Thursday, December 4, 2014

Former Conservative? Not so much.

The subject of this article, Bart Campolo and his Church of Christ Without Christ, is cause for pity as well as ridicule, but this first paragraph is sort of pitiable as well:

My new colleague and friend, Bart Campolo, is the principal investigator. Bart is the new Humanist Chaplain at the University of Southern California. A former evangelical Christian leader with a national profile in his own right, he is the son of Tony Campolo, the famous evangelical preacher best known as the personal spiritual mentor to President Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky affair. Steadily, over a period of decades, Bart’s credulity in evangelical doctrine eroded away until his wife convinced him that he was theologically past the point of no return. He burst his way out of the conservative Christian bubble, leading to hand-wringing on the pages of Christianity Today, a major evangelical periodical.

OK, insofar as there is a "conservative Christian bubble", Bart Campolo was never part of it and didn't need to "burst his way out". His father is part of the Sojo Christian Left Mafia and that has been known for years. This is sloppy writing on Jim Burklo's part, who is a liberal Christian author, and the only excuse might be that he was thinking of Frankie Schaeffer whom he'd mentioned early. Otherwise I think he just wants to blame those awful, hypocritical conservative Christians for someone losing their faith altogether. As he states later:

Early in his tenure here at USC, I gave Bart a copy of my first book, OPEN CHRISTIANITY, and he read it. “If I had read this a few years ago, I might have become a progressive Christian instead of an atheist,” he told me. But neither he nor I regret it. The whole point of theologically progressive Christianity is that Christianity is not about turning people into Christians, or even making sure that they stay Christian. It’s about the same thing that Bart is about. It’s about love, and creating communities of love. If Bart can spread this love without Christian or any other religious content, I will holler a hearty hallelujia [sic]! His way is a good way, just as my way is a good way.

If Bart Campolo actually stated this verbatim, the obfuscating on his part here would astounding. "I might have become a progressive Christian," he allegedly stated. Campolo has always been on the Christian left! Burklo is illustrating the myth-making propensity of the left once again.

I don't know the man's heart, but I would suggest a more likely story would be that there was no foundation underneath the faith of his father beyond a sort of personality cult. His father is sort of a pope of his own church and his concerns are mostly political rather than theological. Even his Wiki page lists him as a sociologist first, then a pastor. I don't think Bart Campolo "burst out" of anything so much as "dropped down" into his own philosophical comfort zone the way a man sits down in his favorite recliner.

By the way, personality cult pretty much describes the situation with the Schaeffers as well. Francis Schaeffer more or less started his own church community becoming a de facto pope in the process. This is most often not a good environment for a child to forming his faith in, seeing your dad act like a bear at home and some kind of angel out in public. Both these cases are good arguments for the celibacy of the clergy.



    The story was discussed here a couple of months ago. The man was never in the course of his adult life an adherent to anything resembling "Mere Christianity".

    I think if you wish to take aim at the problems posed by a cult of personality in evangelicalism, there is an ample supply of megachurch pastors who could supply you with material. Tony Campolo and Francis Schaffer would not be priorities. Schaffer was holed up in Switzerland for decades and known to the larger world primarily through his books.

    It would not surprise me to discover that Campolo Jr.'s problems are common among the children of ordinary protestant ministers who work within denominational architecture and attract little attention.

    As for Schaffer Jr, testimonials from people who knew the family suggest he manifests some personal character defects, exacerbated in the first instance by parental indulgence. I would not be confident his father's occupation had much of a hand in the disaster, bar that the son's ongoing posthumous assaults on his parents have included discussion of religious observance.

    1. Yeah, read that Merritt piece yesterday, it's good.

      It would not surprise me to discover that Campolo Jr.'s problems are common among the children of ordinary protestant ministers who work within denominational architecture and attract little attention.

      Only too true. The reason Bart Campolo stands out is that he is planning on remaining in the field of "ministry" in a formal sense. As Merritt ends his article: "As it turns out, you can take a man out of the ministry, but you can’t always take the ministry out of a man."

      Plus: He says he was drawn by the sense of community and the common commitment to love people, promote justice, and transform the world.

      “All the dogma and the death and resurrection of Jesus stuff was not the attraction,” Bart said.

      Reminds me of I Cor. 15:14,19: "[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.... If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied."

  2. One other tidbit. The son of Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, has spent much of his adult life (21 years) as the pastor of a small Presbyterian Church in suburban Los Angeles (his younger brother runs the media wing of the father's old outfit). He is now about 60 and semi-retired. Here's his blog

    There's not a word about the Campus Crusade or his mother and father, who were once a huge deal in the evangelical world. I bet there's a story there.

  3. Oops, there's this:

    Note what goes unsaid.