Rev. Tony Campolo Believes the Term ‘Evangelical’ Is Misunderstood


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The Rev. Tony Campolo is a Red Letter Christian.

What is that?

“The goal of Red Letter Christians is simple: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount,” Campolo wrote on his website.

Campolo, famous for his stories about living out the Gospel in all circumstances, will be the chaplain for Week Four at Chautauqua Institution.

Campolo will preach at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday Morning Service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title is “Becoming Human.” Also on Sunday, he will speak about his faith journey, “The Decisions that Created Me,” at the 5 p.m. Vespers in the Hall of Philosophy.

He will preach at the 9:15 a.m. morning worship service Monday through Friday in the Amphitheater. His sermon titles will be “God’s Revolution and Your Responsibility,” “Labeled by God,” “The Greatest Commandment,” “Doubting Your Doubts” and “Who Switched the Price Tags?”

Campolo is an unabashed evangelical Christian who believes that the term evangelical is misunderstood.

On his website, he wrote about an encounter with students at an Ivy League university. He asked what the term “evangelical” meant to them and they answered not in theological terms but sociological ones: anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-environmentalist, anti-immigration, anti-gun-control, pro-war, right-wing ideologues.


“There is little doubt that the secular media is largely responsible for this view of Evangelicals, in that it has chosen those who espouse such convictions to be the Evangelical spokespersons,” he wrote. “The press seldom turns to political moderates when they want comments on religiously charged social issues.”

Campolo speaks more than 400 times a year, often at youth events. He is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University, a former faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania and the founder and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education. He is a founder of Red Letter Christians, which challenge the popular image of Evangelicals.

“I want it to be known that there are millions of us who espouse an evangelical theology, but who reject being classified as part of the religious right,” Campolo wrote. “We don’t want to make Jesus into a Republican. On the other hand, we want to say loud and clear that we don’t want to make Jesus into a Democrat, either.”

Jesus, Campolo wrote, calls his followers to “make judgments about social issues as best we can when we vote, and to do so in accord with our best understanding of God’s will. In doing so, we are to avoid partisan politics that lead to unnecessary, unproductive and even dangerous divisions. At election time when you are asked, ‘Are you a Democrat or a Republican?’ your answer should be, ‘Name the issue!’ On any specific social or political issue, you must be ready and willing to work out which party and/or candidate best represents your convictions.”


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.