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Preaching the Whole Gospel: Q&A with Tony Campolo Preaching the Whole Gospel: Q&A with Tony Campolo

Dr. Tony Campolo is a pastor, speaker and social activist and has authored 35 books. His most recent book, Red Letter Christians, argues against the partisanship seen in many Conservative Christian churches and promotes a church that is neither Republican nor Democrat. An Evangelical and a social justice activist, Dr. Campolo has worked to change the mindset of the Evangelical church.

Rachel Thompson: You talk about the two emphases of Christianity: to impart the values of the kingdom of God in society and to be in a personal, transforming relationship with Christ. How does this translate to issues of health: the stewardship of our own health and the responsibility we have to help others in need of access to healthcare and prevention?

Tony Campolo:
I believe it all boils down to the doctrine about salvation. Jesus came into the world to rescue a creation that has gotten messed up because of sin. Everything is affected by this: spiritually, psychologically, physiologically, ecologically and sociologically – it is all messed up. Jesus comes in to rescue us from that. In the eighth chapter of Romans, it talks about how everything in creation needs to be restored and is longing for restoration. So when you think about physical health, you cannot really separate that from anything else. I know that a lot of people who are in poor health have a hard time maintaining any kind of healthy spiritual life. If you have poor eating habits or not getting enough sleep, you are not going to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your tiredness affects your thinking, your ability to meditate, your ability to pray. Having a messed up body has consequences. Jesus came to make everything new: restoration of nature, spirit, soul and the body.

What health issues do you see as the greatest struggles facing us in the US and in the world on the global level?

Obesity is our struggle in the United States. On late night television, every ad is about losing weight. While we are doing this, in other places in the world, people are skin and bones. We have a problem with obesity while 35,000 children under the age of 12 die of starvation and diseases related to malnutrition every day. So obesity is our problem – part of this is a lack of spiritual discipline. We spend our money on fast food instead of healthy food. We eat so much red meat – it costs more and it clogs our arteries. Even if you cannot afford all healthy food, you can at least eat vegetables. Obesity is a spiritual problem because of a lack of discipline. Granted, there are cases where genetic make up and metabolism is such that obesity is beyond their control. If you don’t eat a lot of food, you lose weight. It is self-indulgence to eat in excess – which makes it a spiritual problem.

In the third world the biggest problem is AIDS. In Africa 1 out of every 4 people is HIV positive. Thirteen million children were orphaned because their parents died of AIDS. Dealing with the AIDS crisis is a great concern and we have all kinds of moral obligations. We can’t say AIDS is a result of immorality - 92% of the people who have AIDS in Africa are women and children who did nothing wrong. Someone has transmitted that disease to them. To say that God is judging them is crazy. It is no wonder the Bible says that the sins of the father are upon the children. I think AIDS is very good example of that.

What can the church do – on a congregational level – about these issues? 

We can start with our preachers. At least three quarters of the preachers I meet are overweight. Some of these guys have long sermons about alcohol and smoking. If a fat preacher is talking about self control, hypocrisy is the only word you can think of. I think the church leaders and church members have to set an example.

The second thing I think we can do is set up clinics. I find that many evangelical Christians are opposed to any kind of national health care and yell about socialized medicine as a deterrent. We live in a country where 44 million do not have health insurance and 13 million children do not have life insurance. Either do something about it or be quiet. I hear people say, “I don’t think the government should be taking my money.” The church is God’s preferred instrument, but if the church does not respond to the health care crisis, then do not be surprised if God uses the government to do the job. It is our responsibility.

A lot has been written about the change in the evangelical world in the past few years as people like Rick Warren and Jim Wallis have started to mobilize people to discuss social issues like poverty or environment. Where do you see faith and health entering into that dialogue? 

What we are really saying is that the church, especially evangelicals, has been guilty of not preaching the whole Gospel. They have been preaching the part of the gospel that gets people on the bus that will take them to heaven when they die. The whole Gospel is this: Jesus came into the world to transform the world into the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is for everything and everybody. You can obviously see we are back to the first question: did God create people to be healthy? Of course he did. And wherever our physical well being is threatened, God wants us to set things right again.

This means that a Christian vocation isn’t simply to go out and heal souls but to rescue all of creation. If evangelism is declaring the good news of what God is doing in the world, then I have to look at the person who is researching a cure for cancer as part of what God is doing. I look at the person who is running physical education programs in schools and say this is what God is doing in the world. All that is being done to make the world what it ought to be is God’s doing. All good comes from God.

Rachel Thompson is the Managing Editor of Church Health Reader.

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