on February 21st 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by HarperOne
Bestselling Christian author, activist, and scholar Tony Campolo and his son Bart, an avowed Humanist, debate their spiritual differences and explore similarities involving faith, belief, and hope that they share.
Over a Thanksgiving dinner, fifty-year-old Bart Campolo announced to his Evangelical pastor father, Tony Campolo, that after a lifetime immersed in the Christian faith, he no longer believed in God. The revelation shook the Campolo family dynamic and forced father and son to each reconsider his own personal journey of faith—dual spiritual investigations into theology, faith, and Humanism that eventually led Bart and Tony back to one another.
The last time I read a book by Tony Campolo I ended up in a police manhunt so I was a little concerned about picking up this one. I had heard about Bart Campolo leaving Christianity and working as a Humanist chaplain. It was big news in the Christian community. Either it was seen as proof that you can escape your upbringing or it was seen as proof that the Campolos had always been too liberal anyway so obviously they are going to go astray.
This book comes from the discussions that they had after Bart came out as not believing in God. The book is written in alternating chapters with each man expressing their point of view on a particular topic.
The first thing that surprised me was a preface chapter written by Peggy Campolo, Tony’s wife and Bart’s mom. She talks about how she didn’t identify with Christianity during the early years of the Tony’s ministry while her kids were growing up. She has since become a believer and seems to feel a lot of guilt. She thinks that if she was a Christian while Bart was growing up then he wouldn’t have left as an adult. This is typical of the baggage that gets put on parents if the children leave a religion.
I was frustrated while reading Tony’s chapters. Because Bart has now lived on both sides of the debate, he is able to discuss options openly. Tony freely states that he has never known a life where he wasn’t certain of the presence of God in his life. It is obvious that he sees Bart as a wandering child who he hopes gets back to the right path. In the meantime he not really listening to what he has to say. He just seems to be patting him on the head as he speaks and then saying, “Oh, you don’t mean that.”
“For the Christian parents of positive secular humanists like Bart, however, I have some advice: Take every opportunity to affirm and encourage your children whenever they say or do something that reflects your Kingdom values, and let them know that you see a direct connection between their behavior and the love of God, even if they don’t. Doing so demonstrates that you notice and appreciate your kids’ goodness while maintaining your own understanding of its ultimate source, and also opens up opportunities for you to talk about what gets lost when God drops out of the picture.”
Obviously he is still hung up on the idea that you can’t be a good person if you don’t have a God dictating what is right and what is wrong. Bart does a good job discussing why this isn’t true. Too bad his father wasn’t listening.
Tony also talks a lot about guilt. He doesn’t understand how people without God handle all their guilt. He says he lies awake at night feeling guilty about all the harm he does until he is able to let God take the guilt away from him. I don’t think most people have those kinds of guilty feelings. Has he ever considered that maybe the guilt comes from following a religion that teaches that you are a horrible person?
The idea behind this book was to help families have conversations about some members leaving Christianity. I don’t think this book fosters productive conversation because it felt to me like the humanist was explaining over and over and the Christian was just waiting for him to see things the “right” way again. This might be better for people who need to talk to Christians. Bart gives answers to a lot of the questions that he’s been asked. It could help to have some well thought out answers on hand for the common questions.