CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL
is a pastor (Calvary Chapel Association), author, and founder of the ABR Apologetics Ministry (AlwaysBeReady.com). Since founding ABR in 2005, he has spoken at hundreds of churches on a wide variety of topics related to the defense of the Christian faith. Prior to ABR, Charlie was an instructor at Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, CA and the Director of The School of Ministry at Calvary Vista, his home church—where he taught courses on apologetics, world religions and cults, systematic theology, eschatology, church history, hermeneutics, and evangelism (1997–2005). His books have been endorsed by Norman Geisler, Charles Colson, Chuck Smith, Ed Hindson, Nancy DeMoss, and others. He resides in sunny San Diego, California, where he grew up, with his wife Anastasia and their five kids.
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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 disintegrated 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 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 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 would be different for me!
PHOTO: Charlie with Bette Midler on the set of “FOR THE BOYS,” c. 1990. Charlie was an aspiring actor from 1989-1992.
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. So there I was; I was in college studying to be an architect (as a fallback plan if the band or acting thing never came to fruition). But I was also managing a surf shop in Carlsbad, California (Offshore Surf Shop). And a bunch of surfers who hung around the surf shop, including Joey Buran (winner of the Pipeline Masters in 1984), had become Christians and were going to a church called “Calvary Chapel” in the neighboring town of Vista. Several of these young men talked to me about the Lord and invited me to church, concerts, and beach Bible studies. I resisted the invites for a couple of years, but I finally took them up on the invitation and went to their church. After a service, I ventured into their bookstore. I was surprised to see they had dozens of books and videos about evidence for God and the reliability of the Bible. That was pretty shocking to me.
So, I bought a couple of books. As I read them, I was impressed with the argumentation and 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 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 began to disappear. I lost the desire to drink alcohol. I stopped cussing. The sense of emptiness and depression that haunted me lifted. 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.”
PHOTO: Charlie surfing in Carlsbad, CA, c. 1990.
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, and they came after us! They gave us books and magazines telling us that Jesus was just an angel, Hell isn’t real, etc. In order to talk to them, I had to figure out what I believed and why I believed it. And I did! I studied the Bible for hours every day.
Seven years later, in 1997, I went on staff as the young adults’ pastor at the Calvary Chapel in Vista, 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 senior pastor 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 teachings 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 God led me to do what I’m doing now.
As a young Christian, did you foresee yourself being a pastor or 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 told my teachers, “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!
Sometimes, I wonder if God called me to be a pastor and teacher just to astound the angels and people who used to know me! (“Hmm, let’s see, who is the least qualified to do this? Who is the worst speaker out there? Ahh, there he is, Charlie Campbell, living in Southern California. I’ll pick him, clean him up, change his heart, transform his mind, take away his fear of speaking, and empower him to preach my Word. 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?
Visiting different churches 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 canceled flights, lack of sleep, icy roads? 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 to 10,000-person congregations I’ve spoken at. But most churches in North America are much smaller.
Yes, I’ve spoken several times in Canada, Europe, South America, and 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, and Chuck Smith. They’ve all had an enormous influence on my understanding of the Bible and my walk with the Lord. Most people know who Charles Spurgeon was. Norman Geisler was the dean of Christian apologists in my opinion. No one did more for the defense of the faith than him. He wrote or co-authored more than a hundred books on apologetics. I loved that man! He handled God’s Word so faithfully for decades 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 enjoying a couple of meals with him. What a great brother he was! Looking forward to seeing him again in glory.
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. 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 studying 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 opportunities to speak.
Your Bible teachings, the presentations you do, are very visual. You use a lot of slides to communicate your points.
I do. I realized many years ago when I was teaching, that showing people color photographs of the Sea of Galilee, a map of Israel, ruins of the theater in Ephesus, an archaeological discovery, the interior of a cell, etc., would make a much longer impression on them than just talking about those things. I started doing that and immediately began receiving positive feedback from people. It appears that Jesus and other New Testament teachers knew the value of visual aids as well. Jesus often said things like, “Look at the fig tree” or “Observe how the lilies of the field grow” (Lk. 21:29; Matt. 6:28). James said, “Look at the ships” (James 3:4). Visual aids can help make a lesson easier to understand and more memorable.
Are there any new projects or books you’re working on?
Always! My latest project is a series of fictional novels that integrate apologetics into them. The first three installments are out.
Those sound interesting. What’s the title of the first one?
Dakota Knox and the Archaeology Thief.
What’s it about?
Dakota Knox is an American teenager visiting Israel with his family. While they’re in Israel, there’s a heist at the museum in Jerusalem. Several archaeological artifacts that verify details in the Bible are stolen. Dakota and his new friends try to track them down, and things get pretty dangerous! I wrote it to encourage teens regarding the trustworthiness of the Bible.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to write. I actually have great fun doing my “work” for the ABR ministry. I also like to walk and hike with my wife, ride my beach cruiser, surf if the waves are good, snowboard, enjoy a good cup of coffee or meal with my wife, and watch the LA Chargers and San Diego Padres.
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 need to 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 spiritually malnourished. I pray that more pastors would see the value of giving their congregations meaty in-depth sermons and declaring to them the whole counsel of the Word of God.
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 ten or fifteen minutes. What has been really helpful for me is to read the Bible with a 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.
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.
Some fun questions . . . What’s your favorite kind of food?
Classic eighties alternative rock. But I listen to a lot of worship, jazz, and classical music as well.
Favorite place to vacation?
Kauai. I love the beautiful scenery and slow pace of life.
If you could 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. Love them like crazy!