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Tony Campolo

Compiled by Carol Brooks

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Tony Campolo... Letters to a Young Evangelical

Centering Prayer
Tony Campolo has written a new book titled Letters to a Young Evangelical, in which he says..

    Paul wanted Timothy to develop the kind of spiritual disciplines that would nurture him into Christian maturity. Imitating Paul, I will address letters in this book to an imagined young Evangelical named Timothy. [Letters to a Young Evangelical, page 2]

However, other than they both wrote a letter, there are no parallels between Campolo and the apostle Paul. Campolo’s mission is to liberalize Christianity, while Paul wrote his letters under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.. He wrote timeless truth sanctioned by the God of the Universe.

The danger is very real that an unsuspecting person will take Campolo’s words and equate them with God’s Word, which would be disastrous.

in a chapter called The Gospel According to Us, Campolo talks about his mother who was “a convert to Evangelical Christianity from a Catholic immigrant family” and who “hoped I would have one of those dramatic born again experiences”. However he was never being converted regardless of how many aisles he walked down saying that “… it never worked for me. I would go down the aisle as the people around me sang “the invitation hymn,” but I just didn’t feel that anything happened to me”. He eventually despaired of ever being “saved”.

 He then goes on to say (on page 25) that it took him “quite some time to realize that entering into a personal relationship with Christ does not always happen that way”.

IPS Comment: Here is what is really sad about Campolo’s efforts to be “Born Again”. He says that he just didn’t feel that anything happened to him. However, although many people say they experienced different emotions, being Born Again is NOT about feeling something. Although many people have had extraordinary experiences, there are many others for whom fireworks were conspicuous by their absence. went off.  The process can be sudden or gradual… Some people come to Christ with a big bang other with a slow burn. What is necessary is a realization that that you have come short of God's requirements, and are in need for forgiveness and for reconciliation with God...added to an understanding of who Jesus is, and what He did on the cross. The final ingredient is a willingness to submit to Jesus as Lord of your life. [See Born Again]

So what happened? Apparently Campolo substituted being ‘Born Again’ with centering prayer, saying [Emphasis Added]

    In my case intimacy with Christ had developed gradually over the years, primarily through what Catholics call “centering prayer.” Each morning, as soon as I wake up, I take time—sometimes as much as a half hour—to center myself on Jesus. I say his name over and over again to drive back the 101 things that begin to clutter my mind the minute I open my eyes. Jesus is my mantra, as some would say. [Letters to a Young Evangelical, page 26]

He then goes on to say that he uses “Jesus” as a “mantra” to clear his mind and to get himself into an altered state of consciousness. This mystical experience, he calls the “thin place.”

    The constant repetition of his name clears my head of everything but the awareness of his presence. By driving back all other concerns I am able to create what the ancient Celtic Christians called “the thin place.” The thin place is that spiritual condition wherein separation between self and God becomes so thin that God is able to break through and envelop the soul. [Letters to a Young Evangelical, page 26]

IPS Comment: In the beginning of this book Campolo explained that Letters to a Young Evangelical was an attempt to imitate the apostle Paul in offering advice to a young evangelical Christian named Timothy. However it should be obvious that Campolo’s ideas reflect the fact that he has not been born again, since he flatly contradicts Scripture. The Bible never tells us to use the name of Jesus as a “mantra”. Mantras are Buddhist and Hindu traditions used in their attempts to focus on the spiritual realm. A single phrase or word repeated over and over again, regardless of the  religion or beliefs of the practitioner can and does lead to an Altered State of Consciousness, in which the feeling is one of unity with God, or the universe, or of enlightenment. Buddhist call this state Nirvana or Satori... New Age people call it at-one-ness, etc... Christian and Muslim mystics imagine they have experienced some kind of union with God.  [See Article Contemplating The Alternative]

In another letter written by Campolo titled “Becoming Actualized Christians,” further instructions are given regarding how to have a born again experience by practicing centering prayer. He states:

    I learned about this way of having a born-again experience from reading Catholic mystics, especially The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. Ignatius, a founder of the Jesuit order, was once a soldier and it was only when he spent a long time in a hospital bed recovering from a battle wound that his heart and mind focused on God. Like most Catholic mystics he developed an intense desire to experience a “oneness” with God. Gradually, he came to feel an intense yearning for the kind of spiritual purity that he believed would enable him to experience the fullness of God’s presence within. [Letters to a Young Evangelical, page 30]

Campolo’s belief that you can be born again by experiencing a “oneness with God” while embracing the teachings of Ignatius Loyola the founder of the Jesuits, is preposterous. As can be documented, the very reason the Jesuits were founded by Loyola was for the purpose of bringing the Separated Brethren (those who departed from Catholicism) back to the Roman Catholic Church, by whatever devious means it would take. How could Campolo, who claims he is an evangelical Christian, make such a statement?

Campolo continues by praising the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings:

    After the Reformation, we Protestants left behind much that was troubling about Roman Catholicism of the fifteenth century. I am convinced we left too much behind. The methods of praying employed by the likes of Ignatius have become precious to me. With the help of some Catholic saints, my prayer life has deepened. [Letters to a Young Evangelical, page 31]

The above section on Centering Prayer is based on and excerpted from an article by Roger Oakland. The paragraphs preceded with ‘IPS Comment’ are not part of the original article, which can be viewed here.. http://www.understandthetimes.org/commentary/c58.shtml



Tony Campolo... Speaking My Mind

 Islam and Salvation
In his book Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to Face (a book that Brian McLaren endorses), Tony Campolo says mysticism [contemplative prayer] will provide “some hope for common ground between Christianity and Islam”. [Emphasis Added]

    Beyond these models of reconciliation, a theology of Mysticism provides some hope for common ground between Christianity and Islam. Both religions have within their histories examples of ecstatic union with God ... I do not know what to make of the Muslim mystics, especially those who have come to be known as the Sufis. What do they experience in their mystical experiences? Could they have encountered the same God we do in our Christian mysticism? Tony Campolo (Speaking My Mind, pp. 149-150)

Quoting the Protestant theologian Karl Barth, Campolo writes “Only Jesus Christ can serve as a mediator to God” and specifies that we are not “all in the same God Camp”. However Campolo believes that

    “to define Islam as an evil religion is irresponsible. To say that Muslims are wrong is one thing, but to call their founder “wicked” and to generalize about them in a demonizing way is unjustified.

    IPS Comment: Tony Campolo apparently knows very little about Islam.. Muhammad himself laid the foundation for violence via his deeds and commands. When in the year 623 he became a political leader in the city of Medina he showed a new aggressive behavior. He attacked pagan caravans and used the sword to spread his religion. Muhammad personally led at least 27 bloody invasions (some say more than 60) and ordered his followers to wage many more. Muhammad assassinated many of his opponents during his lifetime. In his battle against the Quraiza Jews, women and children were sold into slavery, and hundreds of captured men were executed. Even some of his own people were horrified.

    Muhammad himself actually had sixteen wives, two concubines/slaves, and four women of uncertain relationships. Of note, a Sura conveniently appeared to give Muhammad an exception to the 4-wife rule (Sura 33:50). One of his wives was but nine years old when he married her. Also of interest, Muhammad married his daughter-in-law Zainab (Bukhari 9:516-518). He arranged for his adopted son Zaid to divorce Zainab so he could marry her. The Quran and hadiths teach that it is morally acceptable to force women to have sex with their captors (Sura 70:29-30; also Bukhari 3: 432, 436, 5:459, 7:22, 8:600; 9:506; also Muslim Hadiths numbers 3371 and 3433).

    And Islam has many elements of peacefulness in it. However, anyone who wants to commit violence has perfect justification for doing so from the Quran. While violence in the Quran is sometimes for self-defense; at other times it is open-ended. Many passages in the Quran exhort Muslims to kill infidels (non-Muslims) wherever they find them. See Suras 2:190-193, 2:216, 4:76, 5:32-36, 8:12-14, 8:39, 8:59, 8:65, 9:5, 9:14, 9:23-29, 9:38-41, 9:123, 47:4, 47:35, 61:4, and 66:9. [Read Article]

Campolo then goes on to say that

    “..we will never know in this life who has this mystical involvement with the resurrected Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, and who does not. On that day when we must all stand before the judgment seat of God, there will be a lot of surprises. Jesus said as much, and He may turn away some who said all the right things theologically by declaring, “I never knew you” (Matt 7.23) It may also be the case that many who never would have called themselves Christian were truly possessed by Christ and will be invited into the eternal kingdom.”

Campolo then goes on to tell of an encounter a “leading Evangelist” had with a monk in a monastery in China. The evangelist went up to a monk in deep mediation and opening his Bible, began telling him of salvation. He then asked if the monk would not accept Jesus into his heart and let Him be his personal savior’ 

To which the monk answered with surprise,

    “... “Accept Him? How can I accept him into my life when He is already there? All the time you were telling me about Him, His spirit within me was affirming the truth of what you were saying. Constantly I heard His Spirit say, ‘He is talking of Me! He is talking of Me! I do not need to accept Him. He is already in me affirming the message of your Bible. I have known Him for a long, long time.”

    My friend asked me, “Was this man possessed by Jesus before I ever arrived? Was he a Christian before he knew the name of Jesus? And, if I had not come with the gospel message, would God accept him on the Day of Judgment?”

Campolo goes on to comment..

    “I don’t know how to answer the questions my friend posed, but I do know this; we should preach the  gospel to every living creature and let the judgment of who is saved and who is lost fall into the hands of the Judge of the universe”. [Quotes are from Pages 150-152 of the Hardcover edition by Thomas Nelson]

    IPS Comment: To answer this question let’s turn to Acts 10 that tells us of a Roman centurion who was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually”. Certainly this man’s goodness did not go un-noticed. One day  “he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, "Cornelius!" Alarmed he said, "What is it, Lord?. To which the angel replied

      "Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. "Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter;

    In the mean time the Lord also prepared Peter for the next step, which was to go to Cornelius’ house and tell them about Jesus and salvation. When he did so, the Holy Spirit fell on the company and Peter realizing that God's plan of salvation was for people of every nation,  baptized all of them.

    The point of this story was a gentile who had never heard of Jesus.. Was it good enough that he was a “devout man” who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people . It wasn’t. He was instructed to send for Peter.. to hear the Gospel and be baptized.

     In Campolo’s narrative the monk was likely a Buddhist, meditating in a Buddhist monastery.. If he had really been converted he would have been led to leave the monastery, forsake Buddhism, and be baptized as a Christian.

    It is absolutely ludicrous to imagine for even a moment that if Jesus was already in the monk’s life, he would continue living as a Buddhist monk.


Brian McLaren has endorsed (back cover) of Tony Campolo's book, Speaking My Mind, saying that the book is a "great bargain" and that Campolo's voice is one that "needs to be heard." The problem being that in this book Campolo makes no secret about his non-biblical approach to the gospel. In his book Speaking My Mind, Campolo says [Pages 13-15 of the Hardcover edition by Thomas Nelson]

    “I believe evangelism has done so well at outdoing mainline denominational churches in growth and development for the following reasons:

    It has an abundance of charismatic entrepreneurial leaders.

    It is more effective in marketing religion.

    It has learned how to exercise political power.

    It has addressed the individualistic needs of Americans, avoiding positions on social issues that would alienate its constituencies.

He goes on to list some of the “brilliant evangelical entrepreneurs”.. Billy Graham, James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Bill Bright creator of Campus Crusade, Loren Cunningham the founder of Youth With a Mission, and George Verwer the founder of Operation Mobilization”... saying that

    “It is generally the rational-legal type leaders who are appointed to the key leadership roles of mainline denominations. Consequently, it is not surprising that these denomination lack the kind of daring, innovative thinking and programming that can market religion. They do not connect well with our fast-moving, consumeristic society, marked by people who are attracted to exciting new approaches to things and who are more ready to nurture the :the cult of the personality”. most of the evangelical leaders who have dominated the American scene over the past half-century have been colorful, bigger-than-life individuals who could electrify their followers with a “can-do” attitude and their ability to communicate a sense of God’s having uniquely chosen them”. 

He then says

    “More recently, Bill Hybels, a moderate voice in evangelism has made his Willow Creek Community Church the model for a whole movement that is transforming churches around the world by using new worship styles he calls “user friendly”.

Tony Campolo.. This and That
In an interview with Laura Sheahen of Beliefnet in July 2004 ('Evangelical Christianity Has Been Hijacked' ), Campolo says (referring to the evangelical movement)

    “When did it become anti-feminist? When did evangelical Christianity become anti-gay? When did it become supportive of capital punishment? Pro-war? When did it become so negative towards other religious groups?”

IPS Comment: Perhaps around the same time that God made His views on these topics known

    “And we would also point out that the evangelical community has become so pro-Israel that it is forgotten that God loves Palestinians every bit as much”

    “As an evangelical who takes the Bible very seriously, I come to the first chapter of Romans and feel there is sufficient evidence there to say that same-gender eroticism is not a Christian lifestyle.”

IPS Comment: While same gender eroticism is definitely not a ‘Christian lifestyle’ .. the Bible goes a whole lot further in it’s condemnation. ..   “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

    “Now, if you were going to ask me, "Are only Christians going to get to heaven?" I can’t answer that question, because I can only speak from the Christian perspective, from my own convictions and from my own experience. I do not claim to be able to read the mind of God and when evangelicals make these statements, I have some very serious concerns”.

IPS Comment: Doesn’t the Bible tell us that Jesus is the only way to God and one has to repent and believe, which incidentally is what makes one a ‘Christian’.

  Jesus is the only way to God ... How can Christians make such offensive and exclusive claims?
It is tragically true that few of those who believe 'all spiritual beliefs are valid paths to God" seem to have made an in depth study of various religions to see if their claims are based on fact, or fairy dust. There is far more evidence in favor of the Bible being true, than there is for any of the other 'holy books' like the Qur’an, the Bhagavad-Gita, the writings of Confucius, or the Book of Mormon. This evidence includes it's humanly impossible authorship, it's candor about the faults and failings of it's main characters, fulfilled prophecy, and it's archaeological and scientific accuracy... none of which are seen in the books of other religions. See Section Choose Life That You Might Live


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