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Why I Left, Why I Stayed: A conversation with Tony and Bart Campolo

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Recently, Bart and Tony Campolo joined Maina Mwuara, Sabrena Klausman, and myself in a Hangout On Air to discuss their newest book, “Why I Left, Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son.” Check out the conversation below:

Here are a few memorable moments from the conversation that stuck out to me:


In spite of our differences… we’ve seen ourselves as partners in reaching out to people in need. Even though he’s become a secular humanist and I’m still very much a Christian, I think we share a common commitment to helping people who are poor, needy, and oppressed. Our conversations have basically been about methodology, “How do we do this?” It’s only more recently to the fact that we disagree on the basic motivation for doing good. I see my motivation coming out of my personal relationship with Jesus…


My father is not the reason why I didn’t become a Christian more quickly, and he’s certainly not the reason why I left Christianity. I have so many wonderful Christian friends. They’re not the problem for me. It’s the [Christian] story itself that’s the problem for me… 15 minutes after I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, I started to have problems with the story. Dad knows I’ve always wrestled with the same issues of Christianity that most Christians wrestle with, that Dad wrestles with… The difference between him and I is he’s able to come to answers to those questions that enable him to stay in the game, and I’m not able to do that.


[Bart] said so well that his belief is that people are wired for love and goodness, etc. It seems to me that the social scientists and historians that I know are not convinced of that. H. Richard Niebuhr and Reinhold Niebuhr who believed that in the early part of the 20th century changed as the wars developed, WWI and WWII. And they began to say, after the holocaust, there’s something radically evil that is within the human psyche. There’s something radically wrong with human beings. This is crucial to my whole way of thinking, because the only way I know to handle the radical side of evil that is inherent, as Bart is about to say, in every human being, is through Jesus… Jesus is the remedy to the radical evil I find inherent in human nature…


Any evolutionary scientist will tell you the same, that we’re hardwired to cooperate and to compete… In some ways, we’re hardwired for violence and in some ways, we’re hardwired for peace, and these wrestle with us. Now, some will say only Jesus can deal with this and cause us to step into a perfect future where all the badness is taken care of… You say, “Do you have a way to get rid of all the evil in the world?” I’d say, “No. I think things can get better. Things can get much better.” If you said to me, “Do you believe in a utopian future in which there is no conflict?” I’d say, “No. Nature never promises you that.”


When I let my Dad know what was happening with me… My Dad, as disappointed and upset as he was, his first reaction wasn’t to attack me… His first response was to say, “I need to understand more.” And so he invited me to go on a trip with him and he said he just wanted to ask me questions, to talk. But he asked questions seeking to understand where I was coming from, not to undermine it. When you ask questions that are aimed at trying to show somebody how wrong they are, they get defensive. And sometimes then they attack back trying to show you how wrong you are, and you end up tearing down each other’s way of thinking, tearing down each other’s reasons for being a good person… When two people are really trying to understand each other, there’s a lot of possibility and a lot of hope. But I think when they’re trying to attack and undermine each other, it gets ugly pretty fast.


I don’t think you can argue somebody back into the faith. I think you have the right to challenge people on questions like, “Where do you get your sense of ultimate right and wrong?” And listen to what that other person has to say…. “Where do you get your value system?” That’s a good question.


My Dad once to said to me, “I believe in Heaven and Hell. But if there was no heaven and there was no hell, I’d still follow Jesus because loving other people the way Jesus teaches is the best way of life.” And I really believe that. I really believe that the hope that I offer to kids is not in magical solutions of perfection somewhere else, but that this life can be infinitely richer and fuller if they devote themselves to the highest values.


It’s the belief in eternity that convinces me that what I do for God in the here and now has everlasting significance. That’s a powerful motivation.


If I had it to do over again, I’d make sure that Bart went to a church that recited the Apostle’s Creed every Sunday. Just to have that over and over again. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…” You cannot maintain those beliefs unless those beliefs are reinforced, revitalized, regenerated… We live in a post-Christian era, and at this point, if you’re going to be a believer, you have to belong to a group that constantly enforces that… When you walk away from Church, you walk away from the plausibility structure that will keep your faith alive.

Be sure to pick up a copy of “Why I Left, Why I Stayed” and read it with a small group in your church or share it with a group of friends. It’s a book that you’ll want to read in community.

For more information about Bart Campolo, check out his podcast Humanize Me, a write-up of his work in New York Times Magazine, and his website:

For more information about Tony Campolo, visit him online at



jacob-eckeberger_200_200JACOB ECKEBERGER is the Content Manager at Youth Specialties, an itinerant worship leader, the spouse of a church planter, and a long time volunteer youth worker. You can find him blogging about social media and digital strategy ideas at JACOBECKEBERGER.COM.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 



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