Posts Tagged ‘Bart Campolo’

Sermon 11-26-17: “Rejoice in the Lord Always”

November 30, 2017

Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Does “always” really mean always? If so, I suspect most of us struggle to obey these words. Our main problem, as I point in this sermon, is that we usually rejoice in our circumstances: “I got the job, therefore I rejoice!” “She said ‘yes,’ therefore I rejoice!” “The tests came back negative, therefore I rejoice!” But notice Paul says to rejoice in the Lord. If we are in the Lord, we always have reasons for joy.

Sermon Text: Philippians 4:4-13

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The family and I went to my in-laws house in Snellville on Thanksgiving. After the meal, I stayed awake watching football as long as I could—without being rude—before creeping back to the spare bedroom and taking a nap. When I woke up, everyone—my entire family and my in-laws—were no longer watching football. They were watching a movie on the Hallmark Channel. Maybe you’ve seen it? It was that one about this man and woman who meet but don’t get along at first. In fact, they don’t even like each other. But over time they start to secretly fall for one another. But they can’t tell each other, because there are all these obstacles that stand in the way of their relationship. And then, at the very end of the movie, all the obstacles are removed. They finally say, “I love you.” They kiss. And it’s clear they’re going to live happily ever after.

Have you seen that one?

Actually, this one was almost exactly like You’ve Got Mail except it was set at Christmastime. At the end of the movie, the woman gets everything she wants, including a big promotion at work, the perfect Christmas gift, and the man of her dreams. So of course she is deeply happy! She has reason to rejoice! If she got passed over for the promotion; if she lost her job; if her Christmas wishes went unfulfilled; if she didn’t end up with Romeo, well… she would be not be rejoicing. And we the viewers would not be rejoicing.

Because our ability to rejoice depends on… how things turn out. We need the “happily ever after,” or something reasonably close to it, in order to experience joy. That’s because we rejoice in our circumstances—when you get the promotion, when you fall in love, when your dreams come true. If the circumstances are bad, not so much.

Yet notice Paul’s words here in verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord”—when? “Always.” And as if that weren’t clear enough he repeats it: “Again I will say, rejoice.” Read the rest of this entry »

Unanswered prayer is not a challenge to God’s sovereignty, Mr. Campolo

November 22, 2017

This article made the rounds recently on a United Methodist-related Facebook group of which I’m a member. Bart Campolo, the son of prominent “progressive evangelical” Tony Campolo, describes how he lost his Christian faith incrementally. The process began during his ministry with the urban poor, when he found, time and again, that God wasn’t answering his prayers.

“It messed with my theology,” he explains. “I had a theology that said God could intervene and do stuff.” But after a period of unanswered prayer, Bart admits: “I had to change my understanding of God. Sovereignty had to get dialed down a bit.”

Campolo admitted that changing his view of God’s sovereignty was “the beginning of the end” of his faith. Why?

“Because once you start adjusting your theology to match up to the reality you see in front of you, it’s an infinite progression. So over the course of the next 30 years…my ability to believe in a supernatural narrative or a God who intervenes and does anything died a death of a thousand unanswered prayers”.

Campolo continued: “I passed through every stage of heresy. It starts out with sovereignty goes, then biblical authority goes, then I’m a universalist, now I’m marrying gay people. Pretty soon I don’t actually believe Jesus actually rose from the dead in a bodily way.”

Campolo went on to say that “progressive Christianity” is a stepping stone to atheism for many others.

Maybe so. But if Campolo believed that God’s sovereignty was proven (or not) by Campolo’s perception of God’s ability to answer his prayers, then I wonder how orthodox he was to begin with.

Speaking from my own experience, the “higher” your view of God’s sovereignty, the less concerned you are with whether or not God grants your petitions in prayer. Why? Because your overriding concern is that God’s will be done, not your own. If something other than your petition comes to pass, you can trust that God allowed or enabled it for good reasons—and the ultimate outcome of not granting your petition will be better for you, for your neighbor, for the world, or for God’s kingdom than otherwise. Whether you can grasp even one of possibly millions of reasons that God didn’t grant your petition is beside the point.

And why should you know what those reasons are? Who do you—a finite, sinful person—think you are? To put it mildly, what do you know that God doesn’t? Who are you to judge what God “ought” to do? It’s preposterous when you think about it—at least for those of us who believe in the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and providence.

After all, from God’s vantage point, which transcends time, only he foreknows the myriad and potentially eternal consequences of granting or not granting your petition.

In his masterful book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller discusses chaos theory and the famous “butterfly effect”: that a butterfly flapping its wings in China “would be magnified through a ripple effect so as to determine the path of a hurricane in the South Pacific. Yet no one would be able to calculate and predict the actual effects of the butterfly’s flight.”[1] No one except God, that is.

Now, if even the effects of a butterfly’s flight or the roll of a ball down a hill are too complex to calculate, how much less could any human being look at the tragic, seemingly “senseless” death of a young person and have any idea of what the effects in history will be? If an all-powerful and all-wise God were directing all of history with its infinite number of interactive events toward good ends, it would be folly to think we could look at any particular occurrence and understand a millionth of what it will bring about. The history-butterfly effect means that “only an omniscient mind could grasp the complexities of directing a world of free creatures toward… provisioned [good] goals… Certainly many evils seem pointless and unnecessary to us—but we are simply not in a position to judge.”[2]

Elsewhere, Keller has said these helpful words:

At the very least, we need to approach the “problem” of unanswered prayer with great humility.

Besides, in his model prayer for us, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In his 30 years of drifting toward atheism, was Campolo praying for that? Because if he were, he would have found that God answered his prayer about 10,950 times. Had he been praying for other bare necessities, he likely could add hundreds of thousands more answered prayers for things he routinely took for granted.

“Yes,” the skeptic might say, “but Campolo was going to receive his daily bread anyway—he lives in the most prosperous country in history, after all. He didn’t have to pray for it, and he probably didn’t most of the time.”

That’s probably true. And yet, someone who believes in God’s sovereignty also understands that nothing in the universe “happens anyway”—not apart from God’s providential grace. That you were born in a prosperous country into a middle-class family, that you enjoy life and breath with which to serve the urban poor, and that you receive something so humble as daily bread—all of these are gifts “from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

If we forget to ask our Father for these gifts, yet he gives them anyway, can we at least remember to say thank you?

(And thus concludes the grumpiest Thanksgiving message you’ll likely read this year! 😉)

1. Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (New York: Dutton, 2013), 100.

2. Ibid., 101.

People don’t often reject Christianity because it’s hard to believe

October 23, 2014

While John Lomperis doesn’t say at which “stage of heresy” Bart Campolo was when he served as a United Methodist youth minister (one hopes a very early one!), I otherwise appreciated this reflection on Campolo’s journey, as the son of progressive evangelical leader Tony, from growing up evangelical to becoming the “humanist chaplain” at USC.

We often speak of faith as if it’s something that happens in spite of ourselves: either we believe or we don’t, and there’s not much we can do about it. Campolo’s story, told briefly in this Forbes magazine profile on leadership, gives the lie to that. Faith is as least as much a matter of the will. We choose it, and the rest of our life follows.

My point is, I don’t think it’s very hard, intellectually, to believe in Christianity. We may reject Christianity for other reasons, but it’s likely not because we’ve weighed all the evidence for its truth claims and find that we just can’t believe it.

I completely agree with this, from Lomperis:

Christian churches obviously differ on all sorts of important but ultimately secondary issues such as infant baptism, women’s ordination, congregational autonomy, episcopal succession, and charismatic gifts. But once one crosses the line of rejecting matters of core, historic Christian orthodoxy (like the eternally triune nature of God, His omnipotence, His performance of laws-of-physics-breaking miracles, Christ’s bodily resurrection, or whether or not we can simply jettison parts of Scriptural teaching that seem too demanding or counter-cultural), this has a way of throwing up everything for grabs. One would be hard-pressed to find someone who has crossed such a very fundamental line of faithfulness in belief or personal practice, but in every other respect is truly a model of Christian purity in doctrine and life. Unfaithfulness has a tendency to spread, like a cancer, until it has overwhelmed its host.