This brief (10-minute) video by Dr. Tony Campolo deserves your full attention (note I did not say “full agreement”).

Before you watch, however, I’d like to set the stage with a few quotes from N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. A major emphasis of this book is that Jesus’s resurrection has set in motion the redemption of all existing space, time, and matter. Rather than God throwing away all of the creative order and starting all over again with a new one, Wright claims that when Jesus returns this creation will be enhanced and brought into its full glory (see especially Romans 8:19-21). Therefore, what we do here and now matters immensely…it matters for eternity! Wright writes:

Our minds are so conditioned…by Greek philosophy, whether or not we’ve ever read any of it, that we think of heaven as by definition nonmaterial and earth by definition as nonspiritual or nonheavenly. But that won’t do. Part of the central achievement of the incarnation, which is then celebrated in the resurrection and ascension, is that heaven and earth are now joined together with an unbreakable bond and that we too are by rights citizens of both together. We can, if we choose, screen out the heavenly dimension and live as flatlanders, materialists. If we do that, we will be buying in to a system that will go bad, and will wither and die, because earth gets its vital life from heaven….But if we focus our attention on the heavenly dimension, all sorts of positive and practical results follow….Heaven and earth…are made for each other, and at certain points they intersect and interlock. Jesus is the ultimate such point. We as Christians are meant to be such points, derived from him. (pp. 251-252)
 
The split between saving souls and doing good in the world is a product not of the Bible or the gospel but of the cultural captivity of both within the Western world…The world of space, time, and matter is where real people live, where real communities happen, where difficult decisions are taken, where schools and hospitals bear witness to the “now, already” of the gospel while police and prisons bear witness to the ‘not yet….” And the church that is renewed by the message of Jesus’s resurrection must be the church that goes to work precisely in that space, time, and matter….Thus the church that takes space seriously not as a retreat from the world but as a bridgehead into it will go straight from worshipping in the sanctuary to debating in the council chamber. (p. 265)

Watch carefully and please do provide your feedback.

22 Comments

  1. Tony Compolo was one of the ministers who met with Bill Clinton after his Monica episode. Then again, so was Bill Hybels, from what I understand. Compolo speaks well and can be engaging in the pulpit. But he is a good, old fashioned Liberal.

  2. JIm,
    Name calling is no substitute for engaging the content here. And, thank God that someone with a biblical framework “met with Bill Clinton after his Monica episode!” Of course, if you’re mind is made up that a “good, old fashioned Liberal” cannot have a biblical framework, then we have another discussion on our hands.

    The point of this post is twofold: 1) What we do here and now matters and 2) Jesus is concerned for the poor, the outcasts, the oppressed and commands our help.

    Seems to me that your dismissive comment merely re-affirms the partisan spirit that Campolo is seeking to address.

  3. I really do not know this Tony Campolo and I have not googled him yet so I won’t import any bias here. Really there was nothing said, I necessarily disagree with. Yes, I absolutely agree that compassion and mercy were core to Jesus’ ministry. However, we cannot simply stop there. If we fail to present the Gospel clearly, and entirely (sin, judgment, redemption, etc) then we only succeed in damning a bunch of well fed, well clothed people to hell.

  4. X…
    Completely agree we must not stop with mercy and compassion. But we must not fall short of it either. I repeat what Wright has said “The split between saving souls and doing good in the world is a product not of the Bible or the gospel but of the cultural captivity of both within the Western world.” It is a false dichotomy to care for the souls of men and women or to meet their legitimate material, social, and psychological needs. Sadly, the church has erred on laying undue weight on one side to the neglect of the other.

  5. Apart from Campolo’s misuse of Matt 25 in the opening, I believe he highlights a number if issues that many in the church (and more importantly in their private lives unknown in the church public) struggle with. The bigger question seems to center on “What is the church?” and a second “What is the purpose of the church?” Both questions have been answered throughout the ages and answered differently. Our day in history is no different.

    The Body is to follow the Head. What did our Head live and die for and why? Better said perhaps, “Who” did our Head live and die for? And, what are the implications of that set of answers in a Believer’s life now? (as in every age)

    Each of us will answer those questions somewhat differently, I’m sure. Thus we ourselves experience the current and unending debate. While we differ and debate, do we extend love and liberty to each other and receive others differninig from ourselves, or do we judge with any eye of condemnation? Are we living as if rooted in The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? (Which woud be living from the flesh.) Do we allow others (in Christ) the freedom of conscience as we ourselves desire for ourselves?

    Those in Christ, and the Church at large, are called (I feel safe in saying this) to live as if undirected by the world. Thus, what makes up the list of “The principles of the world” that we in Christ should discern and not allow ourselves to be unholy influenced by in thought, word or deed? This list could require much ink. Perhaps a shorter directive would be to live solely from The Tree of Life.

    Let the next step on the road be taken.

  6. So…any takers on just feeding the poor and serving the “least of these” in practical ways?

  7. Exactly how did Dr. Campolo misuse Matthew 25?

  8. D.A. Carson offers some interesting commentary on the Matt 25 passage.

    This passage is often understood to teach that ultimate salvation is based on acts of kindness alone, so that there is nothing specifically Christian about the criteria of judgment. But that is to ignore the important description of the recipients of this kindness as the least of these brothers of mine (40; cf. v 45). This phrase suggests that it is not just anyone that the righteous have helped and the others have ignored: it is disciples in need. The phrase the least reminds us of the ‘little ones’ of 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14, and we have seen above that this is a term for Jesus’ disciples. When Jesus says that in helping them you did it for me, this moving identification of Jesus with his ‘brothers’ recalls the principle of 10:40–42, where to receive the disciples is to receive Jesus, and it is a cup of water given to ‘one of these little ones because he is my disciple’ which will be rewarded. In that case, the criterion of judgment is not mere philanthropy (good as that is), but people’s response to the kingdom of heaven as they have met it in the person of Jesus’ ‘brothers’.

    D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970., 4th ed., Mt 25:31 (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).

  9. One more note, Jesus emphasized the importance of this aspect of our love for “one another” and the impact it will have on the world in Jn 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” It cannot be emphasized enough that any form of philanthropy is spiritually meaningless when it is done outside of the context of the community of saints with a sole purpose to “make disciples.”

  10. Hi Patty,

    I wrote a two page reply to your question on how I see Dr. Campolo’s use of a section Matthew 25 conveying something I believe the text doesn’t support. The larger reply needs reworking before posting. Dr. Campolo’s comments are on the video clip beginning at 2.30 minutes.

    But, I can say now that the issue referenced in comment #8 is key. Matthew 25:40 is the fuller account. Dr. Campolo used verse 45, for whatever reason; hopefully, inadvertently. Verse 45 excludes the phrase “My brethren” found in verse 40. I believe most folks view the groups in verses 40 and 45 as the same. Thus, the people ministered to are specific.

    Also, if neither the sheep nor goats knew at judgment who they had been living in relation to nor were they aware of their specific actions, then those groups will be in-the-dark on this at the time of judgment; which supposedly is future. But Jesus tells the disciples and us about it ahead of time, so I ask myself how can people be in-the-dark on judgment day? Both groups were surprised at the King’s comments about their lives. For the surprise element to be valid, (if this is a future event) then doing works now in anticipation of the event doesn’t seem to make sense. The surprise factor has to be there for both groups.

    Finally, I see the King as central to the text (in view of the parables of Matthew 23 & 24) and people’s relationship to the Lord, not a merit based salvation, as central.

    I don’t see Matthew 25 describing a merit-based or works-based salvation, and this seemed to be how I heard it employed by Dr. Campolo. I assume Christians know they cannot merit their eternal estate, that it is Christ’s merits that secured that. So, Matthew 25 is likely showing us something else. Perhaps that it is not one’s life related to his/her works, but one’s life related to the King.

    I’ll try and work on the fuller discourse over the next few days and post that, if time permits. Anyone, please comment, question, and/or critique.

    In Christ Jesus,

    Carl

  11. Gentlemen,
    Thanks for your responses and you’ve rightly challenged me to look carefully at meaning from the inspired text before seeking application. But, let’s not throw out the theological baby with the exegetical bathwater. Admittedly Campolo misused “the least of these” in Matthew 25:40, since this expression is likely reserved for those who have responded to the Gospel call and have ministered to Christ by caring for one another despite their humble circumstances.

    However, we must not miss the point of my initial entry, namely, what we do here and now matters for eternity. To miss this is to miss huge portions of Scripture (see Amos, James, Luke, for starters) and to forfeit many blessings that come from giving (Acts 20:35).

    Consider just a sampling of texts:
    Galatians 6:10
    Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

    Matthew 5:14-16
    You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

    James 1:27
    Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

    I could go on but you get the point. Let’s not strain out a gnat only to swallow a camel here.

    So…I repeat my question: Any takers?

  12. X…
    You said “It cannot be emphasized enough that any form of philanthropy is spiritually meaningless when it is done outside of the context of the community of saints with a sole purpose to “make disciples.”

    Are you saying that ministering to an unbeliever in practical terms out of the sheer fact that they’re made in God’s image is meaningless unless our ministry efforts are motivated solely to convert them?

    It’s always been my understanding that we seek to convert others because we love them; we do not love others because we want convert them. This is to confuse means and ends. Love is an end in itself, not a means to some other end. We love others because that is what we’re called to do, whether or not they listen to the gospel message.

  13. Paul, please restate your question you want engagement on. Thanks brother.

  14. There are two questions on the table:
    1. Is there any reason whatsoever why Christians should not minister to the poor, the hungry, downcast?
    2. Similarly, must the social efforts of believers to unbelievers, however minimal, always and only be with the motive to convert others or is there any merit in ministering to unbelievers aside from an explicit sharing of the Gospel?

  15. Answers:

    1) Yes. If it is not God’s will for the time/moment and in faith and good conscience the Christian believes such before God. Also, Christ didn’t minister to every person “in need” but to those He was called to and for purposes He was called to. Your question spoke to specific groups. My answer was perhaps more foundational (and you used the word “any”….wink)

    2) No-for part one of the question. Again, Jesus ministered to people who had real physical needs (we’ll call them) but we have no indication received Him as their Lamb of God. BUT, I could argue, and here is where I answer Yes to part two of your question, “merit” as related to who? The recipient of the action or the life of the one ministeriing? The one ministering could be living faithfully and believe he/she is called to peoples for whatever motive in faith he/she believes God has called him/her to. Thus, I would begin engagement with question 2 with a No/Yes answer.

    Love ya brother!!

  16. Interesting that the responses thusfar have provided every reason not to minister to others’ needs materially and few, if any reasons, for doing so, unless of course they are believers.

    I suppose Jesus only had believers in mind when said that we receive mercy only when showing mercy to other believers (Matthew 5:7), or that loving one’s neighbor is limited to one’s “believing” neighbor (Matthew 22:39).

    I take it there are no “takers” to the challenge to care for the unbelieving needy. Ironically, I thought this was the season for giving. Silly me.

  17. Paul,

    Perhaps we need to regroup on this subject, get a fresh understanding of the issue after some of the replies above (ie, mine). Is there something that you want to share from your heart that has not been revealed yet on the lead question? What’s moving in your heart (vs just your mind)?

  18. Let me reframe things here to bring clarity:
    I believe strongly that many Christians, me included, have lived a silo’d, caccoon’d lifestyle and all but ignored the biblical mandates to love our neighbors, which includes those in need whom God occasionally brings across our path. Rather than merely loving them by meeting some needs insofar as we’re able and led to, we end up justifying our inaction by biblical pretexts that miss the mark. In essence, we miss the forest for the trees.

    Let me be blunt: So what if Campolo misused Matthew 25. Is there anything there for us anyway? Maybe his ideas are biblical but not necessarily supported rightly. Just as I wrote previously (see Is That What the Bible Means?) having the right conclusions but the wrong biblical text does not exonerate us from the implications of these conclusions. If Scripture mandates loving our neighbor as our self, then exactly how does that look in our lives? What are you (we, me) doing in obedience to this?

  19. Paul,

    You have touched a matter that I believe is plagues the church. We have so focused on positioning ourselves as “not of this world” that we have forgotten that we still live here. It seems we (the church) are hanging out for as long as we have to and the meantime, we’ll do everything in our power to make it comfortable for ourselves, hence political activism and so forth.

    That said, while I agree that we must be “loving our neighbor” in real practical ways I have to believe that we cannot do this (or anything for that matter) outside of the context of the Gospel. In fact, it is because of the Gospel that I even have the inclination to love my neighbor. Furthermore, to not love my neighbor (in real practical ways) only points to the fact that I really don’t believe the Gospel! When you say, “…to make converts” I associate it too much with “blankets for baptisms” and that not what I am talking about.

    First, let me say that by “Gospel” I mean the proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the announcement of the King. Was this not at the center of Jesus’ ministry? He healed and fed not just because loved but also to fulfill that which was promised about the Messiah by the prophets (Is 61; Luke 4:18, 7:22-28). And please, I am not intending to minimize His love for individuals in the slightest.

    Paul, let me explain it this way. If you were to ask me why I would love the poor or unlovable, it is because of who I am in Christ, period. Now the challenge I hear you making is to ask those of us to claim to be in Christ, “Why do we not act in accord with who we say we are?” I cannot answer that other then to say that perhaps, we really don’t believe or “get” the Gospel.

    You certainly have challenged me my friend.

  20. X….
    Thanks for your candid response and I cannot but agree that “we love because He first loved us.”

    As for the “challenge”….well, that comes from above (wink).

    With Christ’s love,
    Paul

  21. I find it interesting 20 comments have been posted on this. Mustn’t ignore that, and I too will evaluate my pursuits of and ministering to others. Off the cuff: selfishly safe, while growing my Christianese vocabulary, knowledge and like-minded community.

    As a follower of Christ, I’m sure we are all in agreement we are to love and assist those in need…. regardless of their faith, stature… or location. Period.

    Now, I’m guilty of ‘playing it safe’ within my Christian community by continuing to learning and grow with and from one another. Just like this blog. And all good and necessary things. Useful and insightful… and challenging. But, where I fail is moving beyond that. You know, putting into action what I’m learning.

    Action.

    Going with the courage and confidence only Christ provides to pursue those who are in need of the love of Christ… which we are to reflect. Love who? ALL : your neighbor, homeless, the checker, your boss, your own family, those you despise, those in passing, especially those you wouldn’t like to associate with : ALL. Love how? Through Christ.

    After all, love really is PURSUIT of others and loving them KNOWING God will be the one who is and will meet their needs, not actually us. Our God above is at he wheel. We are simply to be obedient. This dependency and relationship really takes the fear out of getting involved in something a bit uncomfortable and unnatural, which is true when living in the flesh.

    I’ve heard a number of Tony Compolo’s sermons or messages, and typically find them motivating and inspiring to simply love others with no strings attached. I believe this is what he did for Bill Clinton. Tony’s being obedient, regardless of what other professional Christians may think.

    We are too quick to judge, and too quick to shoot the wounded… rather than assist in nursing them back to health.

    Really brief explanation where Tony stands ‘politically’:

    http://www.godtube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=bfb7fd837d775b17314c

    One of my favorite messages of Tony’s is titled “The Kingdom of God is a Party”. Please take a few minutes to listen, ’cause I think you’ll get a solid understanding of Tony’s christian slant:

    http://www.tonycampolo.org/mp3/The_Kingdom_of_God_is_a_Party.mp3

    Now I leave with two questions:
    How many of us have accepted Christ as a Savior, but not as Lord of our life? If Christ is not Lord, then who have we accepted to lead?

  22. Spot on, Justin! Spot on!
    Jesus is LORD!!

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