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Bill and Vonette Bright's Wonderful Plan for the World

It was the summer of 1972, a few months after my conversion at the age of 16, when I confronted, firsthand, Bill Bright's evangelistic mission. I had taken a Greyhound bus cross-country from Ohio to Dallas, Texas, to attend Explo '72, Campus Crusade for Christ's (CCC) week-long evangelism training conference. There, through daily workshops and evening praisefests at the Cotton Bowl, the zeal of the Jesus freaks was effectively harnessed. We were trained to use the Four Spiritual Laws (Bright's evangelistic formula for pitching the gospel) and then unleashed to advance in an evangelistic blitzkrieg in our hometowns.

I broke in this innovative system on an easy target—my little sis (aged15). I hoodwinked her into meeting me on the swing set, and then I laid out God's blueprint:

—God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
—Man is sinful and separated from God, thus cannot know and experience God's love and plan.
—Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin.
—We must individually receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Got it?

Without hesitation she told me she wanted to "receive Christ" and "pray the prayer." I read the prayer from the booklet; she echoed. She cried; I cried.

I thought, This is easy.

We finished with a recitation of the principles outlined in the back illustrated by the Fact-Faith-Feeling train. The fact of what God has done in Jesus is the engine that drives the train; fact pulls faith behind it; feelings take up the rear in the caboose. ("Our feelings—thecaboose—must never drive the train," I said.)

That encounter saved my sister.

Fifteen years after that Ohio summer she and I shared another life-changing moment. We buried her first-born child, who died of head injuries sustained in a freak accident. She died the day before her second birthday. The birthday cards were already in the mail.

During those dark days I pleaded with God that the faith my sister owned that day on the swing set would hold up.

In the end, it held. (Though her understanding of God's "wonderful plan" moved into a new dimension.)

I have never dismissed the value of the Four Laws. I used to keep one copy in my wallet—just in case the opportunity to witness to somebody presented itself. But the booklet became so tattered and worn (from being dutifully kept but never used), I ended up throwing it away. I guess I stopped thinking about my Christian witness in terms of laws, plans, and trains.

In a similar vein, segments of evangelicalism have felt ambivalent aboutthe Bright blueprint for kingdom building. The misgivings focus on three fronts: CCC's "simplistic" theology; the "mass marketing" approach to evangelism; and the embrace of pragmatic means to fulfill the inspired end of reaching every person with the gospel.

Theology. Richard Quebedeaux notes in his biography of Bill Bright (I Found It, 1979) that many dismiss his approach as "crassly superficial." Former CCC staff worker Peter Gillquist leda handful of Crusade staff (and hundreds of other evangelicals) to Eastern Orthodoxy in the late eighties, citing a hunger for "something more" than the "reductionism" of Crusade-type evangelicalism. Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation points out: "The Laws offer nothing about the cost of discipleship." Mark Noll writes in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind that Bright and other "popular authority figures" have contributed to an intellectual environment in evangelicalism today that is "naive, inept, or tendentious." Many Christians can't abide reducing Christian doctrine to simple how-tos.

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Bill and Vonette Bright's Wonderful Plan for the World