Tony Campolo and His Red-letter Christians

By Brannon S. Howse

David Noebel reveals that “today, Sojourners’ Board of Directors includes Wallis, Ron Sider, Brian McLaren, and Bart Campolo.” Bart Campolo is the son of Tony Campolo, and as the saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together.” Campolo and Wallis are comrades, and Campolo’s son has served on the board of the organization run by Wallis. 


Wallis endorsed Campolo’s book, Letters to a Young Evangelical, by saying “Tony Campolo is my favorite evangelist.” By “evangelical,” Campolo means a neo-evangelical who embraces socialism and is committed to waging war against Bible-believing, conservative Christians. 


David Noebel, in another excellent article written for the Worldview Weekend website pulls no punches when he describes Campolo’s distaste for biblical truth and those who defend and proclaim it:


The purpose of Campolo’s letters to two young evangelicals (Timothy and Junia) is to convince them that the “Religious Right” in America is their sworn enemy, and if they wish to get serious about God’s business, which is assisting the poor and oppressed to bring in the Kingdom of God, they must reject the… conservative wing of Evangelicalism and stake their claim with the true “progressives,” namely the Sider, Wallis and Campolo camp. This camp will bring forth the Kingdom of God on earth in spite of the constant foot dragging of their non-progressive, conservative, Evangelical counterparts.


Campolo calls his followers “red-letter Christians.” Why? I will let Campolo answer that question from an article he wrote for Sojourners: 

Who first suggested the label? A secular Jewish Country-and-Western disc jockey in Nashville, Tennessee. During a radio interview he was conducting with Jim Wallis, he happened to say, “So, you’re one of those Red-Letter Christians—you know—who’s really into those verses in the New Testament that are in red letters!”


Jim answered, “That’s right!” And with that answer, he spoke for all of us. By calling ourselves Red-Letter Christians, we are alluding to the fact that in several versions of the New Testament, the words of Jesus are printed in red. In adopting this name, we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that He said. Of course, the message in those red-lettered verses is radical, to say the least. If you don’t believe me, read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

In those red letters, He calls us away from the consumerist values that dominate contemporary American consciousness. He calls us to be merciful, which has strong implications for how we think about capital punishment. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he probably means we shouldn’t kill them. Most important, if we take Jesus seriously, we will realize that meeting the needs of the poor is a primary responsibility for His followers.


The primary responsibility of Christians is to preach the Gospel—the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. This is a biblical doctrine Tony Campolo rejects. It is also interesting that Campolo apparently ignores the words of Jesus in the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20:8-15 in which Jesus says: 


So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, “Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.” And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.  But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius.  And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.” But he answered one of them and said, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?”


As with all parables, Jesus is telling an earthly story with a spiritual meaning. The spiritual meaning is that those who serve Christ for many years and those who come to salvation through Jesus Christ in the later years of their lives, will both receive the same reward of heaven. 

Jesus also clearly states that the landowner had kept his private contract with the laborers who had toiled the entire day and was not being dishonest to anyone by paying the same amount to the laborers who had only worked a portion of the day. Why? Because the landowner had the right to do what he wanted with his private property. Jesus assumed this as background for the story. He didn’t dispute this “common knowledge.” 


The same biblical concept of private property is affirmed in Acts 5:1-5:


But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.


Annanias and Sapphira were stuck dead by God for lying and for their hypocrisy of saying they had given more to God than they really had. But notice verse 4 in which Peter tells Ananias, “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?”  Here again, we see the biblical concept of private property. They could have kept whatever portion of the proceeds from their sale they chose to, and Peter wouldn’t have disputed them. Their dishonesty is what caused their personal calamity.

In Exodus 20—the chapter which introduces the Ten Commandments—verse 15 commands, “You shall not steal,” clearly referring to a person’s private property. The notes in the John MacArthur Study Bible describe the meaning of the verse this way: “Any dishonest acquiring of another’s goods or assets greatly disturbs the right to ownership of private property, which is an important principle for societal stability.”


Exodus 20:17 reflects yet another aspect of private ownership:


You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.


The act of stealing always begins by coveting, and coveting and stealing are a violation of God’s character and nature. Campolo, however, does not seem interested in biblical facts but rather in using Jesus as a prop for his predilection toward liberation theology. Neo-evangelicals like Campolo would like to convince people Jesus is in favor of the government stealing from one person in order to give to another, instead of cutting government entitlements to the “poor.”  


The “What Would Jesus Drive” campaign is another example of similar manipulations, trying to convince people of faith that Jesus would drive a car powered by some kind of a rubber band. These people could care less what Jesus actually taught about sin, the exclusivity of Christ, the inerrancy of His Word, and the futility of building an earthly kingdom. 


In 1989, Campolo wrote a 28-page paper entitled “The Road to Damascus.” David Noebel explains not only the agenda behind this errant publication but how the National Association of Evangelicals has been involved in the promotion of its ideals: 


This publication was distributed in the United States primarily through the efforts of Jim Wallis and his Sojourners organization in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the document was to enlist Christians to help Marxist/Leninist efforts to consolidate Leftwing governments in at least seven nations. All signers of the document were Leftists from these nations—the Philippines, South Korea, Namibia, South Africa, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. 

The thrust of the document was to paint communism as the true representative of a Christian theology that “sides with the poor and oppressed” and to condemn Christians who side with the rich and oppressors of the poor. The “good people” in this struggle are the proponents of liberation theology, while the bad people are the Christians who oppose Christian Marxism. To make certain that the point is not missed the document identifies anti-communist evangelicals as “members of the forces of darkness.” Good Christians are portrayed as pro-communist while anti-communists are Neanderthal, non-progressive, conservatives. 

Lest you think that this is just ancient history, I direct your attention to the National Association of Evangelicals Toward An Evangelical Public Policy, published by Baker Books (2005) and copyrighted by Ron Sider and Diane Knippers. Its first chapter, entitled “Seeking a Place,” makes it very clear that anti-communism “was largely an exercise of destruction” and that Jim Wallis of Sojourners is where the true Christian action consists. And this despite the fact that Wallis was pro-Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Wallis actually referred to those seeking to escape from the ravages of communist Vietnam after the war as persons bent on feeding “their consumer habits in other lands.” Wallis’ response to the Cambodian Communists’ slaughter of two million men, women, and children was to deny the bloodbath. Compassion for the poor and oppressed brought on by communism does not enter into the leftist playbook. Leftists have compassion for the poor and oppressed only when they can, however implausibly, blame capitalist America. Shame on the NAE!

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