Review by Hadley Robinson
Bill Bright is the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ and the author of the ubiquitous tract, The Four Spiritual Laws.
Campus Crusade, like other hugely successful ministries, holds evangelization as the number one function of the Church. Unfortunately, these types of ministries say anything to convince people to become a sort of Christian in some way. That is, if someone says, "I love Jesus" he must be a Christian or something similar to this.
The true gospel taught by Paul, on the other hand, is not popular. Throughout the Bible, the gospel is direct and to the point: Men are commanded (not invited) to repent and believe, turning to God for the forgiveness of their sins through Jesus Christ. These are not half-heartened appeals to people’s vanity, cravings, or lusts. Jesus’ command in Mt 10:38 for us to take up our cross is not what the world wants to hear and, consequently, a command we will rarely find in nearly all modern gospel tracts such as Bright’s.
In this essay, the author examines Bright’s The Four Spiritual Laws (TFSL) and seeks to demonstrate how it deviates from the Biblical gospel in key areas. Like Rick Warren of Purpose Driven fame, Bright misuses Scripture and downplays sin. TFSL, nonetheless, does contain Biblical truth along with distortions and missing parts. As the partial truth is no truth, so a partial gospel cannot be a saving gospel. This may also help answer why the church in America is so filled with false Christians – people who claim the name of Christ but, otherwise, are indistinguishable from the rest of the world especially by their lack of holiness and the desire to submit to Christ.
This is not to say that God cannot use TFSL as an evangelistic tool. How is the unsaved reader to know which Biblical doctrines are omitted from the tract unless the Holy Spirit fills in the blanks?
TFSL begins with law 1: “God loves you [i.e. the unsaved man] and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” This first assertion is not found in Scripture. Bright uses Jn. 3:16 to
illustrate the humanistic “law” that God loves everybody. The Greek word used here for "love" is the devoted, self-sacrificing love used in many places in the New Testament of the most
intense love possible for another. Also, the word "world" here is used by John elsewhere in his gospel with at least ten different meanings including the makeup on a woman's face
(cosmetics). Consequently, Jn. 3:16 may not mean “all people, everywhere, who ever lived.” If it does, there would be conflict with other Scripture, especially the entire
chapter 9 of Romans.
Indeed, God did not love Pharaoh with devoted, sacrificial love (Ro 9:17-18) nor did He love the firstborn of Egypt who were put to death by Him without mercy. He did not love the men of Sodom who would have repented and believed if they had only seen God’s miracles (Mt 11:23). Was the mere withholding of information from the men of Sodom compatible with a devoted love for them if contemporary interpretations of Jn. 3:16 are accurate? He did not love Esau (Ro 9:13). Did He love the Canaanites who were not given any opportunity to repent before being slaughtered by Joshua? What about the people of Mysia (Ac 16:7) of whom the Spirit of Jesus specifically prevented Paul from evangelizing? It does not sound like Jesus loved them very much at all. Did God love Hammurabi like He did Abraham? Why did not Jesus appear to Caiaphas or Pontius Pilate as he did to Paul? These are just some examples.
If Jn. 3:16 is applied to everyone who ever lived then the meaning of the Greek word here for love becomes impossibly diluted, confusing, and nonsensical. For example, Jesus words in Jn. 13:1 could then mean anything:
Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
Among other things, showing them the full extent of His love meant revealing to them the mysteries of the Kingdom of God which, ordinarily, He hid from everyone else (Mt 13:10-11). If
He loved everyone else in the same way as His own, why did He not explain His parables to the world? Suffice it to say, Scripture is full of symbolism and parables which are only
understandable if the Spirit reveals them to the heart of the reader/listener. When one starts looking closely at Bill Bright's writings, Pastor Boyce's observations become inescapable:
Bright was a salesman with a shallow and misguided understanding of the most basic doctrines in Scripture.
Jesus, therefore, has devoted love for His own which manifests itself in various ways, especially in giving them eternal life, writing their names in the Book of Life which even predates the Creation (Rev 17:8), exempting them from experiencing God’s wrath, and creating a special place for them in Heaven.
Scripture, however, does teach that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23) which will eventually be most men but this does not mean that He loves them or, in fact, ever did. In other words, how can God truly love someone and then cast him into the Lake of Fire forever? Of course, if God cannot truly and completely save sinful men of His choosing, then His love must not be effective in accomplishing what Jesus promises to do in Jn. 6:39.
The context of Jn. 3:16 must be about the ones who already belong to Him – the world consisting of His children. The parallel passage of Jn. 6:40 clarifies to whom Jesus is speaking: This meaning of "world" is those whom the Father has revealed Himself and then given to His Son.
Furthermore, Jn. 3:19 declares that men loved darkness instead of light so how can they, of their own accord, believe in the Christ in the first place and so be saved? Does it mean only some men love darkness? Or, is it all? If we did not have so much Scripture that declares all men are lost, that no one seeks after God, and the like, we might be able to rearrange Jn. 3:16 to suit the purposes of Pelagius, the 5th century heretic, who coined the aphorism, “If I ought, I can.”
Bright’s meaning of world in Jn.3:16, along with most other American Protestant evangelicals, cannot make sense in light of passages like Ro 9:11-23 and Mal 1:2, 3.
If God acted to save all men through Christ, then He was a miserable failure, as the vast majority wants nothing to do with the Creator or the One He sent. So, as implied by Bright’s doctrine of man, Christ could have come into the world, suffered, and died and no one believe – there could be no Church at all because all men could have said “no thanks” to God’s offer of salvation. But this view does not measure up to the power of God to carry out His plans for His special people. As Isaiah 37:32 states, He will not be frustrated by the mere sin of men:
For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant,
and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
Therefore, most modern evangelists desire to dress up the Gospel to make it appeal to as many as possible. Accordingly, the first “law” in TFSL appeals to the flesh, one of the three
temptations mentioned in 1Jn.2:16. A desire to be loved and enjoy the good life are not a part of the gospel announced by Jesus and preached by Paul and the Apostles.
While a true Christian can heartily agree that God loves him and has good and godly work for him to do, the ones to whom TFSL is addressed – the unsaved – would not have any understanding of God's love and His purposes for them because they are separated from Christ and cannot understand spiritual matters (1 Cor. 2:14).
Some of Jesus’ first words in ministry were, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) The first command given by Paul in Acts 17:24ff – the quintessential sermon – is that we must repent. In Acts 26:20, Paul again sums up the true Gospel of Jesus Christ: “…I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” The core of the preaching of the disciples was “…they went out and preached that people should repent.” (Mk 6:12) Here in a nutshell is the message that God wants all men to hear: Repent and believe in the Christ and then act like it.
Bright also quotes Jn.10:10 to further demonstrate his first “law,” a verse commonly abused by the “name it, claim it” crowd and, to a lesser extent, by Bright. John’s concerns are 1.) For the Lord’s saved rather than everybody who ever lived. 2.) For the abundant spiritual life rather than the abundant carnal and earthly life. (A word study of “life” in John’s writings will reveal the proper meaning which is always spiritual life.)
TFSL, therefore, begins with a carnal appeal that has been used throughout history by the Tempter, among others, to deceive (Gen. 3:6).
In law 2, the doctrinal errors continue. Yes, man is sinful and separated from God, as Bright clearly states but the little diagram and the words following on page five are not in
accordance with God’s Word.
According to Scripture, sinful man does not try to do things to approach God. He does just the opposite – he worships himself and all the false gods and devils of every age. A more accurate illustration would show man’s efforts pointing in the exact opposite direction to where God should be.
Bright, appearing as a disciple of Pelagius once again, has to make man look more good and noble, so the “problem” really is that man is just not approaching God well enough.
Sadly, if Christians knew their Bibles better, they would quickly see through this façade. Man, according to Bright, is not really fallen that much – he just does not have the right credentials to approach the Almighty as much as he would like to. Man’s heart is mostly in the right place but he’s got some of the facts wrong.
This is another false teaching about the nature of man according to Scripture (Rom. 3:11-13).
Law 3 continues the sales pitch to the flesh.
Yes, Christ is God’s only provision for our sin but it is through Him that we have the forgiveness of our sins and are saved from eternal punishment. It is getting the spiritual cart before the spiritual horse to leave out just what provision Jesus, in fact, is. In line with his appeal to the flesh, Bright tells the reader that he can experience various things through Christ, namely His love and plan for him. On the contrary: The true appeal is for us to be saved from the wrath of God (Mt 3:7; 11:20ff; 12:41ff; Lk 3:7; Acts 3:38; 4:12; 7:51; 8:22; 10:42; 13:38-39; 16:31; 17:31; 26:20, etc., etc.).
Nowhere in the New Testament is there an appeal for men to be saved in order to experience some earthly benefit. In fact, the gospel warns men that the world will hate them and even kill them if they follow Him (Mk 13:13, Rev 16:5, 6). We believe a false gospel if we come to Christ in order to get some earthly benefit from Him.
An example of the appeal of the “pride of life” mentioned in 1Jn.2 is found in Acts 8:9ff. Simon the sorcerer wanted to buy the ability to give the Holy Spirit to whomever he laid his hands on because he craved the fame and attention that it brought to the Apostles. Imagine if the Apostles made their appeals based on this what’s-in-it-for-me attitude? Their first law might have been, “God loves you and offers this amazing gift to you: If you lay hands on others, they will receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter condemns this type of selfish attitude by saying:
You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. – Ac 8:21
To not have any part or share in the ministry of the Apostles means that there is neither any part nor any share in the true Gospel. How we come to Christ is just as important as the
particular Christ we are coming to in the first place. Simon could not become a true believer because his heart was wrong, namely, he had not repented and the gospel was therefore of no use
to him. This is also taught in 2Co 7:10:
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
There is a difference, therefore, in the type of sorrow we may have and that true repentance precedes salvation.
For Bright to leave out repentance up to this point is to leave out half of the Biblical gospel and, according to Scripture, that would be a different gospel, just as it was with Simon. Where Simon’s temptation was very specific, Bright’s temptation is more general: An unknown plan of God that is appealing to the flesh.
Can anyone imagine the young 4th century martyr, Perpetua, coming across TFSL, becoming a Christian, and then being thrown shortly thereafter to the wild beasts in the arena? As she was being torn to pieces would she have wondered,
What wonderful plan is Mr. Bright talking about? This is not very wonderful….
Thankfully, those wonderful brothers in the early days that God spared from the Second Death had few false notions about what could happen to them if they identified with Jesus Christ.
This is not likely so with the “millions and millions” Bright boasts about whom he claims are Christians because of TFSL.
Law 4 begins with the truth that we must individually receive Christ as Savior and Lord. That is, someone else cannot do it for us (a priest or some relative). But then it
immediately refers back to law 1 so we can be sure to remember that only when we receive Christ, can we also receive the good things – whatever they are. Bright correctly informs the
reader that we receive Christ through faith. But then he gets the order wrong: we are converted first by the Holy Spirit (born again) and then we exercise faith. But mere
believing is no use unless we truly repent, as Simon initially failed to do.
On page 9, Bright misuses another Scripture, Rev 3:20. Who is Jesus speaking to? It is not to the world of unbelievers as Bright, Billy Graham, and countless other American evangelists use it. The context is that Jesus is addressing the worldly and backslidden Christians of Laodicea who have failed to listen to their pastors. Jesus insists that this worldly church repent so that they can once more have fellowship together with Him. Jesus is knocking on the door of the ungodly church where He is refused entry and not on the door of some unbeliever’s heart. Using verses out of context is the favorite tactic of the unfaithful, the faithless, and the false teacher.
Bright’s incorrect use of this passage is in line with his view of man’s not-so-fallen nature: Jesus is “knocking on the door” of every heart of every man who has ever lived and every man should “let him come in.” Suffice it to say, Scripture does not teach this. Instead, it teaches that men cannot hear God’s message leading to repentance because their hearts are hardened and dead – completely dead:
For this people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them. – Acts 28:27
As it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:10-11
[Jesus] said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.” – Luke 8:10
The Savior purposely obscured spiritual truth so that only some could understand. It is, therefore, an error to suggest that unbelievers spiritually “hear” an invitation by Jesus to “come in” (Jn.6:44). For a man to hear the Word of God, he must be regenerated. That is, the Holy Spirit must begin His work in the man’s heart for him to hear the voice of the Master so he can repent and turn to Christ for salvation.
This is to say nothing of the truth that Jesus never invited anyone to believe in Him -- He commanded men to faith and repentance.
On page 9 is the only reference in TFSL to repentance. Sadly, Bright defines it, incorrectly, as “…turning to God from self.” This definition is not found anywhere in Scripture. Even Merriam-Webster defines the act of repentance as:
…to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life
Biblical repentance, then, is about feeling contrition and regret for what one has done AND doing something about it. (It is also why the vast number of adulterers in the Church are
not repentant: if they were, they would cease having sex with another man's wife and not believe the cultural myth that, somehow, marriage is dissolved by some decree of the State.)
But why give an incorrect, neutral definition, like Bright’s?
To the flesh, the offense of the gospel is that there is something radically wrong and evil with us for which there is no self-cure – a point Bill Bright does not make in TFSL. For
him, it appears that we must have Christ on the throne of our life instead of the self. In the same way, it would be foolish for us to be the pilot instead of the passenger in a 747.
In either case for Bright, being in the wrong place is not morally reprehensible, just foolish, which is in keeping with taking the offense out of the gospel, as does TFSL.
Besides the cardinal requirement that there be true repentance in the heart of anyone who is saved, the tract says nothing about the end of the world, its final Judgment, and the Lake of Fire. Like Abraham, true believers know that this world – under the temporary (but restrained) dominion of the Devil – is not their home and they long for the new Jerusalem above. Meanwhile, God’s people, like Lot, are tormented by the evil that surrounds them here. It is a great comfort to know that Christ will, at some special time, avenge those who attack and persecute His chosen ones.
Why might Bright soft-pedal the meaning of eternal life? It falls in line with making the gospel appealing to as many as possible yet retain some recognizable parts of Biblical doctrine. We do not even know what eternal life means from the tract. Maybe it means, logically, that those who do not receive Christ do not have eternal life. (Note that this tract is not meant for believers but for those who do not know Christ.) If this is the case, then Bright appears to hold to key teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists – that there is no Hell and that the lost are annihilated.
On the other hand, the Bible teaches that those who are not saved by Christ will spend eternity separated from all good in some place of unspeakable torment. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, today’s everyman does not want to hear about such Judgment. Nonetheless, this is an important parts of the true Gospel.
Just as Simon the Sorcerer misunderstood the Gospel, so those who take to heart Bright’s gospel presentation may likely believe a false gospel: One of cheap and easy grace where no Biblical repentance is required and which, therefore, cannot save.
Even pollster George Barna recently noted that though most of the country identifies with the Christian faith, only about 5% believe the essentials of the faith, such as the virgin birth. This also explains why the plunge into moral depravity and darkness continues unabated in our land and why even such horrific evils as partial-birth abortion and adultery are still tolerated even despite the “millions and millions” Bright boasts about who have made a “decision for Christ” as a result of TFSL. Where are these converts? Why are they not being godly salt in our culture? The sad truth may be that many may be the “Lord, Lord” people mentioned in Mt 7:21. Billy Graham should be asked the same question.
In conclusion, if anyone does all that is asked of by TFSL – and nothing more – he has put his trust in a partial gospel that is unable to save for the reasons enumerated above.
Contrition and making good for past sins are key signs of a heart that has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit (cf. Ps 51, Acts 2:37, 2Co 2:7). Can TFSL be used of God to bring someone into the Kingdom? Yes, if the Spirit of God has regenerated that person’s heart and he feels shame, regret, and contrition concerning the state of his lost and sinful soul.
Is it pleasing to the LORD to present a gospel other than the one that is given in Scripture? Is being “seeker sensitive” a godly goal? Perhaps we have the answer in Galatians 1:9-12:
As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 is one of the greatest non-seeker sensitive sermons of all time:
You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!
Instead of responding as the men did in Acts 2, “What shall we do?” they take Stephen out and stone him to death. One wonders if Bill Bright (or any other
popular American evangelist) ever addressed a crowd of unbelievers in the manner that Stephen did?
In Acts 19:26, Paul is accused of calling the gods of the people “no gods at all” – not a seeker-sensitive remark. In Acts 22:21, Paul insults all of Israel by declaring that God wants the Gentiles to be saved through the gospel. He was very insensitive to Jewish beliefs and was so insulting that the crowd tried to kill him.
Jesus explains why the world hates Him: “…it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” (Jn.7:7)
Hell, repentance, and sin are rarely mentioned in today’s presentations of the gospel, but along with the grace offered by Christ, they should be in order that men may believe the truth and be truly saved. Bright and other leaders in the Church should take greater heed to this admonition:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1Ti 4:16