Tony Campolo: Why I No Longer Call Myself An Evangelical
Every once in awhile unfair judgments are made. That was the case when Christian Today contributor Ian Paul wrote that I, along with other Red Letter Christians, emphasised the red letters in the New Testament, which in many Bibles highlight the words of Jesus, at the expense of the rest of Scripture. Nothing could be further from the truth. We believe that all Scripture is given through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16). What we do say is that the words of Jesus, as highlighted with red letters, are more important than the black letters in the Old Testament, primarily because Jesus himself said they were. Check out Matthew 5:21f; 27f; 31-32; 33:37; 38-39; 43:44. In each case Jesus declared that his commandments take precedence over what was written by the law givers of the Hebrew Bible.
We further claim that the rest of the Bible cannot be fully understood until we come into a personal relationship with the Jesus revealed in the red letters of the Bible, whose Spirit leads us into all truth.
Some of us who hold to the beliefs of evangelicals have problems with using the label. To the secular society, which we are trying to reach with the salvation story, the label functions as a barrier to people hearing that story. The word is now associated with Donald Trump and some right-wing politicians with their anti-feminist, homophobic, anti-environmentalist, militaristic, xenophobic views. When, according to one study, more than 78 per cent of evangelicals here in America identify themselves as Trump supporters, it should be easy to understand why some of us do not want to be lumped together with them, and believe that a new designation has become necessary to distinguish us.
We chose the name Red Letter Christians because we thought that the 20th century was marked by rightly preaching and emphasising orthodox theology. But there may have been neglect of the radical teachings of Jesus. Those teachings may have upset many of us Christians by telling us to give away our accumulated wealth to the poor, to love our enemies (which probably means we shouldn't kill them) and to forgive those who hurt us, without any thought of retaliation. The Epistles give us our essential theology, while the Gospels define the lifestyle we are called to live out. Hopefully, we recognise the need for both as we declare a holistic salvation. I still believe what evangelicals believe; that salvation comes through a personal relationship with Christ; that the Bible was written by persons guided by the Holy Spirit and is the authority for faith and practice; and I hold to the doctrines in the Apostle's Creed.
Words often lose their original meaning. The word "fundamentalist" is such a word and has been abandoned by those who now call themselves "evangelicals." I only am suggesting that the same is true for the label "evangelical".
Tony Campolo is a speaker, author, sociologist, pastor, social activist, and professor emeritus at Eastern University.