In the early 1950s, a guy named Bill Bright and his wife Vonette had an idea: they wanted to reach college students with the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, brimming with optimism, they went to the campus of UCLA and set up shop. By 1952, they were able to hire 6 staff members. By 1959, they had expanded to 40 college campuses and a handful of foreign countries. Today, they’ve expanded to almost 200 countries around the world, and have around 50,000 students actively involved in their organization.
The idea Bill and Vonette had 60 years ago eventually turned into the organization known as Campus Crusade for Christ – one of the largest, and certainly one of the most influential evangelical Christian groups in the world. For instance, Campus Crusade was responsible for putting together the Jesus Film, a well-known evangelism tool they claim has been viewed by 6 billion people in over 1,000 local languages and dialects.
Campus Crusade is also responsible for a little booklet called “The Four Spiritual Laws”. Even if you haven’t read the book itself, you’re probably familiar with its content. Basically, it lays out 4 ‘laws’ that govern our spiritual lives –
- God loves you and has a plan for your life
- Humanity is sinful and is separated from God, and cannot know God’s plan.
- Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for sin. Only through Jesus can humanity know and experience God’s plan for us.
- We must individually receive Jesus as Savior in order to know and experience God’s plan for our lives.
Bill Bright formulated this simple 4-step plan as a missionary tool to easily communicate the story of Christianity to as many people as possible. And it worked – this formulation has influenced an entire generation of Christians and the way they think about their faith. Ask any Christian today – especially a member of a non-denominational church – how somebody is ‘saved’, and you’ll probably hear some version of the 4 spiritual laws. Or you’ll hear the shorthand answer: “Invite Jesus to come live in your heart.”
But for most of Christian history (up until the last several generations, in fact), believers have NOT described salvation as a personal, interior state of mind. They have not understood spiritual growth as an information download or some simple change in title of status.
The earliest Christians preached that Jesus is the Savior of the world. They understood his resurrection as the dawning of a new age – the end of death, disease, and decay. And they were convinced that God had called them to live as if the kingdom of life and love was already invading our world.
For them, the gospel message was very public, very real, very physical, and very imminent – we’re the ones who have turned it into an issue of “me” and “Jesus coming into my heart”.
Now, I do admire Bill Bright’s knack for developing and administering a worldwide movement like Campus Crusade, and I‘m amazed at his passion for evangelism among such a hard-to-reach age-group – but his vision of the Christian life is too thin, too one-dimensional, too static. And sadly, this shell of a gospel has crept into nearly corner of Christianity and has turned the message about the Kingdom of God into a therapeutic message about “me”.
Don’t you think God is up to something bigger than that?