Interview: Bradley Bright On His Father, the Late Bill Bright

The founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) would have celebrated his 84th birthday on Oct. 19, 2005. The late Dr. William R. “Bill” Bright, whose ministry has come to be one of the world's largest, died in his home on July 19, 2003. He evangelized millions of individuals worldwide through The Jesus Film, The Four Spiritual Laws, and the international ministry whose vision is to evangelize every single social group so that "everyone knows someone who knows Jesus."

His is survived by his son, Bradley Bright, 47, is on staff with CCC, son Zachary, who pastors Divine Savior Presbyterian Church in California, wife Vonette Bright, as well as four grandchildren. Bradley Bright spoke to The Christian Post about his late father’s conversion to Christ, his obedience to God, and his revolutionizing evangelism.

Can you tell us the imprint left on your mind by the late Bill Bright?

I am walking with God every day not because of his words but because of his life. Often words and life are not lived out, but he did. I was traveling with him when a reporter interviewed him from a Christian magazine and said, “Dr. Bright can you share with us a problem you have?”

Dad said, “I don't have any problems.”

The reporter asked seven times in seven different ways. Dad turned to him and said, “You have to understand young man, when you serve the God I serve, you come to realize that you're only a slave. The only responsibility of a slave is to do what the Master tells him to do. It's not to be successful but to be obedient. When you come to understand that, you see that there are no problems. There are only opportunities.”

I realized this guy is talking from his gut, from his life experiences. He really believes. I've watched this man live in front of me all those years, and he never raised his voice in anger. I never saw him get stressed out in situations that I'm sure I would’ve buckled under. He understands that his only responsibility is to do what the Master tells him to do and that frees him up.

How does he know what the Master tells him to do?

I guess by listening. 50 years of walking with God and seeking to truly listen for God's voice, you learn to discern the difference between your own desires and what God is asking you to do.

I was in this one position and I didn't have a foundation, and it was probably time for me to step up so I went through a week of decision-making, and then I call my dad up. He'd been over in Russia for two weeks so he didn't even know that I was in this process. We started chatting, and I said I'm considering stepping down as the president of the foundation, and dad said, “I know.”

He said, “This morning as I was praying, God told me. You're doing the right thing, you know.”

Well I tell you, what that does for a son in terms of confirmation. This man that I call dad, it was clear that he listened to the voice of God. Being Americans, we want to know how we can do that today.

When I first married Kathy, I couldn't read her mind, but after 13 years, I instinctively know. We communicate many times without ever using words. We've learned to know each other. We've learned to listen to each other and really understand what the other person is saying.

I heard my dad say, “God does not require us to have great faith. He requires us to have faith in a great God.”

Our view of God will determine our faith and the amount of faith. If we have a small view of God, we'll have little faith. If we have a huge amount of faith, our faith is unstoppable.

What would you say is the most important thing to Bill Bright?

You would think that the most important thing to him is to evangelize or share faith but he said the most important thing is to teach another person who God is because my view of God will determine how I live. If I have an inadequate view of God, I'm going to be forever crippled.

He said, “We can trace all of our problems to an inaccurate view of God,” whether as believers or nonbelievers. If you really believe that God is sovereign in the midst of incredible suffering, can you imagine the differences that would make in the Church? I mean intellectually we believe, but in practical life we are limited.
How did you come to "really believe"?

I had a father who believed in a God who was sovereign, in a God who loved us passionately and unconditionally but who was also just and without any contradictions between those actions. I saw that lived out in front of me and began to feel by seeing it. Not everyone has that advantage, but everyone can go to Scripture and see what Scripture says about it and believe it.

How did your father come to believe?

Simply through looking at God's Word and reading the work of godly men and women who had gone before us. He grew up an agnostic so if he can believe, then there is hope for anyone who decides to follow Jesus. But first, they have to make a decision. They start following at that point. Then, are they willing to go the whole way? Bill Bright's life was characterized, from the very beginning, by his conviction that Jesus Christ is who he is. Once you became convinced, there is only one action, and that is to follow him. And he did. Most of the time, we don't. I'm guilty of that, but as you come to know the God we serve, there is less and less room for not following. The more you see God do in your life, the less room there is for doubt.

As a young man at Wheaton College, I would fly home on Christmas and one time, I realized I'm not going to miss my flight. I prayed, "God, I need ten minutes." I looked up and 'click,' my flight was delayed ten minutes. Wow. But I realized, I'm still not going to make this flight. What do I do? “God, I need ten more minutes,” and here again this was not faith on my part. This is just, “What do I do?” and I looked up again and click, there was another ten minutes. That was a moment in my life that I look to. That was a small thing, but God made it clear: "You come to me with your needs, and I am going to take care of you. I love you and I am interested in the details of your life." If we seriously follow God, we should be seeing those types of things happening consistently. God doesn't answer our prayers the way we expect Him to, but He is a Heavenly Father who loves us passionately. We can go to Him with anything, and He has promised to take care of us. That builds incredible security in my life as a believer. It's not because I'm faithful, but He is.

I understand that not only did Dr. Bright glorify God in life, but he also did so in death. Can you tell us what happened?

My dad, as he was facing the reality that he was going to die of pulmonary fibrosis, and it was a sobering thing, he said, “You know for all these years, God has given me the privilege of modeling what it looks like to live for God. Now He's given me the privilege of what it looks like to die as a believer.” It was a phenomenal process. I don’t wish this process on anyone, and yet I will never forget how single-minded and focused he was.

The pulmonary fibrosis chained him to his bed so all he could do was write, pray and be on the phone. He wrote for three years, and we're going to publish his writings into a "start to discover God" package to help believers know who He really is. We're planning to make over 100 "Discover God" churches in the U.S. in the next ten years. Many people go to church, but they leave because they could not find God. They found programs and personalities but not God. If they found God they would've stayed.

Can you tell us who is God?

God's most profound attribute is love. He is not a God of tolerance; He is the God of love. Let me make a distinction. There is a big difference between the God of love and the God of tolerance. He loves us too much to be tolerant of some of the areas in our life. He loves us but he's not willing to let us stay there. It's not that He doesn't value diversity. He does. God created all of us but that doesn't mean tolerance of sin. Sometimes His love is very strong, but He is strong for our sake because He wants us to conform to the image of Christ.

He is also a God of justice. We can't conveniently ignore His justice and holiness and righteousness because if we do we just created a God in our own image and not the God of the Bible. In pop culture, we try to create God in our own image and we call him the God of the Bible, but the God of the Bible holds all these attributes without contradiction. As I studied the Bible, I kept wondering, “How do all of His attributes fit together?” but finally realized that God's perfection is displayed across.

How did Dr. Bill Bright begin CCC?

He was a business man with two or three companies in Hollywood, but he became a Christian. Then he went to seminary to learn about God. In his final semester of seminary, he gave God everything he wanted out of life – money, fame, travel – and made an irrevocable contract. The next day the Spirit came on him and gave him the vision for what would become the Campus Crusade for Christ.

He said, “I'm going to speak in sororities and fraternities because that's where most of the leaders will be.” He started with the sorority that had the best-looking women. He was strategically thinking from the start about reaching the leaders because if you reach the leaders, you reach the culture. He ministered to whoever was in front of him.

So dad went over and spoke in the sorority and asked if anyone wants to know more about Jesus. Afterward, more than half stood in line to ask him about Jesus. He said, “I'll tell you what. All of you bring your boyfriends tomorrow night, and I'll tell them what I told you.”

The athletes and the leaders showed up, and that was the start of CCC. God just absolutely exploded it in a very short time. All he did was, “Who can I reach? Who can I tell about the God of love?”

He had never done it before. He simply trusted God and took a risk.

Can you describe how Bill Bright came to Christ?

He was a young businessman, and he started running into leaders in the business world who told him, "Making money is great but the most important thing in my life is Jesus Christ."

He thought that was weird, but these were men he admired. Then he took it seriously and he went and studied the life of Christ. He started going to church to learn, but he would slip in listen and slip out because he didn't want to be preached to. After a year, he finally became convinced that Jesus was who he was.

The key component was that there were businessmen in Hollywood. He grew up in Oklahoma, and he always figured that religion were for women and children, not for a man's man. He wasn't interested until men that he admired testified that the most important thing in their life was Jesus. That got on his radar. So you just never know what's going to make the impact on the person in front of you. Most people are very interested. They just don't want to be preached at.

The biggest difference between Bill Bright and so many in the Christian world is that Bill Bright sold out 100 percent. He didn't hold anything back. He really was a slave of Jesus. The point is God did it. Bill Bright simply got up and did what God asked him. We show up for the battle. We report for duty, but God is the one that gives you orders. Bill Bright understood who he served, and he listened with everything in him for the voice of God.

Can you tell us about the Four Spiritual Laws and how it revolutionized evangelism?

Before the Four Spiritual Laws, presentation about Jesus always started with people's sin. Dad realized it doesn't start with our sin; it starts with God's love. If it weren't for God's love, we wouldn't be talking about sin because there would be no one to hope for us. God loves us and has a plan for our lives.

I think he had a gift of compassion and God allowed him to reach the lost. My dad was a strong man, but when it came to talking about people who are lost, I saw him cry many times. Wherever there was an opportunity, even if God had given 60 seconds, he would turn the agenda very quickly to, "If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?"

How do you propose the current evangelism method to be so that we can reach the postmodern generations?

We got to show them how to know God personally. This current generation is far more relationally wired than previous generations. They want things in the context of relationships. We need to understand that. The other thing is they want to walk around and kick the tires a little bit. They want to come to the conclusion on their own.

George Barna has said that 98 percent of teens who are in the born-again category do not have a Christian worldview. Among adults, it's 92 percent. That tells you that we're not doing our job in leading the flock. It's gonna take a lot of dialogue. They're not going to believe it simply because we say it. We have to say it in a way that they can understand and talk about.

After attending Stony Brook College Preparatory School in Stony Brook, New York, Bradley Bright attended Wheaton College where he received his B.A. in Political Science & History. He did graduate level studies in ethics and the process of social change at The Ethics Institute. Brad served Dr. Bright as his traveling assistant prior to working as Aide to U.S. Senator William L. Armstrong. Currently, he is National Director of the Pinnacle Forum, a national network of Christian key influencers operating at the center of society to transform the culture. He has two children with his wife Katherine, who serves as a ministry trainer and project consultant with Campus Crusade.