Open Letter to Tony Campolo

Dear Mr. Campolo,

We’ve never met, but somehow I feel like I know you. Maybe it’s because you’ve had a huge impact on my spiritual life through your books and speaking. But recently I was disappointed and confused by a stance you took on some important issues.

My first memory of you is still vivid. I was 16 years old, just one soul in a sea of thousands, crammed into an arena for a youth conference. You erupted onto the stage that night. As you paced back and forth, dabbing perspiration from your brow, you delivered a no-compromise message that sent a holy hush over the crowd.

I remember one story in particular. You recounted how a young man had approached you about his plans to become a missionary doctor in Africa. Yet when you caught up to him years later, he had traded his dream of missions work for a lucrative career as a plastic surgeon. Others may have excused his actions. Not you. You thundered the response you had given him: “Charlie, you’re a sellout!” 

The message wasn’t lost on us. We were inspired by your challenge. We wouldn’t cave in to the world. We wouldn’t be sellouts.

When I read a recent interview with you, I glimpsed that same passion for the radical demands of the gospel. The interview covered several topics. When asked what Jesus would say to youth, your response was unequivocal. “Youth was made for heroism and not for pleasure” ¦what I am here to do is call you to sacrifice.”  Amen.

But I found myself shaking my head after reading the rest of the interview, especially after seeing your comments about Muslims and homosexuality.

You seemed to suggest that Muslims might obtain salvation apart from belief in Christ. You even cited John 10:16, naming Muslims as the sheep Jesus speaks of “that are not of this fold.”  You went on to say that on judgment day the eternal destiny of Muslims would be decided” ”not on whether they accepted or rejected Christ” ”but on whether they performed good or evil deeds.

I was shocked by this significant departure from historic and orthodox Christianity. As I’m sure you’re aware, theologians almost unanimously agree that Jesus’ mention of “other sheep,”  which was made to Jewish listeners, is almost certainly a reference to the gentiles who would soon profess faith in Christ. To claim that he was referring to adherents of a religion that was not even in existence would be strange indeed.

I also find your position on Muslims and salvation dangerous for Christian missions. I have friends risking their lives in repressive countries to bring the soul-saving message of Christ to Muslims. I wonder how they would respond to your assertion that Muslims are already on their way to heaven. Teaching that any group of people can enter heaven without accepting the atoning work of the cross ignores the exclusivity of the gospel and diminishes the imperative to spread the good news with passion and urgency.

Next you tackled the topic of homosexuality. “We shouldn’t be saying to gay and lesbian people, ” ˜You have to become what you’re not in order to be welcome by Jesus.’” 

I agree that we should encourage homosexuals to come to Jesus “just as they are.”  Yet once they come to Jesus, shouldn’t we expect that He will change their homosexual behavior? You seem to equate sexual orientation with core identity. Have I misunderstood you? I believe we all have sinful behaviors when we come to Christ. The hope is that He will cleanse us from those sins and reveal our true selves. We should accept homosexuals with open arms” ”and with a promise of freedom from their sin.

Perhaps I’m misrepresenting your positions. If so, please clarify what you meant by your comments. You are an influential voice in the church and your opinions carry great weight. Years ago you inspired me to stand against the culture and cling to the truth. Today I ask you to do the same.


Drew Dyck
New Man Magazine

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