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Campolo seeks to distance evangelicals from religious right

In part, this may be explained by a life and career spent far from the Bible Belt — as a sociology professor in the “liberal Northeast” (Philadelphia area) at the University of Pennsylvania and at Eastern University, formerly Eastern Baptist College. Campolo earned a doctorate from Temple University and is ordained in the American Baptist Church.
He is very well known by conservative Christians, but considers himself a “socially progressive evangelical” — thus in a minority among them. He disavows Falwell & Co. as a fundamentalist wing that appropriated the word “evangelical” for its own purposes.
Campolo has joined a group of writers and speakers who enthusiastically decided to call themselves “red-letter Christians.” They express an intense desire to be faithful to the words of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament.
It is not enough, Campolo claims, to line up on the defining issues, opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. The teachings of Jesus are radical, running contrary to many current policies, lifestyles and beliefs.
“After all,” he writes, “they didn’t put Jesus on a cross for saying nice things that people in the ruling religious, political and economic establishment wanted to hear.”
He further asserts, “The red letters challenge Americans’ justifications for accumulating wealth, support of capital punishment, ready endorsement of war, rampant consumerism, rebellion against sexual prohibitions that have sustained purity and modesty for generations, and arrogant use of economic power to fulfill national self-interests to the detriment of other nations.”
In affirming why red-letter Christians are so important, Campolo writes, “We are evangelicals who want to change the world, but not through political coercion. Our methodology is loving persuasion. We don’t want power; we just want to speak truth to power. Frankly, we evangelicals are troubled by the political power that fundamentalists are wielding these days.”
Each chapter is a letter to young evangelicals named Junia and Timothy, written in a straightforward style for young adults of the post-modern, post-Christian generation.
But it was not at all too basic for this sixtysomething reviewer. Campolo succeeds in encouraging, inspiring and, most of all, informing his readers who aspire to serve God biblically in this age.
Many topics of counsel (“worship wars,” for example) are applicable to applying our faith in and through Churches of Christ.
Useful knowledge is conveyed about the evangelical world, such as his explanation of the differences between speaking in tongues and praying in tongues. He describes the origin and the dangers of “rapture theology” and “evangelical Zionism.” His contrast of contemporary fundamentalists and evangelicals is surprising and useful.
Campolo unambiguously defends his own biblically based opposition to abortion and homosexuality. Yet, he provides clear explanations, often overlooked or ignored, of positions on these and other issues held by some men and women of faith — inside and outside evangelicalism. He represents others’ views fairly and well.
His training and professional experience as a sociologist permit him to objectively contribute factual information to the discussions that is sometimes demythologizing.
For example, “Scientific studies have shown that children raised by homosexual couples are no more inclined to adopt a homosexual lifestyle than are children in the general population.”
Other topics addressed by Campolo in these letters include Pentecostalism, the “end times,” attitudes toward Muslims, war and peace, women and the church, creation and the Great Commission.
The final letter poses insightful questions about the future of evangelicalism that are equally applicable to our own fellowship.
Many church members, including ministers and elders, will resonate with and may even identify with Campolo’s views.
All can benefit from considering the perspectives and challenges that this dedicated evangelist and teacher offers in his very readable Letters To A Young Evangelical.
J. Wayne Newland is a member of the Greater Portland Church of Christ in South Portland, Maine.

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

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