Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ
John G. Turner. Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
Working with students and on the historical and theological foundations of the contemporary discourse on evangelism, I try to read what’s available and good on these issues. After having read Meeting Jesus at University, I decided to read this book on Campus Crusade (recently renamed CRU, see also Campus Crusade International). Though the book dates back to 2008, I only discovered it recently.
Though Turner deals mainly with Bill Bright (1921–2003), the founder of Campus Crusade, as the title of the book indicates, it weaves Bright’s story within the frame of Evangelicalism in the USA after the second World War (you’ll learn a lot here about Crusade, Bob Jones, Dallas Theological Seminary, Billy Graham, etc.). Turner has done his homework and interviewed a lot of people, many of whom Campus Crusade workers. Even though Turner writes as an “outsider of the organization” (10), the book is a good and fair contribution to the study of student movements, evangelicalism in the USA and of their overflow and influence overseas. Crusade is after all probably one of the biggest American parachurch organization with worldwide activities.
As is the case with many students of evangelicalism, Turner relies heavily on Bebbington’s four features to define evangelicals: Conversionism, Activism, Biblicism, Crucicentrism (p. 11, See Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 1989, 2–17). For reasons that I cannot develop here, I think that these criteria are methodologically misguided and problematic, but Turner’s using them does not really hamper the value of his work.
As Turner indicates, he concentrates
A few interesting tidbits
I won’t go into details about the book, but here are a few things that stood out for me.
- The constant association of evangelism and world transformation for Crusade and many evangelical ministries. By world transformation what is often meant is returning the USA to its Christian heritage (see p. 25, 38–39, 41–68) and making the world more like the USA, God’s blessed country and model for the world. I am always amazed at the number of people who really believe and live with this conception of the USA. In the case of Bright, what was significant was his focus on evangelism as a fight against secularism and communism (whose threat and importance on campuses he, probably unconsciously, exaggerated, 63–65, 108–111), which lead him to being blind to other issues or to take one-sided positions (support for Goldwater in 1964; relationships with Nixon in 1972; p. 141, Park in South Korean in 1974 p. 152; etc.). After all, the name “Campus Crusade for Christ” (suggested by Wilbur Smith, p. 38) says a lot about what the ultimate goal was, a crusade against the forces of evil in order to regain America through its future leaders (59). Many ministries among students still live with this romantic idea that all students will become leaders.
- The adaptation to the culture of the USA by Crusade and many evangelical organizations, despite the counter-cultural discourse, especially concerning fund-raising, materialism, marketing techniques, and the association and coziness with wealth and prosperity (many donors were from the oil industry), etc.
- The separation between evangelicals and fundamentalists after WWII and the (positive, in my opinion) role of Bright and Graham trajectories in that respect (see 75–84).
- The role of and focus on the Great Commission of Mat 28.19–20 for Crusade (95, 108). It is the seventeenth article of Crusade’s Statement of faith. To me this is another indication of how many ministries are on a shaky historical and theological ground since I am convinced that this is a faulty approach of the Great Commission (see here).
- The propensity of Crusade (and other ministries) to focus on numbers, sometimes inflated (66, 125, 133, 152, 169–170, 180, 221) and to set targets, usually very optimistic ones, yet, as is oftentimes the case, rarely met.
- The huge disparity between objectives, human and financials resources invested in evangelism and the long term results. It is well know that many ministries who focus on evangelism are actually very unsuccessful, certainly at integrating students into churches (see p.125, 133–134, 170).
- The enormous influence of Henrietta Mears on Bill Bright and on the shape Crusade would take, and therefore on evangelicalism in the USA. Given the ambiguous (to say the least) posture of many evangelicals and Crusade on women’s ministries this is rather interesting. I have read several biographies of influential figures among evangelicals in several countries who, while opposed to women’s ministries, were actually decidedly influenced by public speaking women.
- The development of the Four Spiritual Laws, Crusade’s most famous evangelistic tool with a worldwide influence (99–100), even though it is less used today as emphasis is put more on sharing one’s personal story (219–20), hardly an improvement imo.
- The anti-intellectual bend, common to many evangelical movements.
- The idea, suggested to Bright by a businessman, that staff members should raise their own funding (105).
- The disagreements between evangelicals on the right and left of the US political scene as seen in the conflict with Wallis of Sojourners (164–168).
Overall, though Turner does bring up issues and problems with Bright’s and Crusade’s philosophy and work, his treatment is balanced and fair in that he also brings out Bright’s sincerity and dedication to the cause he felt he was called to. Bright was really focused on telling others about Christ, on working individually with students, and rarely missed a chance to share his faith.
All in all, a well written and worthwhile book to read if you are interested in student ministries and evangelicalism.