Mr. Camp, I'll die first

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on November 29, 2006

Please see important update at the bottom of this post.
If you haven't seen the movie "End of the Spear," it's out on video and you should pick it up. The film about four Christian missionaries who were brutally killed by the Waodani tribe of Ecuador focuses mainly on the Saint family. One of the other missionaries killed was a man named Jim Elliot who famously said: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

Theologian and Lipscomb University professor Lee Camp would do well to remember those words.

At a recent interfaith conference in Tennesee, Camp said that Christians must put aside the notion that their fait requires the creation of a Christian kingdom on Earth. That's fine. I think the Camp vastly overestimates the number of Christian "dominionists" in America today. Those who want a Christian theocracy along the lines of what you see in the Muslim world are so few that you could probably fit them in the Superdome with room to spare.

But according to the report, Camp went a bit farther than this and advocated tossing out inconvenient Bible verses -- much like Andrew Sullivan does when it comes to Romans 1.

"We need to forsake the Christendom model," Camp said. "The most basic Christian commitment … is that we say we believe in the Lordship of Jesus. But, if we claim that, how can a Muslim or Jew trust us, if we say Jesus is the Lord of all Lords?"

Well, how can we trust the Muslims when they say "allah akhbar"? That phrase is often incorrectly translated "God is great," but is accurately translated "God is greater." That's Allah, the Muslim god -- not the same as the Christian and Jewish God, sorry -- is lord of lords. The truth hurts and Jesus didn't come down to Earth to sugarcoat the truth. (See various encounters with pharisees, rich man and the camel/eye of needle incident, etc.)

Some liberal theologians have suggested that different faiths are all variations on one another and that beliefs are all basically the same, a position with which Camp deeply disagrees.

Instead, he believes, Christians must not back away from their beliefs but further examine them and their own history.

First, Christians must examine their "sins of omission," he said — such as not taking the time to learn about other religions. Then they must look at their "sins of commission."

"We have such short historical (memory) spans as white Christians," he said. "There is a history of anti-Semitism, the violence and bloodshed of the crusades and cultural imperialism. We have to deal with the reality of what Christians have done, which in some cases has been to kill people."

Camp described himself as a conservative Christian but conceded his opinions may be viewed as "radical" by other evangelical Christians.

Christians must shed the idea that they need to promulgate a worldwide Christianity, he said.

"If I hold to a model of Jesus … what I've committed to in my baptism is loving my enemy," Lee said. "I'm committed to not killing you, but to serving and honoring you. It's an exclusive commitment to the way of Christ, not to the exclusive authority of Christ."

I know enough about Islam to know that it really is the religion of pieces, so I've managed to avoid Camp's sin of omission.

I also know about world history and I know that Christians have done a lot of things in the name of Christ that were antithetical to Christ's teachings. However, I'm unwilling to let past injustices by people who are not me prevent me from following Christ's commands -- including the great commission.

Camp: Christians must shed the idea that they need to promulgate a worldwide Christianity, he said.

Jesus: Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." -- Matthew 28:18-20

I'll take Jesus on that one.

Having said all of that, I want to open up the possibility that there is a communication/media issue. This is from a newspaper report of a forum. It's not a transcript, an essay or a book. There's a possibility here that the reporter sent to cover this event and write a story doesn't have a religious background, was confused by this talk and misrepresented Camp. I think that possibility may be diminished if Camp's last quote there is accurate -- Christ does have exclusive authority. If we deny that authority, we deny him. Here's hoping that Camp quickly comes to realize how Peter felt after the cock crowed.

*UPDATE* The possibility that I mentioned above -- journalistic ineptitude -- explains this issue. You can find Camp's response to the article here. Having read that response, I have come to the conclusion that Camp's is unusually sane as far as media-quoted professors go. I apologize to Prof. Camp for statements above that indicate otherwise.

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