Last month the Huffington Post published an article on how Bart Campolo broke the news to his parents last Thanksgiving that he was now a humanist agnostic (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/06/bart-campolo-humanist_n_5941232.html). Bart’s father is Tony Campolo, an evangelist who was once a spiritual advisor to former President Bill Clinton.
Bart said he “passed just about every stage of heresy” on his way to apostasy, and that it wasn’t until he “exhausted every option for staying a Christian” that he gave it up.
His “pilgrimage” to apostasy consisted of a progressive jettisoning of biblical truth, and Bart admitted that his initial attraction to Christianity was for its sense of community and commitment to love people. He had no interest, however, in the doctrinal teaching of the church: “All the dogma and the death and resurrection of Jesus stuff was not the attraction,” Bart said.
To his credit, Bart had the intellectual honesty to recognize that the Bible views homosexuality as a sin, and so he jettisoned the authority of the Bible rather than trying to twist the scriptures as so many do, to try to make them say otherwise. His final rejection of biblical teaching came when he adopted a belief in universalism because he couldn’t accept the idea that God would send anyone to hell.
I heard about Bart’s departure from the truth this week while re-reading our current assignment in Octavius Winslow’s book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, chapter 5, “Declension in Connection with Doctrinal Error”, which cites John 17:17 as a primary text: “Sanctify them through thy truth.”
At the outset of his treatment Winslow asserts the need for both truth and the Spirit of God in order for the truth to be effectual in promoting holiness:
“The mere presentation of truth to the unrenewed mind, either in the form of threatening, or promise, or motive, can never produce any saving or sanctifying effect. The soul of man in its unrenewed state, is represented as spiritually dead; insensible to all holy spiritual motion.”
He also established the connection between holiness and happiness:
“Now that it is the natural tendency of Divine truth thus received into the heart, to produce holiness, a moment’s reference to the word of God will show. The design of the whole plan of redemption, was to secure the highest holiness and happiness of the creature; and when the gospel comes with the power of God unto the salvation of the soul, this end is preeminently secured. The renewed man is a pardoned man; the pardoned man becomes a holy man; and the holy man is a happy man.”
This assertion that “the holy man is a happy man” runs so counter popular opinion of our day along with that of every age, because it is an appraisal that only a renewed mind can make. The hymn writer expressed this sentiment as well: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
But the interesting, or refreshing thing, about the way Winslow immediately connected happiness and holiness was by means of the doctrines of grace, and the doctrine of election in particular, and love was the central theme, as found in the heart of God for the undeserving sinner:
“Take the doctrine of God’s everlasting love to his people, as seen in their election to eternal life. How holy is the tendency of this truth! ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.’ Eph. i. 3, 4. Let not my reader turn from this glorious doctrine, because he may find it irreconcilable with others that he may hold, or because the mists of prejudice may long have veiled it from his mind; it is a revealed doctrine, and therefore to be fully received; it is a holy doctrine, and therefore to be ardently received; it is a holy doctrine, and therefore to be ardently loved. Received in the heart by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, it lays the pride of man in the dust, knocks from beneath the soul all ground for self-glorifying, and expands the mind with the most exalted views of the glory, grace, and love of Jehovah. He who receives the doctrine of electing love in his heart by the power of the Spirit, bears about with him the material of a holy walk; its tendency is to humble, abase, and sanctify the man.”
We can’t afford to miss that opening in Ephesians 1, because it was the point of departure for Bart at the outset: “Blessed is God.” In this opening statement Paul expresses the sentiment of every believer, and it is not a wish for God to be blessed, but rather a declaration that God IS blessed, as he proceeds to give thanks for the many spiritual blessings that overflow from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in salvation to every believer. Anyone who truly knows God loves him, and is thankful. A lack of thankfulness characterizes the ungodly (Rom. 1:21). How ironic it is that Bart chose the occasion of Thanksgiving last year to tell his parents of his departure from the ranks of the thankful! But, as Winslow so rightly observed, false doctrine always leads the mind into a wrong channel, farther and farther away from God, a departure which will be fixed for eternity, but for the grace of God. Let’s pray for that grace to be effectual for Bart.