Author Bruce S. Campbell’s new novel, The Beginning: Prelude to the Apocalypse, is so rich in scriptural truth taught through allegory that he had to add a study guide so that readers could unpack the treasure trove of theology they were reading. But this ordained minister and counselor to other pastors will be the first to tell you that he has come a long way from his upbringing.
Bruce’s parents were divorced when he was five years old, and his mother worked two jobs to support three boys. Soon, she came to realize she could not take of them properly, and put Bruce and his two brothers in an orphanage in Detroit, where they lived for three years until Bruce was in 5th grade. Bruce’s mother remarried and the boys were brought back to live in the home.
When Bruce was 11, he had a weekend visit with his biological father who had become a Christian. It was on this visit that Bruce accepted Christ as his Savior. Unfortunately, he lost contact with his father shortly after that. His stepfather was an atheist. With no moral guidance in his life, at the early age of 13, Bruce began to use drugs. His addiction grew, and at the age of 16, Bruce had an encounter that began to change his outlook on life and God.
“I got into an altercation with deputy sheriffs and was beaten with steel flashlights,” Bruce recalls. “I became separated from my body and began to float upward. I saw Jesus coming out of the clouds and felt love, like a warm blanket, surround me. I was ashamed to come to Christ like that and asked Him for another chance. I immediately came back into my body and woke up in the hospital many hours later. My mother was in the hospital room crying as she told me they almost lost me. Although I had asked Christ to come into my heart, I was not following Him nor did I even care if God was real at the time of the incident. I was shaken to the core and could not get the vision of Christ out of my mind. I didn’t want to believe it was real because I loved drugs. I rationalized that it was an imaginary experience due to the trauma I suffered. Yet, I couldn’t shake the vivid picture of Jesus coming for me. After several weeks in the hospital, I was released to jail and then went back to the hospital. After the second hospital stay, I was released to my mother as a minor until the trial. At trial, I was convicted of assault and was put on probation for a year.”
Bruce quickly slipped back into drugs and began to drink heavily, but he couldn’t shake the inner knowledge that God was real. His mother gave him a book entitled Deliver Us from Evil by Don Basham. Bruce scanned the book, but didn’t take it too seriously because of the book’s emphasis on demons and spiritual warfare. It was on a plane ride to see an old girlfriend that Bruce had an encounter with God that forever changed his life trajectory.
As he boarded the plane to fly back to Florida, Bruce made a solemn promise to God to never drink again. After the plane took off, the flight attendants brought the beverage cart down the aisle and he got a cup of coffee. He remembered that he had a bottle of Kahlua in his bag and poured some of it into the coffee.
“After the third cup of Kahlua and coffee, I suddenly realized I had promised God I would never drink again,” says Bruce. “I was dumfounded at the reality of my promise and intent. It was as if another person took over my body and I had no control over my actions. I sat in the seat wondering how such a thing could happen. I remember saying, ‘Jesus, what is wrong with me?’
“I wasn’t expecting what happened next. A voice said, ‘Bruce, you have a demon.’ I started looking around me to see who spoke. I suddenly realized it was not audible, but was the Spirit of the Lord. I asked the Lord what to do. He said, ‘Command it to come out in My name.’ I had never experienced anything like this. I wasn’t familiar with the Bible enough to know if such experiences were normal or not. I figured I would do what I was instructed and I asked a question to the demon, ‘What is your name?’ A different voice said the word, ‘Addiction.’ I said, ‘Addiction, come out of me in the name of Jesus!’ Suddenly, I felt energy like a ball start to move around my stomach and into my chest. It continued to rise up into my throat and began to choke me. After a moment, I felt the presence leave out of my face. I sat there astounded at what I had just experienced. This reality was far beyond anything I had known before. It was as if an evil part of me was ripped out and I was free from its grasp.”
Once off the plane, Bruce began to realize that his addiction was completely gone. “I stopped at a 7/11 convenience store a couple of blocks from my house. When I emerged, I had a can of Coca Cola in my hand. That’s when it all hit me. I realized I did not have a beer in my hand. I hadn’t come out of a convenience store without a beer in years. I marveled that I didn’t even notice the beer cooler. I suddenly noticed the pack of cigarettes in my shirt pocket. I hadn’t smoked a single cigarette the entire trip. In fact, it was as if I had never smoked a cigarette in my entire life. I had no craving, no driven urge to light one up. In that moment, I understood the power of God. What I had experienced was real. In one moment the power of drugs, alcohol and tobacco were permanently removed from my life.”
Bruce turned his desire toward learning about the God who had healed his addiction. He read the Bible from cover to cover, drinking it in like water. He soon felt a call to the ministry and eventually received his Masters of Divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Since then, he has served as pastor in various churches, and in 2009, he and his wife, Jill, founded “The Secret Place,” an international ministry that offers pastors and clergy a respite from their pastoral work. Bruce and his wife minster and counsel both pastors and their wives who need to be refreshed or have fallen into sinful behaviors.
Bruce’s new novel, The Beginning: Prelude to the Apocalypse, was birthed from a dramatic event that took place at a church where Bruce was serving as pastor a few years ago.
“We had a woman who was dying of cancer at our church,” Bruce recalls. “The doctors had given her no hope and basically, sent her home to die. We laid hands on her and prayed for a complete recovery. A couple of weeks later, she was told there was an experimental treatment so she went back to the hospital for tests. That day her son called me in tears, and I thought she had passed away. What he told me was that the doctors could no longer locate the cancer at all. It was completely gone. This sent shock waves through our church, and we began to see God move in miraculous ways. My associate pastor and I began to talk about how the New Testament was coming alive before us, and we began to discuss biblical characters. We started talking about the two witnesses in Revelation – who they would be, what they would say, are they here now – and that was the germination of the idea behind the book. How will the world end as we know it? Is it going to be something closer to home and more common than we might think?”
Bruce’s goal with The Beginning and his current ministry is simple: to embolden the body of Christ with a deeper understanding of the love and grace of God.
“Our view of God is too small, and we place Him into our neat little theological packages,” says Bruce. “The result is that the world discounts our message as a confusing mess of contradiction. Like Pharisees, we are more concerned about adherence to our doctrines than we are concerned about showing the world the redemption in Christ. We emphasize certain things that appeal to us and neglect other things as unimportant. It is my belief that when Christianity becomes more about a lifestyle than doctrines and denominations, we will begin to present a more united front to the world. At the core of our problem is that we do not really believe Scriptures that teach us that with God all things are possible. We want to make the ways of God into an “either or” rather than “both and” realities. We see examples in such doctrines as law and grace. If we embrace grace we don’t think we are under the law. If we believe we must work out our salvation, we reject grace. The truth is that both realities remain true at the same time. Knowledge falls short of the reality of God. The realm of the Spirit is above the realm of knowledge. We must embrace every word that proceeds from God if we are to gain wisdom of His ways.” ###
Q&A with Bruce Campbell, author of The Beginning
What inspired your novel, THE BEGINNING?
I was the pastor of a church and we had a woman who was dying of cancer. The doctors had given her little hope and basically, sent her home to die. We laid hands on her and prayed for a complete recovery. A couple of weeks later, she was told there was an experimental treatment so she went to the hospital for tests. That day her son called me in tears, and I thought she had passed away. What he told me was that the doctors could no longer locate the cancer at all. It was completely gone. This sent shock waves through our church, and we began to see God move in miraculous ways. My associate pastor and I began to talk about how the New Testament was coming alive before us, and we began to discuss biblical characters. We started talking about the two witnesses in Revelation – who they would be, what they would say, will they be just regular guys – and that was the germination of the idea behind the book. What will the two witnesses tell us when they arrive? And are they already here?
What are some of the most important concepts in the book?
The most important concept in the novel is about exposing and understanding paradox. Paradox is when two things seem to be opposed to each other, yet each one is true. There are many paradoxes in the Christian faith. For example, God is three, God is one. So which is it? Another paradox is free will and predestination. Can both exist at the same time? If God is love, why does He allow evil? Theologians have been wrestling with these kinds of paradoxes for centuries. The book deals with these seemingly juxtapose concepts in a way that will help people begin to understand that ultimately, God’s wisdom is above ours, but that we can begin to understand these things through the workings of the Holy Spirit.
What are some examples of paradoxes in the book?
One of the more interesting paradoxes in the book is the nature of how male and female are represented in the God-head. God made both man and woman in His image. God is three persons and love is the spirit of God, but love is manifested in two different ways. God’s love is manifested in both protective love and nurturing love which are completely distinctive to each other. They are not the same kind of love. If someone broke into your house, you would instinctively protect your family by hurting that person in order to stop them. So in that case, violence is a result of protective love. Likewise, the maternal or female side of love never fails, it is warm and gooey; it believes all things, hopes all things. Protective love is what God the Father is, but the Holy Spirit displays the nurturing kind of love. In the book, the main character struggles to understand this paradox, among others. Another paradox, which most non-Christians and many Christians do not understand is, if God is good, why does He allow evil in the world? What most people don’t understand is that Lucifer was God’s wayward child. We know from the Scripture that in the beginning, there was no evil. The Bible tells us that Lucifer was the father of all evil. So God, in His wisdom, gave freedom to all the angels to either accept or reject Him. He did not and does not make anyone love Him. Love is a choice. The angels had to choose – as we do -- to trust God, their Dad, or their brother, Lucifer. Lucifer offered them what he offered Eve, the secret knowledge of good and evil. He offered Eve and the angels the promise to be like God. So what did God do about this crisis? How does He deal with it? These are some of the difficult concepts we explore in THE BEGINNING and we flesh them out further in the companion study guide.
Talk about “The Secret Place” ministry that you and your wife founded to help pastors.
It is estimated that over 1500 pastors and ministers drop out of ministry every month. We have a facility where pastors can come where we counsel them, love on them, and try to help them get back to their “first love.” Pastors get beat down so much. There are a lot of difficult circumstances they deal with on a daily basis. They often see people at their worst. So part of what we do is surround them with encouragement, and help give them a safe place to vent their own doubts and frustrations without worrying about what people may think about them.
What can churches do to better support their pastors?
People tend to put ministers on a pedestal. They put them in glass houses and watch everything they do. The Bible is so real in its approach to men of God. Moses was a murderer, and then was called by God. David was an adulterer and yet a “man after God’s own heart.” When Peter was rebuked by Jesus, Peter didn’t realize that his thoughts and words were from Satan. When James and John were traveling with Jesus through Samaria and the people did not receive Jesus, the disciples said “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus rebuked them and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Think about what the disciples were saying. They were asking to murder an entire population – in Jesus’ name! We sometimes don’t realize how frail and susceptible we are to worldly spirits that are not of God. Pastors are no different. They are human beings, and they often get off track. And instead of reacting in love, the church will often say, “if you don’t live up to our standard of perfection, we will destroy you.” But if the church truly wants to reflect grace and love, they will learn to offer compassion to their pastors just as they would anyone else in the congregation.
How important is it for Christians to be able to defend their faith in today’s culture?
One of the great dilemmas of our Christian faith is the inability to explain paradox. It is the paradoxes of God that are at the root of all denominations and divisional doctrines. Our view of God is too small, and we place Him into our neat little theological packages. The result is that the world discounts our message as a confusing mess of contradiction. Like Pharisees, we are more concerned about adherence to our doctrines than we are concerned about showing the world the redemption in Christ. We emphasize certain things that appeal to us and neglect other things as unimportant. Our words must be backed up by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is my belief that when Christianity becomes more about a lifestyle than doctrines and denominations, we will begin to present a more united front to the world. At the core of our problem is that we do not really believe Scriptures that teach us that with God all things are possible. We want to make the ways of God into an “either or” rather than “both and” realities. We see examples in such doctrines as law and grace. If we embrace grace we don’t think we are under the law. If we believe we must work out our salvation, we reject grace. The truth is that both realities remain true at the same time. Knowledge falls short of the reality of God. The realm of the Spirit is above the realm of knowledge. We must embrace every word that proceeds from God if we are to gain wisdom of His ways. The mystery of God will be sealed till the end of this age. We are seeing the power of the holy people being shattered in our culture. Only if we turn and repent can we stay the hand of God. 7And when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished. 8 Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, “My lord, what shall be the end of these things?” 9 And he said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. 10 Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand. Dan 12:7-10 (NKJV). The time is at hand to turn away from our slumber to righteousness.