What started as an evangelistic effort among college students has turned into one of the more ambitious undertakings in church history. The man behind the movement, Dr. William Rohl Bright, traces its origin to a call from God that came to him while he was studying for a Greek examination at Fuller Seminary.
His organization, Campus Crusade for Christ International, is marking its twenty-fifth anniversary this fall by developing strategy to help to evangelize the entire world. Political activities surrounding Bright's evangelistic endeavors and his association with Arizona congressman John Conlan and other conservative political leaders have attracted the attention of the news media in recent weeks.
To get a firsthand account of his political interests and evangelistic vision, Christianity Today editors interviewed Bright at the "Christian Embassy" in Washington. This article originally appeared in the September 24, 1976 issue of Christianity Today.
Where are we in America? Would you say things have deteriorated in the last twenty-five years?
I would use a stronger word: disintegrated. Our nation is in grave trouble.
What do you mean?
Well, for one thing, many of our leaders say we are in trouble economically. And politically we have more discord than ever. Morally and spiritually, we have reached the point of bankruptcy. Our entire society is becoming increasingly secular, humanistic, and materialistic. Anti-God forces largely control education, the media, entertainment, and government.
Are you saying that it's all over for America?
What happens in this country this year will in my opinion determine whether or not we remain free. I don't mean that we will lose our freedom this year, but we'll reach the point of no return. I think that if we don't meet the conditions set down in Second Chronicles 7:14, we're in trouble.
What are you doing about it?
Working in cooperation with thousands of pastors, we are seeking to disciple and train millions of Christians in the United States to help to saturate our nation with the Gospel through a movement called Here's Life Americ
I canceled all my engagements overseas for 1976. Usually, I visit every continent once or twice a year because we have a staff now of more than 5,000 in more than eighty countries. I arranged for others to do the overseas traveling.
As it turned out, however, we had an unusual opportunity to launch Here's Life in Asia with the potential of ultimately training more than 70,000 Chinese. So I did go to Asia to help to set the wheels in motion to train them, in the hope that one day the door will be open and tens of thousands will go into mainland Chin I've been praying for China for many years. While there, we launched Here's Life Philippines, Here's Life Malaysia, Here's Life Singapore, Here's Life Republic of China, and Here's Life Hong Kong.
What is "Here's Life"?
It is a movement of discipleship and evangelism that involves thousands of churches, and we trust there will soon be many, many millions of Christians involved. It is a movement committed to share the claims of Christ with every person in Americ We have already launched Here's Life in many of the major American cities with phenomenal results, and we are praying that soon the rest of the 265 major metropolitan areas and 18,000 smaller communities will become involved. Since Here's Life emphasizes discipleship along with evangelism, we are confident that the movement will gather momentum and explode throughout the world. Our role is one of servant, to the local church, the pastor, and his people.
What kind of training are you giving?
We call it "mediated" training. It's a new word. The program was developed at Michigan State. Research suggests that it enables a person who retains about 5 per cent from a typical lecture to retain about 80 per cent of the content of this mediated training.
Is it an audiovisual approach?
It is that and more. It involves a wide range of special techniques, including the use of motion pictures and slides, writing narrations, testing materials. These are put together in a unique way. They add up to the most advanced form of communication yet developed.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
I believe that we're going to see the greatest spiritual awakening in the history of the world. I believe it's already begun. I think that the awakening will forestall many undesirable things that would otherwise happen, militarily, economically, politically, and so on. I believe we are going to meet the conditions of Second Chronicles 7:14, humbling ourselves, praying, turning from our wicked ways. I'm very optimistic about that. But I say that from the divine perspective, not on the basis of what I see. I am optimistic on the basis of faith, the integrity of God, the sovereignty of God, the power of God, and my assurance of his love.
When you speak of a loss of freedom unless there is a spiritual awakening, do you envisage large numbers of people becoming Christian and large numbers of Christians becoming better disciples? Or are you referring to such things as changes in the composition of Congress and other branches of government?
I am saying that there will be many millions who will become trained disciples, and through their influence many additional millions will receive Christ as personal Savior. As this awakening spreads, I am confident that Christians will become more sensitive to their responsibility in education, the media, entertainment, government. I see this happening all the time.
Scripture seems 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.
I do not personally believe that the Lord's return is imminent. I think 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 might have a chance to hear.
Can anyone in America possibly say that he or she has never heard the story of salvation?
Our surveys—we take hundreds of them—show that about half the church members are not sure of their salvation, that 95 per cent do not understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit, that 98 per cent are not regularly introducing others to Christ. Yet we also find that at least half the people in the free world outside the hard-core Muslim world and the nation of Israel are open to the Gospel and would receive Christ the first time they heard the Gospel presented effectively by a trained disciple who was filled with the Spirit.
One of our staff members trained several volunteers who then interviewed 7,400 people on the telephone. Forty-seven per cent of those not already Christians prayed with the caller and received Christ.
Do you think they were really born again?
I don't know. I would not know if they came to the altar of a church and wept for an hour. But at least they said, We want to know the Lord, and our experience through the years would assure us that a good percentage of the decisions were genuine.
When you talk about getting Christians active in government so they can change the situation, what do you have in mind?
I really do not say Christians should be in government. I say men and women of God should be elected to public office. There is a difference. You know, frankly, to be a Christian does not guarantee that one is ethical and moral and spiritual. There are people in government who profess faith in Jesus Christ and are just as unscrupulous in some of their dealings as people who are not professing Christians.
I am referring to men and women of integrity and principle. For example, the late David Lawrence, who was the editor of U.S. News and World Report, was a Jew. From reading his writings and talking with others who knew him personally, I would say that he was a man who could be trusted in a position of leadership.
Do you think the Church should get involved in politics?
No, I am talking about individual Christians. If someone points out that politics is dirty and that Christians open themselves up to temptations and compromises by getting involved in it, I would just reply that Scripture says in Proverbs that when the evil ruled the righteous suffered. Christians should be aggressively involved in politics; their influence should be felt in all parties.
You don't think that a denomination should endorse a particular candidate?
No. Nor do I do it myself. Nor do we in Campus Crusade for Christ endorse a particular person or party.
But you are a Christian leader, and people may be looking to you for guidance. Are you not neglecting your responsibility if you don't say, Here is someone whom I think we can trust and for whom Christians ought to vote?
There are too many unknown factors. There are those who believe that Mr. Nixon is a Christian, though to my knowledge he has never said he is. There are those who believe that Mr. Carter and Mr. Ford are Christians. As far as I know, they are. But as for saying, "I have such confidence in the Christian commitment of this or that candidate that I'm going to recommend your voting for him," I cannot. I just do not know enough about them.
I say, "Learn all you can about the candidates for public office—from the Presidency on down to the school board—and then on your knees ask God whom he would have you support.
Do you think Christians ought to band together for political purposes?
I don't feel this is what God wants me to do. If in local areas there is a reason for doing this, I'd have to defer to the judgment of those involved. God has a right, certainly, to be original with each one of us.
Bill Bright and Campus Crusade have been described as deeply involved in politics. Any truth to that?
Those who made the statement have added two and two and come up with one hundred. They have misinterpreted my motives. In twenty-five years we have never spent a penny trying to elect a person or promote a party, and we have no plans to do so.
However, I do feel a strong responsibility to encourage Christians to work to elect men and women of God to public office, but I have never encouraged one candidate or party over another.
Social activists in the mainline denominations have said the same thing, at least in recent years. They have declared, perhaps in part for purposes of tax exemption, that they are not pushing a particular candidate or party but are awakening the people to the need for social righteousness. Are you doing basically the same thing?
To answer that I would first have to talk to those people. I do not know what their motives are, or how they spend their money. We at Campus Crusade are very transparent in all our financial operations. Our legal staff counsels me on anything that is questionable—even to the wording of a message or article I am writing—because I do not want to violate the rules of our charter. I have operated this way for twenty-five years.
Do you think that those who are truly in touch with God will come out on the same side in an election?
I think it is conceivable that the Lord would lead some Spirit-filled people to support one candidate, other Spirit-filled people to support the other. In Campus Crusade policy meetings, one person will make a proposal and someone else will object. But before long everybody is happy over the recommendation that is made.
By the time I make the decision I will have had the benefit of the best and most creative thinking of my colleagues, though they might have been at opposite poles to begin with. In Congress, I feel that men of God who differ will be more likely to come to decisions that are in the best interests of our country than if everybody espoused the same view.
If we had, say, 400 people of God in Congress, could we expect things to be any different than they are now?
About 1,000 percent different, because many of the decisions that are made today are not made on the basis of what God would have us to do and what is right for our country.
You are simply saying that with people of God in office there will be more unanimity on issues.
That's right. Communication is the biggest problem. Most people who are part of the ultra-left or the ultra-right don't listen to what others are saying. With the love relationship we teach each other. We can put our arms around each other and hear each other out.
To turn back to evangelism: many Christians were brought up to think that people reject Christ because they are unwilling to accept the demands of the Gospel, that the cost seems too high.
I reject that totally and completely. My experience has been that people do not reject Jesus Christ because they don't want to surrender control of their life to Christ but because they don't know what's involved. I was an agnostic in my youth. The minute I understood who Christ is and what he did, I had no problem responding with my total being. A person would be a fool not to receive Christ if he understood what's involved.
Now wait a minute. The evidence is all about us that people love to sin. You believe in the fall. Scripture talks about many called and few chosen, the strait gate and narrow way, and so forth. Are you not denying these truths in your estimation of the human hunger for God?
I am aware of what you are saying. My answer is that a saving relationship with God is such a wonderful thing that not a single person I have ever talked to regrets his or her decision to come to Christ. People do not reject Christ; they reject a caricature.
When you say your goal is for America to be evangelized by the end of 1976 . . .
Not evangelized but discipled and evangelized.
Okay, but then come January, 1977, when you review the past year to see whether you have reached this goal, what factors will you use as a measurement?
Among other things, Jesus Christ should be the topic of interest and concern in the communities of America more than he was at the start of the year. Saturation of the nation is a continuing thing. It does not end in December of 1976. It will accelerate in 1977, and in 1978, and in 1980, because nothing is more exciting than leading another person to Christ and helping him grow and lead others to Christ.
If it does not happen by the end of 1976, will you then conclude that it cannot happen or will not happen?
I believe it will happen. But if it does not, I am not going to flagellate myself. I am only doing what God has told me to do. Because we tried, there will be millions of people in the Kingdom who would otherwise not have been in the Kingdom. That makes it worthwhile. I'm only doing what I think God wants me to do.
This article originally appeared in the September 24, 1976 issue of Christianity Today.
Also appearing on our site today:
Weblog: Campus Crusade for Christ Founder Bill Bright Dies at 81 | Former "happy pagan" went on to form one of the largest and most efficient parachurch ministries in the world.
Bill Bright's Wonderful Plan for the World | Evangelicalism's power couple closes in on their radical mission.
Bright Unto the End | In the face of retirement and death, the founder of Campus Crusade says his spirit still soars.
Final Thoughts from Bill Bright | Are you still breathing? Then be encouraged, and get busy.
Campus Crusade: Into All the World | Bill Bright leads a spiritual revolution.