The Cross and
the Switchblade still makes impact 40 years later
By Peter K. Johnson
(January 12, 2003)
First published in
1963, The Cross and the Switchblade has touched millions of lives and keeps on spreading
the gospel message.
street: Evangelist Nicky Cruz (left) prays with a young
man as David Wilkerson preaches.
The book is a publishing
blockbuster. An estimated 32 million copies have been sold or
“I am amazed
that after 40 years it would still be opening doors for evangelism,”
says David Wilkerson, its author and founder of Teen Challenge.
Pulling no punches, the book tells how God led Wilkerson to
minister among violent street gangs and drug addicts in New
York City during the late 1950s and to launch Teen Challenge.
He wrote the story with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, co-authors
of The Hiding Place and God’s Smuggler.
The story began as
an article in Guideposts magazine where the Sherrills worked. The Sherrills
spent more than two years helping Wilkerson turn it into a book.
Wilkerson narrated scenes from notes that he had compiled while
the Sherrills edited and rewrote his descriptions. Studying
the revised manuscript at home, Wilkerson prayed on his knees
over every word.
In 1972, the book
was made into a feature film starring Pat Boone as Wilkerson.
“We did not have the least idea of the impact of the book,”
Elizabeth Sherrill says.
According to the
Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, the book
helped spark the beginning of the charismatic outpouring among
Roman Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations. Reading
about speaking in tongues made many believers hungry for the
baptism in the Holy Spirit.
are serving the Lord today as a result of the book. “God
called me to Teen Challenge work in 1968 while I was in Bible
school when I read The Cross and the Switchblade,”
says Duane Henders, a missionary with Global Teen Challenge.
Barbara Taylor, a
counselor at the Lakeland, Fla., Teen Challenge Center for Girls,
devoured the book in one day in 1975. “I did not personally
know this Jesus who had the power to change lives,” she
says. “The Holy Spirit had begun a process, and within
weeks my 13-year-old daughter led me to Jesus. That night I
told the Lord that my life was His to control. God placed a
desire in my heart to work for Teen Challenge and set the course
for the rest of my life.”
new insights into the book’s global impact during a recent
trip to Europe. A Baptist bishop related how he became a Christian
while reading it in a Russian prison. Inmates passed around
handwritten copies of the book one page at a time. A Lutheran
minister told him about accepting Christ as Savior after reading
The Cross and the Switchblade in seminary. Wilkerson still receives e-mails about
the book from around the world, including countries such as
Afghanistan and Pakistan. Typical messages say: “That
was my first introduction to Jesus.”
“I thank God
for the doors it has opened,” Wilkerson says.