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Charlie Campbell is a follower of Jesus, a husband to his wife Anastasia, a father of five children, the Director of the Always Be Ready Apologetics Ministry, an author, and a popular guest teacher at churches around North America where he addresses numerous issues related to the defense of the Christian faith. Prior to his current role, he was on staff at Calvary Chapel in Vista, California, for nine years. There he was the college and career pastor and the Director of the School of Ministry where he taught courses on apologetics, world religions and cults, systematic theology, eschatology, hermeneutics, homiletics, and evangelism. He was also an instructor at the Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California. His teachings and resources have been endorsed by Norman Geisler, Charles Colson, Ed Hindson, Chuck Smith, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and others.
I was born and raised in southern California. I grew up in north San Diego county.
When did you start following the Lord?
1990. I was twenty one years old.
Did you have any religious beliefs before that?
I went to church as a child. I drifted away from belief in God though in high school and stopped going to church for seven years. By the time I was in college I considered myself an atheist. I wanted to be an atheist. I didn't want God to exist. I wanted to go to Tijuana and drink and party. I wasn't an intellectual atheist, the kind that debated Christians about God's existence. I was the partying kind of atheist! I was living for myself and pursuing my dream of being a rock star.
A rock star?
Yes. That was my aspiration in life; be a musician, tour the world, have thousands of adoring fans. I thought being rich and famous and traveling the world would finally bring me the fulfillment and joy that I was so lacking. I didn't care at the time to ponder the fact that most of the rich and famous musicians out there are completely miserable. It was going to be different for me!
How did the Lord get a hold of your life?
When I was twenty one years old I began to question if God might actually exist. My atheism stopped adding up in my mind. As an atheist I believed nobody times nothing equals everything. "Well hold on a second" I began to think, "How could something (the universe) come from nothing and by nothing?" So, I was really pondering this for quite some time but also wondering, "If God exists, how could anyone know if it's the God of Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, the Jehovah's Witnesses?" So there I was; I was working at a surf shop in Carlsbad, California, and all these people around me in the surfing world, including Joey Buran (a professional surfer in Carlsbad), were getting saved and going to this church called "Calvary Chapel" in a neighboring town by the name of Vista. So I thought, "Maybe I'll try going to that church sometime and see what these people are so excited about." I didn't own a suit or a tie, but I thought "If all these surfers are going there, they must allow my type in, you know, with jeans." So I went.
Apologetics was something that helped me abandon my atheism back in 1990. So, from very early on, I've had a desire to share some of this evidence with others. A girl that I was dating at the time of my conversion had two older brothers who were zealous, active, Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, immediately I had to figure out what I believed and why I believed it. So, I began learning how to defend my beliefs very early on in my Christian walk. Seven years later, in 1997, I went on staff as the college and career pastor at the Calvary Chapel were I first became a believer, there in Vista in southern California. I realized that these young men and women needed help defending the faith. So, I would occasionally do a series of studies on topics that they were being challenged on in their college classes. I was the college pastor for five years, so I got to refine the material I taught them every year or two.
While I was doing that, God gave me a desire to teach a class at our church on defending the faith for whoever wanted to come out. So, I asked our pastor what he thought about that. He agreed and we had about 75 people come out every Tuesday night for that. We ran that course over and over again about twice a year for five or six years. Doing that allowed me to continue researching and improving my studies.
When our senior pastor, Rob Salvato, was on a missions trip or on vacation, he would often allow me to fill in for him on Wednesday nights or Sunday mornings. The feedback he was receiving was good enough that when he had to turn down an invitation to teach at another church he started recommending that they invite me instead. So, about once every three or four months I would speak at another church. I did that for about three or four years (2002-2006). Much to my surprise the invitations were becoming more frequent. In early 2006, the invitations began coming in frequently enough that my wife and I determined that the Lord was leading me to do this full time. So that, in a nutshell, is how the Lord worked it out.
Did you ever forsee that you would be a pastor or itinerant apologist?
Absolutely not! I've always felt under qualified to do anything for the Lord. I was so afraid of speaking in front of people growing up, I refused to ever give an oral report all through junior high and high school. ("Give me a lower grade," I said, "I'm not giving a speech!") And my teachers did give me a lower grade! I was so afraid to stand up and talk in front of people that even in college, I'd sit in the back row by the door on the first day of class so that if the teacher asked the students to stand up and tell the class their name and introduce themselves, I'd get up and walk out!
I think God chose to make me a teacher just to blow away the angels and people who used to know me! (Hmm...let's see, who is the least qualified for this position? I'll pick him, that way I'll get all the glory when anything good comes from his life!).
God is good. When I became a follower of Christ, God miraculously began to change me and actually give me a desire to teach others His Word. He works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Do you enjoy teaching and traveling to different churches?
Yes, immensely. Visiting different churches every week is a tremendous blessing and seeing the faith of believers strengthened is also an amazing experience. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing this side of Heaven. I feel extremely blessed. I feel like I’m doing what God created me to do.
Do you speak at churches of different denominations?
Yes. Baptist churches, Calvary Chapels, Presbyterian churches, Nazarene churches, Methodist. I'm blessed to go wherever God allows me to speak. It is a great joy meeting God's people all over the world and worshipping with them. It's a wonderful privilege.
So, you do teach outside of the United States?
Yes. I go all over the place. Europe, Canada, South America. It's a blessing to see how God is working outside of the United States.
How do you decide which topic to address when a church invites you to teach?
Many times the pastor who invites me will ask me to address a specific topic (I have a list of subjects I can address on my website). If they leave it up to me, I pray for wisdom and then I consider the congregation. Sometimes the church is a place I’ve spoken at many times. Other times it will be my first time. Sometimes it is a youth group. Other times it will be the main congregation. The congregation factors into the decision making process. If it is a church that I am speaking at for the first time, I like to start off by teaching something that is foundational and that will lay a foundation for future topics, usually something like “Evidence for the Trustworthiness of the Bible” or “Evidence for the Existence of God.” When I have spoken at a church a few times, I will usually move on to topics like “The Jehovah’s Witnesses” or “Mormonism.”
What do you charge a church to come and teach?
Nothing. Jesus said, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). I’m blessed to come for free. I don’t want money to be a deciding issue as to whether or not I am invited to speak.
How do you survive financially?
The Lord provides for us ultimately. Most churches give me an honorarium of whatever amount they decide on. I do have a family to feed, so that is really helpful. We also have some DVDs and books that we make available when I teach that generates some income.
How do you filter through speaking requests and select dates at which to speak?
My prayer is always that “God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ” (Col 4:3). So, when an invitation comes in to teach, that is an open door to teach the Word, the very thing I pray for. So, if it doesn’t conflict with something else (needed time with my family, another teaching engagement, etc), I am usually able to come, and blessed to do so.
Who has had the biggest impact on you spiritually?
First and foremost, the men of God in the Bible. Brian Brodersen, Charles Spurgeon, and Norman Geisler have also had an enormous influence of my life. Brian was the pastor at Calvary Chapel of Vista for the first eight years I went there. I grew up so to speak in my Christian faith under his teaching. I am eternally grateful for his clear expository, verse-by-verse, teaching through the Bible. He's one of the pastors who fields questions on the radio program "Pastor's Perspective" and an assistant pastor to Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. Norman Geisler is of course the author of more than sixty different books. He's been a huge influence on me as well.
Speaking of books, who are some of your favorite Christian authors?
I like to read books on Christian theology, commentaries on the Bible, sermons, not your typical popular reading. Some of my favorite authors are Norman Geisler, John Walvoord, Charles Spurgeon, G. Campbell Morgan, Harry Ironside, Charles Colson, Timothy Keller, Ron Rhodes, Lee Strobel, Warren Wiersbe, Ray Stedman, Chuck Smith, William Lane Craig, Rodney Stark, and many others. I love to read.
If you could recommend just one or two resources for someone who wants to learn how to better defend their faith, what would you recommend?
If they have an iPOD (or an MP3 player), I'd recommend our Contending for the Faith disc. It has 32 hours of teaching on a wide variety of topics related to the defense of the faith on one disc that transfer straight on to their iPOD. That's more than an entire semester of apologetics classes right on their iPOD. As for books, I'd start with the book Answers to Skeptics’ Top Forty Questions. Another book that I love to recommend is I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Dr. Norman Geisler. It is one of the best in print. After that, there are Lee Strobel's books, The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator. They are all phenomenal.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become more involved in defending the faith, or even be an apologist themselves?
Well, were all called to be apologists to some degree. Jude 3 and 1 Peter 3:15 talk about this. I’d encourage every believer to continue studying the Bible first and foremost. Most of the false teachings being taught by the cults can be countered simply by having a better grasp on the Scriptures. I'd also encourage people to pick up a good book on apologetics.
If a person believes the Lord is leading them to actually teach others to defend the faith, then I would work on preparing a message, let’s say on the trustworthiness of the Bible, or evidence for the existence of God. Write out your notes, refine them, rework them. Perhaps build a PowerPoint presentation and then let your jr. high, high school or college pastor take a look at it. Then, mention to them that if they are ever open to the idea of them sharing something with the group along those lines, that they would love the opportunity. I'd encourage them to be faithful with any opportunity that God gives them to teach others and see what He might do. Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10).
Your Bible studies are very visual. You use a lot of slides to communicate your points. It's a unique teaching style. Is there a reason you teach that way?
I realized years ago when I was teaching apologetics classes that if I could show people a photograph of an archaeological discovery or the interior of a cell, rather than just talk about it, it would make a much longer impression on them. Research in communication says that when people leave a conversation, they immediately forget half of what was said. And worse than that, eight hours later they will remember only about 20 percent of what was discussed. So I like to do anything I can do visually to help people remember what I'm teaching. Research shows that you learn more from your sense of sight than from all the other four senses combined. It has been estimated that more than 80 percent of all information comes to you through sight. Having said that, I don't encourage pastors who are teaching a different study every few days to try and use PowerPoint, unless they are just using it in a very limited way. Building a PowerPoint presentation takes a long time, time that would be better spent studying, preparing and praying. (Source for communication statistics: The God Conversation: Using Stories and Illustrations to Explain Your Faith, p. 9).
How long does it take to put together a typical presentation?
You don't want to know! I'd say, for the kind of presentation I do (with about 150 slides) about 150 - 200 hours per presentation (not counting the time to research the topic). It is a joy to work on them though!
What software program do you use for your presentations?
I use an Apple MacBook Air 15 inch with Microsoft PowerPoint software for a Mac (2011 edition). I like the new edition of PowerPoint better than Keynote.
Where do you find the images you use in your presentations?
I purchase most of them through stock photography agencies like istock.com.
I am not able to distribute my PowerPoint files. Many of the photographs that are embedded in them were purchased with certain license restrictions that only allow for one time use (i.e., prohibiting distribution, sharing, resale, etc). If a person wants the PowerPoint file so that they can show it to a friend or teach it at their church, we recommend that they just purchase the DVD of the presentation in our online store. The DVDs are quite affordable and contain many of the images that I use (photographs of the archaeological discoveries and that kind of thing).
Are there any new projects you are working on?
I'm always working on a new PowerPoint presentation or finishing up the editing process for a DVD. We have a couple DVDs right now that are just a couple months away from being finished. I recently finished a new book, Teaching and Preaching God's Word.
What's it about in a nutshell?
I wrote it to encourage pastors and teachers in the challenging task of teaching God's Word. The book is full of—seventy-eight!—concise suggestions, ideas, exhortations and words of encouragement on teaching the Bible. I hope it helps and blesses many pastors, home fellowship leaders, Sunday school teachers and so on.
Speaking of pastors, have you ever considered being a senior pastor?
I have considered it. I always want to be open to whatever God would desire to do with my life. I don’t think that’s the direction He’s leading me though, but I am pleased to do whatever God desires that I do. Paul said, "Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him" (2 Cor. 5:9). That's my heart.
Where did you go to seminary?
I didn't. I was going to college in southern California, then ended up getting a very good job offer at a surfing magazine in Laguna Beach, California, where I was able to make a very good living, financially. The job was a full time commitment that required a lot of travel and long hours. So I dropped out of college. Honestly, the only reason I was going to school at the time was to get a good job. I thought "The job has arrived! Why continue with school?" I had no idea I was going to go into pastoral ministry years later or I probably would have finished school and gone to a Bible college or seminary. But it's impossible to see into the future and know where God is going to lead you. I thought I would die at the surfing magazine. I loved my job there.
Do you think about going to a seminary now?
Not really. I honestly believe that God has chosen the foolish things to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27) in choosing me, a former atheist with no formal theological training, to do what I'm doing. I think God must surely have a sense of humor!
You're not the only one God has done that with!
You're right. And I hope that I can be an example and hopefully an encouragement to all of the other “uneducated and untrained men” (Acts 4:13) of our day who think God can’t use them to teach because they “can’t afford to go to seminary or don’t have the time for Bible College.” Well, either did I, either did Charles Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, G. Campbell Morgan, A. W. Tozer, or Billy Graham. None of these men had formal theological educations! And yet God used them in amazing ways.
If a person does have the time and the money to afford to further his education for the purpose of pastoral ministry, are there any seminaries or Bible Colleges that you would recommend?
I recently went out to dinner with one of the leading Christian theologians alive today. He’s a popular author and professor at a very well known college here in the United States. I asked him this same question. He said, there was only one or two seminaries in the U.S. that he knew of that had not already begun to drift to the left with liberal theology. He said he wouldn’t even send anyone to Dallas Theological Seminary (where he himself had graduated!) nor the seminary he teaches at! He said, ‘what Calvary Chapels are doing is so great. They are training up their own guys in their own Schools of Ministry (typically two year programs run out of local churches that are much less expensive) and their own Bible colleges. God forbid they should ever put pressure on their young men to pursue degrees from prestigious institutions that are largely dead spiritually.'
I was shocked to hear him say this, but I must say that I largely agree with him. I was the director of the School of Ministry at Calvary Chapel in Vista, California for five years. We offered the same kind of courses that seminaries offer (classes on church history, systematic theology, hermeneutics, apologetics, etc.) at about 1/100 of the cost, and we were able to give all of our students the opportunity to actually serve the Lord at the church while they were taking their classes. They got instruction in the classroom and then the opportunity to put it into practice every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. Our instructors did not have Ph.D.s from Princeton Seminary or Oxford University (Praise the Lord!) but they were men of God who were very knowledgeable about their subject matter, who had a desire to impart it to others.
I would recommend that if a young man desires to get training for pastoral ministry that he seriously consider this kind of schooling. If a person lives in southern California, there is the School of Ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa that offers a great two year program. There is also the Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California that offers an excellent education (they also have many extension campuses around the U.S., Europe, South America, etc). There is also a newly formed seminary, called Veritas Evangelical Seminary that I'm really excited about. Norman Geisler, Ron Rhodes, Gary Habermas, Thomas Ice, Ergun Caner and some of my other favorites will be teaching there (located in Murrieta, California).Are you married?
Yes, very happily so to an amazing, beautiful woman named Anastasia.
One night I was visiting a home fellowship at a good friend's house that I had at one time attended in Newport Beach, California. I had stopped going for about a year because I was helping lead worship at our church. The only reason I went back this particular night (I was scheduled to help the worship team) was because a girl who was my assistant at the surfing magazine, who was not a believer, had decided she wanted to go. So I had to see what God might do in her life. So I got out of leading worship and went. As the Bible study was about to start, a beautiful lady came in and there was nowhere else left to sit except right next to me. She sat down and that was how we met. We talked for about an hour after the Bible study about her upcoming missions trip to Costa Rica and some other things, became good friends, and a year later we got married.
Do you have children?
Yes, five. Three girls: Selah, Addison, Emerie. Two boys, Caden and Ryland. They are such a blessing! Our oldest is only twelve (as of 2013), so we have a busy house!
What do you like to do for fun?
Lots of things. Take my kids to the beach. Go out to dinner with my wife. Read. Study the Bible. Work on PowerPoint presentations for upcoming teaching engagements. Surf. Snowboard. Camp. Hike. Skateboard. Travel. Watch the San Diego Chargers. Being alive is fun.
Delirious, Switchfoot, Matt Redman, David Crowder, Jeremy Camp, Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, Charlie Hall, Keith Green, Mat Kearney, Relient K, Leeland, Ruth, NeedtoBreathe.
Are there any pressing concerns on your heart when you survey what is happening in the churches as a whole?
Sure. At the top of my list of concerns is the fact that a ton of Christian high school students are walking away from the Lord by the end of their fourth year in college. Parents and the church in general are not doing enough to prepare them for the intellectual challenges that they are facing in the universities. They are being eaten alive by their atheistic, liberal professors. We must do a better job explaining to them why we believe what we believe. Many parents and youth pastors are not taking the time to equip their kids or youth group with answers regarding evolution, the problem of evil, the existence of God, the trustworthiness of the Bible, etc.
Another concern is that many churches have abandoned verse-by-verse expository preaching for 25-30 topical sermons. As a result, more and more Christians are growing spiritually malnourished. I pray that more pastors would see the value of giving their congregations meaty sermons and declaring to the whole counsel of the Word of God.
If you could do one thing over in life what would it be?
I would have surrendered my life to the Lord much sooner. That is my main regret, the years I wasted living in the world. But God has been good to restore the years that the locusts have eaten and work that time together for good in my life. I'm forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13).
What advice would you give to new believers?
I encourage new and old believers to read their Bibles every day, even if it's just for a few minutes. What has been really helpful for me is to read the Bible with pen in hand and an open journal where I write down the verses that touch my heart followed by my prayers to the Lord. Right up there with reading the Bible every day, I like to also encourage new believers to find a church where they can fellowship with like-minded believers, worship, serve, and receive good expository teaching.