Wilfred Graves Jr. was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on September 17, 1972, to Wilfred Graves Sr. and Glendolyn Kathleen Graves. He has no siblings. His father is a Pentecostal evangelist, former lead pastor, and retired carpenter. His mother was a gospel singer, church musician, and retired school teacher who specialized in early childhood education. She died on September 19, 2013. The Graves family moved to the small town of Bogalusa, Louisiana when Wilfred was two years old and became involved in a local Pentecostal church called St. John Temple Church of God in Christ. Graves' parents encouraged their son's early interest in learning and faith by exposing him to literature about mathematics, science, art, history, and religion and involving him in a variety of school, community, and church activities. At the age of seven, Graves was identified as a gifted student and began taking advanced coursework. He eventually was accepted into Mensa, although he is not currently an active member of the organization.
The Graves family left Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1982 and moved to Columbus, Georgia, which was the birthplace of Wilfred's mother and home of his maternal grandparents. Graves was an honor student throughout his early academic career and began to demonstrate a high aptitude for mathematics and science during his middle school years at Dimon Elementary School (1982–84) and Rothschild Junior High School (1984–86). He often participated in science fairs, mathematics tournaments, quiz bowls, and other academic competitions and usually was quite successful in these endeavors.
Graves attended Columbus High School (Columbus, Georgia), a place first integrated in the 1960s by his mother Glendolyn and five other African-American students. Glendolyn graduated from Columbus High School in 1967. Her son Wilfred would become the first African-American valedictorian in the school’s 100-year history in 1990. Graves' valedictorian speech compared the transition from high school to adulthood to the crossing of a river and utilized imagery from the Book of Ezekiel. During his four years at Columbus High School, Graves won countless local, regional, and national awards and made frequent media appearances.
Graves received a full scholarship from Bell Laboratories to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he was ranked among the top ten mathematics students. While at MIT, he developed an affinity for the related fields of Probability and Statistics. His favorite course was Stochastic Processes (18.443), which was taught by the mathematician and philosopher Gian-Carlo Rota. Graves graduated from MIT in 1994 with a full doctoral fellowship to the Department of Statistics at Stanford University. He was honored as one of the university's first Lieberman Fellows in 1994 for his interest in and talent for academic teaching.
While at Stanford, Graves began to reflect on his Christian faith and inner sense of purpose and wondered whether or not God might be leading him to receive formal ministry training. While at MIT, he had become acquainted with Fuller Theological Seminary and believed that the institution could one day become a part of his future. A conversation with Fuller Professor Marguerite Shuster, who had been invited to Stanford for a lecture by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, convinced Graves that he should apply to the seminary. He did so and received one of the institution's Lowell W. Berry Fellowships in 1996. The award later would be called the Dean Scholarship and represented the highest merit-based fellowship offered by Fuller Seminary at the master's level.
Graves received a Master of Science in Statistics from Stanford University in 1996 and headed to Pasadena, California to begin a Master of Divinity program at Fuller Seminary. During his time as a master's student, Graves developed a strong interest in Church History, Systematic Theology, and Intercultural Studies. He was greatly influenced by Fuller Professors C. Peter Wagner and James E. Bradley, who later became his doctoral adviser. Graves completed his Master of Divinity in 1999.
Graves worked for five years (1997-2002) as an aerospace engineer for Northrop Grumman (formerly Aerojet) in Azusa, California. There he supported various engineering efforts with his statistical expertise. His team was nominated for the R. B. Young Award, the company's highest honor, in 1999. While at Aerojet and Northrop Grumman, Graves was a member of a thriving Christian community that nurtured and supported his spiritual, academic, and professional development.
Graves applied to the Fuller Theological Seminary Ph.D. program in Historical Theology in 1999. He received full fellowships for his doctoral work both from Fuller Seminary and the Fund for Theological Education. He studied the period of history known as the Age of Enlightenment and wrote his dissertation on the topic of miracles, with a special emphasis on the issue of secularization. His dissertation is entitled "Popular and Elite Understandings of Miracles in Enlightened England" and was signed by James E. Bradley, Colin Brown, and Bruce Hindmarsh. Graves became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Seminary in 2007.
Graves acknowledged the call to ministry in his mid-teens. He has been involved in public ministry for over a quarter century. He was ordained by the Church of God in Christ in 1999. Graves joined West Angeles Church of God in Christ in 1997 and now serves as Executive Coordinator to the Senior Pastor (Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr.). He also is President of the West Angeles Ministerial Alliance, a collection of the licensed and ordained clergy of the church. Since 2000, he has been a member of the faculty of West Angeles Bible College, where he teaches courses in Theology, Church History, and Biblical Studies. In January 2012, he initiated a monthly lecture series in Christian apologetics to promote understanding of the fundamental beliefs and practices of the religion. In 2016, Dr. Graves formed Wilfred Graves Ministries, Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization which focuses on evangelism, spiritual formation, Christian scholarship, and leadership training.
In addition to preaching and teaching in pulpits, Graves gives lectures and writes about a range of topics related to religion, science, mathematics, philosophy, education, and practical Christian living. On April 7, 2010, he was invited by the Cedars-Sinai Center for Healthcare Ethics to present on the topic: “The African-American Experience of Illness,” a seminar which was attended by over 200 physicians, chaplains, and others connected to the healthcare community. In June 2012, Graves became an adjunct professor of Church History at Fuller Theological Seminary. In 2018, he plans to do more academic teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Graves has been a resident of California since 1994. He frequents the Huntington in San Marino and sometimes does research in the library there. On March 18, 2016, he became engaged to Dr. Malaika E. Howard, a pediatrician who practices in Southern California. They were married on June 24, 2017. Both enjoy the Huntington's museums and flower gardens.
In Pursuit of Wholeness: Experiencing God’s Salvation for the Total Person, Graves' first book, was released in April 2011. The book addresses a range of theological and practical topics including: personal salvation, spiritual gifts, biblical antidotes to fear and anxiety, healing prayer, modern-day miracles, and daily strategies that promote health and well-being. The premise of the book is that salvation involves more than the entry of believers into heaven; it includes everything that makes human beings whole as persons. Salvation is God's rescue of people from the things that diminish or destroy them in their spirits, minds, bodies, relationships, and other aspects of their humanity. It is God's response to and remedy for the problem of sin and its effects throughout human history.
According to the author, In Pursuit of Wholeness was written "to strengthen the faith of believers, to comfort people who are hurting and broken, and to help all to experience God’s transforming power in tangible ways." A recent review of the book describes it as a "significant, scholarly, and compelling" work of pastoral theology. In Pursuit of Wholeness has been endorsed by several notable Christian scholars, church leaders, and celebrities including: Charles E. Blake, who has written the foreword, Jack W. Hayford, Charles H. Kraft, Francis MacNutt, Cecil Mel Robeck, C. Peter Wagner, Cookie Johnson (wife of Earvin “Magic” Johnson), LaTanya Richardson Jackson (wife of Samuel L. Jackson), and Paul Thomas (Lead Pastor, Evangel Temple Assembly of God, Columbus Georgia).