It’s hard growing up in a Christian bubble. For kids whose parents are evangelical heavyweights it can be nearly impossible. From Franklin Graham to Barnabas Piper, the stories of rebellion and struggle with doubt are all too common. This week, Warren Cole Smith, published an interview with Bart Campolo on World Magazine’s web page that was as fascinating as it was sad. I didn’t know Bart, but I did get to talk with him once before he walked away from the faith. He was responsible for administrative aspects of his Dad’s (Tony Campolo’s) ministry at that time and was really helpful to me and easy to chat with. His passion was incarnational ministry and living with the people he was serving in conditions of real poverty. He clearly was more interested in walking the walk than just talking the talk. Yet somehow, he walked away from all that he once professed to believe and today is the first ever “humanist” chaplain on the campus of the University of Southern California.
In the interview, Bart describes in great detail what led to his decision and made a very important statement,
“For about 30 years, I became more and more committed to social justice, and loving relationships, and trying to heal broken people’s lives. In the context particularly of the inner city, I became less and less convinced that there was any supernatural reality. I came to this place where I was like, over time, I don’t think that the core narrative is true. My ability to believe in supernatural forces—I became a naturalist”
At some point in our spiritual journeys we probably all come to a similar crises of faith – are we going to believe the narrative of the Bible, are we going accept the concept of miracles, do we really believe that God exists and if so He is really all powerful. This is the dividing line of true faith: either we accept that there is mystery in the Gospel and that there is a supernatural reality or we become rationalists who only accept “natural” explanations for what is happening in our lives.
This tendency towards rational explanations and a naturalist view of life are baked into the DNA of modern life. With so much technology all around us and new scientific breakthroughs nearly every day, it not entirely surprising. Our desire to control our own lives apart from a sovereign God however is as old as human existence. I am no exception.
As a teenager, I attended a Christian boarding school for my last two years of High School. Without a job and with parents who were missionaries oversees I was in the unenviable position of having very little spending money. This really bothered me as other kids from wealthier homes had allowances that allowed them to go shopping at the local mall and most importantly to be able to go on dates. I decided to take my frustrations to God and began praying for what I thought was impossible – a regular monthly allowance. Somehow, this was not a problem for Him. A few weeks later, I got an anonymous check for $25.00 and it kept coming every month for rest of my time at that school. My parents confirmed that this was not their doing or anyone else that they knew.
Here is the irony, there was a “rational” explanation for this miracle, but it made it no less a miracle in my life. My roommate overheard my prayers and when his aunt asked him if there were any boys who had a special financial need in his dorm, he was quick to mention my name and never told me. What I do know is this, God shaped me as a result of that experience. I began to trust Him for all my needs no matter what and knew that He could and would supply is His own ways. My roommate did not have to listen to my prayers, he did not have to tell his aunt and his aunt certainly did not have to do anything about it. I firmly believe that God worked supernaturally on my behalf in each and every one of those circumstances.
Looking for the supernatural is a tricky thing. Too often we are like the people who followed Jesus all over Galilee looking for signs and wonders and not being satisfied until they had seen another spectacular miracle performed before their very eyes. So many of these very people missed the most important miracle of all time – God came to earth in the flesh and dwelt among them! Before casting stones at the people who saw Jesus in person, it is important to note that we do the same thing. Not satisfied with the ordinary miracles happening around us every day, we seek our more and more dramatic experiences and manifestations.
To be clear, I personally believe that God can and does perform miracles today. I have personally prayed for people that were healed and seen “with my own eyes” demons being cast out. That said, the greatest miracle I have ever witnessed is the transformation of my own heart from a heart of stone to a heart yielded to an almighty God. In my flesh, this would have never happened. Only a God who loved me enough to answer all my questions, who put people in my life that walked with me in my doubts and never left me or forsook me could have made that happen. I am now an unashamed supernaturalist and know that this same God can still rescue Bart regardless of what he may have decided to believe.