My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I was pretty disappointed with this book and that’s a pity. I’ve seen Campolo’s name bandied about in liberal Christian books and by liberal Christian authors for some time now, but this is his first book I’ve read. I felt really lucky when I stumbled across it in a used bookstore this week. And the table of contents seemed very promising: “Do Evangelicals Have an Image Problem? Is Evangelicalism Sexist? Are Evangelicals Handling the Gay Issue All Wrong?” and so on. Very promising. So I bought the book and sat down to read. And was thoroughly disappointed. I don’t know who labeled Tony Campolo a liberal Christian, but he’s most definitely a conservative evangelical who happens to be somewhat liberal politically and socially. But he’s a conservative Christian. And since that’s what I’ve just escaped after being trapped as a lifelong dissatisfied evangelical for the past 45 years, that’s the last thing I wanted to read.
For instance, in tackling the gay issue, Campolo acknowledges that Christians need to reach out to gays in the church and the community — provided they live completely celibate lives!!! He’s not sure if gays are born that way or become that way (they’re born that way, dingbat!), but we need to love them — provided they don’t act out on their preferences and keep their behavior pure. WTF? That’s not realistic! He even notes that “although Jesus was silent about homosexuality, He did specifically condemn the remarriage of divorced people unless adultery was the cause of the divorce.” He starts out by appearing to be open, by talking about the “dilemma,” and then holds up his shining example of a man who died apparently a homosexual virgin, because he thought it was such an abominable sin, so he never gave in. Huh. Homosexuality is mentioned less than 10 times in the Bible, yet being kind to the poor is mentioned hundreds of times and adultery is mentioned numerous times again. So again I say to you, WTF?
Tony starts out with sexism and never really clearly answers that little question, conveniently enough. He admits that there’s a yin yang type of thing going on with the sexes and that’s about it. Nice. He can write a few decent things at times though. In his later chapter on whether there’s a second chance for people who die without Christ, he discusses universalist theology briefly. He ends that section by writing
“One universalist theologian carried me through his progression of thought with the following argument: ‘If there is a God, then there is a God, whether people believe it or not. If God is their Creator, that also is true, whether they believe it or not. If the Bible is an infallible message from God, that fact, too, is not dependent on their believing it. So, if Jesus died for their sins and is their Savior, isn’t that fact also true, whether they believe it or not?'”
An interesting thought. Campolo does an interesting job on the science chapter, with some good ideas about God/Jesus being in the HERE at all times. He made it seem real. He also introduced me to a new concept that Seventh-Day Adventists, apparently, believe — “soul sleep.” When we die, we lie in the ground until the Second Coming, basically asleep until God raises everyone from the dead at the same time. I’ve never quite gotten a handle on what happens to a person’s soul upon death in the Christian tradition. This was an interesting explanation.
Campolo delves into my old Calvinist roots in his discussion on predestination, a topic I truly hate. Here he gets a little iffy though. On page 121, he writes
“I do not understand how reasonable people can believe that God is in total control of everything right now when there is so much evil and injustice in the world. I grant that this may be a failure on my part, but if I believed that God controlled everything that goes on in the universe these days, I would not know how to explain why innocent children in Africa get AIDS, or why godly people die of cancer, or why there was ever an Auschwitz or a Hiroshima….”
His answer leaves one wondering, though:
“To those who ask, ‘How could a loving God allow horrendous diseases to afflict good people, permit insane wars to kill the innocent, and let a man like Hitler create such widespread suffering?’ I answer, “God is doing the best He can….'”
Seriously? That’s the best you’ve got, you “liberal” Christian??? What a wussy way out of things.
Campolo also contradicts himself in this book. He goes on in the chapter about the poor about how Jesus spoke about the poor and how important it is to help them. Then he has a section called, “The Disastrous Welfare System,” where he sounds like a bitter right wing Republican in writing that the system “generated cheating and deceptions so that eventually hundreds of thousands of people were on the welfare rolls, collecting unjustified handouts, even though they were quite capable of getting jobs and properly supporting themselves and their families.” Excuse me? Did I just hear that out of a so-called “liberal” Christian??? The welfare system has been abused by some, yes, but it’s the only safety net millions of people have, and don’t you think, while we’re talking about it, that lots of “good” things like sub-prime mortgages and hedge funds have been abused too??? Hypocrite!
While I’m at it, even though this book was published in 2004, it seems woefully dated. For example, in talking about whether America is in moral decline, he writes “all kinds of wonderful things are happening in our world, in spite of all that is evil and demonic. Across America, churches are being born and reaching out to huge numbers of previously unchurched people. A revitalized commitment to the poor and the oppressed is emerging among American Christians.” Really? Tell that to the Republican Party, aka, the Religious Right, aka the Christians, all doing their best to eliminate every possible safety net poor people in this country have, all the while working to make their rich masters richer. What did Jesus say about the rich entering Heaven like a camel through the eye of a needle? Seems most Republicans/Christians haven’t read their Bibles lately. Hypocrites! Also, stats show that church membership is declining, most especially within the 18 – 29 year old set. Evangelicals are turning people off to God, Tony. Time to face up.
Campolo does show he’s not 100% conservative in his discussion on dispensationalism. He states his opposition of it and nearly goes so far as to label it a danger to this country and the world. That’s bold. He does a good job with this section. Oddly, however, he says that the charismatic movement is the greatest opposition to dispensationalism and is Christianity’s best chance in the twenty first century. Huh? Speaking in tongues? Really? He ends his book by writing, “As progressive evangelicalism increasingly emerges out of fundamentalism over the next fifty years, the rest of the world will encounter Christians who are more than ready to struggle with the tough issues that await us, and to do so with open minds and open hearts.” Really Tony? Telling your gay friends to be celibate if they want to go to Heaven? That kind of open heart? Sorry, I’m not buying it. He tries to come across as open minded, but when the chips are down, it seems to me that Campolo goes crawling down the nearest conservative evangelical fox hole and hides out — and it sickens me.