October 7, 2004
Campolo's Evangelical Critique
James L. Evans
Tony Campolo, professor and Christian preacher, believes evangelicalism has been hijacked. He makes his case in a provocative new book entitled Speaking My Mind. Campolo argues that evangelicals became captive to an alien agenda when they allowed outside influences, political and cultural, to shape their thought and guide their activities.
Campolo's criticism comes as an insider. He considers himself an evangelical. He believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God and is the sole authority for Christian belief. He even goes so far as to suggest that the traditional Apostle's Creed should be amended to include a statement about the authority of the Bible. In fact, that's his chief complaint about evangelicals -- they are not faithfully following scriptural teaching. He uses the issue of women in ministry to illustrate his point.
Evangelicals typically restrict women from holding key leadership roles in the church. To make their case evangelicals point to certain passages in the book of Timothy. However, Campolo notes, they tend to ignore other portions of Scripture that seem to legitimate women in leadership roles. Campolo says, "Let's be faithful to the Bible. You can make your point, but there are those of us equally committed to Scripture who make a very strong case that women should be in key leadership roles in the Church."
There are other concerns as well. For instance, it is not possible to read the Bible and not be aware of a Scriptural mandate to care for the poor. In an interview with Beliefnet, Campolo says of his book, "We raise some very serious questions about the support of policies that have been detrimental to the poor." He describes how the Christian Coalition is allied with the National Rifle Association and is anxious to protect the rights of people to buy and own weapons. "But they don't seem very supportive of concerns for the poor."
Campolo is also critical of the Bush administration and some of its policies towards the poor. "When you pass a bill of tax reform that not only gives the upper five percent most of the benefits, leaving very little behind for the rest of us, you have to ask some very serious questions."
Campolo believes that evangelicals are in a unique position to assert a particularly Christian agenda. He writes, "The Republican party and George Bush know that they have the evangelical community in its pocket -- but they can't win the election without us. Given this position, shouldn't we be using our incredible position of influence to get the president and his party to address a whole host of issues which we think are being neglected?"
On this point Campolo is careful not to identify himself with any political party. "I don't think that John Kerry is the Messiah or the Democratic Party is the answer," he said in the Beliefnet interview, "but I don't like the evangelical community blessing the Republican Party as some kind of God-ordained instrument for solving the world's problems." He continues, "The Republican Party needs to be called into accountability even as the Democratic Party needs to be called into accountability. So it's that double-edged sword that I'm trying to wield."
The ability to wield this double-edged sword will require evangelicals to speak and act out of their own scriptural sources of truth and identity. If they align themselves with any one party, the message they preach is reduced to a plank in a party platform. For Campolo, and many others, the message of the Bible must be more than that.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Alabama.