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Stephen H. Webb

Big Man on Campus

Bill Bright and postwar evangelicalism.

Who has had a greater impact on Christianity in America, Billy Graham or Bill Bright? There is no right answer to this question, but it would be fun to discuss. While I think I might choose Bright, most people, I suspect, would not even take this question seriously. Everyone knows who Billy Graham is, but even people who have heard of Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) probably know very little, if anything, about its founder.

Here is another question: Who was the most influential religious activist in the Sixties? The names you are likely to hear are Martin Luther King, Jr., William Sloane Coffin, and the Berrigan brothers. Although King is hard to beat, a good case can be made that none of them were as active as Bright in creating organizations aimed at changing American culture. In fact, it is possible that no single individual in the 20th century worked harder to reach more people with the Gospel message than Bill Bright.

Bright (1921-2003) is not as well known as he should be because he worked behind the scenes for CCC, but John Turner's new book puts his life and career center stage for all to see. A disappointment as a businessman and a failure as a student, Bright became the most innovative and successful promoter of Christianity on college campuses in America and across the world.

Bright grew up in Coweta, Oklahoma, in a world where there was little difference between Sunday school and public school because most of the teachers taught both. After moving to Los Angeles in 1944, he joined Hollywood Presbyterian, the nation's largest Presbyterian Church, which was full of the rich and famous. There he came under the influence of a remarkable teacher, Henrietta Mears. With the loss of many young men during the war, Mears understood the need to inspire a new generation of Christian leaders. She did so by linking the call to Christian conversion with the defense of American values against communist influence. Mears thought that Christians should be as courageous as soldiers ...

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