Ted Campbell claims the first words of 1 Corinthians 15:3 as his personal mantra: “For what I received I passed on to you.” That’s describes his work as a church historian; Campbell not only studies and teaches history, he passes it on.
Widely regarded as the go-to scholar on John Wesley’s letters, Campbell’s academic focus is Christian history, especially Wesleyan and Methodist history. Over the past three years, he’s brought some of that history to bear in critical moment for the United Methodist Church.
As the denomination prepares for a special General Conference in February aimed at resolving divisions over homosexuality, Campbell has offered at least 50,000 words — a book’s worth — of carefully-written articles and blog posts giving historical context to the debate.
“I’m trying to bring the perspective of a historian and an ecumenist,” he said. “There’s this terrible Protestant tendency to fission. We need to think through better ways to disagree and yet remain connected.”
Campbell also shares his interest in local and regional history by way of videos he has written and produced for his YouTube channel, ranging from “Five Waves Over Dallas,” a look at immigration in the city’s history, to a music video about the Red River – words and music written and performed by Campbell and accompanied by his photos.
The song, by the way, is in French. And no, he doesn’t speak the language.
“I could not make this song work in English,” he said. With help from a French-speaking colleague, Laura Figura, who also provided vocals, La Riviere Rouge was born.
Campbell also passes on history to neighbors in Forest Meadow, the northeast Dallas neighborhood where he lives. Campbell spent a day researching historical markers in Forest Meadow and nearby areas and assembled a chronology. It’s his way of giving residents a connection to their history.
Campbell recalled his time at Oxford University, when he noticed the ubiquitous reminders of history. “Everywhere you walk there are not only historical markers, but they preserve things,” he said. “There’s a great sense of continuity.”
Current research: Having edited three volumes of John Wesley’s letters, Campbell is now working on the next, covering letters written from 1766 – 1775. He’s also working on the third volume of a trilogy on Methodist history, tentatively titled Wesleyan Practices, examining Methodist worship, small groups, evangelism, love feasts, and preaching, from the time of Wesley to the present time. He’s also working on the Columbia Guide to American Methodism (Columbia University Press) with co-author Russ Richey.
Church Connection: An ordained elder in the Texas conference of the United Methodist Church, Campbell grew up in a Methodist family in Beaumont, Texas, and attended Lon Morris College, a two-year United Methodist school in East Texas which closed in 2012. After studying at the University of North Texas, Oxford University, and Southern Methodist University, he pastored small churches early in his career. Now he’s active at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas, where he leads a meditative service on Wednesday evenings and teaches the Good News adult Sunday School class.
Book(s) on the nightstand: Re-reading Tom Sawyer; also enjoys science fiction and fantasy — The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and classics by Isaac Asimov are a few favorites. “I can’t stand historical fiction. It’s too much like work.”
Fantasy dinner party: “I wouldn’t invite John Wesley or John Calvin. They’re not very fun. I’d invite George W. Bush – he’s a fun guy. Also, Martin Luther, Francis of Assisi, Mae West and of course my wife, Dale Campbell. We’d talk about food, music, history.”
Pets: Two cats, Bella and Apollo, of mysterious origin, adopted on St. Francis’ Day from the principal at the school where Dale teaches. “The principal had been feeding a feral tom cat, and in the middle of a rain storm he brought these two kittens and deposited them on her porch.”
Hobbies: An amateur photographer, videographer and dabbler in drone photography, he also enjoys playing the guitar, hiking, and traveling, especially the British Isles – England, Scotland.
Do you follow a spiritual practice? Campbell follows the Daily Office for morning and evening prayer. “I have a Daily Office app on my phone and I usually just read them silently.”
Something most people don’t know about you? “I’ve lived a lot of my life between denominations. I’ve been a Methodist all my life, but I attended Episcopalian Eucharist while in high school and Anglican mass while at Oxford. My parents were Pentecostal, so I can walk into that environment any time. I’ve also received communion in the Assyrian Church of the East.”
You get to ask one question at the Pearly Gates. What do you ask? “I’d ask about the Greek bishop that interacted with John Wesley. He’s kind of a historical mystery. For that matter, I’d like to sit down with John Wesley for six or seven years and clarify some things.”