[*] Tony Campolo's "Speaking My Mind" review (part 1)

Well, if I'm going to have a blog, I might as well use it, right? I'm in the middle of reading 2 books right now which are pretty much on the polar opposite ends of the spectrum. One is A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, by Robert L. Reymond, and the other is Speaking My Mind, by Tony Campolo. Believe it or not, they both came in on the same pallet of bargain books.

While Reymond's book should be required reading for anyone who thinks he's an apologist for the Christian faith, I have to say that Campolo's book is worth the read -- as a negative example. Dr. Campolo is someone who "has the ear" of the Evangelical community, and here he attempts to use it to address what he calls, "a variety of issues and problems {it} must face and resolve if it is to continue its winning streak into the 21st century." (xii) In this book, Campolo "speaks his mind" on topics from "the gay issue" to "militarism" to "Islam" to "science", and mostly says that Evangelicalism is completely wrong on-premise on all of these things. To be fair, you should not condemn this book before you read it. It is my intention to review the whole thing to give it its fair shake. My review will be in parts over the next month or so.

So how do I find a place to start? I thought maybe I should just begin on the first page of the intro and work forward, but because I am reading Reymond's book I feel compelled to start in a more essential place: the foundation of the theological assumptions Campolo is here advocating. You would think that as an Evangelical he'd have some kind of Protestant underpinning to his positions, but I think that ignores what is called "Evangelicalism" in 2005.

Here’s a sample of some of Campolo's anecdotal framing of one topic:
Some {homosexuals} said they were happier with the church and God out
of their lives, while others ached for the spiritual connection they no longer
had. I found the strict Calvinists had an especially hard time dealing
with their homosexuality. Believing in a God who predestines all things,
they concluded the He predestined them to be gay and hence to damnation.
They cite Paul's writings in Romans 9:19-24:
… {the text of Rom 9 is omitted
by centuri0n} …
Believing that God created them for rejection, many
homosexual people reject the God whom they believe has rejected them. The
despair that such a theology can create has driven some gays to suicide.
Anyone who is reading this blog and has any kind of basic understanding of Reformed/"Calvinistic" theology has to read this passage and wonder if Campolo has ever actually encountered the systematic teaching of Calvin at all. Perhaps Campolo means hypercalvinists when he says "strict Calvinists", but he hardly makes an attempt to draw that line.

I think what bothered me the most about this anecdote is that I have no doubt that it is true and it represents something Campolo has witnessed in his career as an American Baptist minister. But it offered him the opportunity to provide a two-fold response. First, he could offer the Gospel to those who were standing before him misusing Romans 9 in that way. Second, it gave him the opportunity to defend those whom he claims to call brothers in Christ from what is either ignorant misrepresentation or rank slander. It appears, from his discussion of the topic, he does neither.

The reformed response to this problem is so much more significant than his hypothetical example that I list it here to make sure it is offered at all. There is no man, apart from Christ, who fails to sin. Those who commit sins of heterosexual lust (or any other sin) are in the same boat as those who commit homosexual sin(s). All men are sinners; none seek Him; all fall short of the glory of God.

To be 100% clear, in Matthew 5 Jesus unequivocally says that adultery is something that occurs in a man's heart and not just in the act of bedding a woman. In Romans 1 & 2, Paul is making the case that no man on earth has ignorance as an excuse. He says plainly that those who judge others demonstrate that they should be judged when they sin. Equally, those who do not have the Law demonstrate they understand God's moral decrees when they act inside the bounds of their conscience.

In that, we are all sinners. The reformed position is clear that the unrepentant homosexual is not any more or less a sinner than I was when I was an adulterer and a pervert, or for that matter than I am today -- and I use myself as the example to make my point plain. When I was unsaved, and unregenerate, it wasn't that I didn’t hear God, or that I didn’t know about God: it was that I rejected God for my own desires. And they were my desires, make no mistake: in the same way the homosexual can say, "I don't remember a time when I wasn't gay," I say in response, "I cannot remember a time when I didn’t have my sinful desires."

Anyone who is reading this blog has heard of the reformed TULIP -- Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints -- and recognizes the traditional, unadorned "T" teaching here. But how does that translate into the hope of the Gospel? Is it that we will lead perfectly sinless lives? No -- because we will not. The first hope of the Gospel is that we can see our sin as God sees it and repent -- that is, turn away from sin and its lure and turn toward God Himself as the answer. If we look at our sin and say, "it's not so bad," or "I'm no worse than anyone else," or even "I think I can beat it if I try harder", we are still sinful men who are relying on our own power to achieve; we are still victims of our own vain reasonings. When we see that our sin is our own by nature and by choice, and that God is right to judge it, we are on the road of repentance. That's really the heart of the "T" in "TULIP": man must admit he has no standing before God except as a sinner, and deserves no better. God is the standard, and God is also the answer to our failure. Since I have it handy, Reymond puts it this way:
It is only when man knows that he is sinful and incapable of helping
himself that he will seek help from outside of himself and cast himself upon the
mercies of God. Nothing is more soul destroying than the sinner's belief
that he is righteous and/or is capable of remedying his situation himself.
The second hope of the reformed advocation of the Gospel is that God has already chosen to save. God has already decided in an unalterable and complete way that even though men choose to sin, He is going to do something about it. The heroes of the faith, if we believe the book of Hebrews, looked forward to God's certain promise that He would deliver; we have the benefit of looking back at Christ on the Cross -- and coming out of the empty tomb -- to see that God has already delivered. That's the "U" of TULIP: there are no human conditions in God saving but only the Divine condition that God chooses to save. Reymond’s definition is clear:
Before the creation of the world, out of His mere free grace and love, God
elected many undeserving sinners to complete and final salvation without any
foresight of faith or good works or any other thing in them as conditions or
causes which moved him to choose them. That is to say, the ground
of their election is not in them but in him
. {Emph. Added} (1125)
For me, it is somewhat astounding that Campolo can let the characterization of this key matter of reformed theology be represented as “God made me a certain way so He must want me to go to hell.” Is this what Campolo would say to the murderer, the thief, the person caught in adultery – that if you sin and you want to sin, then God must want you to go to hell? I think that even if Campolo completely rejects the reformed position, the least he can do is represent it – both to these people who are apparently agonizing over their sinfulness and to his readers for the sake of a balanced presentation – with some kind of fairness both to the passage of Scripture he cites and to the doctrines which are being represented. In no way does man’s sinfulness indicate that God intends for that individual to go to hell – because God is not choosing people because of their “sin+virtues” scorecard. God is choosing (and frankly has chosen) because God is willing to save.

The third hope of the Gospel is that God's choice to save is out of love. While the TULIP paradigm calls this “limited atonement”, Reymond prefers “definite atonement” or “particular atonement” or “efficacious atonement” for the sake of clarity. (1125) God has not acted in a way to cause me to be savable: God has acted to actually save, and has saved those He intends to save.

Think about that: God does not save out of obligation of debt (which would appeal to us, wouldn't it? Doesn't the atheist complain that God owes him an explanation or some kind of remuneration?) but because He loves in particular, not because He loves hypothetically or in a way which allows Him to stand off in the distance. I think that is the most staggering aspect of the Gospel, frankly: God saves individuals because God loves. That is the "L" in "TULIP": the intentional and specific nature of God's saving act, which humbles man and gives him everything but a reason to boast.

The fourth hope of the Gospel is that God calls in a way that not only requires a response, but is certain to elicit the affirmative response. God didn't make a rope we have to climb to be saved; God didn’t build a bridge (as the 4 spiritual laws state) that we can cross to be saved. We were dead men in a well who were cursing Him for even looking down at us, and He dove in to pull us out one at a time. The Cross is not only a sign pointing upward: it is the place where the question of sin is settled forever. That's the "I" in TULIP: all that are given will come; all that will come will not be turned away.

The final hope of the Gospel is the ultimate nature of it: not that I have a perfect knowledge of all whom God has saved or will save – or that I can know, as the example Campolo cites apparently knows -- but that if God worked it out it will stay worked out. That's the "P" in TULIP -- that, as James says, the testing of faith brings perseverance to those who have the true faith. Their faith is proven by its final result.

In that, Campolo’s gay friend who says, "well, God made me a sinner so He wants me to go to hell," has never heard the Gospel. When I was saved, I knew that night that I was not being saved from ever failing again: I was being saved from having to rely on myself for perfection. I didn't stop wanting to sin that night because I admit – as Paul does – that I still have a desire to sin. What I gained that night, and every night since then, is 100% reliance on God to reform me into what He wants and needs me to be. And in that, I have seen the fruits of God’s work as some sins have been overcome in my life.

What I gained that night was the power of the Holy Spirit through the work of Christ and the loving will of the Father to be a new creation. That is the reformed Gospel that Dr. Campolo does not represent -- and I suggest that it meets all the criteria lists in the balance of his book for the future of evangelicalism. But because his book treats it as a kind of cartoon theology -- an embarrassing and cruel cartoon at that – he does not see the value of it. For the record, it was the theology of Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon (not to mention Calvin, Luther and Zwingli) who in their day changed the world by changing the hearts of men. When they preached the Gospel, the Holy Spirit worked on men's hearts. And if I read the rest of Campolo’s book correctly, that is his stated goal: changing men's hearts for the sake of Jesus Christ.

We will see if that is, however, what he preaches in the rest of his message.

Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |


Mark said...

I will read this whole thing later. Good to see you jump on the blog train. Thanks for the link, that's a funny title. =)


FX Turk said...


I have to do something with the 60% of my life I have recovered by avoiding CARM. :-)



Here's the really nutty thing, TQ -- Campolo makes this observation about what he calls "the declining mainlines" in his book! The question we are going to explore as we read through his book is whether he recognizes his own duplication of this error.

Thx for the comments. You're too kind. :-)

JIBBS said...

*Click*--this site has been added to my favorites.

Thanks for the blog, Cent. We miss you over at open-theism central, aka, CARM.