LETTERS TO A YOUNG EVANGELICAL
“One of my biggest concerns about American evangelicalism today is that, in the minds of many, it has become virtually synonymous with the Religious Right,” writes the 71-year-old globe-trotting gadfly anthony Campolo. Named by Christianity Today as one of the most influential preachers of the last fifty years and having sold more than 1.5 million books written for religious publishers, Campolo now targets a broader audience with his most political book to date. In Letters to a Young Evangelical, Campolo calls on all Christians to challenge the monolithic and doctrinaire Religious Right, and to rethink their political commitments through a return to the words of Christ himself.
In 2004, the alliance of evangelicals and the Republican Party seemed indestructible, but in the wake of the midterm elections there is some evidence that it is beginning to fracture due to a combination of White House policy and political scandal. Campolo does not take sides politically, but he does remind his readers that abortion and gay marriage are not the only issues of concern for Christians. Poverty, war, intolerance, women’s rights and the environment are all religious issues, Campolo contends, and Christ had much to say about each one of them.
Campolo does not tell his readers what to think, but he does tell them to think for themselves. “When I’m asked if I’m a Republican or a Democrat,” Campolo says, “I answer, cite the issue.” Given the opportunity to choose his own label, Campolo and a group of socially-conscious evangelicals including Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren have come up with the name “Red Letter Christians” to describe their progressive alliance for Christians who strive to embrace and live out the words of Jesus (which in some versions of the Bible are printed in red ink).
Just as St. Paul wrote letters to a young Christian leader named Timothy, Campolo—who in nearly four decades as a professor at Eastern University has mentored hundreds of young people—addresses 21 chapters to two imagined young believers named Timothy and Junia (Junia was an early Christian female leader addressed by Paul in his epistle to the Romans). And just as C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity explained the basics of Christian teaching to a new generation of readers, Letters to a Young Evangelical presents a winsome introduction to evangelicals’ foundational doctrines of personal salvation, evangelism, Bible reading, prayer and mutual accountability. Campolo shows how these core values impact all other areas of life, including vocation and calling, politics, the environment, war and peace, globalization, social justice and hot-button issues like abortion and homosexuality.
His conclusions are always biblically based but they seldom echo the pronouncements of conservative Christian leaders. That’s because though Campolo is a card-carrying evangelical, he’s not a fundamentalist. And though he’s a Baptist, he’s not a Southern Baptist. And though he’s a loyal American, he differs with those who see the U.S.A. as a Christian nation.
Stephen Colbert was correct to call anthony Campolo a “living oxymoron.” For a quarter century, Campolo has wed Christian commitment to progressive thinking in ways that inspire some believers to declare him a prophet while others dismiss him as a socialist. All this helps explain why Campolo was more warmly embraced at the Clinton White House than he has been by members of the current administration.
As a gifted teacher, Campolo encourages readers to transcend superficial labels, easy answers and previous generations’ models for applying faith to life. And like Paul, he challenges them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. “I wait with bated breath to learn of your answers to the questions about the future that I have posed,” he writes in the concluding chapter. “The future is yours to create.”
© Copyright 2017 by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. Reprinted with permission by Basic Books. All rights reserved.
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