The ‘testimony’ of Tony Campolo


I am indebted to my good friend, Roger Oakland, of ‘Understand the Times’ for the following very illuminating commentary on portions of a book authored by Tony Campolo entitled ‘Letters to a young evangelical’. Herewith is Roger’s commentary and I will add some final thought at its conclusion.

Tony Campolo is professor emeritus of sociology of Eastern University in St. David’s, Pennsylvania. He is founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education and the author of many books. He is a well-known conference speaker who is noted for his agenda to liberalize evangelical Christianity in order to make it acceptable for the twenty-first century. One of his recent books is titled Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians are Afraid to Face. On the back cover, the following statement is made:

With his trademark shoot-from-the-heart style, Tony Campolo shatters the stereotype of evangelical Christians as a monolithic mass of social conservatives. In Speaking My Mind, this prolific author and university professor takes issue with the public image of evangelicals as right-wing hardliners and claims a place at the table for socially liberal viewpoints. [1]

Brian McLaren is also a well-known author and speaker. Many agree McLaren is the leading proponent for a rapidly developing trend within Christianity called the Emerging Church. Campolo’s publisher, W. Publishing Group (a branch of Thomas Nelson Publishing), chose McLaren to write the only endorsement on the back cover of the book. McLaren, who has authored books such as A New Kind of Christian, The Church on the Other Side, More Ready Than You Realized, and The Secret Message of Jesus, states the following:

If you paid the full price for this book and only got chapter 8, you’d be getting a good bargain. The same is true for chapters 4, 6, 9, 10 and 11. At a time when the term “evangelical” is up for grabs, Tony’s voice needs to be heard. [2]

Please notice Brian McLaren’s reference to “a time when the term ‘evangelical’ is up for grabs” and the proclamation that “his voice needs to be heard.” For those of us interested in Bible prophesy, such a statement causes us to pay attention. You see, there once was a time when an evangelical was a person who had a deep reverence and trust for the Scriptures. Further, that person had to believe the only way to heaven was by accepting the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross for our sins, and that hell was a literal place where the lost would spend eternity.

Not so today! As McLaren so clearly states, the definition of what it means to be an evangelical is now “up for grabs.”

I have read a number of Campolo’s books and listened to his messages. Yes, Campolo is a perfect example of someone who is influencing minds and producing “a new kind of Christian.” I will quote Campolo on a number of issues so that you will be able to examine his ideas in comparison with what the Bible teaches.

As we will see, the words of Isaiah will be very appropriate when we compare what Campolo says with what God has said in His Word:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts”. [3]

Letters to Timothy for Our Day

Tony Campolo has written a new book titled Letters to a Young Evangelical. Campolo equates the letters he wrote for this book with the letters written to Timothy that are recorded in the Bible. Paul’s letters were inspired by the Holy Spirit. What about Campolo’s letters? Were they inspired?

Campolo introduces Letters to a Young Evangelical the following way:

Writing letters to young Christians is nothing new. Almost twenty centuries ago, the apostle Paul did it. He wrote to Timothy, his protégé, with the hope that his letters would guide this fledgling Christian missionary and inspire him to realize his potential as an evangelist and a church leader. Paul’s epistles have come down to us as part of the New Testament, and they are jam-packed with good theology and wise council. [4]

Certainly, what Campolo has stated is true. The books of First and Second Timothy are packed full of truth and insight. Paul’s inspired letters have provided divine guidelines for living ever since the words were written down. However, Campolo seems to suggest the time has come for the Bible to be revised and additional words need to be written to update the youth of our day. As he states:

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. [5]

Campolo’s statement that he will “imitate” Paul by writing letters to “an imagined young Evangelical named Timothy” should be examined carefully. What if Campolo were to promote ideas and beliefs that he claims will build spiritual discipline but these ideas and beliefs are foreign to the Scriptures? What if young people read the letters written by Campolo and consider his words equal to Paul’s words.

Do you remember what the Bible tells us about true faith? Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. If an unsuspecting young person were to take Campolo’s words and equate them with God’s Word, wouldn’t there be a potential for this young person to be deceived?

The apostle Paul wrote his letters under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These letters are part of the canon of Scripture. Paul’s words are accurate, true, and sanctioned by the God of the Universe. Shouldn’t the words written by a man who has an agenda to liberalize Christianity cause some concern?

Further, the words written by Paul to Timothy warn us about individuals who would come along—especially in the last days—and reject sound doctrine, presenting ideas that would lead people astray. Note carefully what Paul says:

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables”. [6]

Coming to Christ Campolo Style

Most Christians can tell you the very moment when they first encountered Jesus Christ in a personal way. Being born again is an event that can be vividly remembered. Tony Campolo says his personal encounter began when he discovered Christ through a practice known as “centering prayer.” Though not found in the Bible, the ritual of centering prayer is a pillar of Eastern mysticism.

In his book Letters to a Young Evangelical, Campolo shares his own personal testimony in a chapter called “The Gospel According to Us.” He begins the chapter the following way: 

As you may know, most Evangelicals at some point make a decision to trust in Jesus for salvation and commit to becoming the kind of people he wants us to be. [7]

A few pages later in this chapter, Campolo presents the details of his conversion experience. He begins by stating:

When I was a boy growing up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in West Philadelphia, my mother, a convert to Evangelical Christianity from a Catholic immigrant family, hoped I would have one of those dramatic “born again” experiences. That was the way she had come into a personal relationship with Christ. She took me to hear one evangelist after another, praying that I would go to the altar and come away “converted.” But 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. For a while I despaired wondering if I would ever get “saved.” It took me quite some time to realize that entering into a personal relationship with Christ does not always happen that way. [8]

Now, it is certainly true that not all conversions are experienced by coming to Christ at an evangelistic crusade. However, it’s important to carefully consider how Campolo describes his personal conversion experience, especially in light of the Scriptures. Later in the same chapter, he wrote:

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.[9]

I have searched the Scriptures! You can do the same. Centering prayer and using the name of Jesus as a “mantra” is just not there. In fact the idea of using a mantra (that is mindlessly repeating a word over and over again) is used by the Buddhists and the Hindus in their attempts to focus on the spiritual realm and contact higher beings that the Bible calls demons.

“Born Again” by Centering Prayer

Tony Campolo claims he became born again through this practice called centering prayer. He encourages his young readers to get closer to Christ by embracing this ritual. Centering prayer is becoming very popular within the Emerging Church Movement. Is it biblical?

Tony Campolo says 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.” Quoting from his book:

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. [10]

Remember that 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 is obvious that Campolo’s ideas are not grounded on Paul’s teachings. In fact they contradict what Paul wrote.

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. [11]

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?

But there is more! 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. [12]

My case is closed. Tony Campolo may claim he is an evangelical Christian, but the facts speak loud and clear. The mystical New Age practices he promotes are more closely tied to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Catholicism than to biblical Christianity. The Bible makes it clear the only way to be born again is to repent of your sins and acknowledge Jesus Christ. The doctrines of demons that Paul warned Timothy would be promoted in the name of Christianity in the last days are underway.

[1] Tony Campolo ‘Speaking my mind’: Back cover

[2] Ibid

[3] Isaiah 55:8-9

[4] Tony Campolo ‘Letters to a young Evangelical’ page 1

[5] Ibid page 2

[6] 2 Timothy 4:2-4

[7] Tony Campolo ‘Letters to a young Evangelical’ page 20

[8] Ibid page 25

[9] Ibid page 26

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid page 30

[12] Ibid page 31

Tony Campolo has ‘testified’ that when he was listening to the Word of God being preached at evangelistic meetings that ‘it never worked for me’. He then goes on to explain what he believes ‘did work for him’ – ‘In my case intimacy with Christ had developed gradually over the years, primarily through what Catholics call “centering prayer”… . 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.’

In the ‘Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs’ by John Ankerberg and John Weldon we read this  ‘The word “spell” is perhaps the nearest approach to the Sanskrit wordmantra. It is a form of words or sounds which are believed to have a magical effect when uttered with intent…Sound is the foundation of all magic and an armoury of mantras forms part of the equipment of the magician in all countries…A mantra repeated often enough can penetrate the dense barrier of the material sphere and draw power from the occult planes…The power of the mantra also functions to facilitate “altered states of consciousness” [that] lead to a kind of intoxication which results in trance…mantras are integrally related to occult practice and philosophy [pages 244-346].

In contrast to this ‘Word of God-free testimony’ by Tony Campolo, the Apostle Peter reminded true converts to Christ of how they were living testimonies to “being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever…and this is the word by which the gospel is preached unto you” [1 Peter 1:23&25] and in Romans 1:16 the Apostle Paul declared that “the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation” and not some mind-emptying, occult-empowering mantra.

When it comes to Tony Campolo “Beloved, believe not every spirit but test the spirits whether they be of God because many false prophets are gone out into the world” [1 John 4:1].

Cecil Andrews – ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – 3 March 2007