Bart Campolo Says Progressive Christians Turn Into Atheists. Maybe He’s Right

Bart Campolo’s process of adjusting his theology to match his experience, shipwrecked his faith.

Campolo admitted that changing his view of God’s sovereignty was “the beginning of the end” of his faith. Why? “Because once you start adjusting your theology to match up to the reality you see in front of you, it’s an infinite progression. So over the course of the next 30 years…my ability to believe in a supernatural narrative or a God who intervenes and does anything died a death of a thousand unanswered prayers”. Campolo continued: “I passed through every stage of heresy. It starts out with sovereignty goes, then biblical authority goes, then I’m a universalist, now I’m marrying gay people. Pretty soon I don’t actually believe Jesus actually rose from the dead in a bodily way.”

 

Fundamentalist Christians will sometimes warn that any deviation from historic evangelical beliefs (however small) is a stepping stone toward full-blown atheism. In other words, Christians must accept that hell is eternal, the Bible is inerrant and God created everything in six literal 24 hour days. If you remove any of these doctrines, it won’t be long before you’re denying your faith altogether!

Younger evangelicals like myself tend to reject this way of thinking. We see legitimate room to differ on how to interpret doctrines like creation and sovereignty. It’s often only the core creedal statements about the existence of God and Christ’s resurrection or divinity which are non-negotiable. Whether because of pressure from culture, or an honest re-reading of scripture, we’re susceptible to changing our minds on other doctrines that previous generations of Christians have held dear.

But what’s surprising is it turns out our older fundamentalist friends aren’t the only people who think progressive Christianity can be a stepping stone to atheism. At least one atheist agrees with this theory!

Bart Campolo’s story

Tony Campolo’s son Bart is well known for his rejection of the Christian faith. Although he doesn’t like the term ‘atheist’, he no longer believes in God and currently works as a Humanist Chaplain.

Speaking on a recent episode of the ‘Holy Heretics’ podcast, Bart explained his journey away from Christianity began when he was exposed to urban poverty.

“It messed with my theology,” he explains. “I had a theology that said God could intervene and do stuff.” But after a period of unanswered prayer, Bart admits: “I had to change my understanding of God. Sovereignty had to get dialed down a bit.”

Campolo admitted that changing his view of God’s sovereignty was “the beginning of the end” of his faith. Why?

“Because once you start adjusting your theology to match up to the reality you see in front of you, it’s an infinite progression. So over the course of the next 30 years…my ability to believe in a supernatural narrative or a God who intervenes and does anything died a death of a thousand unanswered prayers”.

Campolo continued: “I passed through every stage of heresy. It starts out with sovereignty goes, then biblical authority goes, then I’m a universalist, now I’m marrying gay people. Pretty soon I don’t actually believe Jesus actually rose from the dead in a bodily way.”

How Christians become atheists

Campolo doesn’t think he’s a special case. On the contrary, he believes the current world of ‘progressive Christianity’ (what he calls “the ragged edge” of Christianity) is heading towards full-blown unbelief. Speaking during the Wild Goose Festival (the American version of Greenbelt) Bart was clear: “What I know is if there’s 1,000 people at Wild Goose today, then in 10 years from now three or four hundred of those people won’t be in the game anymore.”

Campolo is predicting that as many as 40% of progressive Christians will become atheists over the next decade. In his view, the process of abandoning Christian doctrines is almost addictive. Once you start, you don’t know where to stop. It might begin with “dialing down” your view of God’s sovereignty, but it could easily end with unbelief.

“When you get to this ragged edge of Christianity when people say ‘God’ they sort of mean ‘the universe’ and when they say ‘Jesus’ they sort of mean ‘redemption’ – they’re so progressive they don’t actually count on any supernatural stuff to happen, they’ve dialed it down in the same way I did.”

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