Tony Campolo, Biblical Interpretation, and How ImM Feeling This Morning. . .

Sleep didn’t come easy last night. Writing these words is equally difficult.

While sitting on the couch taking in a Phillies game last evening (lost. . . again), I checked my Facebook feed and spotted a story linking to Tony Campolo’s public statement released yesterday, “Tony Campolo: For the Record.” I read Tony’s words – several times – with a heavy heart.

To be honest, I wasn’t surprised, but I was saddened. Then, as I continued to read, I saw social media lighting up with folks responding and taking sides. Some were less than gracious and charitable. Others, reflected a pendulum swung to the other side. I want to be biblically balanced and fair to a brother I have known for a long time.

Tony’s statement has left me with a pit in my stomach. You see, early on in my walk with Christ, Tony Campolo was a loud voice who God used to summon me to a deeper understanding of God’s call on my life. . . first and foremost to integrate my faith into every nook and cranny of my life and to live my life to the glory of God. Then secondly, to teach kids to do the same. I still remember Tony’s rousing call at a couple of Jubilee Conferences in Pittsburgh well over thirty years ago. He encouraged me and a room full of young college students to seek first and to embrace the glorious and wonderful Kingdom of God. Those were watershed moments in my life. They changed me. As I got older, I appreciated Tony’s ability to serve as a kind of evangelical conscience. . . poking and prodding guys like me out of spiritual slumber and into a life of devotion to Jesus. As the years have passed, I have continued to appreciate Tony’s heart. I have always, however, listened to Tony with a bit of caution, knowing that everything he says needs to be evaluated in the light of Scripture. Consequently, as I’ve gotten older, there have been times when I’ve had to disagree with Tony on some of his positions. Never, though, in the way I feel I have to disagree this morning. I’m saddened and disappointed.

I don’t believe it to be coincidental that I spent a good portion of yesterday reading, writing, and posting some things that I think are necessary and helpful as we navigate the issues of the day. For the Christian, the issue isn’t just matters of sexuality. It goes deeper. At it’s root, we have to think seriously about our hermeneutic. . . those foundational principles of interpretation that we embrace that serve as our starting point for understanding and responding to any theological issue that comes our way. I had blogged on this last week in my post that was simply titled “Jenner. . . ”  Yesterday, I blogged again, this time with “A Message to Parents,” written to encourage parents to take the Christian education and nurture of their children seriously. If you check out my Facebook page and my posts from yesterday, you’ll see that I included some relevant quotes, an article from my friend Nicholas Black on “Voices that Confuse: Reclaiming Biblical Truth from Interpretive Distortions,”  and the announcement about a new book from Mark Yarhouse on Gender Dysphoria that I look forward to reading. In other words, Tony’s statement is just a small part of this larger conversation that’s front and center in our culture and our churches. But even though it’s a small part, it’s big.

So, last night I posted a reminder to myself that I hope others might find helpful. It was the best thing I could do at the moment. I wrote this: “To all my young friends: immerse yourself in the Word. . . Incarnate and written. Always evaluate the words, teaching, and opinions of those who are older (even loved and respected) under the light of the Word, not vice versa.” It doesn’t matter who the teacher or preacher is. . . evaluate under the light of God’s Word.

This morning, still churning inside, I posted this: “While laying in bed last night pondering the events of the day, I once again considered the battle inside. I truly wish the Kingdom of God was all-inclusive. All sheep. No goats. All born again. None dead in their trespasses and sin. But God is not our genie. Our wish is not His command. We don’t get to define. Even better, we get to follow. Our calling is to submit our wills, desires, hopes, minds, hearts opinions, and very lives to Him.”

I hope and pray that my words this morning and the spirit of this post are gracious and charitable. I also hope and pray that it humbly reflects truth. I think there is much at stake here. Yes, this is about sexuality. But that’s only a small part of it. The real issue is much, much deeper.

This morning, I looked across my desk at my book shelves. I looked at the shelves that are loaded with Bibles, commentaries, and theological texts. I realized that everything I learned in all those years of reading, listening, education, discussion. . . all those things that have shaped me, what I believe, my commitments, and how I do ministry. . . all those things are being called into question. Seriously. . . I wonder if I have wasted all my time, my money, even my life on errors and lies. I don’t believe I have, but the culture and even respected brothers and sisters in the faith would, I think, have me believe it’s all for naught. I’m not wavering here. Just processing and giving more than just passing thought to the critique of others. Taking the time to do that will only serve to further cement my commitments.

After a conversation with a friend last night and thinking about what shapes us most these days. . . I don’t ask this snidely. . . but seriously. . . Are we living in a time where theological education and Christian education that was once shaped by and looked like this. . .

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. . . should be jettisoned and look like and be shaped by this? . . .

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God, keep us from being shaped by the spirit of the times. Holy Spirit, shape us.

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