Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Ministries, believes Jesus specializes in turning notorious sinners into notorious Christians.
The pastor is so passionate about that belief, in fact, he wrote an entire book dedicated to Hollywood icon Steve McQueen - a star whose life of chasing worldly pleasures drastically changed after finding Jesus.
"Steve McQueen was a notorious sinner inasmuch as he lived a sinful life; he chased after every pleasure this world has to offer and was quite proud of it," Laurie told The Gospel Herald in an exclusive interview. "He was admired by many. That's probably why they called him the 'King of Cool' - he drove the coolest cars, had the most beautiful women, had worldwide fame, lots of money, but it left him empty and searching. Ultimately, it helped it come to the answer he was looking for."
Released June 11, Laurie's latest book, "Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon," explores how the wildly popular actor became a born-again Christian six months before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
"McQueen's pastor, Leonard Dewitt, told me how Steve was growing dramatically in his faith after he prayed and accepted Christ, and they were having hour long Bible studies every week," Laurie said. "Steve was thinking about how he could use his platform to tell others about Christ. But then, he found out he had cancer about 6-8 months later, and he later said to Leonard DeWitt: 'My only regret is that I was not able to tell more people about what Christ had done for me.' I wanted to right that wrong, and that's why I wrote this book."
Laurie told GH that McQueen found Pastor DeWitt's church through Sammy Mason, a flight instructor he hired to teach him how to fly his newly purchased yellow bi-plane.
"Sammy was the perfect guy to reach Steve McQueen, because Sammy was a man's man, a stunt pilot, not impressed with celebrity at all," Laurie said. "As they spent hours in the cockpit together, Steve saw something in Sammy he admired and asked him where he found the peace he seemed to have. Sammy told him, 'It's my faith in Jesus Christ, Steve.'"
McQueen began to attend Mason's church, and one day over lunch told DeWitt that he had become a born-again Christian in that church. Just a few months later, he found out he had end-stage mesothelioma and would only live a short time longer.
The timing of McQueen's conversion, Laurie says, is extremely significant.
"Steve's conversion happened when he was a major celebrity, when he was the number one movie star in the world," the pastor explained. "People do come to faith on a deathbed, and God is so gracious, he'll hear our prayer wherever we pray it. But that's not what happened with Steve. He was at the top of his game, he literally, at this point, had walked away from Hollywood and was charging $50,000 to even read a script. He thought it would make them stop coming, but he just became more desirable to Hollywood people."
As he learned his days were numbered, McQueen requested a meeting with famed televangelist the Rev. Billy Graham. During their meeting, Graham gave McQueen his personal Bible and prayed with him. When McQueen died four days later, he had Graham's Bible resting on his chest.
The pastor said that while conducting research for his book, God's presence throughout McQueen's short life was evident. The actor, he revealed, was supposed to have gone with his hairstylist Jay Sebring to a party at actress Sharon Tate's home. For some reason McQueen missed that party.
"On that night, the Manson family struck, killing Tate, who was eight months pregnant, along with Sebring and three others," Laurie said. "It's an interesting thing."
As the pastor dug deeper into McQueen's life, he also discovered they had a lot in common: Both had moms who were alcoholics and married and divorced several times. Both grew up with a number of stepfathers, and both were troubled kids who were sent away from their homes.
"When I discovered this, it helped me write with empathy about his life, because I understood why he became the guy that he became," Laurie said.
In addition to the book, Laurie has also partnered with filmmaker John Irwin to make a documentary about McQueen's journey to salvation, set to be released in September.
The pastor told GH that he's passionate about sharing McQueen's story because he believes the actor's life is a powerful proclamation that Jesus can redeem anyone - even the most hardened of individuals.
"Steve McQueen is a modern day Solomon," Laurie told GH. "Solomon had everything the world had to offer. He had all kinds of money, power fame, and everything else, and he said it was all emptiness. Steve came to the same conclusion, which set him on the search that led him to Christ. It's a modern story that shows that no one is beyond the reach of God."