Campolo and McLaren: Prophets or Agitators?

Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren have much in common. They have been hailed and hammered, venerated and vilified. Lately they are said to have an orthodoxy that has become too generous. The pair was interviewed by Keith Matthews, former lead pastor with McLaren at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Cedarville, Maryland, and now a professor of theology at Azusa Pacific University. This is the first of four parts in our blog conversation.

Matthews: How do you both see yourselves - your calling within the evangelical church? Are you prophetic voices, reformers, or just agitators and rebels to the status quo?

McLaren: I think I'm more aware how others see me versus how I see myself in the evangelical world. I think a number of people see me as a problem, but I hear from an awful lot of other people who say they can't stay evangelical with the rising "religious right" identity - they are embarrassed to be associated with a lot of the people that they see on television representing evangelicals, they are embarrassed by the strident language, they are embarrassed by their narrowness, and they are looking for someone who speaks for them, someone like a Tony, or Jim Wallis or myself and say there's at least some alternative.

Campolo: I don't particularly know if we've become prophetic as much as returned to what we used to be, but now, the evangelical community has moved much farther to the right and has left many of us out their stranded - I think that's the best way to describe it.

You know, I basically believe the same stuff I did thirty years ago, but the world has changed and the sense of commitment to the poor and oppressed has taken on a different form.

The evangelical world is doing a great job of picking up the casualties of the political and economic world we live in.

If there are people on the street homeless, or if there is a need to set up a reading program for needy kids, evangelicals are out there doing a great job. But, when you start to think about changing the system evangelicals get very angry, they really want it to stay as it is, and there are many of us that think that the Bible calls upon us not only to minister to the poor and oppressed, and to be the good Samaritan's who pick up the casualties along the road. We think the Bible also calls us to in the words of Ephesians 6: 12 to "wrestle against the principalities and powers, and the rulers of this age," and try to bring about the kind of changes that will move this world a little more in the direction of being the kingdom of God.

October 04, 2005

Displaying 1–10 of 11 comments

Dr Bluebeard

December 03, 2005  11:56pm

YES INDEED, CALLED OUT OF UR to wherever the Spirit of God shows us!! But as usual in xristianity –Many baseless opinions, a few valid kudos, a few good insights. I disagree with Erastos Filos who seems to think that McLaren is way off base. That is a typical remark of "old wineskin" huggers, who resent change, and support their views by quoting "rules and regulations" of one kind or another. Allan Latty-You should seriously reconsider a few things about your own calling and current work. A couple of your comments show me that you are headed for really hard times among people who are half-hearted (or cold-hearted) about God. If you insist on staying therein, learn well the power of the heart's-cry prayer "HELP, LORD!!" Many people are becoming sick of "church as usual" and are exiting from the "box church" and seeking God outside the box. Since He is everywhere, they are finding Him. By the grace of God I was led to see where the "box church"/old wineskin was heading in the mid 1980s. Also by His Grace, I saw an overgrown path and followed in it. Since that time, I have been living in that Grace outside of church-as-institution, and though lonely many times, have drawn much closer to the King of Kings. (See conclusion). Those who commented about "Are you prophetic voices, reformers, or just agitators and rebels to the status quo?" have appropo comments (some on base, some off) because the last 10 or 15 yr. has brought a greater visibility to prophetic gifts that the "box churches" have tried to destroy (as usual). However, being agitators and rebels should not be the motive of prophetic people, even though the status quo is likely to label them that way, even on their best days. I am delighted to see people like Campolo and McLaren share insights about new ways to live the christian life. Best of all, more people are listening nowadays.

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Jason Brooks

October 12, 2005  4:32pm

I was out with a group of high school students handing out lunches to hungry people last week in the pouring rain, and a homeless woman said to us, "This is not what God meant by feed the hungry". That is a prophetic voice.

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October 11, 2005  4:27pm

What's the deal with McLaren? You guys seem hung up on him, in spite of his denial of core Christian doctrines such as substitutionary atonement and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. There are hundreds of other prophetic voices available in the evangelical world who also are committed to biblical integrity. There may be parts of the evangelical church that need to be critiqued, but McLaren lacks biblical integrity and balance. It's easy to understand why he has developed his views, given the apparent emotional pain of his fundamentalist background, but surely there are people who are emotionally healthy and biblically balanced who could do a better job of critiquing the evangelical church of today.

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Erastos Filos, Brussels

October 11, 2005  1:24pm

I liked this interview. It shows that there is still a hidden voice of evangelicalism in America than the one that predominantly runs the show. Maybe it's time for US evangelicals to clearly draw the line between themselves and those who use the name of the Lord 'in vain'.

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Big Chris

October 09, 2005  7:28pm

I think you can be a prophet and reformer without having to abandon orthodox Christian doctrine. Certainly they both make me think, but what they make me think about is what is wrong with their theology, not how they are effecting change. There are much better places to look for how people are ministering in relevant ways without abandoning core doctrines. I'm not the thought police, so read who you want, but I'm not wasting any more of my time on either man, and yes, I have read their materials. Big Chris Because I said so blog

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October 08, 2005  6:09am

That Jesus is both prophet and priest is evidence that the two roles, while distinct, are not necessarily in conflict.

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October 05, 2005  9:47pm

In regard to the leading answers to the first question, "Are you prophetic voices, reformers, or just agitators and rebels to the status quo?" - Aren't these all rather similar? I would be proud to be considered a prophetic voice, a reformer, an agitator and rebel to the the status quo. Yet it seems any of the titles will carry much of the weight of the others. Maybe the question should be, "Do you consider yourselves as truly called to seek reform of the Church, or are you blowing smoke to sell your ideas?" Without these type of folks to make us think and feel from the heart, we would all be prepared to minister 50 years ago. Yet we cannot truly minister in the past - we must have our being and service in the present. Newly ordained (I consider myself Evangelical within a Mainline structure), not yet installed in my call to a small, (dying) rural mainline congregation, I know that ministry as it's always been will simply not survive. The congregation peaked 40 years ago at 4 times it's current size. The vast majority of the congregation was here in those peak years, and has seen the continual (and painful) decline. They've sat in the same exact pews during all those years of decline. (There were three active members younger than 40 when I arrived.) It slays me that common (mainline) wisdom is to not change anything in the first year or so. But that really snookers us, and basically says that we endorse things the way they are. Here in central Kansas, we are striking while the iron is hot, and have already made three big changes. The budget process (& stewardship drive) is just around the corner, so there will be more big changes about to happen. I'll have to admit that I haven't read much by Campolo, but I read McClaren every chance I get (starting five years ago with "The Church on the Other Side"). Regardless the tune or the pitch others are singing, I hope you fellows will keep writing those lyrics which force us to hear our call, and to act upon the reverb! BTW - The original post needs an editor to correct the mistakes.

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Allan Latty

October 05, 2005  5:48pm

Nice to see you're up and running. God bless your ministry! Allan Latty

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Jordon Cooper

October 05, 2005  4:56pm

Excellent interview and a very nice blog. I am looking forward to more stuff like this!

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David Benedict

October 05, 2005  9:33am

Is Rick Warren and Saddleback Church's hosting of a conference on HIV Aids an example, in your thinking, of a pastor being "prophetic"?

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