Prominent author, pastor and sociologist Dr. Tony Campolo told UK based Premier Media this week that he no longer wanted to be considered an evangelical. Good. On this we agree, but for different reasons.
Speaking on Premier’s Inspirational Breakfast, Tony Campolo said: “Evangelicals in the United States are anti-environment… If you say you’re an Evangelical you’re anti-gay, you’re anti-women, you’re pro-war…
“In the southern states, eighty percent of the people go to church at least once a month [and yet it’s] the strongest supporter for capital punishment.
“How do you reconcile Evangelicals favouring capital punishment when Jesus said: ‘blessed are the merciful’?
“If you’re going to get mercy you’ve got to show mercy. Evangelicals are hard-nosed people when it comes to punishing criminals.”
As someone who considers himself a conservative, as well as, an evangelical I share his concern about evangelicals becoming so closely tied to the Republican Party. I also recognize that believers have differing opinions about how to go about stewardship of the environment, criminal justice, the death penalty and war.
Considering evangelicals historically and recently have been involved in helping to bring about criminal justice reform through groups like Prison Fellowship in working with prisons, and the Church has been involved working with children and families of prisoners his remarks are frustrating and overreaching.
For instance I have issues with capital punishment, and I’m not alone in that regard. That said I don’t see a biblical mandate in the Beatitudes for the end of capital punishment. When you read through Romans 13, the apostle Paul makes it pretty clear the state was instituted by God to punish wrong doers.
That said Romans 13 is not a mandate for capital punishment either. Campolo paints capital punishment with a pretty broad brush here considering God, who instituted the idea of capital punishment, also identified Himself as a merciful God.
In terms of climate change with “consensus” among the scientific community or not (and it appears consensus is built by bullying and peer pressure, not actual, you know, evidence) should this be a priority of the Church? I would argue no. The priority is the Gospel, the great commission to make disciples, and the cultural commission that believers act as salt and light in a sinful world. Also, one can question whether the current push for climate change policy will – a. be effective (I don’t, and I disagree it is mainly manmade) and b. hurt the poor, I believe climate change policy is disastrous to 3rd world countries and will hurt the poor.
Something I would like to think Campolo would be against.
As much as Campolo dislikes what he sees as the church focusing on conservative political issues his answer is for the Church to focus on political issues and positions he holds near and dear. Both positions are incorrect.
I agree that Tony Campolo should no longer consider himself an evangelical. This doesn’t have anything to do with politics however. It has everything to do with how he approaches scripture.
Let me say this. There are a lot of things I appreciate about Tony Campolo. I appreciate the work he has done with Compassion International. I appreciate how he has challenged and pushed the Church in serving the poor. I appreciate the focus he has given urban ministry and how he has called younger Christians to serve there.
I also want to be clear here, I am not saying Tony Campolo is not a Christian. I do believe he has promoted false teaching though, and I think he has strayed from the evangelical reservation so to speak for a few reasons.
1. He muddies the water on who is saved.
I wondered if he were truly evangelical back in 2007 when I wrote about these two quotes.
“I am saying that there is no salvation apart from Jesus; that’s my evangelical mindset. However, I am not convinced that Jesus only lives in Christians”
-Tony Campolo (National Liberty Journal, 8/99)
“…what can I say to an Islamic brother who has fed the hungry, and clothed the naked? You say, “But he hasn’t a personal relationship with Christ.” I would argue with that. And I would say from a Christian perspective, in as much as you did it to the least of these you did it unto Christ. You did have a personal relationship with Christ, you just didn’t know it.”
2. On his website he calls himself a “positive prophet of Red Letter Christianity.”
Red Letter Christianity is defined as those “by a public commitment to the “red letters”—the words of Jesus that are set apart in red letters in some versions of the Bible. We confess that the way of life Jesus taught and practiced is the way we want to follow.”
On the surface this sounds good, but basically this states that the four Gospels, and what Jesus is quoted saying in the Gospels, are what we will follow over and above everything else. Now I will say that we should definitely pay attention to and apply as the Spirit leads us what Jesus taught. All scripture, however, is God’s Word. It’s all important. We are not supposed to pick and choose.
Jesus Himself said he did not come to abolish the law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them, (Matthew 5:17).
Jesus also said, “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished,” (Matthew 5:18, ESV).
He goes even further, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:19a, ESV).
Now there can be several ways of looking at this passage, especially in terms of dietary restrictions, but one has to also remember those particular laws were given to the Jewish people, not gentiles. The main takeaway here is that to be considered righteous you must perfectly follow the law which is an impossible task.
The law isn’t relaxed, the penalty for not following it is the same – death, and in our case it would be spiritual death. The law still condemns us today as it would have at the time it was given. The thing that has changed is that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our not following the law. We can’t follow the law perfectly, but Jesus was without sin and could.
But I digress. Jesus Himself didn’t take away emphasis on the Old Testament.
Scripture also states that all scripture is God-breathed, meaning God-inspired, (2 Timothy 3:16). Campolo seems to want to disregard what God inspired the apostle Peter to write, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Peter 1:20b-21, ESV).
3. His worldview appears to be determined by culture, not scripture.
Case in point… marriage. Campolo has embraced same-sex marriage within the Church. I’m not just talking about supporting a civil commitment outside of the Church, but a blessing of same-sex relationships within the Church.
In 2015 Campolo declared, “I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.”
Well, he may be, but according to scripture God isn’t.
Since he’s into the “red letters” perhaps he overlooked that Jesus affirmed marriage as being between a man and a woman.
“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What God has joined together, let not man separate,” (Matthew 19:4, ESV).
“But, but, but…. Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality?” I can hear a same-sex marriage advocate say.
Jesus didn’t say anything about identity theft, child molestation, and a whole host of other issues we are not going to say those are ok right?
However, Jesus did address the topic of sexual immorality. We see this in Matthew 5:27-30; 19:9. The Greek word for sexual immorality is (transliterated) porneia. It described promiscuity of any type outside of marriage between one man and one woman.
His ideas about climate change and man’s influence on it. Our world is broken as a result of sin and will one day pass away. The ability to “fix” that is beyond our reach which is a problem with much of the environmental movement.
We are stewards of God’s creation however so the earth’s brokenness doesn’t give us license to pursue policies that we know are harmful to public health, litter, etc.
What Campolo doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that many of the climate change advocates he supports reject the idea that God created (Genesis 1 and 2), don’t acknowledge that in God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17), and that Christ sustains our world – “in him all things hold together,” (Colossians 1:17).
So for those three basic reasons I agree with Tony Campolo. He is not an evangelical.