Friday, February 13, 2015

Why I Am Skipping Church on March 29th

The short answer is because Tony Campolo is returning as a guest speaker.

I was introduced to Tony – former spiritual advisor to Bill Clinton and "Progressive Evangelical" - in 2013 when it was announced he would guest speak at my home church. Billed as "one of North America's most respected Christian leaders", Tony gave a message on July 21st entitled Missions: Getting Beyond the Kingdom of Ticky-Tack.

I quickly became concerned about some of the things he was teaching the congregation and consequently e-mailed my pastor before the following Sunday in the hope that his erroneous teaching would be addressed to the church so they could be sound in their doctrine. Being a discerning disciple (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1; 2 Timothy 2:15, Philippians 1:9-10, Psalm 119:125, Jude 1:3), I spent two and a half months thinking about Tony and working on a thorough message to my pastor explaining why Tony's views are unbiblical and dangerous. It has yet to be replied to, but I don't expect it will be.

I was willing to forget about all this since I figured he wouldn't be back and the flock would be a little safer because of that. However, after learning last month that he is returning, I feel a strong need to rehash those emails here for the flock.

Christian Mysticism

I didn't disagree with everything he said that day, but I do believe Tony made a mockery of God's purpose of prayer. God doesn't listen to our prayers of supplication as if they are unnecessary since He knows what we want before we ask. The fact that God knows what we want doesn't mean He doesn't want us communicating with Him about those things. God desires us to establish dependency on Him.

Tony teaches something different than just listening in stillness. You see, Tony practices contemplative mysticism. Though emptying our minds in silence to focus on God's presence sounds spiritual, it goes against Scripture. We know God is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-8). He doesn't need us to create "thin places" before He can break through to our souls. This Catholic-inspired mantra meditation Tony espouses is the same divination practiced by Buddhists and Hindus, in line with panentheistic seeking of "oneness" with all things when everything "thins" out to one.

We also know Jesus will be with us until the end (Matthew 28:20) and that the Holy Spirit indwells us (1 Corinthians 6:19). We don't need to rely on emotions and subjective experiences for faith in His presence. We don't need to seek anything esoteric, for Scripture is sufficient (2 Timothy 3:12-17, Colossians 2:8). Silent prayer is not the same as the Spirit speaking to us "with groanings that cannot be uttered". Romans 8:26-27 is clear that the groaning happens in intercession to God. In addition, prayer is communication with God about our needs and desires and He even encourages persistency (Matthew 7:7, James 4:2-3, 1 John 5:14-15, Philippians 4:6, Ephesians 6:18, John 16:23-24, Luke 18:1-7). Jesus tells us to come to Him with our burdens (Matthew 11:28, cf. 1 Peter 5:7), not ignore them by trying to empty our minds. This is how we witness God's will working in our lives; communicating with God and meditating on His Word. Not just on the "red letters" either, but on the whole Word. Intimacy with God happens through obedience to the Word that is the Bible and fellowship with the Word that is Christ – not through New Age spiritual mysticism.

In his article titled Mystical Encounters for Christians, Tony Campolo makes it clear he practices centering prayer, learning from sources like Ignatius of Loyola. This is exactly what he is referring to when he says he "centers" down on Jesus. For Campolo, "believing in Jesus and living out His teachings just wasn't enough", so he turned to extra-biblical forms of prayer. He writes this "spiritual food" can be found "outside of organized Christianity". Still, he writes it is these experiences that give him "an intensive passion for telling others about Jesus" and the "compassion for the poor and oppressed". Is it not simply the love of Christ that changes our hearts these ways?

In his book Letters to a Young Evangelical, he attributes this very practice of "centering prayer" to his being born again by gradually experiencing a oneness with God (rather than by a decisive event of repenting and acknowledging Christ as God). The meditation methods Campolo was referring to during his sermon were these "precious" ones employed by Catholic saints and people like Nouwen. Once again, biblical prayer is conversing with our Father and not repetitious thoughtlessness.

In The God of Intimacy and Action, Tony contradicts himself within the same paragraph when he writes, "We must pay serious attention to mystical happenings, and discern, in the context of biblical understanding in Christian community, whether or not we believe they are of God. Discernment is crucial to mystical spirituality. Without it, anything goes. On the other hand, we must learn to doubt our doubts if we are going to be open to the work of the Spirit in our lives." We must learn to doubt our doubts? That only gives a footstool to the work of other spirits.

Tony exalts subjective experience over biblical doctrine. In his book Partly Right, Campolo places more authority on inward encounters than on the Scriptures, whereas the bible tells us faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). In response to Pope John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Campolo claimed the certainty young people are looking for isn't "proof that the doctrinal propositions set forth by the church are true" but "a mystical, experiential encounter...that comes only when they can feel God." Basing certainty on feel-good experiences is false assurance! We surrender our lives to Him when we finally accept being unworthy sinners in need of His salvation. The Word is sufficient for our work in this world and it says we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), so we have no need for dangerous mystical experiences and extra-biblical revelations. Personally, I have heard God's voice while praying without taking half an hour trying to empty my mind. Feelings produced in meditation can easily be mistaken for the presence of God. Building a foundation of faith on feeling rather than on Christ or the Word of God allows for one to be easily swayed from that faith.

Religious Pluralism

In a 2005 interview with Shane Claiborne, Campolo says contemplative mysticism is a means of interfaith unity. He told the story of Fransiscan and Buddhist theologians and monastics who got together for three days to find common ground. The theologians ended up arguing while the monastics were hugging and Campolo stated they found a commonality "in a mystical relationship with God...where theology is left behind". Furthermore, "it's in mystical spirituality and in communal mutuality...where we come together." Lastly, he stated Muslim mystics talking about their love for Jesus is "a lot closer to New Testament Christianity than a lot of the Christians that I hear."

The statement that really set up a red flag for me from this interview was: "I've got to believe that Jesus is the only Savior but being a Christian is not the only way to be saved." Why would Christ allow anyone to be unaware "that He is the one who is doing the saving"? This is universalism and is similar to what Billy Graham said on Hour of Power to Schuller's affirmation; that one can know and love Christ and be in the Body without being conscious of it, because God is calling people regardless of their beliefs or lack of and saving them all. There is no doubt Tony holds to this view. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 tells us that the god of this world has blinded the eyes of unbelievers so they can't see the light of the gospel. If unbelievers are blinded from the light, how can Billy Graham and Tony Campolo say non-believers can turn to a light inside them and are called and saved by God? Only Jesus sets free from this bondage to Satan.

In the book Carpe Diem, one will read that "Going to heaven is like going to Philadelphia...There are many ways...We all end up in the same place". To an Islamic "brother" who feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, Campolo would say, "You did have a personal relationship with Christ, you just didn't know it." In the interview with Shane, he adds, "Islam is much more gracious towards evangelical Christians who are faithful to the New Testament, than Christians are towards Islamic people who are faithful to the Koran." This is backwards as the Koran calls to violently destroy their "enemies", whereas the NT calls to love our enemies. He adds to the Word by claiming that in Romans 2, Paul says, "What do we say of those who do not accept the law of God (as we understand it) and are faithful to all the things that God calls us to do - will God not have to make room for them?" Firstly, show me where that is written in that chapter. Secondly, if Tony believes Christians and Muslims can live up to the truth "as they understand it" and leave it up to God on judgment day, I don't believe he understands Jesus when He says He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. It is God's judgment, not ours, that baptized believers are saved and non-believers are not (Mark 16:16, John 3:18,36, 1 John 5:12). To say that non-Christians can be saved is contradictory to the truth of Scripture. How can that be true when Revelation 21:8 includes unbelievers as those who shall have their part in the lake of fire? Having a pluralistic worldview - expecting different religious traditions to appease God while preaching Christ - is contradictory and makes Christ's substitutionary sacrifice meaningless. This would be the equivalent of Jesus showing respect to the traditions of the Pharisees. God's people are the ones who hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27). To say the grace of Christ extends way beyond Christ is nonsensical.

In his book Speaking My Mind, he writes "a theology of mysticism provides some hope for common ground between Christianity and Islam." Christianity stands far apart from any other faith and is not about compromising the only truth in Christ with other religions. Not according to Tony, who said he's "not convinced that Jesus only lives in Christians" in a 1997 interview with Charlie Rose. At a National Council of Churches gathering in 1988, he said that Hindu Gandhi "was more Christian than most Christians" and that fundamentalists who resist error are "doing the devil's work."

"Eternally Crucified"

The other disconcerting thing he taught that day was that God is "eternally crucified". Tony took Einstein's Theory of Relativity and magically used it to prove that Christ is still on the cross, looking at us through time. That is hogwash. It is correct that Christ, being outside time, saw and knew all the sin throughout time He was sacrificing His sinless self for. Jesus seeing those things from the cross isn't the same as those things actually happening while Christ was on the cross. Tony cannot mystically connect with Christ on the cross, as he claimed, for Christ is victoriously risen and seated on His throne. If God is "eternally crucified", Tony is eternally in his sin. The "eternal now" he mentioned is a New Age concept of time perception.

Speaking of New Age...

Also in his beliefnet article, he wrote that "some of the most spiritual people I know claim to be without religion." Tony's idea of spirituality is not based on God's truth, but on New Thought, and is found among his work. In the book How to Rescue the Earth Without Worshiping Nature, Tony Campolo writes favourably of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin as representing "modern Christian thinking" and "those who have sought to refute his theories could not help but admire his genius." Yet, it is Teilhard whose Noosphere theory is the idea of a global "sphere of human thought" that will grow in awareness until it will culminate in the Omega Point; the goal of history being the apex of consciousness and a universal Christ to satisfy all faiths into an inclusivist, ecumenical, world religion.

As Campolo states in A Reasonable Faith, "A new humanity will be brought forth from this Christ consciousness in each person". In the same book, he writes, "We want to convince the whole human race that there is a God...who mystically dwells in each person..."; not merely as the image of God, but that "Jesus actually is present". The spiritual formation movement of contemplative spirituality and other mystical rituals runs contrary to God's plan of salvation and transformation of a person's soul. It is not the same as spiritual growth. Colossians 1:21-23 tells us were are enemies in our minds without His reconciliation, so how can Dallas Willard (Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ) write that "terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of spiritual formation"? This is just more world religion ecumenism.

Other Unsound Views 

There are other unsound views he has openly shared:
  • self-esteem philosophy that we have a divine nature worthy of Christ's sacrifice,
  • Kingdom Now theology that it is our job to rescue the whole of creation,
  • that evolution is consistent with Scripture,
  • that homosexuality is inborn,
  • that we cannot receive the Lord's love without accepting the feminine in our humanness and the feminine side of God in Jesus,
  • his endorsing the Good As New bible,
  • his lacking belief in the bible being inerrant,
  • his rejection of the rapture and blaming "rigid" Christians who do believe it and end-time prophecy for the world's ills,
  • his position that opposing women preachers is "of the devil",
  • his suggesting Frank Laubach's proposal of channeling God's saving power and grace into a person by praying to them in addition to praying for them,
  • his criticism of Israel,
  • etc.
For the sake of time, I will only address the first two. Nonetheless, these views I find the most alarming: that all people, regardless of personal faith, can connect mystically with God and that they are saved without knowing Christ as their Saviour. 

Our Divine Nature? 

We must be reborn spiritually from our fallen nature, not discover any original divinity in us. The Word tells us we are dead in sin and controlled by the devil and children of wrath by nature before He gives us life (Ephesians 2:1-3). Without God, we have no hope (Ephesians 2:12). We are nowhere near divinity when we are born, we are far off until we are brought near only by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13). So, believing that "humanness and Godness are one and the same" and that "Jesus was God because He was fully human and He was fully human because He was God" (A Reasonable Faith) are dangerous views to hold. Taken as a whole, Campolo's message is that people are saved without the gospel and believing it is useless since Christ is with them regardless and we all end up in the same place. 

Kingdom Now? 

Now, I understand his main reason for these speaking engagements and that is not my issue. Sponsoring a World Vision Canada sponsor child is a very good thing. His message of obeying God’s commands to help this world is a good message. Still, many will rely on their works and God will say He never knew them (Matthew 7:22-23). It is not our job to save the whole of creation. We should definitely help globally as best we can, but only God can create a new earth. Revelation tells us where the world is heading. It is our job to help save souls for God by calling sinners out of the world while preparing ourselves before He does reveal His wrath on the world. We are sent on a rescue mission of souls, not of creation, for creation was cursed with us and will groan until it is delivered fully with us (Romans 8:18-23). Jesus did not save us "in order that He might begin to transform His world into the kind of world that He willed for it to be when He created it" (It's Friday but Sunday's Coming). He saves us to make disciples of all nations, observing His commands, before the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20). Our depraved nature could never restore creation. Our Great Commission is to bring all people to the truth of salvation in Christ before it is too late and not to build the kingdom of God in this world; He will do that (Revelation 21:1,5, 2 Peter 3:7,10-12)

Building homes for the poor, supporting peace for the oppressed in war-torn countries, and sponsoring children - all while focusing on saving the earth instead of saving their souls - is misguided. Taking action to do those things that James 1:27 calls true religion and caring for the "least of these" (Matthew 25:34-40) should be a motivation for any true follower of Christ. However, the overarching goal - our Great Commission - should be to tell them of God's offer of love and teach them obedience to Him alone. If our personal relationships with Christ are unsound, we will only lead others astray. Jesus tells us the world will be as the days of Noah when He returns (Matthew 24:37-39, Luke 17:20-30). In the days of Noah, God's creation was everything He did not intend, not what "He willed for it to be". If God’s purpose is to fully transform the world into His Kingdom through man, then why does Christ need to return at all? God is sovereign and isn’t dependant on man to accomplish His will. Christians don't need to make a "party" out of this world, they need to intensely battle the world's sin and call sinners out of this decadent world. We are to "watch and be sober" (1 Thessalonians 5:6). James 4:4 tells us that friendship of the world is enmity with God. We are not of this world; we are called out of it, to be set apart from it and not conformed to it. To read more about Kingdom Now theology, click here.

Admittance of Distorting the Gospel 

In A Reasonable Faith, Campolo makes a distinction between the "God of the theologians and philosophers" and the "humanizing influence of Jesus through 'I-Thou' encounters..." (an idea of Martin Buber's, whom he mentioned in the sermon in question). Of this book, he writes that his theology "represents a personal attempt to state my Christian faith in a way that might prove meaningful for my secularist friends." The Word tells us the message of the cross is foolishness to them (1 Corinthians 1:18) and the Holy Spirit reveals the truth in a person (1 Corinthians 2:10-14). He continues: "I am sensitive to the fact that any attempt to state the Gospel in the dominant categories of a culture inevitably leads to a distortion of the Gospel. Consequently, anyone who accuses me of violating the biblical message is correct." By distorting the truth (Acts 20:30) – openly admitting to violating the gospel message (Galatians 1:6-9) – it is no surprise that Tony has been led into aberrant theology. He has also written, "If I am found to be in error, I'm ready either to recant or to say that I don't belong in the evangelical tradition anymore." No wonder Brian McLaren, who wrote the sole endorsement on Speaking My Mind, wrote the term "evangelical" is up for grabs and so Tony's voice needs to be heard.


As parts of the Body of Christ, we should all desire to keep that Body healthy. Members should be discerning for the elders in order to hold them accountable and elders should be addressing antiscriptural issues such as evolutionary thinking. It is vitally important that the spiritual gifts of knowledge and discernment are exercised so that liberal leeway is not committed. We meet for conviction and correction so that we may grow closer to God. A congregation that loves being comfortable inside a church becomes complacent about the lost outside the church they’re called to reach out to. A healthy Body outgrows spiritual milk for solid food (Hebrews 5:13-14).

I am wary of Tony's influence on undiscerning Christians. Elders and pastors should be looking into the teachers they allow in front of their sheep (Titus 1:9,13, Acts 20:28), as Scripture warns all of us to do (2 Timothy 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, 1 John 4:1-6). Just as the beliefs of a potential pastor are examined, so too should be the views of anyone guest speaking. Sound teaching is of utmost importance for a teacher and thus judging them for their adherence to the fundamental tenets of Christianity is critical. Even if Tony's message, Love Changes Everything, is on-point this time around, his false views remain the same and any member of the church is susceptible by looking him up and accepting them as biblical truth.

If we can honestly look at these views and still bill Tony as "one of North America's most respected Christian leaders", then I believe there is lots of doctrinal confusion in the Church, a lack of spiritual discernment, and/or a fear of offending by reproving and rebuking false gospels. Tony Campolo advocates the pagan practices of the Emergent church and is a proud "living oxymoron". He denies belief in Christ as being the only way to be saved (Acts 4:12, John 14:6). Campolo's spirituality of Catholic mysticism is not the spirituality of the bible. His Christ is not the Christ of the bible. His Christianity is not the Christianity of Christ.

Tony Campolo is a false teacher teaching false doctrine – this is heretical at best and blasphemous at worst. New Age has crept into the Church and Tony Campolo, intentionally or not, has been spreading its views. Tony has held these views for decades and unless he recants, it is safe to assume he still holds to them.

While it is true that Tony was absolved of heresy in 1985 by a four-member panel led by J.I. Packer, we can see above that his universalist comments since then have only become clearer. In fact, just several years later, Dave Hunt's Christian Information Bureau (now The Berean Call) bulletin reported Campolo as saying, "There are those who would limit Jesus to being present only in those who acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior, but I will not accept that limitation. I believe that Jesus is present even in...those who refuse Him" (January, 1991). Compare this precarious statement with Jesus’ own words in John 14:23-24. The verdict is truly alarming when one reads Tony's own words. Following his exoneration of heresy by the Christian Legal Society, Campolo told Christianity Today that by only saying "old worn out terminology" and things that "are safely orthodox" without being open to "ideas that people may consider heretical, I think we will lose our creativity". Lose our creativity? Biblical doctrinal truths are timeless. This is an example of "turning unto fables" away from sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:4). To label A Reasonable Faith as "methodologically naïve and verbally incautious" with "some involuntary unorthodoxies of substance as well as some calculated unconventionalities in presentation", rather than telling it like it is, is upsetting. I cannot help but wonder what authority this panel judged his teaching by to overlook his admittance of violating the biblical message. That they see no difference between unorthodoxy and heresy is disturbing. However, it all makes sense when one discovers they are all neo-evangelicals encouraging apostasy by questioning "old" orthodoxy and, in turn, departing from the old paths (Jeremiah 6:16). Having differing views about non-salvation issues like the age of the earth is one thing, but having views that are diametrically opposed to the gospel message and completely contrary to Christianity's core beliefs is another.

In short, the pulpit at my church is about to be yielded once again to a heretic. This is why, when he comes this time, I will be skipping (my) church on March 29th.

Note: James 3:1 warns that teachers will be judged more strictly. I desire to teach biblical truth and prevent Christians from being led astray. Thus, if you feel I have erred in any of this teaching, please leave a comment and enlighten me as I continue to grow in Him. Thank you.

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