Letters To A Young Evangelical, by Tony Campolo

Recommending just about any Campolo book is a minefield. I heard a pastor introduce him as their guest speaker that day say, “You might not agree with everything he says, but this man deserves to be heard.” My old friends – especially the most politically conservative ones – might well either write me off or say to one another, “We should give Barney a pass. The chemo fried his moral compass and lured him to the dark side.” I’m not paranoid, but I am pretty sure that my friends get together in small groups and talk about me! Nevertheless, it’s a risk I’m willing to run if Campolo can sneak a thought or two into our settled and stubborn minds.

I really like Campolo because some of the things he says I’ve always believed but either had no words to articulate my convictions or was afraid to communicate them as pastor of more politically conservative churches. He conveys what I consider to be closer than more right wing Christian authors to a biblical worldview in regard to social and spiritual issues. In this book he addresses fundamentalism, capitalism, the Christian response to poverty, abortion, gay marriage, wars in the Middle East, women in ministry, and how we view Muslims since 911. He warns us to not so easily swallow the rhetoric of the religious right and think for ourselves through the grid of the Scripture, the teachings of Jesus in particular.

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Here are some quotes from the book that I found particularly provocative:

“We Evangelicals do want to change the world, not through political coercion, but loving persuasion. We want Christians to be political but nonpartisan. We don’t want power; we just want to speak truth to power.”

“Less than four-tenths of one percent of our federal budget goes to help the poor in Third World countries, whereas a full seventeen percent is designated for military spending.”

“While we believe in free enterprise, we reject the greed principle that motivates so many … Capitalism relies on the idea that people work solely for profits. By contrast, we believe that Christians should be motivated by love to serve God by meeting the needs of others (2 Corinthians 5:14, Ephesians 4:28). In a consumer-oriented capitalistic economic system, a great deal of what is produced doesn’t meet anyone’s needs, but is simply designated to generate profits. People don’t need cigarettes or oversized hamburgers. Producing a vast array of consumer goods that nobody needs wastes the limited, non-renewable resources of our world. And while we squander such resources to satisfy our artificially created wants, the basic needs of a billion people of the Third World go unmet.”

“Companies can make a profit while producing good things that meet people’s needs; paying workers a fair share of these profits; and seeing to it that industrial production does not harm the environment.”

“Many Evangelicals believe that environmentalism is part of the New Age Movement. But if the New Age Movement has been able to make environmentalism an issue of their own, it is only because the Church has put up no resistance and has failed to make it an important part of its own agenda.”

“It seems to me that Evangelicals who are concerned about their children not reading the Bible or having prayer time at the start of the school day could easily solve that problem by doing these things at home, before their children leave for school. Most of them don’t, and that leaves open the question as to why they are so upset that the school is not doing what they are unwilling to do themselves.”

“Whenever I hear my Evangelical friends say they want to create an America that lives by the values of the founding fathers, I shudder a bit. Many of those founders believed in slavery (and kept slaves themselves) and denied women equal social and legal status with men.”

He makes the point that the removal of prayer in schools and the 10 Commandments from courthouses are signs of secularization, not the cause of it. I agree!

“We should view our jobs as a vocation through which our talents can be maximized to meet the needs of others and help change the world into the kind of world God wants it to be.”

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Herman Melville said, “Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges,” and you might not find all of Campolo’s ideas to be cut as cleanly as you’d like. Nevertheless, for the young looking to formulate a biblical social worldview and for the not-so-young willing to have their ideas on these things messed with, I highly recommend this book.

I repeat: “You might not agree with everything he says, but this man deserves to be heard.”

There’s a Kenyan prayer that says: “From the cowardice that dares not face new truth, 
from the laziness that is content with half-truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth:
 Good God, deliver me!”

3 Replies to “Letters To A Young Evangelical, by Tony Campolo”

  1. I admit I pre-judged Tony based on media headlines, and I’m sorry. Pray that I will have the wisdom not to do that again. Thank you for your blog, it is a perspective I sincerely need and helps course correct me!


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