The Positive Prophet of Red Letter Christianity

Tony Campolo has been a man on a mission for some time now. As a professor, sociologist, pastor, public speaker, and author, Campolo has always endeavored to live out his faith. He has also sought to present Christianity in what he feels is the most "positive" light. In fact, Tony's personal website describes his role this way: "The Positive Prophet of Red Letter Christianity."

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And there are certainly plenty of positive things which Campolo has accomplished during his 80 years on earth. He has donated much time and effort to Compassion International, as well as to the National Youth Worker's Convention. And he founded and led an organization to assist needy communities in the Third World, as well as in "at risk" neighborhoods across North America.

It's kind of hard to go wrong while assisting needy people in Third World countries. But the same cannot be said once a person begins to dabble with theology.

Tony Campolo has done his share of dabbling with Scripture. For example, he provided leadership for the "Red Letter Christians" movement, even writing a book with that title. The goal of the movement simply states: "By calling ourselves Red Letter Christians, we refer to the fact that in many Bibles the words of Jesus are printed in red. What we are asserting, therefore, is that we have committed ourselves first and foremost to doing what Jesus said."

But what happens when you begin to make up new doctrines based on your interpretation of the red letters? You suddenly find yourself in way over your head, even when your motives are genuine and your heart is filled with compassion. The currents within any culture tend to sweep away those who are guided more by emotion than by what the Bible actually teaches.

Campolo made quite a splash recently when he announced that he has changed his view regarding homosexual practice. Up until now, he has contended that such practice is sinful. But now he claims, "I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the church." He obviously thinks this change is a more positive approach to the issue.

Interestingly, Campolo also indicated, "I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one." Hmm. It doesn't sound like he is exactly brimming with complete confidence over his new position. Nevertheless, he has chosen to take the plunge in the name of Red Letter Christianity and positivity.

But where in those red letters did Christ ever indicate that homosexual behavior ceased being sinful? Where did Jesus ever "lower the bar" on human sexuality? In actuality, Christ raised the bar. Jesus made it clear that just looking at a woman lustfully is by itself a grave violation. (see Matthew 5:28) For thousands of years, Jews and Christians have faithfully proclaimed the truth about human sexuality. And the red letters of Jesus did nothing to provide any cover for homosexual practice.

If the sexual boundaries had indeed been moved, and so drastically at that, surely Jesus would have informed us. But Christ never even hinted at such a radical departure from God's design for marriage between a man and a woman. And so in our day, many "positive prophets" find themselves completely at odds with what Jews and Christians have taught over the centuries concerning homosexual practice.

But Campolo's "positive" approach to religion extends beyond just his recent affirmation of homosexual behavior.

Last year, Jonathan Merritt wrote an article entitled, "Tony Campolo's Surprise Reaction When His Son Came Out as a Humanist." Bart Campolo sat down with his parents and explained that he had become an agnostic humanist. Merritt wrote that according to Bart, Tony had this unexpected response to his son's announcement: "You know me. I am not afraid you're going to hell because the God I believe in doesn't send people to hell for eternity for having the wrong theology. I'm sad because Christianity is my tribe, and I liked having you in my tribe."

And yet, the red letters of the New Testament lovingly warn people about the reality of hell for those who don't trust Christ. It is not a "positive" outcome for unbelievers, but it came nevertheless straight out of the mouth of Jesus. Those red letters are as solid as the cross where the red blood of the Savior was spilled for sinners. And because of Christ's sacrifice, paradise in heaven awaits all who repent and trust Jesus alone to wash away their sins.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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