Bart Campolo, Deconverted Son of Christian Apologist Tony Campolo, Tells Us About Secular Relational Outreach

Tony Campolo has been teaching, speaking and writing about apologetical issues for as long as I've been interested in them. At times he has been controversial. One of his apologetics books is A Reasonable Faith.So I was interested in knowing that his son Bart no longer believes. He now speaks to student groups helping them understand how to reach believers through community building. Bart and his father had previously co-wrote the book, Things We Wish We Had Said: Reflections of a Father and His Grown Son.Below you can watch Bart's talk with some highlighted quotes and a brief commentary.

Highlighted quotes:
I had to believe a lot of stuff that made no sense at all to me...Do you really think that all of those kids on your campus are joining crusade because the dogma makes sense to them? They join those groups not because of the dogma but in spite of the dogma. They join for the community. Which is why these secular student alliance chapters on campuses...will never compete with them, until you deliver community.

I do think most college students believe, but he's right that some don't. The reason most of these students believe is because they were raised to believe. They weren't reasoned into their faith. They adopted their faith. So his diagnosis is about students who long for community and will join groups because they offer it. This may be a demographic that secular people have overlooked. They are out there, lots of them.
The problem is we keep trying to reason people out of something that they weren't reasoned into in the first place. I wasn't reasoned into Christianity. I was loved into spite of it's crazy narrative.

I don't think Bart is disparaging reasoning people out of their faith at all. It's just that he's arguing there is another avenue that we're overlooking. I have many Christian friends who like me as a person. This alone makes a huge difference to them since they usually have false stereotypes about atheists before actually meeting one. None of them can conceptualize me going to hell after they know me. One of them even said he expects to see me in heaven despite what he believes!!!

But just as reasoning people out of their faith is very difficult to do, so also is relationship outreach. We still need to offer most of them reasons. If someone who really believes can be reached through friendship and community alone I'd like to see one of them come forward and say so, just one. People who were just in it for community are a different breed of people though, and maybe they can be reached in this manner. In any case, if we want to reach believers we should do everything we can to facilitate this, so I welcome his approach.
The question we need to be asking is not how do we prove that they're wrong, but how do we offer people the same values that all people want...not supported by ancient myths or by supernatural fairy tales, but how do we offer love and goodness and purpose and mission based on reason, based on common sense.

As I said, I think we should do both, and I don't think Bart would disagree. It's a matter of emphasis for him. He thinks we're not doing enough in building secular communities to reach people who were like he was, initially a non-believer who subsequently believed after experiencing community.

I do think the question of how we offer "love and goodness and purpose and mission based on reason, based on common sense" may be the most important pondering for believers. Their faith communities offer them these values. We should too.

Now I cannot do that here at DC. I cannot do that in my books. I cannot post warm fussy pictures of kittens and cuddly dogs, or rainbows, and pleasant landscapes in hopes this will help believers see the irrationality of their faith. Nor would Bart expect me to. We each have a part to play, a script to act out, as we seek to make this world a better place without religion, especially the harmful versions of it. So do what we can with what we've got. Be like the salt of the earth and the light of the world, to use a gospel aphorism. Be a Street Epistemologist AND a friend to believers. Offer community AND reasons to join. Consider this a one-two punch of love and reality.


For anyone who thinks Christianity has been the salt of the earth and the light of the world, read my book, Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails.As of today this book will be out in less than three weeks! Be the first on your block to get it. Tell others about it. Spread the word. It will surely be talked about within secular and believing communities for years to come.