This article was writtem in 1977 and first published in Evangelical Times in 1981. While several details have changed over the course of time, the essential details and the critique remain the same. Apologies if there are still typos from the scanning process.
Dr Digby L. James is the minister of the Quinta Independent Evangelical Church, Weston Rhyn, Shropshire, and publishes old books through Quinta Press.
Campus Crusade for Christ International Inc
THEY PUT US TO SHAME
This, or innumerable variations of it, is the way in which many people first encounter Campus Crusade for Christ.
I first met them at Imperial College where I studied chemistry. Through a number of providences I began attending one of their Bible studies where, unusually, they were studying Romans. This, coupled with other providences, led to my coming under deep conviction of sin and being converted. I was active with Campus Crusade during the rest of my time at college and upon graduation joined their staff in August 1974. I worked at Birmingham University for two years and then in the summer of 1976 I was moved to Liverpool. I was dismissed in November 1976 because I refused to teach their methods or use their materials any more.
I would like to begin by saying that this article is not written out of any animosity or bitterness towards Campus Crusade. I have a great love for my former colleagues. It is rather that now I see how wrong Campus Crusade is and desire to inform churches about them and to discourage people from getting involved with them.
After giving a very brief outline of their origin, extent of influence and doctrinal statement, I wish, in more detail, to explain (i) their theology of evangelism; (ii) the practical outworking of this theology; (iii) basic problems with their method of evangelism; (iv) their theology of sanctification; (v) Campus Crusade’s attitude to the local church; and finally (vi) to point out positive aspects of Campus Crusade.
Campus Crusade was founded in 1951 at the University of California at Los Angeles by Bill Bright and his wife Vonette. It has since grown to a worldwide movement working in over sixty countries of the world with a full time staff numbering over 5,000 and is continually increasing. They began working in England in 1967 with about sixty American staff, most of whom have now been replaced by British staff. The national office is in Reading and they are presently working at the universities in Birmingham, Brighton, Edinbugh, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Newcastle, Nottingham and Reading. Until this year they also worked at Southampton. In addition they work in the senior schools in the Brighton area and have a lay ministry based at Hinckley. A history of Campus Crusade, its organisation, successes and methods up to 1968 will be found in Come Help Change The World by Bill Bright (Revell).
Campus Crusade has already had a great influence. Their methods and approach have become orthodox for many; for example, they were taught at SPREE-73. The beginning of their gospel presentation, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’ has become an evangelical cliché.
Their doctrinal statement, though brief, is good, and few evangelicals would have any qualms about signing it. They can thus embrace people from widely differing backgrounds and work freely with them. In seventeen points (of one to two sentences in length) they cover the doctrines of God, the person and work of Christ, the Fall, salvation, assurance, the Holy Spirit, the Church, life after death, the return of Christ and the preaching of the gospel.
(i) Theology of Evangelism
Dr Bright has said that most people really do want to become Christians and that in evangelism a person primarily needs to be told how to become one. If the right approach and method is used he will come to the point of decision. Should the person decide to repent and believe, then God has bound Himself to regenerate them. A ‘decision for Christ’ is thus recognised as a conversion.
Opinions differ within the movement as to the order of events in conversion and to whether regeneration precedes repentance and faith or not, but to many such a question does not arise.
(ii) The practical Outworkings of Their Theology
One basic method they use at present is to share a small booklet entitled The Four Spiritual Laws with people. This presents their message under four points, or laws:—God’s love and plan; man’s sin; God’s provision in Christ; man’s response in receiving Christ. The worker reads through the booklet with a non-Christian explaining and amplifying where necessary. If agreement to each point is obtained the non-Christian is encouraged there and then to receive Christ by faith. The impression given is that if he has prayed the prayer written in the booklet, believing that God will answer him, he will then have become a Christian.
The Four Spiritual Laws, however, may soon disappear completely from Campus Crusade evangelism in favour of a very similar booklet entitled, Knowing God Personally. It was found that the Four Spiritual Laws were not as effective in England as in America. ‘While it takes on average thirty-five minutes to convert a student in the States, over here it takes two, or even three hours’ (an American staff member).
This is thought to be the case because Britain has a different ‘cultural key’. In America it is a ‘meaning and purpose in life’ that most people are searching for. Hence, in the Four Spiritual Laws, the key message is the need for conversion before discovering God’s plan for one’s life. The ‘key’ in this country is thought to be ‘personal relationships’, and so the booklet Knowing God Personally presents the message in these terms. This is an example of ‘dynamic equivalents’, that is expressing the same truth through the different ‘felt needs’ of different cultures.
After ‘conversion’ the great emphasis is still on evangelism and new ‘converts’ are encouraged to begin sharing their faith as quickly as possible. Biblical teaching suffers as a result of this and very few students have a clear grasp of what the Scriptures teach. I was regarded as something of an oddity because of my hunger for more knowledge and my love of theology. The attitude of many staff is ‘I’m an evangelist, not a theologian’.
In spite of the number of people who are ‘converted’ through Campus Crusade and then encouraged to ‘evangelise’. The number who return to their former state is appallingly high, though the length of time for which they appear to go on is variable. This is true not just among the students that they work with but also among the staff. Last year, one staff member, in discussing my planned departure from their ranks, said ‘If you’re right about the need for conviction of sin before conversion, then I’m not a Christian.’
During my involvement with them I saw about twenty people ‘pray to receive Christ’, but there was no evidence of a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. In contrast, I met a student just before leaving Campus Crusade and spent time teaching him the gospel.
The Spirit of God was obviously at work in his life, and after being under conviction of sin for about six months, he was finally converted. He knows now, by an inward assurance, that he is converted and has a great, love and zeal for God and longs for greater knowledge and personal holiness.
Staff fill in a weekly statistical report of the number of such contacts, gospel presentations and salvation decisions.
(iii) Basic Problems With Their Method of Evangelism
This method produces some difficulties. Firstly, in beginning with the phrase ‘God loves you’, it is assumed that the typical English pagan knows who the God of the Bible is. This is sadly far from the truth. When Paul preached to pagans (Acts 14 & 17) or expounded the Gospel in Romans, he began with God and who He is. Nowhere in his sermons is anyone told that ‘God loves you’ (in fact the word love does not occur in the book of Acts), and in Romans God’s love is only spoken of in reference to believers.
Secondly, sin is defined in an abstract way and is not related to the Law of God. Little reference is made to judgement or to the wrath of God. The thinking behind this is that since the Holy Spirit convicts men of sin, it is not necessary to explain sin in detail. Hence the work of Christ is not seen as propitiating the wrath of God against sinners, but merely as having bridged a gulf between God and man, so that man can experience God’s love and plan.
Thirdly, they believe that God can only bring a person to the point of decision and that theirs is the final step in salvation. Jesus is often portrayed standing outside a person’s life, seeking entry; yet he is powerless to enter without their consent. Revelation 3:20 is used in this context whereas it was originally addressed to those who already were believers.
The result of this is that many ‘converted’ people have no clear understanding of who God is, no sense of conviction of sin, and no realisation of their need to repent and simply trust in the person and work of Christ for their salvation. (One of the Campus Crusade staff said it was not until five months after he became a Christian that he learnt that justification is by faith). They ‘know’ that they are ‘converted’ because someone has told them that they are. Many times I, myself, tried to assure people that they were Christians because they had prayed a prayer. whereas, assurance in the Bible comes only from the Holy Spirit.
This can be illustrated by the following testimony which is typical of many who are involved in Campus Crusade: II met some Christians who shared the gospel with me. I became intellectually convinced that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that therefore he was the son of God and had died for me, so I asked him to come into my life as saviour and Lord.
In person to person contacts, the Campus Crusade staff would expect to spend about ten minutes going through the Four Spiritual Laws and the rest of the time in apologetics. The staff are well-trained in answering typical objections. They put great emphasis upon the historical evidence for Christianity and present well reasoned arguments for the authenticity of the Bible and the resurrection of Christ. Using these arguments, they attempt to rationally persuade a person of the truth of Christianity and to lead them on to a decision. It can be solely intellectual. Also in doing this they make the mistake of assuming that a person is genuine in their position of unbelief and is therefore blameless. In contrast, the Bible talks of unbelief as a sin, since we have an inherent knowledge of God and man has no excuse before God for his unbelief. The use of apologetics is good but it must be submissive to the absolute authority of the Word of God. If an apologetic is used as proof that the Bible is the Word of God, it becomes a higher authority than the Bible itself.
(iv) Theology of Sanctification
The other booklet that Campus Crusade make great use of is called Have You Made the Wonderful Discovery of the Spirit-Filled Life? This is often used when they meet people who claim to be Christians. For example, after ‘conversion’ a ‘convert’ often says:—‘I felt no different on being converted, but, after a few weeks I began to notice changes in my life. I began to get frustrated because I wasn’t living the abundant Christian life that Christ promised, but then I learned how to be filled with the Spirit and to walk by faith.’
The booklet shows how a ‘carnal’ Christian, one trying to live the Christian life in his own strength, can experience a joyful and fruitful Christian life on being filled with the Spirit by faith and continuing to walk by faith. (Based on Ephesians 5:18 and 1 John 5:14–15). This teaching, if taken to its logical conclusion, would result in perfectionism (Matthew 5:48), though fortunately they do not take it that far. The booklet cites Romans 7:14–25 as the experience of a ‘carnal’ Christian, but here Paul was describing his daily experience and the normal Christian life, a life of continual struggle against indwelling sin.
(v) Church Involvement
Participation in the life of the local church is difficult for the Campus Crusade staff because of the nature of their work, since most weekday evenings are spent in evangelism around the student halls of residence, and during the university vacations they attend conferences. Also, to many church members, the staff appear to be little more than students. The greatest problem, however, is that the staff are committed first to Campus Crusade and then to the local church, and so the staff cannot really come under church discipline.
However, it is Campus Crusade’s desire to work closely with local churches and to get them involved in Campus Crusade type evangelism. With this in view, a number of English ministers have visited America to observe Here’s Life America. This is a Campus Crusade programme to saturate a geographical area with the gospel in a short period of time using advertisements, television, newspapers along with personal and telephone evangelism. The latter involves going through the telephone directory and seeking to share the Four Spiritual Laws with any who answer the telephone. Some of these English ministers have been very enthusiastic and an attempt will probably be made to organise a similar programme in England.
Most of the staff would, however, avoid attending a church in the Reformed tradition, even if it was the only evangelical church in the area. It is not unknown for staff to be discouraged from attending a Reformed church simply because the church disagrees with the Campus Crusade methodology.
Evangelicals who do disagree with their methodology will find it difficult to work with them. I found myself in difficulties when asked to teach their methods to some students, which I could no longer do with a clear conscience. I asked if I could continue working with them for a few more months just preaching the Gospel, but was informed that a person who would not teach their basic messages or use their materials could in no way continue to be a Campus Crusade staff member, and that therefore I no longer worked for them.
(vi) Positive Aspects of Campus Crusade
In conclusion, I should like to draw attention to what I regard as the positive aspects of Campus Crusade, and point out ways in which we can learn from them.
The staff are friendly and sincere people and are generally in their twenties. The majority have been students and hold degrees. In doing this work they often make great sacrifices. Campus Crusade has no money of its own, and each staff member must raise his own salary by way of gifts from individual Christians or churches. Many endure hardship for this reason.
They are very zealous in their evangelism, desiring to contact as many people as possible and present their message. As a result they have caused Christian Unions and churches to take evangelism more seriously.
During each university vacation they hold training conferences to train students in evangelism and Christian living, and each summer they have a fortnight conference for teaching in theology. Some of this teaching is very good. The course on how to study the Bible is the most helpful and practical that I have encountered. The staff also have a Bible teaching conference for a week of each year when they consider some fundamental doctrine and a book of the Bible. Since this began in 1974 they have covered Luke, 2 Timothy, 1 Corinthians, Amos, Hermeneutics, Creation, Knowing God’s Will, Inspiration and Revelation. The purpose behind this is to give the staff high level teaching on controversial issues.
They particularly emphasise strategic planning, management of time and organisation of personnel so that burdens of work and responsibility are spread as evenly as possible. How much other Christians need to adopt these principles.
One thing that I have learned is that most students, contrary to popular opinion, are willing to discuss spiritual matters freely, and I hope that evangelical churches near to universities will organise evangelistic outreach among the students.
(vii) Why I changed my view
Doubtless, many are still undecided about Campus Crusade (and others who employ similar methods), Such people may be interested to know how I came to change my mind. In September 1975 I read Knowing God by J.I. Packer and was so impressed by his high opinion of the Epistle to the Romans that I began reading through it regularly. Later, in studying it with Christian friends, I began to see that the teachings of Scripture were different at many basic points from Campus Crusade teaching. By March 1976 I had decided to leave Campus Crusade, but thought that I could continue with them for another year (this was because I initially had told them that I would work with them for more than the minimum two years). In June 1976 I read George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore, which encouraged me greatly and confirmed me in my position. During the summer conferences I began to realise the great difficulties I would have to face during the following year, and at the final conference, after I had moved to Liverpool, I saw things so clearly that I wished I had already left Campus Crusade. I resolved that I would not compromise and, if necessary, would resign earlier than I had planned. During September and October I read Today’s Gospel Authentic or Synthetic by Walter Chantry (which Campus Crusade staff members usually referred to as an attack on a straw man—Mr Chantry would have done better had he been more specific in his critique), The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray, and The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton by Bennet Tyler. Nettleton saw revival while preaching Calvinistic doctrine.
These further strengthened me in my position and the latter gave me practical help in my evangelism. Thus when I was asked to teach Campus Crusade methods I was obliged to resign.