taking the words of Jesus seriously

Lately, I have been reading and hearing many stories of pastors and leaders of the faith going public about their doubts and unbelief with regards to the faith they have been preaching for a living for their entire adulthood. Not only is this quite troubling to me but it reminds me of a not so happy story from back when I was new to the speaking and evangelical scene. A story about a man who was born today 67 years ago.

Back in the 1950s going into the 1960s there was a very prominent evangelist in America making his movements in the Pentecostal community which was then beginning to explode on the American scene. More and more people were becoming Pentecostal. This particular evangelist called himself Marjoe. Marjoe later confessed when he left the ministry that he never believed in God.

When he was young his parents noticed he had unusual gifts so they told him the right things to say and the right gestures to make and they put him out on the Speaking circuit. He was a 10 year old wonder. He would preach these incredible sermons to crowds of thousands winning converts with every event. But as he said in his confession, “I never once believed there was a God; I never once believed there was a Jesus.” This went on for years and years.

Finally, he decided, with integrity, I can’t go on with this anymore. But he decided that he was not only going to expose myself but I am going to expose all the phoniness of religiousosity. So he had a movie crew follow him on his evangelistic tour. IN the back room he would tell the camera how he was going to manipulate the congregations. What gestures he would make, what things he would do. One of the things he would do is put a cross in invisible ink on his forehead so when he preached and he began to sweat the sweat would make the cross visible. People would be awestruck and say “Rev Marjoe half way through your message I suddenly saw a cross appear on your head. It wasn’t my imagination; the people next to me saw it to!” This kind of phony manipulation.

He finally made this film and the film was shown in commercial theaters all over the place. When I was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania on a course on Sociology, many of my students, secular students, wanted to see that movie. And so they did but what impressed them was not the phoniness of Marjoe but the people that came down the isle and accepted Christ when he gave the invitation. When the camera was turned off they only had one question. They didn’t want to ask about the phoniness of Marjoe, they wanted to ask about the genuine nature of faith that they saw on the faces of the believers.

All this to say, God can use even atheists to declare the word of God and to win people into his kingdom. In a world where today, more and more leaders of the faith are coming out doubting the faith that they previously preached for years and years, we need to hold fast to the truth that God can use folks.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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