Review of “Why I left, Why I stayed”

by Neil Rickert

It’s about a month since I listened to a podcast, featuring a discussion with Bart Campolo.  I found that interesting, so I bought the book that was co-authored by Bart Campolo and his father Tony Campolo.  This post is mainly a review of the book.  However, you might want to start by listening to that podcast.

Background

Tony Campolo is well known as part of Evangelical Christianity, specifically the Evangelical left.  Bart, his son, started off in Evangelical Christianity, but reached a point in his life where he could no longer believe.  How he reached that point is discussed in the podcast and in the book.  Although he rejected Christianity, Bart continued with a humanist mission.  Tony, Bart’s father, regretted Bart’s decision but accepted it nontheless.

The book is mostly a sequence of chapters, alternately written by Tony and by Bart, with a final chapter that was jointly written.

My review

I found the book a bit uneven.  But this is to be expected when it consists of an alternation of chapters with two different authors.

Bart describes how he lost his faith in the second chapter.  Note that the chapters are not actually numbered in the book.

Personally, I found Tony’s chapters a bit too preachy for my liking.  But other readers may disagree.  I don’t think Tony was trying to make this an apologetics book.  But he couldn’t help himself.  The “Jesus” talk just comes too naturally to him.

Bart’s chapters were more to my taste.  They mostly emphasized his humanist sensibilities.  This is not typical atheist writing (if there is such a thing).  Bart does not criticize religion.  He just recognizes that it is not for him.  But he still follows the humanist teachings of Jesus, while not accepting traditional Christian theology.

Morality

For me, one of the most valuable parts of the book was on the discussion of morality.  Tony goes first, with “Not so fast: Why secularists should take another look at the cross.”  He starts by looking at criticisms of the doctrine of penal substitution, and points out that there are other ways of understanding salvation.

It becomes clear, in this chapter, that Tony does not understand how morality could be possible without God.  And much of the chapter is related to that issue.

Bart responds with “Godless goodness: the foundations of secular morality.”  And he gives what I see as an excellent account of morality.  This chapter will be useful to you if you ever get into a debate with someone who thinks that morality comes from God.

Death

Another valuable part of the book is the discussion of death.  Again, Tony has first say with “And then what?  Why secularists can’t face death.”  It quickly becomes clear that Tony cannot grasp how a non-Christian can deal with death.

Bart’s followup chapter is “Part of the bargain:  Facing death the secular humanist way.”  And, in a way, Bart’s chapter refutes the view of his father.  Bart does not share the dismal view of death that his father sees as inevitable for those without God.  As Bart says, “Our awareness of death is what makes us human.”

Conclusion

I found this book well worth reading.  As already mentioned, it is uneven and a bit preachy in places.  But the discussions of morality and death already make this book worth reading.

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One Comment to “Review of “Why I left, Why I stayed””

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this review.

    I listened to the same podcast with Bart talking about his journey and the book. I found him very patient and likeable and his advice about broaching the conversation with believing family members was excellent.

    What you describe about Tony not being able to understand how morality could come from anywhere but god and non believers thoughts are death are views that are echoed by Christians the world over. It comes up time and time again in discussions I see and participate in. Christians seem to be utterly unable to get it, even after many explanations, this is what indoctrination does.

    I may have to go and get that book now.

    Liked by 2 people

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