Ministry & Church
Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University in St David’s, Pennsylvania. He is a 1956 graduate of Eastern College, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Theological Seminary) and earned a Ph.D. from Temple University. He is an ordained Baptist minister and evangelist, presently serving as an associate pastor of the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in West Philadelphia, which is affiliated with both the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and the American Baptist Churches USA. For ten years, he was a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Urban Studies Programme at Eastern College (American Baptist) in St. David’s, California.
Beliefs & Key Doctrines
- Claims to be evangelical
- Described by some evangelists as a theological liberal and a New Age pantheist. Often favourably cites social and theological radicals such as Karl Marx, Paul Tillich, Martin Buber and Teilard deChardin.
Believes that Christians should be in the vanguard of social issues. Unfortunately, this laudable aim is clouded by his refusal to stand uncompromisingly for holiness. His typical approach is to acknowledge orthodox scriptural positions, claim them as his own and then draw a line between the scriptural and the temporal by saying his personal beliefs should not affect the way he interacts with non-Christians breaking God’s commands. Rather than standing for holiness he compromises with sinfulness. This approach usually leaves people in a wilderness of obfuscation and obtuseness.
Campolo has authored as many as 30 books, including:
- A Reasonable Faith
- Partly Right
- Wake Up America
- Twenty Hot Potatoes
- Was a personal advisor to President Bill Clinton
- Co-authored a book Adventures in Missing the Point with emergent church guru, Brian McLaren.
He is an intelligent and articulate speaker who has ministered to a wide range of Christian organisations. He also has a good grasp of social issues.
Truth Watch: Assessment / Warning
Campolo’s teaching is often unbiblical. He claims to be a ‘red letter Christian’. By this he means that he respects teachings found in the epistles, but puts greater weight on what Jesus is recorded as saying in relation to the poor, giving, being merciful, etc. In claiming this red letter bias he forgets that Jesus is the ‘word made flesh’. He is the author of the whole Bible, including the Pauline epistles. Therefore, his teaching found in the gospels, has to be understood in the context of the whole Bible. Campolo seems to miss this important qualification.
In one You Tube clip he berates Christians for supporting the death penalty, pointing to Jesus teaching on mercy. He forgets that Jesus said he had not come to do away with the law. In other passages related to divorce, hate and adultery Jesus sets more stringent criteria than is obvious in the OT. He never suborns his commands to empathy, or relationships as Campolo does. Jesus will judge every person who has ever lived and will act without mercy against those who have not accepted him as their Lord and saviour. Campolo would rather suspend judgement and discernment in favour of an un-biblical rapprochement. In trying to be all things to all people he applies post-modern hermeneutics to Scripture and makes it one dimensional even though he thinks he is doing just the opposite. Real Christianity can embrace the sinner, without compromising holiness, but Campolo will not accept that fact. He therefore commits a cardinal error, like all those in the emergent camp, of robbing God’s word of its uniqueness and its power to save.
Although Campolo claims to be a Christian, accepts the major Christian creeds and states the Bible is infallible for faith and practice, an examination of his ministry warrant the accusation of many evangelicals, that he is consistently un-biblical in his teaching. In his book A Reasonable Faith he makes the pantheistic statement that the resurrected Jesus of history is actually present in each person, whether Christian or not. To quote; “I do not mean that others represent Jesus for us. I mean that Jesus is actually present in each other person.” (p.192). Here is the post modern inclusiveness referred to above. The real Jesus only comes to those who first genuinely submit to his lordship over their sinful natures and their eternal destiny. Despite his ‘red letter’ claims Campolo seems to have ignored what Jesus said:
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with him. John 14:23.
In answering a question about the forgiveness of sin he responded in his usual obfuscatory way that sin refers to actions that hurt others. Relief for this ‘sin’ comes from going to Jesus for forgiveness. On another occasion he says sin…“is what diminishes the humanity of another person and of the self.” This is not the biblical definition of sin. See our article on sin in the Church for a full definition. Go to: http://www.dyeager.org/blog/2011/06/red-letter-christianity-clueless-about-sin.html
Campolo misinterprets the very nature of sin because he takes it out of its true biblical context and turns it into a sociological condition. When Campolo stands before Jesus he will find the Lord will take little interest in what he did to avoid ‘diminishing others’. He will instead measure Campolo’s words and deeds against the Father’s holiness, precepts and commands. If Campolo has been a false teacher and failed to accurately represent the oracles of God he may find himself departing from a God who never knew him. If Campolo cannot even accurately describe the nature of sin he is not qualified to teach anyone about Christianity, let alone bring them to Christ.
As far back as 1992 Campolo endorsed Robert Schuler’s description of sin as a “lack of faith in yourself” This is a false definition. God tells us sin is endemic to fallen humanity. No where in the Bible does God describe our ‘sin-nature’ as a lack of faith. It is instead linked to Adam’s transgression which was disobedience (Romans 5:19) and as such Paul describes us as “children of disobedience” and “by nature the children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:2-3). Go to: http://www.takeheed.net/Assorted_Articles/Contemporary/cam.htm
In regard to other ways to salvation Campolo states “that Jesus is the only way that I know.” However when pressed about possible other routes he replied “I am not going to make a judgement about anyone else,” and “if God chooses to be gracious to people outside my faith, that’s God’s business, not mine.” Without putting these statements within the quite narrow context of Romans 2:13-16 his comments contradict Scripture – how can anyone be saved unless they hear and receive the biblical and historical gospel of Jesus Christ; no one comes to the Father accept through him! Campolo joins the likes of Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Robert Schuler and even an elderly Billy Graham in refusing to acknowledge the exclusivity of Jesus as the only way to the father. These men deny the very essence of the gospel. Men who misinterpret sin and then deny the exclusiveness of salvation in Christ alone are, to say the least, false teachers.
Campolo can accept a “creative evolution” but does not like the ethical connotation of evolution on the grounds that it implies power is inherent to the survival of the fittest. He makes a valid point, but only at a sociological level. He makes no reference to scriptural or scientific evidence discounting evolution. Instead he turns an apologetic for a creator God into yet another of his arguments lauding social transformation. Campolo declared that “Jesus wants the moral not the strong to survive.” He believes in “a Jesus that expresses his love on the cross” and “like Jesus, Ghandi and Martin Luther King, their love altered the course of human existence.” Even here – Jesus is reduced to another ‘good’ teacher who shows us God’s love. On top of that he reduces Jesus to a moral champion rather than creator, Lord and saviour. Ghandi and King were only men, not the Son of God. Throughout the ages Christians have not emphasised Jesus’ death on the cross as an expression of love. While it certainly was, this sort of emphasis detracts from the purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice. It emphasises a sentiment at the expense of its essence, significance or purpose. It is a subtle step off the path to the narrow gate. Go to: http://www.letusreason.org/popteac27.htm
On the question of homosexuality Campolo reacts in much the same way as he does on other moral issues. He acknowledges that according to the Bible it is a sin. However, he believes in protecting a person’s right to do whatever they wish in private, without interference from anybody else. Campolo refers to his “gay brothers and sisters”, opposed California’s Proposition 8 (2008) which affirmed marriage as a heterosexual institution and says he supports homosexuals in their “struggle for dignity,” Go to: http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.co.nz/2008/06/tony-campolo-dangerous-and-false.html
His point concerning secular liberties may be correct in current law, but he is way off beam biblically. No Christian can dismiss moral sin on the basis that it is a private right. While people may exercise their free will to sin, a private secular right does not make immorality acceptable. Homosexuality or any other sexual sin is an affront to God and breaks his commands. There is no ‘dignity’ in sin.
If there is no repentance and acceptance of Jesus as saviour the immoral will go to hell. This is the Biblical position and this is the direction Campolo’s public comments should take. But his inclusiveness will not allow him to stand unashamedly for holiness and truth. Incidentally, Tony’s wife, Peggy, is a national leader of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, which urges American Baptist congregations to be supportive of homosexuals.
In a chapter on homosexuality in the book Adventures in Missing the Point, Campolo takes resorts to the serpent’s lie – “Did God really say…(Genesis 3:1)” by systematically going through the well know condemnations of homosexuality in the Bible and reducing them to something else. It reaches the level of farce when at one point he claims the Levitical law on homosexuality was part of a purity code, not a moral code. The fact that homosexuality carried the death penalty proves it was a moral and a purity issue in God’s eyes and a serious one at that (p.204). He slips even further into obtuseness and error when he claims Jesus would call homosexuals his brothers and sisters and demand an end to any discrimination against them (p. 200).
According to commentary in the sites referenced here, Campolo justifies his support for women in eldership by claiming the tearing of the temple curtain on Jesus death removed any wall of separation between men and women and uses this claim to justify gender equality in eldership. This ludicrous misrepresentation of the meaning of the ‘ripped veil’ should, on its own, tell any discerning Christian that Mr Campolo is a false teacher. We know the veil was torn down to confirm the passing of any priestly role separating sinful Man from a forgiving God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each person has a direct relationship with God. Campolo also uses Ephesians 2:14 erroneously to disprove any role distinction between men and women. The verse says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” This verse has nothing to do with men, women, or eldership in a church. It concerns the removal in salvific terms of any division between Jew and gentile.
This mixture of biblically based confessions and unbiblical teaching make Campolo a prime example of the like-warmness that disgusts Jesus (Revelation 3:14-22). It makes him a dangerous man for the undiscerning. He has clearly fashioned a God made in his image to satisfy some personal quest to reconcile the secular and the sacred. His golden calf is a composite god fashioned to be kind and acceptable to a world he wants to surround in the milk of his own good-will. By mixing truth with error he has broken the first and second commandments, for which he will one day have to account.