Bill Bright receives his reward
Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ and one of the most successful evangelists of the 20th century, fought pulmonary fibrosis since his diagnosis in late 2000—but he never feared it. "If we live, we go on serving him. That's an adventure. If we die, we're in heaven with him, and that's incredible," he said. He later told Christianity Today, "The most important moment in anyone's life as a believer is the last breath, because the next breath is in heaven."

Bright took his last breath Saturday at his Orlando home, surrounded by his family.

"The story of Bill Bright, a Christian Horatio Alger, has been told many times," writes Mark I. Pinsky in The Orlando Sentinel. And that paper, which has one of today's most extensive and moving obituaries, joins many others in retelling it.

The native Oklahoman described himself as a "happy pagan" when he founded Bright's California Confections in 1944, a very successful business venture. The following year, however, he was drawn to Hollywood Presbyterian Church, where he became good friends with Sunday school curriculum pioneer Henrietta Mears and became a Christian.

Turning the day-to-day operations of his company over, Bright went to Princeton Theological Seminary, then to Fuller, to get all the education he could about his new faith.

In 1951, Bright and his wife, Vonette, signed their famous "Contract with God" promising to be Christ's slaves, and created Campus Crusade for Christ at UCLA. He soon developed what would become the Four Spiritual Laws, probably the most widely used evangelistic tract in the world.

Campus Crusade is now active in 191 countries, has 26,000 staff members, and has an annual budget of $374 million. Money magazine has repeatedly found it to be "the most efficient religious group" in the country.

Bright's approach was not without its critics (the Los Angeles Times obituary is the only one Weblog has seen to give them much play, and a 2001 Time magazine profile also gave them a nod, but neither note the implications of what historian Randall Balmer calls Bright's "unabashedly autocratic" leadership approach). But none can deny Bright's impact on worldwide evangelism—and thus, the world. In fact, this week the BBC will air a documentary about the Jesus film, which Bright commissioned in 1979 and is now the most-watched film in history.

Expect many tributes over the next few days; they're beginning already with today's Focus on the Family broadcast, devoted entirely to remembering Bright's life and mission. Meanwhile, be sure to read our collection of articles from past issues of Christianity Today.

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