Campolo sees future ‘red letter’ church

A veteran college professor says younger Christians are less concerned about the hereafter and more with the here and now.

By Bob Allen

The church of the future will focus less on saving souls and more on following Jesus, author and sociologist Tony Campolo said Jan. 10 at a minister’s conference on the campus of Georgetown College in Kentucky.

“The reality is the vision for the future does not come from old guys like myself,” Campolo, professor emeritus at Eastern University and author of more than 30 books said in a keynote address at the conference on Following the Call of the Church in Times Like These. “There’s a whole array of young people who are emerging on the scene who are not willing to be preoccupied with issues that are preoccupying our attention.”

campolo georgetownCampolo said he has noted a shift over the decades away from a faith composed primarily of beliefs about Jesus toward taking Christ’s teachings both literally and seriously.

“I grew up at a time when the church was organized around the theologies of the Apostle Paul,” Campolo said. “Every Bible study I ever went to growing up was on Paul. We studied Ephesians and Philippians and Romans, and we went through Paul verse by verse.”

“Being solid theologically was of crucial significance,” he continued. “It still is. The shift that has taken place, however, is a shift away from the Pauline epistles to the Gospels.”

Campolo said he doesn’t want to minimize teachings about how to be saved and go to heaven after you die, but it isn’t the major emphasis in the teachings of Jesus. He said Jesus instead emphasized a kingdom relevant in the here and now.

“As young people are forcing us to shift to the red letters of the Bible -- to the words of Jesus highlighted in red -- the first thing we have to deal with is the Kingdom of God,” Campolo said. “This has incredible ramifications, because the Kingdom of God stands in opposition to the kingdoms of this world.”

“Now that sounds good when you say it theologically,” he continued. “But when you say the Kingdom of God stands over and against the value system of the United States of America, you’re in trouble, but it does. You can’t read through the Sermon on the Mount and believe in war…. When he said love your enemies he probably meant that we shouldn’t kill them.”

Campolo said he has great respect for the military, because he recognizes his right to make countercultural statements is the result of brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to defend it. “But to be a follower of Jesus is to say whether it’s safe to do it or whether it’s not safe to do it, to quote Scripture, you must obey God rather than man.”

“We have a country that is cutting out programs for the poor at a rate that is staggering,” Campolo said. Recently, he said, talk has turned to cutting “entitlements,” including references to Social Security as a “giveaway” to retirees.

“My entire life I’ve paid into Social Security,” he said. “And you know what they did with my money and with the money of all we elderly people? The U.S. Congress raided that money and used it to build up the military complex. They stole from the elderly people, and now they’re acting as though they are giving us a gift if they allow us to collect the Social Security we have paid hundreds, yea tens of thousands of dollars, into all of our lives.”

“It’s about time we realized that the U.S. Congress are a bunch of crooks who stole from elderly people, and it’s about time we stand up and say this is not some giveaway that you feel because we’ve got to support the military we’re going to take money away from you,” Campolo said.

“No, we supported the military for years with that Social Security money. If you don’t believe, it’s only because you haven’t kept up with the budgeting of the United States Congress and what they've done with our money over the years.”

The conference continues Friday, with scheduled speakers including William Willimon, bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church and former dean of Duke University Chapel; Sarah Ruden, a research fellow at Yale Divinity School and author of Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time; and Wendell Berry, an author and economic critic who gave last year’s Jefferson Lecture, the federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities.