Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

More on A Reasonable Faith
Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Research Supervisor
Christian Research Institute
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92603-0500

From: PSCF 38 (March 1986): 64.

James Garner praises Anthony Campolo's book A Reasonable Faith (June 1985) for its opposition to the "Christ against culture" position of politically conservative Christians (notably Falwell, the whipping boy of liberalism), and for its attempt to find "some good in the secularists." Garner's review, however, fails to tell the whole story.

Campolo does indeed fault the Moral Majority and similar groups for their approach to living Christianity out in the realm of society and politics. Unfortunately, he does not stop there. He has something negative to say about evangelicalism and "fundamentalism" in every chapter, and some of his criticisms strike at the heart of evangelical beliefs. The Protestant Reformers, he informs us, paved the way for secularism by taking the magic and superstition out of Christianity and formulating a sternly logical theology (39). The Jesus of evangelical Christianity is largely a "cultural deity," so that unbelievers who reject the evangelical Jesus may still find salvation in Jesus through intimate "I-Thou" relationships (174-175).

In an effort to make Christianity seem meaningful and relevant to the secularists, Campolo redefines several basic concepts in Christian theology in such a way that his book becomes more of a capitulation to secularism than a response to it. To be "human" means to be infinitely loving, sensitive, empathetic, and so forth; since none of us fit that description, none of us are really, fully human. Those character qualities are, however, found fully in God, so that "humanness and Godness are one and the same" (164). With that in mind, Campolo can agree with one of his secularist students that "Jesus was God because He was fully human and he was fully human because He was God.... He was God because He was human; and He was the only human that ever lived" (165). Thus historic, orthodox Christology is turned on its head: when Christians affirm that Jesus was "fully human," they mean that He was exactly like us (except without sin); when Campolo, says that Jesus was fully human, he means that Jesus is all those things we are not but should be.

The redefinitions do not stop there. Sin becomes anything that makes me lose self-esteem, even a job that I find emotionally deadening. The biblical understanding is different, though: no work situation, not even slavery, can rob a Christian of the joy of serving Christ (Col. 3:22-24). (This does not justify economic oppression, of course.) Salvation is primarily a matter of humanization, rather than reconciliation with a God who stands against us in judgment. In fact, Campolo tells us that "Jesus didn't make a big deal out of heaven and hell either" (171), even though Christians who know their Gospels know differently.

Secularists who want to meet Jesus and be humanized by Him are not encouraged to pray, repent of their sins, confess their rebellion against God, or acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Instead, they arc encouraged to look for Jesus in every human being-not symbolically or representatively, but mystically and literally-and to reach out to experience Him through intimate relationships with human beings.

Garner's primary concern, of course, was with Campolo's references to the natural sciences, not his theology. Still, neglecting to mention the aberrational nature of his gospel to the secularist is a grave oversight. Not that Campolo's capitulation to liberalism is not evident in his discussion of science. I do not refer simply to his espousal of theistic evolution (although as a creationist I cannot agree with that position), but his negative stance toward conservative Christianity and creationism. Thus, in his treatment of the Scopes trial (which Garner mentions), Campolo adopts the liberal rewriting of history popularized by Inherit the Wind, in which Scopes was tried for teaching evolution (he never taught it, by his own testimony years later), and in which Bryan made fundamentalism look ridiculous (actually, it was Fredric March who made Bryan look ridiculous).

Readers who want to know more are encouraged to read the special report on Campolo in Christianity Today (Sept. 20,1985), or contact me for a more complete review of the book.