TONY CAMPOLO: Who Is He & What Does He Believe ?


Tony Campolo, The Bryn Mawr minister, author of more than 35 books, and onetime spiritual adviser to President Bill Clinton has packed his calendar for years with more than 300 speaking engagements annually to raise charitable funds and tap young people for Christian service.  But at 78, Campolo has, as his wife, Peggy, said, decided to step back before someone says, “You’re an old man” who should step aside.

Campolo is closing down his Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE), a ministry the professor at Eastern University founded 42 years ago at the St. Davids school.  The organization is the home base from which Campolo speaks around the world, recruits students to serve in youth charities, and raises funds to nurture an array of schools, universities, orphanages, AIDS hospices, urban youth ministries, and service programs – some founded by Campolo and EAPE.  Campolo will continue his speaking engagements – at a reduced schedule, about 200 a year.

In his new role, Campolo will become an assistant to Robert G. Duffett, the new president of Eastern, a Christian college that is Campolo’s alma mater and home base. Campolo will resume teaching at the school as a professor of sociology. “It is an important transition, because Tony was one of the early members of the Evangelical movement who was involved in trying to move the movement in a more moderate direction politically and in terms of its civic engagement,” said Corwin Smidt, a research fellow with the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Tony Campolo 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]


Last week, Tony Campolo came out of the closet in support of ‘Full Acceptance’ of homosexuality in the church.  This seemingly surprised many Christians but in reality he has stated his support both directly and indirectly for a very long time. His wife has always been a supporter to homosexual causes.

Campolo has taken on the religious right, arguing that divisive issues such as gay marriage and abortion have overshadowed and impeded progress on issues such as poverty and violence.  I don’t want to minimize the significance [of gay marriage and abortion], but there are 2,000 verses of Scripture that call on us to respond to the needs of the poor,” Campolo said.

In the mid-1970s, Campolo, who describes himself as socially progressive and theologically conservative, ran for Congress as a Democrat and lost. He opposes abortion but prefers to focus on eradicating what he calls the economic reasons (including poverty) that motivate the decision. Gay marriage, Campolo says, “doesn’t fit in with my understanding of the Bible, but I should not impose my convictions on others.” He supports civil unions.

He would sometimes debate his wife in a seemingly set environment where she represented the pro-homosexual position and he represented the opposite position.  In many cases, these debates ended with Tony giving accolades to his wife by saying that he didn’t have a good rebuttal against her argument.  Tony gives credit to his wife as one of the reasons he decided to endorse homosexuals in Christianity.  He states:

“Because of my open concern for social justice, in recent years I have been asked the same question over and over again: Are you ready to fully accept into the Church those gay Christian couples who have made a lifetime commitment to one another?” Campolo outlined. “One reason I am changing my position on this issue is that, through Peggy, I have come to know so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way as our own.” (Christian News Network)

In his co-authored book with Brian McLaren, Adventures in Missing the Point, (2006), Campolo states that the Bible is not against committed homosexual unions but rather it is tradition that tells him that homosexual practice is wrong and he questions the focus placed on this issue by Evangelicals.


Tony’s son, Bart Campolo, decided he was no longer a Christian after being injured in a bike accident in 2011.  Having rejected the sovereignty of God because of personal adversity suffered by people he knew.  He also rejected the authority of the Bible.  He know some roommates who came out as being gay and Bart decided that he would ignore Bible verses that spoke negatively of homosexuality.  Rejection of the authority of the Bible is a common dis-functional attitude that many Christians take on as they become more accepting of homosexual relations within the church.  Then, in another visible move, Bart, became a universalist stating that he simply couldn’t fathom a God who would condemn his nonbelieving friends to hell for eternity.  “I was only interested in a God who would save everybody,” Bart said. “It didn’t matter that the Bible had some verses that said something different.”  “I started rejecting the supernatural stuff, the orthodoxy. I no longer believed God does miracles or that Jesus was raised from the dead or that other religions were false,” he said. “My Christianity had died the death of a thousand nicks and cuts.”

Today, Bart serves as the humanist chaplain at the University of Southern California. He is only one of a few individuals in such a role on a U.S. campus.  While his new community is neither orthodox nor theistic, he believes it will still be a place of hope. Bart said he wants to create a humanist community that Christian people can celebrate — what he calls “a church for people who don’t believe in God.” He wants to curate experiences with inspirational talks, uplifting music, service opportunities, and perhaps even potluck suppers.


Roger Oakland summarizes Campolo’s view on his coming to Christ and the role of CENTERING PRAYER as well as other non-Biblical practices that he promotes as a part of his experience (‘Tony Campolo: On Being “Born Again” by Centering Prayer) – One of Campolo’s recent book, 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.

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]

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 (R. Oakland).

“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]

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]

Roger Oakland goes on to comment that 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]

Roger Oakland states – “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.”

So, whatever you may think of Campolo, it is disturbing to hear his position on popular social issues of today regarding homosexuality and abortion.  Even more importantly, his intermingling of Eastern Religious practices in with Christianity represents a serious concern of confusing the Christian faith for believers.  Also, it introduces outside influences through altered states of consciousness (simply brought on by repeating a word/phrase over and over again – ie. mantra) – what effect could that have on a person’s walk?  At a minimum, it raises a red flag.  More likely it can add confusion to someone’s personal walk of faith by the syncretic mix of various philosophies and other religions.  Also, one wonders how he can consider himself an Evangelical Christian with these issues as well as his influence by Roman Catholicism and early church mysticism.  A responsible next question would be how does he view salvation by works and tradition versus salvation by grace.  While, some of his ministry outreach is to be commended and I am not ready to go as far as some of the above commentators who question his faith, there are still very serious concerns of Campolo’s aberrant theology adversely affecting believers – especially in his own backyard of the Emerging Church movement.

[1] Tony Campolo, Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians are Afraid to Face, W. Publishing Group, (A Division of Thomas Nelson Publishing), Nashville, back cover.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Isaiah 55:8-9

[4] Tony Campolo, Letters to a Young Evangelical, Basic Books, New York, 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. p. 30

[12]  Ibid. p. 31


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