as a general rule, if you want to know what most Protestant ministers would say about a given issue, Answers to Life’s Problems is a good book to consult. There is a great deal of plain common sense in this book; there is remarkably little divisive doctrine.

In fact, so closely does this book reflect the consensus of Protestant opinion that, if you are a Protestant of a certain age, you may feel that this book has little new to tell you. You may find yourself anticipating what Graham was going to tell each respondent and feeling that, in many cases, if you’d memorized the Scripture reference you would have told a young person the same thing.

Then again, if you’ve never given much thought to some of these questions, Answers to Life’s Problems may be a good reference to consult before giving advice.

Most of the common questions that touch on the practice of Christian religion are covered in this book. A few of the answers have a censorious tone, but even in those cases, contrasting the tone of Graham’s answers over time is a valuable study of how we can learn to express firmly held opinions in a modest and compassionate way.

Some of Graham’s Answers to Life’s Problems may surprise Christian-phobics who might imagine that the book would be full of fire and brimstone, judgment and doom. Respondents considering abortion are advised not to consider it. On the other hand, respondents confessing past abortions are advised to trust God’s forgiving love.

I’m particularly favorably impressed with Graham’s courage to print what was becoming bait for terrorist-style violence in the 1980s. Clearly and unequivocally he told a “gay” correspondent: “Homosexual behavior is wrong in God’s eyes, but [God] still loves you.” This is congruent with his advice to others tempted by the sins of the flesh. Nobody is told that carnal indulgence is unpardonable; nobody is told that it’s okay. Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.”

Far be it from me to suggest that homosexuality is worse than the careless procreation of unwanted babies, the false promises, the sadistic little “mind games” and the physical cruelty, to which heterosexuals are tempted. In some cases it may be less bad. A church where the Bible is sincerely and seriously read will have to welcome homosexuals in precisely the same way it welcomes adulterers, embezzlers, tax cheats, Sabbath breakers, and all the rest of us…without giving the claim that “gay is just as good as straight” any more credence than it would give a claim that “drunk is just as good as sober.”

Moral standards are not brickbats to throw at people’s heads; they are the solid brick foundations of healthy, happy lives. Answers to Life’s Problems is an excellent description of how these foundations are built.

Middle-aged Christians who read this book will find room to expand and update some passages. Because each question and answer originally had to fit into the space of a newspaper column, even though some of the questions suggest situations that call for in-depth counselling, it would be possible for several of Graham’s answers to be expanded into full-length books. It’s even been done. For example, Gary Chapman’s study of The Five Love Languages adds a great deal to Graham’s advice to a “desperate housewife” on pages 43-44.

Some of us may even think of a question that’s not addressed in this book. Anthony Campolo once claimed to have identified Twenty Hot Potatoes That Christians Are Afraid to Touch. Graham does discuss racism in Answers to Life’s Problems (he’s against it), but he offers no further advice for those trying to integrate a church dominated by a different ethnic group.

Anyway, Answers to Life’s Problems is an excellent basic book about the Christian life. It is particularly recommended to two types of readers. One is the teacher, preacher, counsellor, or evangelical Christian who needs a quick roundup of the basic Protestant positions on questions like cheating in business, what to pray about, and whether pets go to Heaven. The basics, with plenty of Bible quotes, are all there.

The other is the person who wonders what Christianity has to say to him or her, perhaps on a subject this person wouldn’t want to discuss with a client or co-worker. If you want to know whether Christian counselling can help you, this book will provide a good general idea of where Christian counselling is likely to lead.

Answers to Life’s Problems sold well and is easy to find secondhand. Billy Graham is alive and directing a staff (including some of his children) to continue writing and even Twittering in his name, although questions were raised, even when “My Answers” was a newspaper column, about the extent to which Graham actually wrote (or even dictated) “his” answers versus supervising the people who did. Therefore, Answers to Life’s Problems is a Fair Trade Book. Send $5 per copy + $5 per package to either address at the lower left side of the screen. We count this as $10 per book, although you could order four copies at one time and pay only $25 total, and will send $1 per book to Graham or a charity of his choice. (Yes, if you ordered four copies for $25, Graham or his charity would get $4.)

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