October 4, 2005
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.
Matthews: Given the complexities and changes in our world today are we adequately training future pastors for ministry in a postmodern context?
McLaren: I think that many of our colleges and seminaries are perfectly training people to keep the status quo of the 1950's going, but they are not training them to deal with ministry for the 1980's much less the 21st century. The other piece to this, and I know how hard this is since I'm a pastor, is that having a diverse congregation politically and theologically is very hard. I think it will be a great sign of the kingdom when we in our churches can gather together, under Christ and worship together in spite of our political diversity.
Campolo: My sense is that to be a pastor today is very difficult. It's hard to do a good job with all the expectations pastors face. In the Old Testament there were the priests and the prophets. The priests maintain the congregation, counseled people, preformed weddings and funerals, did everything pastors do today. The prophet came dawn from the hills every so often, and yelled and screamed at everybody and told them of the evils they were purporting on the poor and oppressed, and then retreated back to the hills.
They were two distinct roles. Somehow in the modern church we expect the pastor in a local church to be both the priest and the prophet, and they are conflicting roles. This is quite problematic for pastors, and my sympathy for them is really huge . . .
Matthews: How do we reckon with this in the local church then?
Campolo: Well, if the pastor isn't going to be prophetic, which is quite understandable in the local context, he or she must realize the need for the prophetic voice and not close it off within their congregation. If the pastor isn't going to be prophetic, at least make sure that they hear it from somebody else, maybe in the form of a study group so they can be challenged to think in deeper ways about critical issues.
Pastors don't have to play both roles, but they better make sure tough issues are being discussed somewhere in the church, otherwise their best and brightest people will say, "I'm sorry, this doesn't jive with what Christianity is all about."
The congregation needs to know their pastor is aware of issues that he might not feel comfortable dealing with but that there are voices of other knowledgeable people who can help them traverse the tougher issues from a Christian perspective.