Mr. Revolutionary (Bill Bright) and Campus Crusade

By John Ashbrook
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When Fuller Seminary opened its doors in 1947, one of the new students was a young businessman named Bill Bright. He had been steered to the seminary by Henrietta Mears, Christian Education Director of the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. He did not stay to graduate. Rather, he left school to found the ministry which he called Campus Crusade for Christ.

Up with Revolution
Revolution was a popular word on campuses of the 1950’s and 1960's. Bright latched onto the word with a vengeance and tried to fill it with Christian meaning. Bright's book, Revolution Now, was advertised by Campus Crusade with the following blurb:

Revolution Now will introduce you to the greatest revolutionary who ever lived, Jesus Christ, and will challenge you to become a part of a revolutionary strategy to help change the world.

It is obvious that Jesus Christ never claimed that title for himself, but Bright liked it. When he wrote in Collegiate Challenge, Volume 6, Number 1, Bright titled his article, "History’s Greatest Revolutionary.

Are you interested in revolution? Do you want to help solve the social ills of the world? We invite you to join with us in following the Greatest Revolutionary of the centuries. He is alive.

In a Campus Crusade paper called Crusade in Action, Bright is quoted as saying at a Berkley rally that "Jesus Christ is history's greatest revolutionist... If we follow him, we will become revolutionists too."

The campuses Bright was addressing were aflame with students seeking revolution a la Lenin, Chairman Mao, Che Guevara and Herbert Marceuse. To speak in that context and call Jesus Christ "history's greatest revolutionist" seems out of place. None of the disciples, when seeking souls, tried to recruit revolutionaries. Jesus Christ invited idealistic young men to take up the cross and follow him. Revolution was never mentioned. They were not enlisted to join a crusade to help change the world. The modern-day appeal smacks of the social agenda of the National Council of Churches. After all, that was one of Dr. Ockenga’s three main points.

The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner for March 25, 1969, in an article titled, "Students Dig Christ but Hate the Church" quoted a Campus Crusade worker (name witheld) as giving the outworking of Bright's policy:

We're not hoot and holler types and we don't push the kids to go to church. That's the last thing we do... We tell them Christ was the greatest revolutionary that ever lived and He was the world's greatest non-conformist. This really perks up the kids' interest. They can identify with this kind of a Christ.

It is true that modern youth can identify with a rebel. But, suffice it to say that this is not the way the apostles presented the Saviour, To them He was the sinless Son of God who gave Himself for our sins. Rebellious man must repent and believe the gospel. Furthermore, the apostles always sought to make certain that every convert was left in a church with elders in charge.

Forward with Bigness
The second hallmark of Campus Crusade is bigness. Bill Bright has never thought small. He has been a setter of goals and producer of "Explos." In a question and answer interview in Christian Life for February, 1987, Bright chronicled some of his goals and explos:

There has also been a series of significant events and programs which we call "strategies' There was EXPLO '72 which filled the Cotton Bowl with 85,000 people for a week of training in evangelism and discipleship skills...

EXPLO '85 was also a major building block for us. It was the largest closed-circuit television conference ever held. More than 250,000 delegates from 164 countries received training at 98 different locations...

We are planning EXPLO '90 as a closed-circuit television satellite conference to launch these big plans. Eighteen satellites will be used to reach 5,000 locations. We expect five million participants, live, and millions more by cable and satellite.

Religious Broadcasting for November, 1980 reported on the "Here's Life, Korea" Crusade, terming it the "largest meetings in the history of Christendom." It reported an aggregate attendance of 16,750,000 people. That is big indeed. The report continued as follows-.

Each night, in response to an invitation by Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, almost half of the audience arose from their places to indicate that they were making their first commitment to accept Jesus Christ as Lord.

On the closing night, when the audience was estimated at 2.7 million people, approximately 1.8 million stood up to pledge themselves for missionary service,

Bright himself was led to observe that "There is nothing in the history of the church that would even begin to compare with what we have seen this week."

I think that my readers must agree that that is Bigness with a capital "B." In a day when apostasy has seized much of the professing church, in a day when faithful pastors labor for every single soul, in the light of the fact that we cannot evaluate the reality of decisions until we see evidence of Holy Spirit change, does it not seem rather unwise to boast of our bigness until God proclaims His satisfaction with it?

The Bible is a record of small things. God's work has always been a story of despised minorities against overwhelming majorities. In these last days it promises to be more so. Man has exalted his methodologies - the four spiritual laws, Explos, teleconferences and forceful appeals. Yet God is still the God of theology Unless the Spirit of God has regenerated human hearts, all of the methodology comes to deceiving emptiness. Pentecost, the Reformation, the Great Awakenings - none of these came about by human methodology All were the result of direct divine intervention. The masters of bigness with their methodology would do well to allow God Himself to choose the greatest events of church history

One of the newest methodologies of Campus Crusade revolves around the film called, "Jesus." Crusaders usually refer to it as "the Jesus film," It is reported that Nelson Bunker Hunt, who raised one billion dollars for "Here's Life," gave six million dollars to produce the Jesus film. In the February, 1987 interview with Christian Life, Dr. Bright stated the following.

We believe, too, that the Lord has provided ways for us to achieve our goals. For example, by 1995 we expect to have 5,000 teams presenting the "JESUS" film at least five nights a week to five to ten million people every night.

We are also establishing, 5000 training centers in both urban and rural areas throughout the world. We estimate that these bases can train 200 million disciples by 2000 A.D. These leaders will help plant between 10 and 20 million home Bible fellowships to sustain those who come to Christ through our outreaches.

In Luke 18:8 Christ asked a hauntingly rhetorical question of his disciples: "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" Is it right for men to placard their enthusiastic projections in the light of Christ's dire prediction for the end of our age? Would you prefer Bright's prediction or Christ's? To serve our present age aright, we must have God's revealed view of our times.

Accommodation
The third hallmark of Campus Crusade is that classic aspect of neutralism, accommodation.

The world, the flesh and the devil always have an agenda of things which appeal to the natural man, pervert the truth or divert the attention of believers from the things which are Scripturally important. A faithful pastor must identify that agenda and oppose it from Scripture. However, new evangelicalism has never been given to opposing. That is too negative for its positive image. Its policy has been accommodation. Its motto seems to be, "Don’t fight it if you can join it."

Baptizing Rock Music
The Crusade has always made an accommodation with rock music. Nothing is as opposed to the gospel as the ethos of rock music. However, rock is the beat of the campus today; from the first, the Crusade has marched to a rock beat. My father, in Evangelicalism: The New Neutralism, pointed out the use of Paul Stookey, Peter Yarrow, Pat Boone, Andre Crouch and a host of rock performers at Explo '72. About 1984, Paragon Experience, a ministry of Campus Crusade, produced a multimedia production, "The Dreamweaver." A review of the production in Good News Broadcaster related the following:

Unlike traditional movie entertainment, 'The Dreamweaver' contains only two minutes of talking. Instead, the storyline is communicated through the use of visuals precisely synchronized to the lyrics of contemporary music from the Beatles, John Denver, Simon and Garfunkel, Kansas, Styx and others, blending this stereophonic music with drama.

How can the world's music communicate God's message? Answer- It can’t..

Tuning in to Tongues
Another Campus Crusade accommodation is to the charismatic movement. We have seen that this is a common adjustment within new evangelicalism. Evangelical Newsletter for May 27, 1983 contained the following item:

Campus Crusade for Christ, the conservative evangelical organization whose influence extends far beyond its original campus goals, recently lifted its ban on speaking in tongues by members of its worldwide staff. The ban had been imposed in the mid-1960’s when the charismatic movement entered mainstream denominations. Some observers think that Bill Bright, Crusade founder-president, has been influenced by his oldest son, who attended Life College, a Pentecostal school in Los Angeles.

This move was to be expected. The large numbers claimed by the Crusade in its explos and endeavors cannot be obtained in this day and age without charismatic participation, You cannot have this participation if you have staff rules against tongues speaking. Campus Crusade coordinated a large crusade in Kenya, Africa for German Pentecostal evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. In the "Here's Life, Korea' Crusade mentioned previously, Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the 150,000 member Full Gospel Central Church of Seoul, took a leadership role. Compromise with charismaticism is a necessary bedfellow of bigness in the ecumenical world of today.

Cozying up to Catholicism
The Crusade has followed the lead of Billy Graham in changing its policy on Roman Catholicism. An outspoken and revealing article on this phase of accommodation appeared in Pastoral Renewal for April, 1986, The article was authored by Campus Crusade staff member John Nyquist, who had directed the Crusade’s work in central Europe. Nyquist uses Crusade experience in Florence, Italy as an example to explain that there had been a problem because students evangelized by the Crusade began to distance themselves from the Catholic Church and did not feel comfortable joining Protestant churches. The article rejoices in the following solution:

As the Crusade team straggled with this problem, God provided a ray of sunshine. Through contacts gained in a Bible Study, the Crusade team scheduled a businessmen’s banquet for the purpose of communicating the gospel in a helpful way. A parish priest who attended was very favorably impressed by the presentation. He saw that it was not designed to proselytize his people into Protestant churches but was rather a simple and direct appeal to them to open their hearts to Christ

The priest invited a Crusade staff woman to begin a women's Bible study in the parish, and as this work blossomed, he asked one of the men on the Crusade team to work with the youth of the parish. The parish’s small struggling band of high school and university students responded with enthusiasm to the team member’s challenge to take the Bible seriously by meeting to study it on a weekly basis. Thus the solution developed to the campus evangelism dilemma: a group of students and Crusade staff workers involved in Bible study and evangelism under the auspices of a local Catholic parish priest

After giving the details of this working arrangement, Nyquist lists a number of lessons learned from the experience. Among them are the following:

Protestants and Catholics can work together where the leadership is committed to the authority of the Bible and its relevance to the daily lives of both clergy and laity.

Men the local pastor priest, or bishop is convinced that there is no hidden agenda and that the ministry has integrity, work can proceed and God will receive honor and glory.

All participants in this ecumenical ministry must be willing to risk criticism from well-meaning relatives, friends, and colleagues, which is certain to follow.

If these principles are put into practice, the trend toward cooperative evangelism between Protestants and Roman Catholics, and between parachurch organizations and official church bodies, will continue to yield results in Europe.

The Australian Beacon for May 1980 quotes Dr. Bright as saying that "We do not attack the Roman Catholic Church. We believe that God is doing a mighty work in it and will no doubt use millions of Roman Catholics to evangelize the world."

In the same article quoted above from Pastoral Renewal, some comments are made about the success of Campus Crusade's "Here's Life" ministry in Switzerland:

One of the reasons for this success is that the local churches - Reformed, Roman Catholic and Free Church - have participated from the start. This has helped draw in people, because most of them have some kind of relationship, even if only a tenuous one, with one of these local church communities.

The established churches, namely, the Reformed and the Roman Catholic, have taken the leadership in this movement, and they are the ones that are reaping the harvest in terms of inner renewal and excitement.

These quotations show the accommodation to both Roman Catholicism and ecumenism in the Crusade’s ministry The natural course of new evangelicalism always leads onward to ecumenism.

Dr. Bright's latest explo is called New Life 2000. The "Jesus film" is a key ingredient of this project. Billy Graham is the honorary chairman of the effort. Ted Engstrom of World Vision is chairman of the International Committee of Reference. Dr. James Dobson, the psychologist, and Dr. Charles Stanley of the Southern Baptist Convention serve on an advisory board. So goes the networking of neutralism,

Rescheduling the Rapture
Dr. Bright shows another accommodation, which may be more troubling to many since it is an accommodation in doctrine. In an official letter launching The Agape Movement, a ministry of Campus Crusade, Bright wrote:

I believe that we are now experiencing the greatest spiritual awakening since Pentecost, The opportunity today for saturating the world with the joyful news of God’s love and forgiveness is greater than ever before.

This sounds wonderful, but how does it square with the Biblical picture of a worsening world ripening for judgment as we approach the end of the age? Bright gave an answer in an interview with Christianity Today, September 24, 1976:

Question: Scriptures seem to teach that at the end of the age the world situation will get worse, and love among Christians will grow cold. So it appears that if this great awakening you anticipate does happen, then the coming of the Lord may not be imminent.

Answer: I do not personally believe that the Lord’s return is imminent. I think that the current teaching that it is imminent is leading many, many Christians to fold their hands and disobey what Jesus said to do. Jesus said we should work for the night is coming when no man can work, According to Scripture, He has delayed His return in order that more people may have a chance to hear

Dr. Bright apparently decided ex cathedra that the imminent return of Christ did not fit with his agenda.

The Blu-Print for February 12, 1980 quoted from the June-July, 1978 Wittenburg Door as follows:

Also in terms of Bill and Vonette’s vision, there is a very strong radical element in it. Basically, Bill is opposed to millennialists. It’s the truth. I've never asked him and I'm sure that he would never say that he is, but he is. What do I mean by that? Unlike people who think that you have to win the world in this generation before the Rapture (You know Hal Lindsay had to leave Campus Crusade because Bill didn't want dispensational theology taught in the organization - it’s too negative). He feels that once the world is saved there will be an important second step (which links him up with Charles Finney much more than Billy Graham) in the sanctification sense. Believers will automatically reconstruct society. They are going to end war, racism and everything else.

Earlier in this book I commented on the social agenda of new evangelicalism. It appears to me that Bright has allowed his social agenda to revise his eschatology Lest you think that this is a revolutionary step in new evangelicalism, it is not. New evangelicalism began out of pre-rnillenialism but has had a major shift to a-millenialism or post millenialism.

Much more could be said about Mr. Revolutionary and Campus Crusade. It is impossible to over estimate the influence of Dr. Bright in current new evangelicalism. He is one of the shakers and movers. He personifies neutralism in action. Revolution, bigness and accommodation - there you have Campus Crusade, the most influential campus organization in the stable of new evangelicalism.

[John E. Ashbrook is pastor of Bible Community Church in Mentor, Ohio where he has served for the past forty years. He is a member of the Ohio Bible Fellowship and serves as feature editor for the Bible Fellowship Visitor. This is an excerpt from his book, "The New Neutralism II ", which can be ordered from this web site or from
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