Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Tony Campolo? (Part 1)

How would you deal with a situation where you are a member of a local church that you love and suddenly find out that they have invited a known heretic to come and fill their pulpit? Would you respond? How would you approach this?

My friend Andrew in Australia was recently confronted with this situation and he responded to it. In fact, I was so impressed with Andrew's careful research and gracious presentation that I wanted to post it here over the next week as a very helpful example of a God honoring way to go about responding to such a dire situation. Andrew also compiles an excellent and helpful profile on the beliefs/teachings of Tony Campolo. Take it away Andrew . . .

Earlier this year, our church announced that they would be hosting Tony Campolo as a guest speaker. This immediately raised a red flag for me as I had heard him referenced many times in a negative light and so I began to research his teachings. I also informed a couple of the pastors at our church that I was aware of some theological issues and that I was going to investigate further.

I want to release some of the work I did to the general public for a couple of reasons.

1. I want people to gain a better understanding of Tony Campolo and his teaching. I do not believe he is theologically sound and as such I want people to see the wolf that he is.
2. I want people to learn from my attempt at challenging church leadership. My attempt was by no means perfect, and I don’t want it to be held up as “This is how you should do it”. I was very fortunate to have a number of people come along side me in this process to read and re-read what I wrote. I believe that it is possible to graciously but firmly warn a church that they are hosting a wolf.

I want to emphasise that the leadership of this church are people I consider friends and the church community is one that I dearly love. To this end, I have been careful to remove all names of the people and the church involved so that this cannot be seen as an attack on the church or its leadership.

Below is a letter that I submitted to the church leadership summarising my research.

Dear [Pastors],

I want to bring you up to speed with my research into Tony Campolo and what I have learned.

I want to make a couple of things very clear before I get into specifics:

• I am raising these issues out of a heart for the church and a love for God. I am not interested in causing division or making a scene but rather I am genuinely concerned for protecting the theological integrity of the church and its members.
• I have always placed a high value on supporting, assisting and encouraging you as leaders of this church and this remains my commitment. I am not seeking to judge you in any way for this decision to allow Tony Campolo to speak here nor do I wish to undermine you in any way.
• I am conerned only with Tony Campolo’s theology. His character and behaviour are not in question. Everything I hear, including from his critics, is that he is a really nice guy and a very skilled communicator, however what concerns me and I have therefore examined are his teachings. I do not have relationship with him and do not need to in order to evaluate his teachings and whether or not he ought be invited as teacher. We must be like the Bereans of Acts 17 who closely examined the scriptures to examine the claims that Paul made. We are also commanded to identify those whose teachings are not in alignment with scripture and beware of them (Rom 16:17). To do this we must look at the breadth of his teachings both in what he has written and said publically.

To that end I have endeavoured to work from primary sources rather than potentially out of context secondary sources:
• I have read a number of articles that he has written that are published on the beliefnet website.
• I have read transcripts of interviews that he was involved in.
• I have also listened to audio of him being interviewed.

As a secondary source, I have also used large sections from his books cited on a couple of blogs. I refer to these as secondary because I do not have complete copies of his work. In these cases I have been careful to examine the blog writer’s integrity with quoting work by comparing quotes to primary sources that I did have access to. For the moment I am prepared to trust these quotes as accurate unless I am shown that they are out of context or otherwise inaccurately reproduced in which case I am more than happy to reconsider their use in making my case.

I have found multiple areas that are of considerable theological concern and I have summarised them below.

1. He denies God’s omniscience and omnipotence

Following hurricane Katrina’s destruction in the US in late 2005, Campolo weighed in with his view that clearly undermined both God’s foreknowledge of the event and his ability to intervene.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad answers. One such answer is that somehow all suffering is a part of God's great plan. In the midst of agonies, someone is likely to quote from the Bible, telling us that if we would just be patient, we eventually would see "all things work together for the good, for those who love God, and are called according to His purposes." (Romans 8:28)”

“I don't doubt that God can bring good out of tragedies, but the Bible is clear that God is not the author of evil! (James 1:15) Statements like that dishonor God, and are responsible for driving more people away from Christianity than all the arguments that atheistic philosophers could ever muster. When the floods swept into the Gulf Coast, God was the first one who wept.”

“Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent.

Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. Instead, the Hebrew Bible contends that God is mighty. That means that God is a greater force in the universe than all the other forces combined.”
(“Katrina: Not God's Wrath--or His Will” - http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2005/09/Katrina-Not-Gods-Wrath-Or-His-Will.aspx)

To imply that this was not God’s will (in the title of the article) implies that the creation is not subject to God. He reinforces this in the later quote by Rabbi Kushner. That is flat out historical heresy.

It is a concession by someone who does not have a Biblical understanding of suffering.

2. He does not understand the Biblical Gospel

In an interview with Shane Claiborne he states:

“Catholicism would say that at the moment of death every person is confronted in that split moment with Christ and is given the opportunity of saying yes or no. To say otherwise is to say God has got to be a pretty unfair deity, to condemn three quarters of the human race to hell without them ever having a chance.”

“There is much in Christianity that would suggest exactly the same thing, particularly Romans the 2nd chapter, where the apostle Paul says "What do we say of those who do not accept the law of God," and I would add "as we understand it," "and are faithful to all the things that God calls us to do--will God not have to make room for them?" He asks that as a rhetorical question, leaving the reader with the obvious sense--"but of course." So I think that the apostle Paul would be a lot more generous towards Islamic people than most of my evangelical brothers and sisters are.”
(From: “On evangelicals and interfaith cooperation: an interview with Tony Campolo by Shane Claiborne” - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_1_55/ai_n13798048/ - Emphasis mine)

In this statement, he shows a lack of understanding of the justice of God. In his words, “God has got to be a pretty unfair deity” if he punishes people for their sins. This is seen again as he dramatically misinterprets Romans 2:14-15 which clearly speaks of the fact that all people, Jew or Gentile understand God’s standards because he has written his law on their hearts in the form of a conscience and that he has revealed some of himself through nature so that this will leave them without excuse (Romans 1:20). He doesn’t appear to understand that all of us have enough sin to condemn us (Romans 3:23) and that lack of belief in Christ is not the primary reason someone should be condemned (Romans 2:6, 8, 12, John 3:18). It would appear that to satisfy his lack of understanding he has taken on a Catholic teaching which has no basis in scripture.

In addition to this he clearly promotes a work-righteous salvation where a “good Muslim” (see Romans 3:10-12) can have a relationship with Jesus (without knowing his name) if he fulfils the Muslim command to give to the poor.

“When it comes to what is ultimately important, the Muslim community's sense of commitment to the poor is exactly in tune with where Jesus is in the 25th chapter of Matthew. That is the description of judgment day. And if that is the description of judgment day 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. And Jesus himself says: "On that day there will be many people who will say, when did we have this wonderful relationship with you, we don't even know who you are ..." "Well, you didn't know it was me, but when you did it to the least of these it was doing it to me."”
(From: “On evangelicals and interfaith cooperation: an interview with Tony Campolo by Shane Claiborne” - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_1_55/ai_n13798048/ - Emphasis mine)

Again he mishandles Scripture by misinterpreting Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus does not say in this account of end times (which we need to show great care in interpreting) that the good deeds make someone righteous but rather by taking this passage in conjunction with others on the same subject, we can see that Jesus is saying that the fruit of the righteous is good works (i.e. Righteousness causes good works, not good works causes righteousness). In a passage such as this, we must interpret the text in light of clearer Scriptures (Matthew 7:15-20, Ephesians 2:8-9, James 2:14-25, Galatians 5:16-26).

Jesus did not place upon us the yoke of work-righteousness. Christ has declared me righteous through His finished work on the cross and that there is nothing that I can do to contribute to my own salvation. My works and my sins are not judged when deciding my eternal fate. This is not true for Islam, Judaism or Catholicism. It is through a work-righteous theology that Tony Campolo is able to rationalize his ecumenism.

His commitment to the poor is to be highly commended and his work is well known however, I must reiterate that we are not judging his works but his theology.

Go On To Part 2


Timothy J. Hammons said...

Very well done. I look forward to part 2.

Anonymous said...

Why r u spreading so much hate. Can't we all get along. Can't u see that everyone can't be right about their religion!!!!!

Esther Morris said...

You could not be more misguided in your conclusions into Tony Campolo's theologies and biblicaly grounded teachings. He is a very intelligent, God ordained man and it saddens me so much to see how shallow and niave your understanding is. Your Church would have undoubtedly been blessed and nourished to have received such a speaker. Read up!

Cameron Buettel said...

Esther, I made claims and did the research to back them up. You are welcome to disagree with my article but if you are going to make such claims about how wrong I am then you need to also afford me the courtesy of refuting what I have researched with evidence to the contrary. The evidence is overwhlming that Tony Campolo is a wolf and an enemy of the gospel. He proclaims a different god and a different gospel.

Rachel said...

Hello there I just wanted to tell you thank you for this article, and for shinning light on this. I recently found out that my church had me come speak, and honestly red flags shot up for me too. I almost felt sick, and have been bothered by it all weekend knowing that this false teacher is spreading his message. Yes, I do believe he has some good ideas, take for example his efforts in relieving poverty, and protecting the environment. Thats fine and dandy, but whats the real importance is the teaching, and does it line up with Gods Word? If it does n`t, its another gospel message, and thats something Jesus warns us that in the end times there will be numerous amounts of false prophets among us spreading another gospel. I am praying about what to say to my pastor, my fellow church leaders regarding this. I want to ensure I am saying things in love, and I want to come across the right way.