No Need for Tony Campolo to Give Up Being Evangelical

No Need for Tony Campolo to Give Up Being Evangelical September 28, 2016

Evangelicals have always been liberal Protestants, if you define liberalism, as most religious historians do, as a departure from orthodoxy. Unitarians are liberal Christians because they reject Nicene orthodoxy.

And so evangelicals are liberal Protestants because they reject Reformation theology. Follow the logic:

Luther baptized babies.
Calvin taught predestination.
Evangelicals neither baptize babies nor believe God elects only some people for salvation.
Ergo: evangelicals do not follow the original Protestants and therefore stray from Protestant orthodoxy.

I know this is as hasty as it is sketchy, but if scholars and observers of evangelicalism could only recognize that the revivals of the First and Second Pretty Good Awakenings possessed neither the teachings nor the practices that Luther and Calvin advocated, we might actually understand better some of the important differences among Protestants (that go well beyond mainline or evangelical).

It might also help Tony Campolo rethink his recent decision to turn in his evangelical membership card:

In remarks published by Premiere on Monday, Campolo said he disagrees with many perceptions commonly associated with American evangelicalism.

Evangelicals in the United States are, according to Campolo in his interview with Premiere, 1. Anti-environment, 2. anti-gay, 3. anti-women, 4. pro-war, 5. pro-capital punishment.

“Evangelicals in the United States are anti-environment. … If you say you’re an evangelical you’re anti-gay, you’re anti-women, you’re pro-war,” claimed Campolo, as reported by Premiere.

“If you say you’re an evangelical you’re anti-gay, you’re anti-women, you’re pro-war.”

“In the southern states, 80 percent of the people go to church at least once a month [and yet it’s] the strongest supporter for capital punishment. … How do you reconcile evangelicals favoring capital punishment when Jesus said: ‘blessed are the merciful?'”

Doesn’t Mr. Campolo know that evangelicals have been at the forefront of progressive Protestantism for a very long time?

Evangelicalism in America mainly sprang out of the soil of eighteenth and (perhaps especially) nineteenth-century American revivalism. And that nineteenth-century revivalism was in many cases quite progressive on several key social issues–one of which was the role of women in leadership.

Has he not read David Swartz or Brent Gasaway?

But Gasaway contends that Peace Pentecost offered a coherent social agenda. Grounded in a “public theology of community,” it stood in stark contrast to the pervasive individualism of midcentury evangelicalism. The prophetic Jim Wallis of Sojourners and the pastoral Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action contended that sin expressed itself in more complex ways than person-to-person racism, violence against a fetus, and pornography. injustice often takes social shape. Racism, which Sojourners called “America’s original sin,” could be seen in systems such as apartheid and housing policies. Sexism was perpetuated through cultural language and male privilege. None of these structural critiques demanded a progressive theology. Instead, Wallis and Sider pled that a conservative hermeneutic of Scripture demanded social justice,

Now is not the time to jump ship. More than ever evangelicals need Campolo to keep faith and use his bully pulpit to restore born-again Protestants to their true convictions.


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