Leaders of the Evangelical Generation: #4 Bill Bright

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time].

#4 Bill Bright. Evangelist (1921-2003)

The call came into the public relations firm late one afternoon in early 1999, and although Campus Crusade was not my account, the account executive wasn’t in, and I was the ranking executive on duty, so I took the “important call from Crusade.” The director of communications, our contact, was on the line; he breathlessly asked me to hold for Dr. Bright.

Campus Crusade founder and president Bill Bright was on a mission. As the end of the millennium loomed, he was increasingly burdened with the challenge to bring millions more people to faith in Christ. While it seemed as though every church and Christian group in the world had a campaign to fulfill the Great Commission before 2000, Bright also had a personal plan.

“Let’s find Noah’s Ark,” Bright said, and I stammered some agreeable words, uncertain of what he actually meant. He meant just that. His conviction was that the people in the villages of Turkey knew the whereabouts of the remnants of the ark; all we needed to do what make it worth it to them to tell us. Bright had decided that we’d run ads in the major newspapers of Turkey and offer $1 million to the person who would provide us with inconvertible evidence of the ark’s location and remnants.

Bright had the same reason for this long shot scheme that compelled him through decades as head of Campus Crusade—to provide evidence that would bring millions of people to faith in Jesus Christ. He figured that if we could provide failsafe modern evidence of one of the Bible’s best know stories, it would convince skeptics around the world that the Bible is an accurate historical record. And that would result in their trust of Scripture and their commitment to the biblical Jesus.

And so we did. Our PR firm was the only contact because Bill Bright and Campus Crusade were to remain anonymous. We wrote and designed a compelling ad with the help of our friends at The Puckett Group, who found a Turkish translator and tapped into the international advertising services necessary to place ads in the newspapers of Turkey.

This earnest effort brought drawers full of packages with long descriptions of places and proofs, with grainy pictures and even video. We couldn’t produce any more certainty than many other teams of filmmakers and authors and researchers could throughout the centuries. The project deadline arrived without conclusive evidence and all that remained to be done was to continue writing polite responses to dozens of wishful treasure hunters in Turkish villages for months that followed.

Perhaps the best result was another glimpse into the hopeful and sincere heart of one of evangelicalism’s most energetic and respected champions of mass evangelism. Bill Bright introduced not only the massive college evangelism effort, Campus Crusade, but also tools and campaigns that—although sometimes derided as simplistic and incomplete—nonetheless brought millions of people to Christ. These campaigns became pervasive symbols of evangelical marketing of the time—such as the Four Spiritual Laws (1965), the I Found It campaign (1976), and The Jesus Film (1979).

Bright, born in Coweta, Oklahoma, described himself as being a “happy pagan” in his youth. He graduated from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma with an economics degree. In 1944, while attending the First Presbyterian Church, Hollywood, Bright became a Christian. He immediately began intensive biblical studies which led him to graduate studies at Princeton and Fuller Theological Seminaries. It was while he was a student at Fuller that he felt what he regarded as the call of God to help fulfill Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) by sharing his faith, beginning with students at UCLA. This gave birth to the Campus Crusade for Christ movement.

During the decades to follow, Bill Bright and his wife, Vonette, remained faithful to this work, and the ministry expanded greatly. Campus Crusade now has more than 27,000 full-time staff and over 225,000 trained volunteer staff in 190 countries.

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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