Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Jesus VS. The Rest of The Bible

The following article is an open letter from Sojourners Magazine written by Tony Campolo in response to Stan Guthrie's criticism of Red Letter Christians, who take the words and teachings of Jesus exceedingly seriously. I find it bizarre (and yet sadly predictable) that when Christians start reiterating Jesus' message that is marked with radical sacrificial love, they are immediately accused of being "liberal" by the religious right. It is as if the religious right believes that all they have to do to discount other Christians who do not ascribe to their political ideology is utter that magic, dirty word: liberal and that will automatically dismiss whatever points Red Letter Christians are trying to make.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Stan Guthrie's Red Letter Blues (by Tony Campolo)
In response to Stan Guthrie's article in the October 2007 Christianity Today, "When Red Is Blue: Why I Am Not A Red Letter Christian," Tony Campolo wrote the following open letter as a response.

Dear Stan,
I have to say, "You got us right!" You said:

Though I own several Bibles with the words of Christ in red, I've always found the concept a bit iffy. After all, we evangelicals believe in the plenary, or full, inspiration of Scripture, don't we? Setting off Jesus' sayings this way seems to imply that they are more holy than what is printed in ordinary black ink. ...[I]f all Scripture is God-breathed, then in principle Jesus' inscripturated statements are no more God's word to us than are those from Peter, Paul, and Mary - or Ezekiel.

While we, like you, have a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture and believe the Bible was divinely inspired, you are correct in accusing Red Letter Christians of giving the words of Jesus priority over all other passages of Scripture. What is more, we believe that you really cannot rightly interpret the rest of the Bible without first understanding who Jesus is, what he did, and what he said.

Likewise, we believe the morality in the red letters of Jesus transcends that found in the black letters set down in the Pentateuch, and I'm surprised you don't agree. After all, Stan, didn't Jesus himself make this same point in the Sermon on the Mount? Don't you think his red-letter words about loving our enemies and doing good to those who hurt us represent a higher morality than the "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" kind of justice that we find in the Hebrew Testament? Is it really so hard to accept that, as God incarnate, Jesus set forth the highest law in the Bible, and therefore that law is more important than the Kosher dietary regulations we find in Leviticus and Deuteronomy?

You got us RLCs right again when you suggested we were anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty primarily because we believe Jesus is anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty. The only mistake you made was to imply that thinking this way - or trying to influence our government according to these values - makes us the Religious Left!

Unfortunately, the platform of Red Letter Christians always seems to come out of the wash blue, just as some other "nonpartisan" Christian groups consistently align with the Republicans.

That you think asking questions such as, "Do the candidates' budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families?," or "Do the candidates' policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it?," is partisan saddens us. We believe these are the questions that every Christian should be asking, no matter which political party or candidate has the better answers at a given time in history.


Ethan P. said...

People get uncomfortable about the notion of "Red Letter Christians" because it implies first off, that Jesus' teachings are not taken seriously enough by believers (how offensive!), and two, that they would actually have to start taking Jesus' teachings more seriously. :)

What is found in the "red letters" is so mind-altering, life-changing, servant-focused, sacrificial, worldly power destroying, foolishness of God embracing, that many, even Christians, are afraid of it. We'd have to ask ourselves questions like: "Can Christians really participate in and support (sometimes rally) war if we take the sermon on the mount literally? Can we support a politician, government, or ideology that only rewards the rich or contributes to the raping of the earth, consuming and wasting it's resources while a third of the world starves? The questions go on and on, and the answers are not easy. So, we try to balance the radical words of Jesus by blending them against the backdrop of the Old Testament rules and the espistles' pragmatism--it's so much more "practical." Instead, Jesus' teaching should be the pinnacle of our understanding and practice, the forefront of our walk and vision for the body of christ, and the lens through which we view the rest of scripture.

tiffany said...

Well said Ethan. For me the label of RLC is not as important as the intent to bring to light the message of Jesus that too often gets draped with rationalizations and individual special interest...ESPECIALLY in the political world. I'm all for Christians being involved in the political process, but instead of aligning with with problematic political parties or choosing between the lesser of two evils, Christians should seek transcendence of partisan poltics and transform every sector of society through practicing the teachings of Jesus in the political and social realms.

Good Post Tia Lynn.

nonprofitprophet said...

I actually have a theory that it is easier to believe in God than it is to follow Jesus. I know it is for me personally. Doctrinally, if they are one in the same, then this seems implausible. But there you have it. I would much rather believe in God and pray to Him and act right and go to church than to do what Jesus says I should be doing. That is rather inconvenient and not very self-serving. hmmmm. ~npp

Jason Witt said...

Thanks for the post! I didn't know what a RLC was until I clicked over to you. I agree with you instead of the guy you quoted. The words of Jesus are above other teachings in the Bible. One problem with evangelicals is they consider Paul to be above Jesus. Also, they preach the return of Jesus in bodily form. I'm not discounting scripture that promises this, but they don't consider what Jesus taught about his return--that it would be within us. He warned us against those who say, "Look here, look there," for his return, yet this is what many eschatologists love doing. I teach how we can find Jesus returning within us.

Tia Lynn said...

Thanks for stopping by Jason. Interesting thoughts. Come by more often and weigh in!

from Christy Fritz said...

i too had no knowledge of always very informative thoughts.:)

Andrew Kenny said...

Thanks for the post and the article by Tony. I always find Tony's thoughts stimulating (by the way regarding his thoughts, he once said he has had no unpublished thoughts!)

The words of Jesus are certainly devastating not only for the religious right ( who are not involved in Socio-political issues) but also the left who can somehow become distracted from the inward spiritual issues. Christ sees our evil thoughts be they of hatred or lost and as C.S. Lewis says Jesus talks more about hell than Paul.

Sometimes I think RLC might be picking and choosing those red letters they like and leaving the rest.We must be passionate about social action AND evangelism- not pick the one we want.

Anyway a lovely site: well laid out and colourful. Congratualtions and thanks for the comments on my blog.Keep it up.

Tia Lynn said...

I with ya Andrew. It's not social justice or evangelism, it's both! They are inescapably intertwined, well, at least they should be. :)