Charlie Campbell is the Founder and Director of the Always Be Ready Apologetics Ministry, an author, and a popular guest teacher at churches and conferences around North America where he addresses numerous issues related to the defense of the Christian faith. Prior to his current role, he was an instructor at the Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California, and the Director of the School of Ministry at Calvary Chapel in the city of Vista where he taught courses on apologetics, world religions and cults, systematic theology, eschatology, church history, hermeneutics, homiletics, and evangelism (1997-2005). His books and DVDs have been endorsed by Charles Colson, Norman Geisler, Ed Hindson, Chuck Smith, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and others. He resides in San Diego, California with his wife Anastasia and their five children.
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Q&A with Charlie Campbell:
Where are you from?
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 a Baptist church as a child with my parents. But my dad walked away from the Lord and stopped going to church when I was in Junior High. I subsequently stopped going to church as well. By the time I was in college, the little faith I had as a child had disentigrated into atheism. I wasn't the type who argued with Christians about it. I really didn't have any well-thought-out reasons for rejecting God, except the evolution nonsense I was taught in high school. I was more the partying kind of atheist! I didn't want to believe God existed because I wanted to live for myself and pursue my dream of being a rock star or an actor. I wanted to go to Tijuana, drink, and party with my friends.
A rock star?
Yeah, that was my aspiration in life—play guitar or bass in a band and tour the world. Or be on television and have thousands of adoring fans. I thought being rich and famous would finally bring me the joy and fulfillment I wanted as a young man. I didn't care at the time to ponder the fact that most of the rich and famous are pretty miserable. I thought it was going to be different for me!
How did God get a hold of your life?
When I was twenty one years old my atheism stopped adding up in my mind. As an atheist I believed nobody x nothing = 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 wrestling with this for a while. But I also was wondering, "If God exists, how could anyone know if it's the God of Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, or the Jehovah's Witnesses?" So there I was; I was in college studying to be an architect (as a fall back plan if the band or acting thing never came to fruition). But I was also managing a surf shop in Carlsbad, California. And all these people around me in the surfing scene, including Joey Buran (a local professional surfer), were becoming Christians and going to a church called "Calvary Chapel" in a neighboring town called Vista. So I thought, "Maybe I'll try going to that church sometime and see what these people are so excited about." So I went.
When I was there at the church, I ventured into their bookstore after a service. I was surprised to see they had books about evidence for the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible in a section called "apologetics." I had no idea what the word "apologetics" meant at the time, but regardless of that, the fact they had books on these topics was pretty shocking to me. There was actually evidence God existed? There was evidence the Bible was trustworthy?
Well, I bought the first of what became many books along those lines. As I read through them, I was surprised and impressed with the evidence. This was evidence I had never heard of (fulfilled prophecies, archaeological discoveries, and so on). Slowly, over the course of that year, I realized my atheism was more rooted in the fact that I wanted to live a sinful life than in any kind of sound logic or evidence. So, in 1990 I placed my trust in Jesus. I called out to Him to forgive me for my sins (which were many!) and to come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. And He did! Within months I began to notice my heart change. My sinful desires were disappearing. I lost the desire to ever drink alcohol again. I stopped cussing, and so on. It was crazy! New godly desires began emerging. I was astonished! I thought, "This is miraculous; God has delivered me from the power of sin!" just as the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away."
That's incredible! God is good. Fast forwarding to today, you are a Christian apologist. For the reader who might not know what an apologist is, could you briefly explain what the word "apologetics" means?
Sure! It has nothing to do with apologizing, as many have supposed. The word "apologetics" comes from the Greek word apologia found in 1 Peter 3:15 where Christians are told to "always be ready to give a defense [an apologia] to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." So, apologia is a word that simply means "defense." So, apologetics is the branch of Christian theology that is concerned with making a defense, or case, for the truth claims of the Christian faith.
You travel quite a lot throughout the year as an apologist—a Christian case-maker—speaking at churches, conferences, and schools. How did the Lord lead you to this?
Well, as I mentioned a moment ago, apologetics was something that helped me abandon my atheism. So, from very early on, I've had a desire to share some of this evidence with others. A girl 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 where I first became a believer, there in Vista in Southern California. I realized that the young men and women needed help defending the faith. So, I would occasionally mix in some teachings on topics they were being challenged with in their college classes.
While I was doing that, God gave me a desire to also teach an evening apologetics class at our church for whoever wanted to come out. So, I asked our pastor what he thought about that. He liked the idea and we had about 50–75 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. Teaching that class over and over allowed me to spend hundreds of hours researching different topics and fine-tuning my PowerPoint presentations.
When our pastor, Rob Salvato, a great brother and friend of mine, was on a missions trip or vacation, he would often allow me to fill in for him on a Wednesday night or a Sunday morning. Apparently he received enough good feedback from my apologetics presentations that he started recommending me to other pastors. So, about once every three or four months I would speak at a different church. I did that for about three or four years (2002–2005). Much to my surprise though those pastors recommended me to other pastors. Well, the invitations to speak were coming in so frequently, that my wife and I determined in 2006 that God was opening a door for me to be a full-time itinerant apologist. So wow! That, in a nutshell, is how the Lord worked it out.
As a young Christian, did you ever forsee that you would be a pastor or itinerant apologist?
Absolutely not! I was so afraid of public speaking 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!"). I was so afraid to stand up and talk publicly 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 "simply tell the class your name and introduce yourself," I'd get up and walk out!
I think God made 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 to do this? Ahh, there he is, Charlie Campbell, living in Oceanside, California. 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 Jesus, God miraculously began to change me and give me a burden, and the desire and courage to speak to others about Him.
So, you enjoy it? All the traveling and teaching at different churches and schools?
Visiting different churches and schools throughout the year is a tremendous blessing in so many ways. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing this side of Heaven. I feel extremely blessed, like I’m doing what God created me to do. The traveling part, the delayed and cancelled flights, icy roads at times...that part not so much!
Do you speak at churches of different denominations?
Mainly just big churches?
Actually, no. Most of the churches I speak at are under 300 people. There are some 5,000 and 8,000-person congregations I've spoken at. But most churches in North America are much smaller. One of the reasons I'm able to speak at so many smaller churches is because I don't charge anything to come. When a speaker charges a thousand or more dollars to speak at a church, he is going to cut himself off from a lot of great ministry opportunities. Most churches can't afford a thousand dollar speaking fee. But they can afford free!
Well, then how do you survive financially if you don't mind answering?
The Lord is my Shepherd and provider ultimately. But the primary way He seems to provide for me and my family is through the sale of my books and DVDs. And though I don't charge any kind of speaking fee, churches and schools will usually bless me with an honorarium of whatever amount they think is appropriate. So, God works it out. I'm not in this for the money.
If someone wanted to support you and your work, how could they do that?
We have a donation button on the AlwaysBeReady.com that gives people a couple of different options.
Do you speak outside of the United States?
Yes, I've spoken several times in Canada, Europe, South America, Central America. It's a blessing to get tiny glimpses into what God is doing in other countries.
Who outside the Bible has had the biggest impact on you spiritually?
Without a doubt, it's been Charles Spurgeon, Norman Geisler, Chuck Smith, and my first pastor, Brian Brodersen. They've all had an enormous influence of my understanding of the Bible and walk with the Lord. Everyone knows who Charles Spurgeon was. Norman Geisler is the dean of Christian apologists in my opinion. No one has done more for the defense of the faith than him. He's written or coauthored more than 80 books on apologetics. I love that man! He's handled God's Word so faithfully for decades now and taught me so much. I'm really thankful for him. Chuck Smith was the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement and just a tremendous man of God who faithfully taught through the entire Bible, verse by verse, over and over again. I've listened to hundreds of his sermons over the years and have been so blessed by his love for the Lord, his love for people, and the Scriptures. I had the privilege of finally meeting him, filling in for him at his church (what an honor!), and even enjoyed a couple of meals with him. What a brother he was! Looking forward to seeing him again in glory. Brian Brodersen, who took over for Chuck Smith when he died, was the pastor at Calvary Chapel of Vista for the first five or six years I was a Christian back in the early 1990s. I am so grateful for Brian's clear expository, verse-by-verse teaching.
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?
I'd recommend my Case For Christianity USB Flash Drive. It has all of my apologetic videos on a wide variety of topics. That's more than an entire semester of apologetics classes right on a tiny flash drive. As for books, I'd start with my book One Minute Answers to Skeptics’ Top Forty Questions. Another book I love to recommend is I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. It's 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, The Case for the Real Jesus. 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?
Well, we are all called to be apologists to some degree. Jude 1:3 and 1 Peter 3:15 talk about this. I’d encourage every believer to continue studying the Bible first and foremost. Many of the attacks on the faith by atheists, as well as the false teachings spread by the cults, can be countered simply by having a better grasp on what the Scriptures actually say. Beyond stuyding the Bible, I'd supplement that by reading good books on apologetics.
If a person believes God is leading him or her to 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 junior 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 you sharing something with the group along those lines, that you would love the opportunity. Then, be faithful with any opportunity God gives you, 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). You might find yourself with more and more opportunity to speak.
Your Bible teachings, the presentations you do, 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 lot of 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).
Are there any new projects or books you're working on?
Always! We'll announce those on ABR's Facebook page when they are done.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to get outside and hike to waterfalls, walk on the beach, surf, snowboard. Go out to dinner with my wife. Grab a cup of coffee and read a good book. Watch the Los Angeles Chargers and San Diego Padres...and the Olympics when they're on.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I've really been enjoying the church fathers and books on church history as of late. But I am typically reading, not so much for pleasure but for research, so I have stacks of books on my desk on different topics that I'm constantly hunting around in. But some of my favorite authors are Norman Geisler (who I already mentioned), John Lennox, Rodney Stark, John Walvoord, Timothy Keller, Charles Colson, Ron Rhodes, William Lane Craig, and many others. I love to read. Devotionally though, no one speaks to me quite like Charles Spurgeon. That beloved Baptist preacher moves my heart like no other.
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 when they head off to college. Parents and the church in general are not doing enough to prepare them for the intellectual challenges they are facing in the universities. They are being blown over by their atheistic, liberal professors. Pastors and parents 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 short 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 them 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 sooner. I wasted some precious years in high school and college living in rebellion to our Maker.
What advice would you give to new believers?
I encourage new and old believers to prayerfully read their Bibles every day, even if it's just for 10-15 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 also like to encourage new believers to find a church where they can fellowship with like-minded believers, worship, serve, and receive good expository teaching.
Some fun questions...What's your favorite kind of food?
Classic eighties alternative rock, Sirius channel 33 type of stuff. But I also listen to a lot of worship and classical music as well.
Favorite place to vacation?
Kauai. Been there twice in twenty years, but we would go back every year if we could afford it.
If you cold be any fictional character, who would you be?
Ha! Never thought about that. Superman I suppose, to help thwart some of the evil taking place in the world. Being Indiana Jones would be fun. I love to teach and I love archaeology. But if I were him, I'd be married, and faithful to my wife!
So you are married. Do you have any children?
Yes, five! Three girls and two boys, ages 9–18 (as of 2019). Love them like crazy!