Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Red Letter Christians

posted by xscot mcknight

We’ve avoided this issue, but Tony Campolo and Stan Guthrie of CT are in a bit of a tiff on the Red Letter Christian issue.
Have you encountered this movement?
I have no problem with someone who wants to begin with the red letters of Jesus; I have lots of problems with Christians who don’t follow what they say. Anyone who thinks they are the only words in the Bible are not being fair to the Christian tradition. But, what is a Red-Letter Christian?
Here’s how Campolo once defined a Red-Letter Christian:
“By calling ourselves Red-Letter Christians, we are alluding to the fact that in several versions of the New Testament, the words of Jesus are printed in red. In adopting this name, we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that He said. Of course, the message in those red-lettered verses is radical, to say the least. If you don?t believe me, read Jesus? Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
In those red letters, He calls us away from the consumerist values that dominate contemporary American consciousness. He calls us to be merciful, which has strong implications for how we think about capital punishment. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he probably means we shouldn?t kill them. Most important, if we take Jesus seriously, we will realize that meeting the needs of the poor is a primary responsibility for His followers.
Figuring out just how to relate those radical red letters in the Bible to the complex issues in the modern world will be difficult, but that?s what we?ll try to do.”



Advertisement
Comments read comments(91)
post a comment
Jacob Paul Breeze

posted October 24, 2007 at 12:59 am


I think I understand the “heartbeat” or intention behind being “red letter”, but, I wonder if that silently demotes the actions of Jesus?
Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but, isn’t one of the major roles of the “red letters” to at least help us interpret Jesus’ actions?
If I were to give my ultimate fear of “red letters”: is that the Gospels end up being treated like the Gospel of Thomas: a mostly random grouping of sayings attributed to Jesus that are available for your private spirituality.



report abuse
 

art

posted October 24, 2007 at 1:47 am


I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything, but it seems that the RLC are basing their whole definition on a faulty understanding of historiography that seems to be extremely modernistic. Doesn’t their view seem to stem from the understanding that the “red letters” represent exactly what Jesus said, as if Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had an audio recording or were transcribing it as he spoke? That just seems to be a positivistic, modernistic understanding of history writing that they are anachronistically imposing onto the Gospels.
I like what they are saying because they want to give the teachings of Jesus their full weight. But, at the same time, we need to understand that these “red letters” are given to us through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John who all shaped their history and wrote the words of Christ without using a different color ink. We have inspired narratives; not inspired commentary with super-inspired quotations every now and again.
The whole “red letter” idea, I think, is based on a faulty view of what Scripture actually is. I’m all for what they are saying about social justice, but not for their methodology of getting there.



report abuse
 

Mark Pike

posted October 24, 2007 at 5:53 am


Tony Campolo knows better. The red letter type is a modern attempt to help the reader focus on the words of Jesus. The problem is that they can also pull those words out of the narrative and out of context. In Tony Campolo’s case Red Letter Christians is a poorly conceived strategy to appeal to readers of the Bible to consider his political aims.
The fiction that Tony Campolo is non-partisan does not pass the laugh test. I will state it more strongly than Stan Guthrie, for Tony Campolo to decry what he sees as the Religious Right without acknowledging there exists an active and influential Religious Left is hypocrisy. I think he has lost credibility.
I would rather the man just come forward and state his political views and affiliations. Even when I disagree with James Dobson, I know where he is coming from and what he stands for.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 24, 2007 at 7:06 am


I’m a little amazed by the comments here this morning, for in my judgment none is hitting the point the RLCs are advocating: rooting political action and conscience in the words of Jesus instead of … one can think of all things but the most prominent of which would be pragmatism and “what is best for me.”
If the RLCs force us back to the Bible and then maybe also to the “black letters” as well, leading to a dialogue on biblical perspectives, well and good.
To say they have pulled the words out of context is perhaps the point worth considering … and one in need of demonstration.
I’m convinced he’s not naive. He wants to see Christians stand up for what Jesus stands up for.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted October 24, 2007 at 7:24 am


The statement following Campolo’s definition really sums up the problem doesn’t it?
“Figuring out just how to relate those radical red letters in the Bible to the complex issues in the modern world will be difficult, but that?s what we?ll try to do.” This is what we should all be doing as Christians.
The problem is that Campolo’s prior statement defining RLC sets this in a modern political context ? not a kingdom of God context. First – we need to take the entire NT, including the way that the consummate acts of God were realized in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and in the establishment of his church following the ascension and the Pentecost experience. The Gospel of Jesus is reflected in the intentional nature of his actions and his words as remembered and enshrined by the church. The RLC approach not only emphasizes gospels over epistles ? it emphasizes the word over action ? it doesn?t even take the whole life of Jesus seriously. Second, we need to take seriously the exposition of the theological significance of the acts recorded in the gospels as developed in the letters of the apostles. Third, we need to look at the example of how this was worked out in the early church and how it should be carried forward. We need to be red and black letter Christians.
But the more significant concern is that the term RLC is defined to assume a political implication as to how this is to be carried out, of course the Religious Right also makes such an assumption ? and this “political” assumption is a perversion of the message from both right and left. Frankly I am equally dismayed with the political overtones from both right and left as they seem to be assuming the responsibility to rescue the world rather than following Jesus (whole NT ? whole Bible) and letting God redeem the world.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted October 24, 2007 at 7:33 am


Scot,
Campolo is certainly not naive.
But I don’t think he is really using “RLC” as a way to root political action and conscience in the words of Jesus instead of individualism. I think that he is using the concept of RLC to justify his political take – which is clear despite lip-service to nonpartisanship – and to motivate people to follow his (Campolo’s) message and passion.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 24, 2007 at 7:42 am


RJS,
OK, I’m not saying Campolo’s got it all right. What I’m saying is that he believes — and has for years and years — that Christians ought to be more involved in the relief of the poor, etc., because that is what Jesus taught us to do. This new RLC stuff is not news or new to him; he’s been advocating this stuff for decades. The RLC puts a new spin on his old lines and his old work.
You know I agree that thinking the RLC means social action isn’t enough and not even the central thrust of Jesus’ teachings and mission, which was to establish the church.
But, I’m all for a conversation today on the significance of this RLC strategy by these folks.



report abuse
 

Dr Fin

posted October 24, 2007 at 8:04 am


The problem is not with Campolo’s ends but with his means: his method is simply another version of picking and choosing which verses to follow and emphasize to the diminishing of others. This approach can only lead to the eventual loss of a balanced orthodoxy and orthopraxy if consistently applied. His ends, I think, are important and just; his means, however, do not justify his ends.
Sadly, Campolo’s I’ve-gotta-be-me/I’ve-gotta-be-different approach has made his method or means the focal point rather than the good he says he wants to accomplish. This is tragically typical of him and many others: the message is lost because the messenger feels compelled (whether consciously or not) to draw attention to his own outside-the-lines ways of doing things. There is no value in being different just for the sake of being different. Our message – Christ’s message – is offensive, but we don’t have to be.
I don’t have a red-letter Bible, mainly because I never saw the sense in one. And I can come to the same conclusions as Campolo without being offensive to the very people I’m trying to motivate. Campolo needs to learn to be less so that his message can be more.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 24, 2007 at 8:07 am


I’m reminded of something Wright said. It was a concern that through historical studies of Jesus he would end up with a strange Jesus whom he would not be able to relate to our modern world. Wright found his key to that riddle in John 20:21-23.

Then Jesus said again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, I now send you.” After he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. If you don’t forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

In other words, as Jesus to Israel, so the Church to the world. Wright finds in this the key for translating what Jesus did into what we are to implement. And it’s a scary and intimidating charge indeed. We do have the Holy Spirit, God himself, inhabiting the Church and guiding us. But still …
But this turns it from a hopeless task and the gospels from an interesting sidebar to the very center and core of the NT and, indeed, all of scripture. We need history and the OT to understand how and what Jesus was doing within the context of Israel. And then we need the Holy Spirit to guide us and empower us as we together take the part of Jesus in the story and apply it to the world.
And as if that weren’t frightening enough, that last sentence from the text ought to freeze us in our tracks. How terrifying is that? Especially in light of realities like that on which we are touching in the unChristian thread …



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 24, 2007 at 8:30 am


Here’s what I think the question is:
Is your view of the Bible one in which every word weighs the same or do you have sections in the Bible that you are think are more central? The RLCs at least believe we should begin with Jesus; some I suspect think we should go only to Jesus. Others think Jesus’ words matter no more than Paul’s or Peter’s or Moses’.
What do you think?



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted October 24, 2007 at 8:36 am


I love the red letters, but you can’t build a theology on only the red letters. I’ve read enough from these folks to know that they’re not interested in the the red letters but their interpretation of the red letters and what that means for US policy.
Second, over-emphasis of the red letters goes against the idea of the inspiration of scripture. More than that, it goes against the tried and true principle of interpreting the narrative in light of the didactic. Case in point: they want to apply Jesus’ words to the capital punishment debate, but it was Paul, not Jesus, who gave a clear statement in that regard. You should pay attention to Jesus’ words, but you have to consider what the apostle wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit as well.
“we are committed to living out the things that He said”
We should be committed to living out what Jesus taught. What He taught has to be properly interpreted, and our best tool for doing that is the black letters.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted October 24, 2007 at 8:54 am


Scot,
I heard Campolo speak several times when I was in college (>25 years ago now) – he had an impact on me that has carried forward.
I think that we should begin with Jesus – RLC I guess – although we certainly shouldn’t stop there. Reading and even memorizing the Sermon on the Mount and other of the longer recorded discourses has had a profound effect on my approach to Christianity.
I was amazed a couple of weeks back in the MEC? thread how some could rationalize away the need to take the words of Jesus with the utmost seriousness and application.
ChrisB – I will turn your comment around. What Paul taught can only be properly interpreted if we take the teaching of Jesus himself seriously. Our best tool for interpreting the black letters of the epistles is the red letters of Jesus – in the context of the actions also recorded in the gospels.



report abuse
 

Matt K

posted October 24, 2007 at 8:58 am


I think I’m kind of Barthian in my understanding of Revelation that Jesus is the primary Revelation of God and the Bible is the witness to that Revelation. Thus I find that the Gospels are the best starting place (but not the only place to look). When there is tension between Moses, Paul, and Jesus– it must be through Jesus that we interpret Moses or Paul (not the other way around; the Logos has priority).
So with all this in mind I see what the RLCs are doing. To make a broad generalization; evangelical Christians have built their theology around the Gospel of John and the Pauline corpus–focusing on the individual redemption of sin and the saving of the soul. The RLCs want to be a corrective to this by engaging texts that are just as inspired and authoritative: the sermon on the mount, Matthew 25, etc.
I completely recognize the danger that the RLCs present something just as one sided as a sort of right-wing religious movement. But if Christians of different stripes can engage each other in the Spirit of the one we claim as Lord, then it would do us all well to be corrected by one another to better follow Jesus.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 24, 2007 at 9:07 am


Chris, I’m interested in where Paul made a clear statement about capital punishment. From what I gather from what you say, it sounds like you would disagree with the understanding the ancient church had on that matter. And they were more closely situated to Paul than we are. Why do you believe you understand Paul better than they did?
After Scot’s presentation from this past weekend, I’m at least now prepared to understand the issue he’s raising. I’ve yet to meet or observe a single Christian who, in practice, gives equal weight to every single word of scripture and lives by absolutely everything it says, no exceptions. That strikes me as such an unrealistic way to read a text, I had never even imagined or understood that as a claim.
For me, I believe Jesus is the lens through which a Christian must understand the whole of scripture. By Jesus’ own statement, we only know God through him. He is the complete and full revelation of the God who is beyond our imagining. So we understand the old testament as the story which sets the stage and prepares a place for Jesus. And it is the story which finds its fulfillment and conclusion in him. And the post-Resurrection NT is then the implementation of his accomplished work. We are continuing that work today, but must always read everything in our text through the lens of Jesus.
I’m surprised that anyone who takes the label “Christian” as their own core identity would approach it any other way. If Jesus is not the one from whom I am learning everything about doing life as a student of life, then why would I take on a name which describes me as his apprentice, student, follower or whatever you prefer?
After all, if I took the label “Buddhist”, it would be reasonable to assume that I live and understand the world through the lens provided by Siddhartha Gautama and others who have been the Buddha. It’s something of a surprise to me that Christians would interpret our text, our narrative, and our lives in any other way. The Gospels form the heart and life of our text. While all scripture must be honored, the Gospels hold a place of preeminence and special honor within it.



report abuse
 

Julie Clawson

posted October 24, 2007 at 9:28 am


I think the usage has issues, like getting people all bothers about hierarchy of importance of verses and all that, but I think the intention is good. I grew up in the church never hearing the words of Jesus (except maybe the countless recitations of “I am the way, the truth, and the life NO ONE comes to Father except through ME” – with that emphasis of course). I was told that the Sermon on the Mount applied only to the afterlife in Heaven. The words of Jesus meant nothing to me and had zero effect on my life.
So a campaign so to speak that helps raise awareness that being a christian is a holistic endevour is helpful. the idea that our faith extend beyond Sunday morning and a constant condemnation of those we disagree with is a revolutionary concept. But then of course in these circles the caveat is always given that Jesus can’t really affect our whole lives, the politics part is taboo and can’t be touched…



report abuse
 

Brian M.

posted October 24, 2007 at 9:40 am


Scot makes a good point in #10 to begin with Jesus. Isn’t this how the Reformed community has been teaching us to read the OT all along? Jesus is central to all, and it begins with his words and deeds.
However, I cannot overcome the sense that we are elevating one part of the Bible over another. If the whole Bible is God breathed then we must need it all. Doesn’t Paul tell his churches to imitate him because he is imitating Christ? I believe that Paul does reflect Christ (as does Peter, Jude, John, Isaiah, etc), which is why his words must come into play on all of life’s issues alongside Jesus’ words.
Perhaps we have spent too much time in Pauline theology since the Reformation, but the answer is not to swing the pendulum away from Paul. Maybe we should focus on the whole Word of God, including Paul’s application of theology which is a demonstration of Christ (see Eph. 4-5 for example).
Too much of this seems to focus on the parts of the Bible that support our agenda rather than seeking a true, wholistic reading of God’s breath.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 24, 2007 at 9:54 am


Well, yes, I suppose we do elevate the Gospels over the rest of the text. Most of the church has traditionally done exactly that, affording them a place of special honor. In fact, it’s only really since the invention of the printing press that you were likely to get the whole text packaged in one book. In at least some of our more liturgical traditions, you still find the practice of standing (if you weren’t already standing) when the gospels are brought in, when they are read, and sometimes for as long as they are present.
I’m confused why it bothers people to afford the gospels a special place of honor. After all, if Jesus is the center and focus of our faith, are not the gospels the center and focus of our text? I think I’ll stick with the tradition of the church on this one rather than some apparently exclusively modern practices and beliefs.
As Jesus is the key for understanding and knowing God, so the Gospels are the key for understanding the rest of our sacred text.



report abuse
 

Sean LeRoy

posted October 24, 2007 at 10:07 am


Brian M.
I agree…some of the comments I’ve read by Campolo seem to me to create a cannon w/i a cannon, when instead-“all Scripture is inspired and profitable…”
The fact that he (Campolo) has co-opted the term, if one disagrees…well I think you get the picture.
We DO need it all (yes, Leviticus), AND we need to integrate all of it properly…AND, we need to revisit Jesus’ own words about the Scripture he came to fill up.
blessings.



report abuse
 

Rick L in Tx

posted October 24, 2007 at 10:12 am


Scott M reflected thus: I?m confused why it bothers people to afford the gospels a special place of honor.
I suspect that it actually doesn’t. What I suspect rather is that the tone of Campolo’s RLCs suggests two things: 1) that they are equating faithfulness in following Christ with specific political perspectives and objectives, and 2)that they are speaking in the voice of those Corinthians who claimed the high ground by saying (1 Cor 1:12) “I follow Christ” – as though those of a differing perspective do not. Alas, in the next verse Paul asks “Is Christ divided?” and I must answer yes. Who is wrong? Both.



report abuse
 

John W Frye

posted October 24, 2007 at 10:13 am


I don’t think we need to discuss whether all of the Bible is inspired by God or not. I guess most who comment here do believe that, with some rare exceptions. The question is this: Do these very Scriptures suggest that some teachings in it are “weightier” than others? The answer is yes. Jesus himself in Luke 24 undeniably says that he is the STORY of the Bible. And I agree that Paul’s letters and the other epistles can only be properly interpreted in view of the “red letters” and creative actions of Jesus. I am shocked that some are confusing inspiration of all Scripture with equating Peter or Paul or James to equal status with the Son of God! What’s with that?
And, as someone commented, no one lives today giving full weight to obeying every inspired jot and tittle of the whole Bible.



report abuse
 

paul

posted October 24, 2007 at 10:17 am


Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment in the law was. his answer was to quote to specific texts, one from Duet and another from Lev. I believe Jesus is giving us a framework from which to interpret the rest of the law. Jesus is not holding these two verse as more important than the rest of divine scripture, but rather giving a framework for which to view the rest of the law through.
I see this as the same thing the RLC’s are doing with the words of Jesus (and the rest of the gospel stories). They give us a framework for which to see the rest of the bible through…and then to begin asking how that impacts our lives.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 24, 2007 at 10:30 am


paul, I’m stomping on Scot’s ground here (from the book which gives this blog its name), but you do actually cite something that forms and shapes the whole of the NT. However, we have to take what you said a bit further and bit deeper into Judaism. Jesus didn’t just pick some verses from the OT. Rather, when asked for the greatest commandment, he responded with the Shema. That would be an expected answer in Judaism. The Shema was the central creed and every Torah observant Jew said (and still says) the Shema at least on rising and on going to bed and often more frequently.
The radical thing Jesus did is add to the Shema. And until you understand that he was messing with an utterly central creed do you grasp just how radical he was being. He added to it. He said that love of others, which does come from Torah but had not been considered nearly as central, is actually inseparable from love God. Once you see that, you see it everywhere in the Gospels and overflowing through the rest of the NT. Further, we have to recast our understanding of the OT in the light of Jesus’ fuller revelation.
That’s actually a perfect example of how we can only truly understand scripture through the lens of the Gospels. If we try it any other way, we’ll probably miss the point.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 24, 2007 at 10:45 am


And that, of course, like peeling an onion, takes you a step deeper. For when you understand that, you realize that a Jewish reading of scripture accorded differing weight and importance to different parts. As soon as we say things like Jesus was modifying and extending the understanding of one of the most central themes of Judaism, we are acknowledging that scripture has never been read in a flattened way with everything of equal value.
And Jesus was apparently perfectly OK and right at home with that even as he reshaped the understanding of what was most important.



report abuse
 

paul

posted October 24, 2007 at 10:52 am


thank you scott M with 2 t’s…that is much more articulate and much more in depth.
i agree with you that the whole point is that certain scripture does have more “weight” to it, and Jesus seems to give the model for this.
which means to say the RLC’s are on good ground when it comes to giving priority or weight or a foundational framework to certain verses over others. what is fair, I think, is to have discussion as to which parts of scripture they are giving weight to (and whether they have the right parts). And then secondly, how are they using the weighted parts to view and interpret the rest of scripture…



report abuse
 

Sean LeRoy

posted October 24, 2007 at 10:55 am


John,
At least speaking for myself, I don’t agree that Peter or Paul or James are on par w/ Jesus or Jesus’ words…but that God’s word(s) is/are on par w/ Jesus’ words.
My main concern, I guess, is to maintain the unity (non-contridictory nature) of the Bible – that yes, Jesus is the story-glue that HOLDS it together, not tears it apart. I fear that on the heals of, closely behind the RLC camp is placing Jesus’ words AGAINST Paul, Peter, James and Moses, not as the story / main point of them…I see an important difference there.



report abuse
 

e cho

posted October 24, 2007 at 11:10 am


I’ve also respected Tony because I feel like he’s strived to be consistent. While nuances of his theology may have changed, its essence has not. Whether one agrees with it or not, RLC is consistent with who he has been yesterday and today.
But another point I’d make is that if you are a christian, you CAN’T help but be involved in politics on some level or another. This is why somethink that Tony has an agenda. Of course, he does. His theology compels him to allow his faith to be involved in the political arena.



report abuse
 

Dianne P

posted October 24, 2007 at 11:41 am


Scot M,
Well said. A former pastor used to say about scripture, and I hope that I’ve got the words right…
It’s all equally true, it’s not all equally important.
I do get weary of *evangelical* Christians who chastise seemingly everyone else (ie, everyone who does not share their particular point of view) as *picking and choosing* what to believe. Totally agree w/ Scot Mc – I don’t know anyone who pays equal attention to the entire body of Scripture. Nor do I know any reason why we should.
Growing up as an Eastern Catholic, I always felt that the 4 gospels were given greater importance than the epistles. We sat for the epistles, stood for the gospels. The epistles were chanted by the cantor, the gospel read by the priest.
The epistles had no special introduction (that I recall), the gospel reading was preceded by the ritual procession carrying the *book*, much incense, and the memorable words from the priest – “Wisdom, be attentive”.
So for better or for worse, in truth or in error, I’ve always automatically interpreted the epistles (Paul, mostly) in light of the gospels (Jesus, mostly).
I do have a RL bible, which I love, but I also follow the advice of the same pastor quoted above – look at the words in the bible before the RLs, and most especially, look at the reaction of the people immediately after the RLs.
Attending more evangelical style churches (with some frustration) in recent years, I struggle w/ the intensive study of the epistles w/ little or no attention paid to the 4 gospels themselves.
Having ridden both sides of this trail, it seems clear to me that emphasizing the gospels leads to a more leftist political philosophy that addresses social justice, while emphasizing the epistles, to a more right political philosophy that addresses following the rules.



report abuse
 

Dianne P

posted October 24, 2007 at 11:48 am


My apologies to Scott (2 t’s) M.
I meant to say Scott M.
Being a Dianne w/ 2 n’s, I should be more attentive.



report abuse
 

Jeff

posted October 24, 2007 at 11:53 am


If revelation is progressive, shouldn’t we interpret Jesus’ words in light of the letters of Paul, Peter, and John those whom the Spirit was given to guide them to all truth?
There is not just RLC politics but also RLC theology. Often it seem that practitioners of it think that they have better insight into what the words of Jesus meant than the apostles did. They want not only to go back before the reformers distorted Christ’ message, but even before Paul and the apostles distorted it, to what the Way was meant to be by Jesus.



report abuse
 

Dianne P

posted October 24, 2007 at 12:02 pm


Jeff, so my question is – to follow that to its conclusion, then that means that the book of Revelation is the ultimate gospel? Though I guess all those who adhere to the *Left Behind* philosophy would agree to that.
While I might take the point that revelation is progressive, I think of that progression as more along the lines of increasing understanding as we move further along in our faith growth. Deeper prayer and study should lead to deeper understanding in the light of the Spirit as we grow in discipleship. Progressive revelation via the Holy Spirit’s work in me, not on a time line.
While I am quite accustomed to the limits of time and space, I don’t necessarily see God’s revelation following the same limitations.
Or maybe I’m misunderstanding your comments. If so, could you please help me out and explain further?



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 24, 2007 at 12:19 pm


Jeff, rather than simply responding, I think I need to step back and figure out what you mean. You begin with a question based on an idea which nobody had previously introduced (I checked). The idea you introduce to the thread in your question is that, “revelation is progressive.” I gather from its context that your initial question was not really a question, but rather a rhetorical device to set up what you wished to say in your second paragraph.
However, since you were introducing and responding to an idea that nobody else has yet mentioned, I thought it would be better to ask you to clarify what you meant when you used the phrase, “revelation is progressive,” rather than making an assumption and responding accordingly.
I don’t think I agree with the statement, since I believe scripture when it says that all has been revealed or made known to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, I do believe that the text, the story, and indeed the entire creation are centered on and understood through Jesus (and thus the text, all of it, can only be understood through the Gospels). But then, I’m not sure what you had in mind.



report abuse
 

Brian M.

posted October 24, 2007 at 12:36 pm


Many agree with progressive revelation, but not as defined above in #29. I think most conclude, with the author of Hebrews, that Jesus is the perfect revelation of God and all previous revelation, subsequent revelation, and all interpretation must go through him.
Perhaps the essence of the debate is this: If all revelation must go through Jesus, does this mean that all revelation must go through the Gospels? Aren’t the two different?
John Stackhouse makes some good points: some of the epistles are chronologically prior to the Gospels and not dependent upon them (see http://stackblog.wordpress.com). I agree with his points: 1) let’s not pit epistle vs. narrative, these are merely different genres and one is not better than another, 2) Gospels are not direct accounts and epistles and gospels are equally inspired by God, and 3) historical nostalgia is not what God is calling us to. He’s calling us to live the Jesus Creed in our own 2007 context.



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted October 24, 2007 at 12:39 pm


Please let me say up front that I have no desire to devalue the words of Christ. But making them a canon within the canon strikes me as hermeneutically questionable and theologically unjustifiable.
RJS said: Our best tool for interpreting the black letters of the epistles is the red letters of Jesus – in the context of the actions also recorded in the gospels.
We interpret the narrative in light of the didactic because we have, at best, bits and pieces of the narratives. In the epistles, the author has the opportunity to clearly state whatever he’s trying to communicate with context, caveats, and explanations. The gospel narratives don’t necessarily do that.
We also have to consider that we don’t actually have Jesus’ words. We have His words as transmitted by the authors. I’m certainly not one to say that they made things up, but they obviously had a theological purpose in what they chose, how they conveyed it, and what context they included. They told those stories to make a specific point, and when we try to remove them from that point, we’re taking chances and making assumptions. Putting the red letters up against the epistles seems to ignore the fact that Jesus didn’t write the gospels.
Scott M said: I?m confused why it bothers people to afford the gospels a special place of honor.
I do afford the gospels a place of honor, but in this issue I think some people believe, or at least suspect, that the red letters are preferred because they can more easily be used to justify a pre-existing political stance.
Also: I?ve yet to meet or observe a single Christian who, in practice, gives equal weight to every single word of scripture and lives by absolutely everything it says, no exceptions.
Well, there are two reasons for that. 1) All of it doesn’t apply to us. There are good reasons why modern Christians don’t follow the Levitical cleanliness rules, for example. 2) Sin. I think devout Christians want to obey the Bible as they understand it (ok, error makes 3), but we’re fallen humans.
None of this means we should elevate the red letters to some special law.
I?m interested in where Paul made a clear statement about capital punishment.
Try Romans 13:3-5: “…he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Swords are for removing heads, not spanking bottoms.
…it sounds like you would disagree with the understanding the ancient church had on that matter.
My church history knowledge is a little light. I know they practiced personal pacifism, but I don’t recall ever hearing that they opposed capital punishment. If they did, that does not mean they were correct. In case you haven’t noticed, protestants disagree with a lot of things taught by the early church. Roman Catholics do occasionally too.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 24, 2007 at 12:50 pm


ChrisB,
I know your desire is to protect the sanctity of Scripture and its authority, but I wonder if you really want to live in that kind of world you are creating for yourself by asserting that all of the Bible is on the same level.
Do you ask women to cover their heads? (1 Cor 11)
Do you ask men to raise their hands in prayer? (1 Tim 2)
Do you ask wives to call their husbands “lord”? (1 Peter 3)
Do you practice tongue speaking in your church? (1 Cor 12-14)
We could go on, and all it takes brother is for one such passage … and we could give more … to be “Well, we don’t really practice this anymore quite this way” and we are into a whole new ballgame, the ballgame of hermeneutics where we discern what is for now and what is not for now.



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted October 24, 2007 at 1:07 pm


Scot,
I think everything you list falls under either “doesn’t apply” or “sin” (as I mentioned in my last comment).
The “doesn’t apply” does, as you say, open up a whole new set of problems, but if you can’t convince yourself it doesn’t apply (e.g., old covenant, cultural) you do or it is sin. And, of course, when we stand before the Lord we may find out we were wrong about some of the “doesn’t apply” stuff. Thank God for grace.
(The above is not intended to be smarmy or to imply that there aren’t things I don’t do that I know I should.)
BTW, that last one — I don’t think it requires the speaking of tongues, does it?



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted October 24, 2007 at 1:07 pm


To interpret the words of Jesus, the red letters, it is important to put them in the setting in which they were said. That is, who was he talking to. For example, talking to the pharisses would be different than when talking to those who followed him around (is that the 12? who became his disciples?) Just as it is important to put in context to whom the episles were addressed and what was going on that Paul or others said what they said. Context, context, context.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 24, 2007 at 1:15 pm


So Chris, you’re saying the Gospel authors did not write their gospels with an intent, audience, clarity, and explanation? That they are “bits and pieces of the narratives”? And thus the epistles are somehow more reliable? I’m still confused because that doesn’t look much like anything I would consider honor.
I’ll skip over the bit about capital punishment. You somehow managed to simultaneously say you don’t know what the ancient church taught, but that if it’s different than your interpretation, they were wrong. I’m not at all sure how to approach that. I will however note that Paul said nothing clearly about capital punishment in the bit you have quoted. Rather, you have imposed an interpretation on him and read what he wrote in that light.
I’ve noticed that you haven’t described the lens through which you interpret Scripture. It’s reasonably clear that you do not believe it should be Jesus and the Gospels. What then do you believe is the appropriate lens? That’s probably more helpful than discussing what you don’t believe.



report abuse
 

Jeff

posted October 24, 2007 at 1:21 pm


Scott M (31),
The question may have been rhetorical but it was used to pose a thought, a brainstorming idea, as opposed to a settled conclusion. Lacking the theological sophistication of regular posters here, I wanted to preface my remarks in a more tentative manner which I apparently failed to do.
Although the term ?progressive revelation? had not been used prior the topic was introduced by saying we interpret the OT in light of Jesus and discussing how the black and red letters interact.
In salvation history there is a progressive disclosure of God and his purposes. It is not contradictory but complementary. The movement is not from error to truth but from less to more clear. Obviously, Jesus is the center and hub of all revelation but I am not sure what you mean by ?all has been revealed or made known to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.? Jesus was the final revelatory event but a complete understanding of Him was not revealed by the event or by the words spoken by Jesus. It seems to me that the words written by Paul and others make progress in our understanding of that event by making it clearer.
It further seems to me that if one had only the synoptic gospels a different understanding of Jesus would emerge than if one has the synoptic gospels and epistles. Unless the combination of the two inevitably results in a distorted understanding of Jesus, I would think that there is progress in revelation as a result of having the epistles. This progress comes not from adding events to what Christ has done but a better understanding of the Jesus event.
Having said all of that I recognize that I may not have the expertise to draw those conclusions, so I look forward to hearing from those who see it differently and perhaps some who have similar thoughts.



report abuse
 

kent

posted October 24, 2007 at 1:26 pm


I do think I give the words of Jesus an edge, but ont a decisive edge. I would not consider myself at RLC, because I believe the words of Jesus are impacted by the words of the Old Testament. The words of Jesus are great placeto begin, but they then lead us to the world of Paul or James or Peter or Isaiah or the Psalmist or of Leviticus.
yes the red words ought to guide our actions in all arenas and not simply political, just like the black words ought to.



report abuse
 

John W Frye

posted October 24, 2007 at 1:37 pm


I think it is laughable that the RLC are allegedly on the political left and their interest in Jesus and the Gospels is politically motivated. Give me a break. As if the right wingers don’t flee to Paul to justify their political penchant for capital punishment and war (killing, not loving your enemies), and male domination of females.
Sean (#25), your concerns cut both ways—why do many desire pit Paul against Jesus?



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 24, 2007 at 1:53 pm


Jeff, I’m hardly a “theological expert”, but that doesn’t stop me from adding my two cents. That’s one of the beauties of this blog. Those with considerable credentials interact on a pretty open basis with those of us with none. And much of the time, it can be hard to tell who is who unless they let you know.
Thanks for fleshing out the idea of “progressive revelation”. From your two comments, it sounds like an established hermeneutic for reading scripture. I’m not familiar with it personally, so take my comments with that grain of salt. The idea that God’s revelation is progressing throughout history to the present, with Jesus as a key or central event but not the culmination of all revelation sounds to me like an interpretive lens which draws heavily from the Enlightenment perspective. I could be wrong, but that’s the feel I get.
And I don’t think the topic had been raised before you raised it. Saying that Jesus is the culmination and center of the text (and the story and reality) does say that the OT is progressing toward that event and must be read in the light of its place in history. So I’ll grant that, to that point, they look similar. However, the perspective I had described also holds that all subsequent history (and texts) must look back to Jesus as well and be interpreted through the lens he provides.
You raise an interesting question about the Gospels, though I would not tend to separate John from the other three. Each has a distinct voice and perspective and I would say that together, the four Gospels are sufficient. No, you will not have to full context to properly grasp everything in them without the OT. And yes, without the correctives of the Epistles, you may repeat some of the errors the earliest Christians. And without Revelation, you will not have the imagery of the future restoration which we anticipate today.
Nevertheless, I would call the four Gospels together sufficient alone in a way the rest of our Scripture is not. If you add the Acts of the Apostles to the Gospels so you can see how the apostles went about the business of implementing the Gospels, I think it is wholly sufficient. Our faith is found in the person of Jesus and he strangely inhabits the Gospels. In some sense, when you encounter the Gospels, the encounter Jesus in a way that is not true of the rest of Scripture.
To the rest, admittedly I’ve moved beyond the “Red Letter” focus. I never actually took that literally, but rather saw it as a way to promote the centrality of the gospels in our interpretation and understanding of God and our faith. I’m not even sure if I own a “red letter” bible. In other words, I interpreted that more as the gimmick or hook than as the actual point.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted October 24, 2007 at 2:10 pm


ChrisB
I am travelling today and don’t have time to read this myriad of comments in detail – but I must respond to this. I apologize if I repeat what someone else has said.
You said:
“We interpret the narrative in light of the didactic because we have, at best, bits and pieces of the narratives. In the epistles, the author has the opportunity to clearly state whatever he?s trying to communicate with context, caveats, and explanations. The gospel narratives don?t necessarily do that. …We also have to consider that we don?t actually have Jesus? words. …”
The gospels were collected and transmitted by the church and as such are at least as inspired and as systematized as anything in Paul or the other letters. Yes they have a “theology” but so does Paul. Paul also picked his examples to make specific points in specific situations. It is all the theology of the church. The gospels are inspired God and preserved by the church as are the letters of Paul.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted October 24, 2007 at 2:25 pm


What is the algorithm that classed my comment as questionable – i.e. spam? Hope it shows soon (or perhaps not).



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted October 24, 2007 at 2:31 pm


Scott M: you?re saying the Gospel authors did not write their gospels with an intent, audience, clarity, and explanation?
No, just that the epistle writers did more so. This isn’t some crazy idea I’ve come up with. It’s a pretty standard interpretive rule.
Maybe an extreme example will help. Think about the book of Judges. What kind of crazy stuff would you come up with if you didn’t have the other biblical texts? Sure, no one sacrifices their children in the gospels, but the fact is that narratives have limitations that other kinds of passages don’t (ditto for prophecies, poems, and letters).
Here’s an example. Jesus said, “My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 16:23). He said something similar on a number of occasions.
According to the epistles, there are some caveats — e.g., James 4:3. Are the apostles contradicting Jesus? Or could it be that there were further teachings of Jesus on the topic not mentioned in the gospels? If the red letters have primacy, how do we explain the conditions on answered prayer in the epistles?
You somehow managed to simultaneously say you don?t know what the ancient church taught, but that if it?s different than your interpretation, they were wrong.
I said “that does not mean they were correct” — i.e., they could be wrong, not that they are. The fact that a view was held in the early church does not, on its own, prove that it is correct.
I?ve noticed that you haven?t described the lens through which you interpret Scripture.
To the best of my ability I interpret a scripture through the lens of the rest of the scripture. I try to determine the historical, theological, cultural, and grammatical context, then compare with other passages in the Bible. Though the red letters may hold a special place in my heart, in interpreting a text, they are but one piece of the puzzle.



report abuse
 

Stephen Mook

posted October 24, 2007 at 2:42 pm


Sometimes we can wrestle with the red letters more then the rest of scripture only because it is harder to love your enemies and be a peacemaker, or meek or pure in heart. It calls us to a greater meditation and greater aciton.
Perhaps the heart of this post and the heart of the Red letters Christians is to emphasize that we spend too much time building up our theology and not enough time wrestling with the thickness of Jesus message. I can disagree with someone who disregards the rest of scripture or how we interpret it in light of the red letters. Yet this can?t stop the discussion. It?s unfortunate that there can be Christians who don’t see enough Christians focusing on Jesus and his teachings (which is true) so they call them self ?Red Letter Christians? (Which creates and aroma of self righteousness and alienation) and it?s unfortunate when people see this as a ?social gospel? or left wing or an alienation of the rest of scripture (which it can be) so they step out of the discussion and conversation with there fellow brothers and sisters.
How can we find unity in this discussion?



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 24, 2007 at 2:58 pm


To the best of my ability I interpret a scripture through the lens of the rest of the scripture.

That sounds nice. But it is simply impossible to interpret “a scripture” (whatever constitutes “a scripture”) through the lens of every other separate word, sentence, paragraph, or thought in the text (however you care to divide it up). So how do you really determine which portions of the text to use and the weight to give them when interpreting any given portion of the text?



report abuse
 

Brian M.

posted October 24, 2007 at 3:01 pm


Stephen in #42 is correct, we need to find unity in the discussion. However, it is his first premise that may need clarification: do the red letter really call us to “greater meditation and greater action”? Let me give a few examples:
I see the Jesus Creed all over Paul when I read the “one anothers.” When I read Ephesians I’m challenged about truth (4:25), my words (4:29), bitterness/anger/wrath/quarreling/slander (Eph. 4:31), forgiveness (Eph. 4:32), mutual submission (Eph. 5:21). When I read Galatians and Colossians I’m challenged about mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience (Col. 3, Gal. 5), etc. etc. I admit most people traditionally read Eph. 1-3 rather than Eph. 4-6, but let’s not abandon Paul because of this error.
It seems as if RLC sees a different message in the red letters. I don’t. In the “black letters” of the Bible I see a message that points to the person and work of Christ. Therefore, Paul’s words are just as profitable as the words recorded in the Gospels (don’t misunderstand, Jesus is the center, not Paul) because all those words point to Christ and his creed.



report abuse
 

Jay

posted October 24, 2007 at 4:42 pm


ChrisB #33 said: “We also have to consider that we don?t actually have Jesus? words. We have His words as transmitted by the authors.”
I think this is an important point. The RLC seems to assume that somehow the gospels preserve an unmediated Jesus. In reality, we do not have unmediated access to Jesus, only a collection of Jesus interpretations, whether in narrative or epistolary form. So the question is, why privilege Mark’s Jesus, or Matthew’s Jesus, or Paul’s Jesus? Put differently, why privilege narrative portrayals of Jesus over epistolary portrayals (or vice versa)?



report abuse
 

Mike

posted October 24, 2007 at 4:54 pm


I find it sad that with so much to be done, we’re even discussing this. But, alas, there always must be a “tiff” about something – somewhere. If it wasn’t about RLC, it would be about something else. It is this constant back and forth about the smallest things that causes one (me anyway) to become brain and bone weary with thoughts of constant clashing trivialities. I can’t be the only one and that, to me, isn’t trivial.



report abuse
 

Stephen Mook

posted October 24, 2007 at 4:54 pm


Brian,
I am with you that the rest of the New Testament writers in some form points to the life and teachings of Christ.
I know you know this, but there is no Damascus road for Paul if it isn’t for Christ. Paul continued instructing and writing on the premise of Christ teachings and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Authority is given to him yet it is Christ teachings and call to action that sparks the existence of Christianity.
It is Christ teachings that brought about a greater mediation and call to action from the first Christians. We see Paul’s life and read his letters and can miss this truth. This doesn’t take away from Paul or any of the New Testament writers, it breaths context, insight and greater life into them.
If you and I are seeking to love God and our neighbor, either in the needs of the suburbs or the needs of the ghetto, we don?t need to discuss red letters against black letters. At this point we are seeking to reflect Christ and all those who followed him, including Paul.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted October 24, 2007 at 5:02 pm


Brian M.,
I can’t speak for the RLCs, since they didn’t ask me to sign on the line, but I don’t think the issue is Jesus or Paul, but a call for those who seem in their opinion to be so Pauline-shaped they have ignored the simple statements of Jesus on justice. That is my understanding.



report abuse
 

Scott Watson

posted October 24, 2007 at 6:49 pm


I may be projecting a bit but it’s interesting how those,I presume,would be less inclined to critical biblical studies,can turn that way when it comes to the “RL” issue. As Stanley Hauerwas once humorously said in exasperation over what he saw as the socio-cultural and political captivity of much of “right wing” Protestant Christianity to American values over the same issues that Tony Campolo is addressing: ‘Where are the fundamentalists when you need them?’



report abuse
 

Dianne P

posted October 24, 2007 at 7:20 pm


Thank you Scot Mc. My disappointment in attending what have been called more *biblically based* churches is that they doesn’t so much look like bible based churches, but rather like Pauline-based churches. Sermon series after sermon series on Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, etc. with but an occasional token commentary on the gospels. Sound bites of *Jesus is everything* or some variation, but missing a gospel-based study of Jesus. It’s an odd experience, following someone w/o studying them, as if we didn’t actually have the gospels at all. If a spaceman had dropped in from a distant galaxy to one of these churches, might he wonder if we shouldn’t be calling ourselves *Paul-ines* rather than Christians? I understand that Campolo has a certain agenda, but to be charitable, perhaps he developed that agenda by reading the gospels, rather than reading them in light of his agenda. I certainly in any way mean to devalue Paul, but after a few years of hearing nothing but epistles, epistles, epistles, I have found myself in a bit of reaction mode, wondering “What about the gospels?”



report abuse
 

Joel

posted October 24, 2007 at 8:52 pm


Scot and Dianne hit the nail on the head in the las tpost. One thing that bothers me about reformed theology is that it sometimes seems that it really has very little to do with Jesus. Yes, they’ll use a few of his quotes and talk a lot about his role on the cross, but a lot of the time reformed theology seems to reduce him to little more than a distant cosmic savior, whose earthly life and teaching isn’t terribly important.
Now, I’m not sure I like how Campolo states his argument. And while I don’t like it how some Christians will totally bootstrap themselves to the full Republican agenda just because of a couple of issues they agree on, Campolo is kind of guilty of the opposite. Still, Campolo does have a point.
Regarding Romans 13, one must consider the historical/cultural context it was written in. I don’t think it’s supposed to be an endorsement of certain political policies, especially since Christians held absolutely no political influence in the Roman empire at the time. Also, I understand that the Greek word used for “sword” here is for a short defensive blade that would generally not be used for killing, not a war sword. I view it as an admonishment to Christians that they should submit to the authorities, except in matters that directly contradict God’s commands of course.
I think he is saying that the persecution and injustice in the Roman empire is no license for general disobedience to the authorities and that they should be prepared for the consequences of doing so. It seems to me that considering the setting in which it was written, it is an anachronistic mistake to use it as a prooftext for supporting certain policies or as a pretext for a theory of divine-right rule (the latter was very common in the middle ages).



report abuse
 

Josenmiami

posted October 24, 2007 at 11:21 pm


Hi all: great discussion!
About four years ago, my 18-year-old son asked my to study through the commands of Christ with him (we were at a Gothard ?anger resolution seminar). We did it, and it changed my life forever.
I still do not fully agree with Gothard?s theological bias, but focusing on the things that Jesus spoke in the imperative gave me a whole new paradigm for what is really important in faith. For example, he spoke very clearly about the problem of judgment in Matt 7 and never even mentioned homosexuality. And yet Christians are up in arms about gay rights while the church is saturated with ?krino-style? judgment. Although I love an appreciate the whole bible, I have to give some priority to the plain teaching of Jesus.
Scot, you said in an early post, that the central thrust of Jesus? ministry was focused on the church. And yet he only mentioned the ecclesia twice, if I am not mistaken. I would respectfully disagree and say that his central focus was the kingdom of God and the secondary focus was making disciples of all the nations.
I do believe we need to revisit our Christology in fresh ways for the 21st. century. My hat is off to Tony Campolo for trying to bring some balance to North American evangelicalism.



report abuse
 

joe troyer

posted October 25, 2007 at 12:02 am


unfortunately, the medium is the message. it is hard to look at the issue sometimes past tony campolo.
the truth remains that jesus is the climax of the narrative of god. he is the point. as far as i understand it. with that being said, the fullness of the scripture is understood and fulfilled in christ. so while, i understand the concern, in reality, being a “RLC” should only take you deeper into scripture. it should bring depth, not shallowness to your faith.
i am trying out this “rlc” thing. i am a big jesus guy. i interpret scripture through the life, teachings, death and ressurection of christ and the kingdom he is calling us to live in. maybe that is not correct, but i am just trying to walk it out. so while some of you make not like the medium, it doesnt make the message neccessarily wrong.
my 0.02 cents. Peace.



report abuse
 

mariam

posted October 25, 2007 at 2:17 am


ChrisB #33 : ?We also have to consider that we don?t actually have Jesus? words. We have His words as transmitted by the authors.?
Jay #48 “I think this is an important point. The RLC seems to assume that somehow the gospels preserve an unmediated Jesus. In reality, we do not have unmediated access to Jesus, only a collection of Jesus interpretations, whether in narrative or epistolary form. So the question is, why privilege Mark?s Jesus, or Matthew?s Jesus, or Paul?s Jesus? Put differently, why privilege narrative portrayals of Jesus over epistolary portrayals (or vice versa)?”
I am surprised to hear you taking the liberal stance on the authority of scripture. Liberals would generally agree ? it?s impossible to know what Jesus really said and separate it from its context ? both in history and from the interpretation and opinion of the authors of the gospels. Of course this does lead us to question whether Jesus really said ?I am the way, the truth and the life ? no one comes to the Father but by me.? Some liberals think John was putting words in Jesus? mouth. In a similar vein we might argue that we don?t really know if anything in the Bible is really what God said or meant or if it is “just a collection of God interpretations”. Personally, I’m OK with that.



report abuse
 

Jeff

posted October 25, 2007 at 8:42 am


The RLC is introduced here with reference to the Guthrie/Campolo exchange which is primarily about politics. Campolo says that the RLC takes Jesus? words seriously and votes according to the teachings of Jesus. Guthrie does not doubt the desire of the RLC to be faithful to Christ, but he is skeptical of their use of the red letters to achieve their result. Would a red letter emphasis really achieve what they say it does or is it simply a clever marketing ploy to get more support for their position? It seems more of the latter than the former to me.
First, as I read the red letters they say that we are to give to the poor not force other people to give to the poor. It says we are to give to those who ask not take from those who don?t? want to give. In taking other people?s money through taxation we are actually using the threat of force to compel them to give their money to the government. This use of force does not seem compatible with the red letters. Since the RLC movement seems more about encourage Christians to take from others rather than give what they have it makes me skeptical about it really being about the red letters rather than a political agenda. The RLC says that the red letters compel us to use the coercive power of the government to force others to give to the poor. I don?t see that in the red letters.
Second, it takes a judgmental attitude toward those who disagree with them about whether specific policies will actually benefit the poor. You are good if you support higher taxes on the rich and bad if you don?t. This judgmental attitude overlooks that many who oppose higher taxes do so because they believe that it will hurt rather than help the poor, believing that the poor need jobs not program. Higher taxes can not only cost jobs but even decrease money available for programs. The 1990 luxury tax is a classic example. In order to unreward the rich and show compassion on the poor an excise tax was imposed on luxury items. However, the desired result was not achieved. The rich stopped buying luxury items which resulted in less income than expected from the tax increase. In addition, the government incurred additional expenses because they had to pay unemployment benefits to the 9,000 people who lost their jobs due to the decrease in demand for luxury items. In the end the tax increased cost the government more than the additional income it took in. The policy that was supposed to help the poor made more people poor. However, the RLC would dogmatically declare that the candidate that talks the most about showing compassion to the poor by increasing taxes is the good one and the one that talks most about rewarding the rich by cutting taxes is the bad one. Such judgmental dogmatism does not seem consistent with the red letters.
Thus, the RLC movement does not seem to be a serious attempt to call people to think deeply about how Jesus would want us to participate in the political process. It advocates the use of coercive power to force people to be obedient to Christ and calls Christians to uncritically support specific policies and candidates that advocate them. Please read this next sentence carefully. Even though RLCs maybe motivated by their well thought out understanding of the words of Jesus, the RLC emphasis is not an attempt to get others to think deeply but a marketing approach to get Christians to unreflective adopt their position by appealing to emotional power of the red letters. If you are real Christian, a red letter Christian, you will vote for candidate X. The red letter emphasis seems manipulative and disingenuous. Guthrie rightfully calls them on it.



report abuse
 

Bob Brague

posted October 25, 2007 at 9:05 am


This blog is so far above me and my limited mental capacities, and yet I love reading it because people are just so *civil* to one another. Regarding red letters, if I were compiling the sayings of, say, Corrie Ten Boom, I would certainly include “Jesus is Victor in the deepest darkness” and “No darkness is so deep but that Jesus’ love is deeper still” (if I’m remembering correctly) and I might even print her words in red letters if I wanted to give them some sort of special emphasis, and they wouldn’t be *my* words as an author but *her* words. I know they are because I heard her say them with my own ears and they are even more powerful and convincing when I remember Miss Ten Boom’s experiences in concentration camps during World War II. And when I tell them to others, I try to quote her correctly and convey the effect they had on me so that my hearers might even pass them along some day. So Mark may have been only an *author* hearing what Peter said to him, and Luke may have been only an *author* hearing what Mary said to him (could she have discussed her pregnancy with her physician?), but my personal opinion is that we can rely on what they wrote. A poor analogy, probably. Jesus’ words are Jesus’ words, whether they are printed in red or black or green or purple. Political agendas are something else altogether. I guess that puts me beyond the pale in some folks’ eyes.
If I were making a canon out of this blog, I would certainly put words like *corpus* and *hermeneutics* and maybe even *perichoresis* in red letters, which wouldn’t help me understand them any better but might highlight how important their speakers thought them (or themselves) to be. :) Okay, I repent in sackcloth and ashes.
A lowly layman,
Bob Brague



report abuse
 

Anonymous

posted October 25, 2007 at 9:15 am


Red Letter Christian « Living Intentionally

[…] Red Letter Christians […]



report abuse
 

Bob Brague

posted October 25, 2007 at 9:15 am


I left out *orthogonal*.
Bob B.



report abuse
 

B-W

posted October 25, 2007 at 10:40 am


Jeff in #58,
While I think you overstate the case for the RLC’s intentions, there are certainly good things to consider here. I very much agree that we should look at Campolo’s words with at least enough skepticism to ensure that (as I think he himself would say, whatever he may mean) we as Christians seek to act as Jesus would have us act, rather than out of a specific political presupposition.
As to the “RLC” emphasis being a marketing ploy, I’m not even sure that Campolo or other RLC’s would disagree, although I’m sure they believe that it is more than simply such a ploy. Marketing is important. If they do seek persuade other Christians to think as they do, it is natural to want to “market” in such a way as to encourage a positive response. This is done by people of all religious and political stripes. We must acknowledge this for what it is, but not condemn it simply for being such.
As to RLCs seeking to use the government’s “coercive power… to force others to give to the poor”, I won’t comment on whether or not this is their motive, but look at it this way: Jesus had quite a lot to say about how people should behave and how we should treat each other. If Christians simply spent as much time talking about the issues raised in the Sermon on the Mount as we do about, say, abortion or homosexuality, neither of which get all that much air time in the whole Bible, let alone in Jesus’ words (NOTE: This is not to say that I think Christians should ignore what the Bible says about these issues. Just that they shouldn’t be granted superiority over other Biblical matters), then I think the RLCs agenda would be well met, no matter what was asked of government.
But if the US government truly is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” it would stand to reason that governmental policies would soon follow suit if the people themselves started to take the words of Jesus more seriously.
Anyway, I’ve probably said enough. I’ve actually already weighed in on this issue before Scot thought to, partially because I, too, have been bothered by the idea of exalting the Gospels over other parts of Scripture (I’ve attended an Episcopal church with some frequency lately, and the “stand for the Gospels, but not for the rest of Scripture” bit has always made me uneasy). But that’s not to say that I think Campolo’s totally wrong, either. If you’re not already blurry-eyed after reading the rest of this already-long thread, you can see what I had to say at this link. I also did a brief follow-up here, but there’s little new on that second one.



report abuse
 

tim atwater

posted October 25, 2007 at 12:38 pm


Thanks for this thread…
Whatever color the print, Jesus is the way, the truth the life, and it’s only in him and through him that we have any hope of interpreting anything…
(I like esp what John Frye has said a few place above… and i also need to study the letters more than i have…)
Campolo has a reply to Guthrie somewhere on line, the gist of which is ‘surely we aren’t going to give equal weight to the Amalekites as to Jesus?’
There are legit critiques of RLC theology — it’s not a silver bullet… but where else do we have to go for Centering?
One more thought — progressive and regressive revelation — don’t they merge in Christ?
(our last ‘red letter’ words are in Revelation… our first words are co-spoken by Christ in the beginning… and time bends around and meets in Him…?)
blessings,



report abuse
 

Doc

posted October 25, 2007 at 5:24 pm


Scot,
First, I love your website. Long time lurker and first time commenter. So here goes nothing!
Per you #10, I do believe there are segments among the “Red Letter Christians” who view only the Gospels as relevant and the Old Testament as figurative and Paul’s writings as perhaps antiquated.
I think Jesus solved the issue of the validity of the Old Testament inerrancy by purposefully choosing the most controversial texts and quoting from them or pointing to them. Jonah, Lot’s wife, Adam and Eve, Isaiah, David, and Noah to name a few. So if one proports to be a “Red Letter Christian” then logically they have to accept a literal Old Testament as well by virtue of the fact Jesus set his seal of approval on it.
As far as Paul’s letters are concerned, Peter viewed them as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16) and I find great comfort in that as well.
Sorry if this post was either too mundane or dogmatic.



report abuse
 

Keith

posted October 25, 2007 at 8:55 pm


i think Tony has hit it right on. The Red Letters aren’t the only letters, but they sure are useful for interpreting the whole. Jesus’ words do have greater force than other parts of the Scriptures, he tells us that himself. “You heard it said, an eye for an eye, but i say to you…” We’ve been reading through the Pauline lens for so long that Jesus’ words almost seem heretical. For instance, Jesus saw the way of love and good works as necessary for salvation (Mt 25). Many today seem to think that Grace means we play no role, or only do what God inspires us to do. For those who fail to serve the “least of these” there is likely a surprise ending.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 26, 2007 at 1:10 am


Bob #60,
Love the sarcasm and the thoughts that go with it. And it’s hard to go wrong quoting Corrie Ten Boom….and you picked some choice ones! Love the self-deprecating humor, too: “limited mental capacities” my foot!:)



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 26, 2007 at 1:38 am


I think I get what Campolo is trying to do with the whole RLC thing but I think it is misguided.
First of all, every time I have heard Campolo speak, I just want to scream “AMEN!”….(but then I don’t know everything he has ever said and this is not intended as such an endorsement). Time after time I have appreciated his pushing the Church from its apathy on important social issues.
BUT, because the average evangelical does not know his Bible and does not think that deeply (re: The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, etc…..), I am concerned that many people will not hear the kinds of nuances mentioned in many of the posts above and will be left with the impression that the red letters are the only inspired words of the Bible or that they are somehow more inspired.
And they won’t read closely enough or think deeply enough to ponder the red letters that say:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)
….OR….”I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (John 16:12-14).
Ironically, the red letters endorse the black letters as having equal weight.
Any careful reading of Scripture reveals that all of the words of Scripture are the words of the Holy Spirit. Are we to believe that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not equal?
Perhaps we should just print all of the words in our Bible in red ink.
Grace and peace in Jesus our Lord.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 26, 2007 at 2:04 am


Keith #65:
You wrote: “We?ve been reading through the Pauline lens for so long that Jesus? words almost seem heretical. For instance, Jesus saw the way of love and good works as necessary for salvation (Mt 25). Many today seem to think that Grace means we play no role, or only do what God inspires us to do….”
Gotta say that anyone who feels that love and good works have no place in the working out of our salvation have been very selective in their reading of even Paul.
Peace.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 26, 2007 at 9:09 am


I agree about the selective reading of Paul, Brad. However, I find it odd that you think Jesus is giving equal weight to himself and Torah. He casts himself, his own person and being, as the fulfillment of all that Torah longed to be and do, but couldn’t. (Paul really fleshes that out in Romans.) Now, you don’t fulfill something by wiping it away, discarding it, or changing it. At the same time, though, that which fulfills something must have greater weight than that which it fulfills. And we do see that again and again in Jesus as he puts things together in a radically different way, ways that were utterly unexpected even by his mother, and provides us a living Torah (and so much more) through his flesh and his blood even as now all that Torah desired to be is encompassed in the glory of the Holy Spirit who suffuses our bodies as the temple of living God.
Like I said, for a Christian, all of our understanding of scripture must be filtered through the lens of Jesus. If you fail to do that, you might, for instance, end up hearing Paul talk about some amorphous, general “law” in Romans like a law about speed limits or something similar, and utterly miss what he is actually saying. (The example of using the idea of breaking a speed limit as an instance of “Law” for understanding Romans is something I heard seriously used just last year, so I’m not making up a ludicrous example or straw man.)



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 26, 2007 at 10:34 am


Scott #69,
I’m not sure that we really disagree. I agree that people do misread/misunderstand Paul and the Old Testament. And I certainly agree that “all of our understanding of scripture must be filtered through the lens of Jesus.”
It is true that one can misread Paul or the Old Testament, but it is just as easy to misread the Gospels–or even just the red letters.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that without the Old Testament you are certain to misread the Gospels. Anyone who is experienced with interpreting the Scripture knows that context is everything. If you don’t understand the context properly, you are bound to make things mean something that they do not. The narratives of the Gospels provide the context for the red letters, and the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament provide necessary context for the Gospels.
Jesus himself said that the whole Old Testament points to himself and that the whole point of the Old Testament is about loving God and loving your neighbor. Paul says the Torah is a pedagogue to lead us to Christ. Certainly, if one does not read the Old Testament in this way, he will miss the point.
But just because people do misread the Old Testament and Paul does not mean that invalidates them. People misread Jesus, too–quite frequently, in fact. I could even point to some serious misreadings in some of the posts above (but I won’t). The problem is not black letters versus red letters. It’s simple human fraility and the need that we all have (in varying degrees) to grow.
Well, I have a lot to get done today. So that will have to do for now.
Have a great weekend! Peace and joy in Christ Jesus.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 26, 2007 at 10:51 am


Scott #69 and all,
Also, let me reemphasize what I think is perhaps my most important point in my original post:
The Scriptures all make clear that all of the words of Scripture are the words of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they all have equal weight with Jesus’ words.
Besides, we do not have a tape recording or video of what Jesus said. We can make all kinds of assumptions. But in the end: what we have recorded is generally a summation or paraphrase of what Jesus said and we don’t know for sure when–if ever–it is the exact words of Jesus that we are reading.
In other words, with the red letters and black letters both we are left to trust the Holy Spirit that what has been recorded in Scripture and passed down to us are the words that the Holy Spirit wanted recorded in Scripture and that he has preserved for us to read 2000 years later.
I believe that he has the ability to do this. Don’t you?
Grace and peace in Jesus.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 26, 2007 at 10:53 am


Have a great weekend as well! I’ve taken to mentally translating “peace of Christ” as the “shalom of the Messiah” simply because the latter reminds me that the biblical idea of peace is so much more than we tend to invest in the word.
I think a point of disagreement would be on the sufficiency of the gospels. I believe that you will only grasp the richness and depth of the gospels through the lens of the story of creation, the adventures of dumb and dumber (as Scot calls Genesis 4-11) and most especially through the story of Israel. Nevertheless, I believe the wholeness of our faith is in the gospels and Jesus inhabits them and makes himself known through them in a way that is different from the rest of Christian scripture. Without the gospels, we do not have a Christian scripture. And a person can hear nothing but the Gospels and walk away with a sufficient understanding of and encounter with Jesus the Christ.



report abuse
 

B-W

posted October 26, 2007 at 11:41 am


For those who won’t see it, Campolo’s posted a follow-up although it really doesn’t seem to have anything new, and I therefore wonder why he’s bothering. Pretty much everything here was in his original response to Guthrie.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 26, 2007 at 12:48 pm


Scott #72,
We’re so closed to agreeing that I’m not sure that it’s even worth making a counter, but I’m enjoying it anyway! :)
You wrote: “Without the gospels, we do not have a Christian scripture. And a person can hear nothing but the Gospels and walk away with a sufficient understanding of and encounter with Jesus the Christ.”
Yes, the gospels are an adequate place to start…but I don’t believe that they are an adequate place to end….They are not the full revelation of who Jesus is and what he has done and what he wants from and for us. If they were, the Holy Spirit has wasted a lot of paper (and papyrus and parchment) over the last 2000 years and the environmentalists should be mad! ;)
Yes, without the gospels we do not have a Christian Scripture, but without the Old Testament we do not either. (We have the Scriptures of Marcion!)
Shalom in the Messiah!



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 26, 2007 at 2:27 pm


Thanks Brad. I’ve tried to speak carefully, for I certainly don’t believe we can simply eliminate or do away with any of scripture, including the OT. I find the revelation of the start of the work of the Church in our post-Resurrection, post-Pentecost world in Acts to be the story within which we live. I find the story of the OT the necessary framework for understanding, in part, the mystery of Jesus. We are not free to simply place him within any story. I admit I mostly find in the epistles corrective instruction to the teaching of the apostles when they could not be present in person to correct it. Oftentimes that takes the shape of a homily or sermon placed within the shell of a letter, sometimes even without much of the shell. It seems that the one carrying the letter must have known how to properly deliver it to the recipients. (And that makes it all the more intriguing that Phoebe delivered the letter to the Romans.) And Revalation gives us a glimpse of both the heavenly reality of all that we do today as well as that for which we hope — the restoration and redemption of all things.
Nevertheless, I find more in the Gospels than in the rest of Scripture. It seems to me that Jesus is strangely present in the Gospels. And we encounter him with our minds in the same we encounter him with our bodies in the bread and wine. And in both instances, those are unmediated, direct, and potentially dangerous spiritual encounters whether we recognize them as such or not.
Language fails me here, so perhaps others have better words. As with the bread and the wine, I do not think we are always or even often aware of the transformative connection with our source of life. Nevertheless, if the spiritual is real it does not require that we be sufficiently attuned to recognize it through our thoughts or feelings. I have a feeling that many Christians have relegated the spiritual to either an aspect of their minds and bodies. I understand the motivation of humanism and related veins for reducing the spiritual to a manifestation of the definable. I’m not sure why Christians would go along with that.
Anyway, I think I’ve exhausted every trick of words I can imagine in order to capture the nuance and depth I have in mind. I suppose it boils down to this for me. There are the Gospels. And then there is all the rest of Scripture.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 26, 2007 at 11:05 pm


Scott #75,
Thanks for taking the time to continue the conversation. As I said before, we’re very close to agreeing. In fact, someone might even think we’re splitting hairs. But for me, I’m truly enjoying the conversation with you and it’s helping me to think more deeply about this important issue. Thank you.
I appreciate very much that we both share the same commitment to Scripture. And I heartily agree with you that it’s all about encountering Jesus.
But I find that encounter in the Old Testament and in Acts, the epistles and Revelation–not just in the Gospels. I encounter Jesus as the Creator in Genesis 1. I encounter Jesus as the promised conqueror of the Serpent in Genesis 3. I marvel at how the realtionship of Jesus with the Father is acted out through Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. The story of the Passover in Exodus displays with incredible clarity the power of the slain Passover Lamb, who is Jesus. (Several years ago I sat down and read the Passover narrative and listed fifty some very clear parallels between the Passover and Messiah’s death on the cross.) I could go on and on but I would have to write a book…..Instead, I highly recommend the modern classic by Albert H. Baylis: “On The Way To Jesus” in which he does an amazing job of what I have just begun to attempt. (The updated version has a different title but I can’t remember what it is.)
Luke puts it this way: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in ALL the Scriptures concerning himself” (24:27). And Peter puts it this way: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11). Notice that Peter says that the Old Testament not only brings us into an encounter with Messiah, it is itself an encounter with Messiah. It is the “Spirit of Messiah” himself that is speaking through the prophets.
FINAL POINT: Today at work I was working on rememorizing the book of Galatians while I was operating a machine. As I was memorizing, I was also meditating on the meaning. While doing this, it struck me that the RLC’s are doing to Paul what his opponents in Galatia (and Corinth) were doing in the First Century: trying to pit Paul against James and the Twelve. They were trying to say that Paul (and his message about Christ) was inferior to Peter and James and the other apostles at Jerusalem who had walked with Jesus in his earthly ministry.
As I read through the posts above once more, I saw that there is indeed a very strong tendency in many of the posts to do just that. In the first couple of chapters of Galatians, Paul deals with this issue. And in fact, this letter starts out this way: “Paul, an apostle (one who is sent), sent not from men nor by man but by Jesus Christ and God the Father….” (1:1) He continues with this issue in 1:11-12: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”
In other words, Paul’s message about Christ is not inferior to the Gospels. When we set the Gospels against Paul’s letters we’re not comparing Jesus to Paul. We’re comparing Matthew, Mark/Peter, Luke, and John with Paul. Just because the Gospel writers use narrative to tell the story does not make their accounts more important than Paul’s. Paul’s letters offer much more than just correctives on minor issues to local congregations. They, too, offer us continual opportunities to encounter the living Messiah. Likewise, the gospels have plenty of content that fits into the category of instruction about life. The words that the Holy Spirit gives through Paul are the words of the Holy Spirit (who is equal with Jesus). And the words that the Holy Spirit gives through the gospel writers are also the words of the Holy Spirit.
Well, more than enough for now. It’s time to watch an old episode of Columbo with my family….
May the grace and shalom of the Messiah fill your life.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 27, 2007 at 10:59 am


Scott #75,
Thanks for taking the time to continue the conversation. As I said before, we’re very close to agreeing. In fact, someone might even think we’re splitting hairs. But for me, I’m truly enjoying the conversation with you and it’s helping me to think more deeply about this important issue. Thank you.
I appreciate very much that we both share the same commitment to Scripture. And I heartily agree with you that it’s all about encountering Jesus.
But I find that encounter in the Old Testament and in Acts, the epistles and Revelation–not just in the Gospels. I encounter Jesus as the Creator in Genesis 1. I encounter Jesus as the promised conqueror of the Serpent in Genesis 3. I marvel at how the realtionship of Jesus with the Father is acted out through Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. The story of the Passover in Exodus displays with incredible clarity the power of the slain Passover Lamb, who is Jesus. (Several years ago I sat down and read the Passover narrative and listed fifty some very clear parallels between the Passover and Messiah’s death on the cross.) I could go on and on but I would have to write a book…..Instead, I highly recommend the modern classic by Albert H. Baylis: “On The Way To Jesus” in which he does an amazing job of what I have just begun to attempt. (The updated version has a different title but I can’t remember what it is.)
Luke puts it this way: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in ALL the Scriptures concerning himself” (24:27). And Peter puts it this way: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11). Notice that Peter says that the Old Testament not only brings us into an encounter with Messiah, it is itself an encounter with Messiah. It is the “Spirit of Messiah” himself that is speaking through the prophets.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 27, 2007 at 11:15 am


OK, THIS REALLY IS MY FINAL COMMENT: I find it disconcerting that many of the posts above seek to interpret Jesus as overturning the Old Testament rather than fulfilling and applying it (Matthew 5:17-20; etc.). They seem to be saying that when Jesus came, God said: “I’m sorry about all the stuff I said in the Old Testament about capital punishment, etc. I guess I’m changing my mind on those things. Here let’s try this approach instead.”
On the contrary, Jesus did not overturn anything that he had already said through the Spirit. Instead, his words are given to confront the people of his day in their misunderstanding and misapplication of the Old Testament. Almost everything that he says in the gospels he first spoke in the Old Testament.
If Campolo and others think that they need to go to the gospels to find teaching about loving your neighbors, justice for the poor, forgiveness and reconciliation, etc., I have to wonder how much of the Bible they have read besides the red letters. It’s all over the Old Testament and throughout all of the New Testament.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 27, 2007 at 11:18 am


Scott #75,
I’ve tried responding to your comments here, but somehow they have not shown up yet. Maybe it’s because I pasted them in from Wordpad or maybe it was just too long a post. I don’t know. Maybe it will show up yet; because when I tried to post it again, I got a message that it was a duplicate post…..
Grace and shalom in Jesus our Messiah.



report abuse
 

mariam

posted October 27, 2007 at 12:36 pm


Although I addressed this somewhat tongue-in-cheek in my post above I do not understand why it is that when we discuss the words of Jesus, opponents to the RLC, who are typically conservatives, talk about context and how Jesus’ words are paraphrased and we don’t know what he actually said, or that Jesus lived in a different time with a different system of government and different economic system so we can’t take what he said seriously about our political and economic systems. Yet when Paul makes pronouncements about homosexuals for example, or the place of women in the church (which seems to be much more culture-bound and less general than what Jesus said) Paul’s words are the literal eternal words of God. I’m not a red-letter Christian – but I understand why they are trying to refocus Christianity back on what Jesus said. I don’t agree with yoking religion with politics – either conservative or liberal – I think what Jesus said stands nicely without any help from political interpretation but I also think that the conservative response to the RLC is just as disingenuous.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 27, 2007 at 1:55 pm


Mariam #78,
I haven’t noticed any conservatives saying that what Jesus said doesn’t apply because of the change in economic systems and politics. There has been some discussion about how to apply Jesus’ words to a different economic system. But quite frankly Jesus’ words were not addressed to governments and politicians. He did not ask Rome to give money to the poor (not that there is no place for that). That does not mean that there is no place for applying to Scripture to politics, but we have to be careful that we are not taking Scripture and making it say something that it does not.
Also, the commands about homosexuality and women submitting to male leadership do not originate with Paul. They are drawn from the Old Testament and they are drawn from God’s original plan in creation (which on at least two occasions Paul explicitly refers to). Because they are part of God’s creative plan, they are not cultural or man-made but part of God’s plan. And they are not Paul’s words (just because Paul was used to communicate them); they are Jesus’ own words (as Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit to lead his people into all truth–not just partial truth).
It is Jesus himself who speaks through all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament. So it is bad theology to put the gospels above the rest. They all reveal Christ and his will. Of course, if you do not believe that Jesus is God or that God is the author of all of the Scriptures, then you will not accept that. But then it is the clear and continual testimony of Scripture that is not accepted, not just someone’s opinion.
That is not to say that certain parts of the Bible do not play a more important part in our understanding of Christ and his will than others. There are parts of the gospels, parts of Acts, parts of the epistles, parts of Revelation, and parts of the Old Testament that are all key in interpreting and understanding the whole–but not just the red letters themselves. Without the other parts of Scripture, you will not understand the red letters. As some of the comments above reveal.
Grace and peace in Jesus.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 27, 2007 at 6:35 pm


Brad, the emphasis should be on the unmediated encounter. In other parts of scripture, you can certainly encounter Jesus. However, absent the Gospels, you are unlikely to so encounter him, especially in the OT. In other words, you encounter Jesus in the rest of scripture as a result of or through the Gospels. In the Gospels, though, you encounter Jesus directly.
Good discussion. I’ve enjoyed it.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 27, 2007 at 9:26 pm


Scott #82,
I’ve truly enjoyed it, also. And benefited greatly from it. Thanks.
I think I understand pretty well where you are coming from now, and I don’t think it is at all bad. In fact, I think it’s great. I think that’s pretty much where I was several years back. But I’ve come to see things slightly differently now.
I’m not sure that we find an unmediated encounter anywhere in the Scriptures. Each part of the Scripture gives a different glimpse of who Jesus is. The gospels may even provide more glimpses than other parts, but they are still not the full story. Our understanding of Jesus would indeed be lacking without Acts, Romans, Hebrews, 1 Peter and Revelation, etc., etc…..
Some day we will have an unmediated encounter with Jesus. For that day I long. Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus!



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted October 27, 2007 at 9:36 pm


Ah, there is the difference. I find we have an unmediated spiritual encounter with Jesus in the Gospels, in the bread and wine, in baptism, and the like. I don’t believe it is something we must merely anticipate for the future.
May you live always within the shalom of the Messiah!



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 28, 2007 at 8:54 am


Scott #84,
I think that perhaps you misunderstand me, but that’s OK. Perhaps we are using “unmediated” in different ways.
We certainly have experiences with Christ that seem to be unmediated. Some experiences are so rich and vivid that we may feel that they are unmediated.
I often think of the apostle John, the beloved of the Lord–Jesus closest friend on earth. Certainly, if anyone had reason to feel that they had an unmediated experience of Jesus, it was John. He was one of 3 to witness the transfiguration. I have often thought what an awesome experience it must have been for John and the others who walked with Jesus. Yet I have often thought about his response when he encounters Jesus in all of his glory in his out of body revelation that he shares in the book of Revelation.
We may think that we have unmediated encounters, but some day we will realize differently.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 28, 2007 at 12:15 pm


Scott #84,
Let me add a further note to this discussion.
First, let me clarify that the response of the apostle John that I was talking about is the one seen in Rev. 1:17. John falls to the ground as though dead because he is so in awe of Jesus’ presence–not the kind of response that you expect of someone who is a close friend, a bosom buddy.
Also, I think that part of the explanation of may lie in the fact that the kingdom is here and not yet.
As believers in Messiah, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Our bodies are God’s temple (See 1 Cor. 6:19 which uses the Greek word naos, the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies). In a sense that would seem to be about as unmediated as one could ask. In other words, every breath that we take is an unmediated experience of Jesus.
But there is in fact a “not yetness” to the Christian life where you become more and more aware that there is something lacking in your experience of God’s presence. As we seek to draw closer to God, we will have experiences of his presence that are so amazing that they seem unmediated. Yet the reality is that there is much more. We have only begun to know him. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a [metal] mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12)
I hope this clarifies a little bit more what I was trying to say.
May Messiah be your dwelling place this week.



report abuse
 

mariam

posted October 29, 2007 at 2:28 pm


Brad
I do believe Jesus is God (maybe not in quite the same way you do) but I don’t believe the Bible was written by God. I believe it was written by men, holy men who were inspired by God, but men who were nevertheless human and limited by their place and time. I respect the Bible as the sacred writing of my faith but I don’t see it as inerrant in any literal sense. I also don’t think divine inspiration and the ability to interpret and rework scripture suddently dried up with Paul. Just as you believe we need to to try and interpret Jesus’s words for our current economic system, I believe we have to reinterpret Paul’s words and the old testament in view of our current knowledge of creation and human physiology, as well as what I at least see as a logical extension of Jesus’ (and Paul’s) teachings on justice and equality. In other words, if Paul were writing now I don’t think he would be telling women to “submit” to their husbands.
Obviously I disagree with you about homosexuality and the place of women in society and I think there is a reason that Jesus didn’t talk about those things and wasn’t because he had already covered it in the Old Testament. But since we have a more fundemental disagreement on how to interpret scripture there is no point in arguing these points. These disagreements are a minor subset of the greater one.
I agree with you that Jesus was not telling the Roman government to provide for the poor, etc. He was telling us to do that. As members of a democratic society one of the ways we can do that is by electing people for whom this is a priority – however, I essentially think that his commandments in this regard are to us personally and I don’t like yoking my personal views regarding what Jesus intended in any public way with how I vote. I think it does a disservice to Jesus to use him as an excuse for the way I vote, because I might be wrong and I don’t want others to see my politics as a reason for bad-mouthing Jesus.
My definition of bad theology is different than yours. I think theology is a tool, and good theology is that which assists us to live loving, compassionate, humble, giving and forgiving lives. Bad theology is theology that causes us to be unloving, judgmental, smug and unforgiving. I am not casting aspersions on any particular subset of Christianity. I’ve known Catholics, Calvinists, Quakers, Baptists, Unitarians and Anglicans (and Muslims and Bhuddists) for whom their theology has served as a good, transforming tool – to make them more Christlike. I’ve also know individuals from across the religious and political spectrum for whom their theology acts as a dangerous and unlovely tool, making them worse.
I agree that some parts of the Bible are more important than others in revealing God’s will. I just don’t think we agree on what those parts are, but as you quote, we all now see dimly as through a clouded mirror, but then we shall see face to face. I appreciate you taking the time to respond thoughtfully to someone with whom you disagree so profoundly.
Peace in Christ
Mariam
Love Fundamentalist



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 30, 2007 at 1:08 am


Mariam,
Thanks for responding. I appreciate the fact that you did not just blow me off because I take strong issue with some of your statements. The fact is that we agree about so many important things.
Also, I did not mean to imply that you did not believe that Jesus is God. That was bad wording. Sorry about that.
I certainly agree with you about theology being a tool for learning how to love God and people. That really is the bottom line.
I’m not sure if you think that telling homosexuals that they need to repent from what God calls an abomination and be reconciled to God is judgemental and smug and unforgiving. If so, I would have to disagree. I think of it more as telling a person that they need to get out of their house immediately because it’s on fire. To me, not telling them is the unloving thing.
I’m not quite sure what you mean by our current state of understanding creation and human physiology. I don’t see any reason at all not to accept the understanding of creation found in Scripture.
Finally, if the Bible is not the eternal word of God, then it must be the work of a long line of liars–not godly men, because the writers constantly claim in very clear terms that it is. And if we really have no revelation of God’s will, then what love for God and people means is up for grabs. The Islamic terrorist is just as justified in his definition as is Mother Teresa.
Again, I strongly disagree with you about these issues (and that may be an understatement)…. ;) but I truly appreciate you and the kind spirit in which you write. But I do admonish you that the next time you encourage people in their homosexuality or in not sumbitting to their husbands, you ask yourself whether it’s really God’s will that you are teaching them or someone else’s. And what makes you think you are so right and the Bible (that claims to be God’s Word) so wrong? I’m confident that you are treading on dangerous ground, so I’m giving this warning in the most loving way that I can–because I truly am striving to love you and homosexuals and everyone else, but most of all God.
May our Lord Jesus himself fill us both with increasing wisdom, peace and joy.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 30, 2007 at 1:44 am


Mariam,
One more quick comment. I don’t know if your comment was directed towards me or not about: “Bad theology is theology that causes us to be unloving, judgmental, smug and unforgiving.”
I had assumed that you did not consciously have me in mind when you wrote this. But I have had liberals say such things about me because I hold that homosexuality, adultery, stealing, lying, murder, etc. are all sins.
I’ve always found this to be quite ironic (in fact, I’ve often found myself with a mixture of emotions that include laughter and sadness):
1) I am not judging anyone. I am simply communicating God’s judgement. He is the only rightful lawgiver and judge (James 4:12).
2) And this is what I find incredibly ironic. THEY ARE JUDGING ME. They are being judgemental. And their judgement does not come from God but only from themselves.
3) They have made themselves Lawgiver and Judge to decide what is right and what is wrong about homosexuality and other issues–a position that, as noted above, belongs only to God.
Peace.



report abuse
 

mariam

posted October 30, 2007 at 10:05 pm


Hi Brad
I very much agree with you that it is not up to us to be lawgiver and judge.
As you can see our fundamental disagreement is on our view of scripture. Other than this we probably have much in common. I would disagree that the authors of the Bible were liars, if the Bible is not the eternal word of God. They wrote what they believed to be true; I don’t believe they ever wrote with the intent to deceive. For example if they gave the impression that the earth was flat and immovable and the sky a sort of dome above it, it was because that was the cosmology at that time based on their best understanding of what they observed. If we have stopped believing God created the earth in 7 days 6,000 years ago because that no longer makes sense, we can still see truths in the metaphor. We no longer have to read these parts of the Bible in any sort of literal way or assume that the writers were lying to us. What they wrote was true for them and there is no fundamental damage done in our relationship with God if we no longer see the world that way. Even God seems to change over the course of the Bible. Doesn’t the God of the Old Testament sometimes seem a little immature to you? He makes deals, he gets mad at Israelites and punishes them, then he “repents” of his anger and like a jilted tormented love calls them back, he has a bunch of goofy religious rules that don’t seem to have anything to do with morality. But through the prophets God seems to evolve into something much bigger – more loving and compassionate. God in Jesus is much more universal still. Did God change or did our ideas about God change? And if our ideas changed, if God reveals himself to us in different forms as our understanding and knowledge changes, why stop 2,000 years ago? Quite frankly, I don’t think many of us have caught up to Jesus yet and that’s perhaps why we haven’t heard much new from God lately. (Just getting a little giddy here – forgive me if I offend)
I think most of the laws that are given to us in the Bible have common sense and universal morality at their core. For example most people, regardless of their spiritual beliefs would agree that murder, theft, lying, dishonouring your parents, adultery are wrong because obviously people are harmed. Then there are the laws in the Bible that Christians don’t take seriously, because we think they only apply to the Jews (and Jesus certainly did incur the wrath of Jewish religious leaders by breaking some of their rules). I’m sure I don’t have to detail them to you. Of course we have things that seem to be tacitly approved in the Bible – like slavery and polygamy, slaughtering enemies and even taking female captives to use for sex or matrimony, which we now consider immoral. There are laws that Jesus gave us regarding forgiving our enemies, divorce, not judging others, eschewing material things, sharing what we have with the poor which are not necessarily things that everyone would agree on as core moral values – but they are what he expected from us. Then there are some laws that it is not clear to me where they fit. They are not rules that Jesus gave us in his reported teachings – they are not rules that are generally agreed upon as fundamental morality. But they do appear in scripture. These are things like homosexuality and the place of women in society (and I am not going to try and argue as some do that Paul isn’t really saying what he seems to be saying). However, as to whether these things are really forbidden by God, I think you would have to agree that these things are not even agreed upon among even orthodox Christians. Many people think they are a reflection of the culture at that time and just as the Hebrew purity laws no longer apply to us, neither do these laws. I don’t think you could find very many Christians who will say that every word in the Bible is unconditionally literally true because when you do bring up examples, like the rules in Leviticus, or the many seeming discrepancies in the Bible, they will either say “Oh, well, that doesn’t really apply to us” or try to find some contorted way of making it make sense (one “Biblical” Christian said that God gave us these discrepancies so that we are forced to exercise our brains and so that the Bible does not become an idol), or they will say (to which I agree with in some sense) God was continuing to reveal himself. I agree. God continues to reveal himself.
However, I also understand the problem with not accepting the Bible as inerrant. How do we decide then what we believe to be true and what not? Everything becomes a bit vague. Personally I am OK with vagueness as long as we hold to the heart of our faith – which I believe is about love, forgiveness, and transformation. But I think that it is also good to have people who do take the Bible more authoratively. They challenge me to think about specifics. It would be very easy for me to be a Unitarian, for example because my natural tendencies are in that direction. One of the reasons I am an Anglican is because I know I need a little more structure. It is too easy for me, left to my own devices, to let my theology be some completely blurry, shapeless and useless blob. On the other hand I think there are Christians who could stand being challenged by a little uncertainty. Just like married couples or teams that complement each other I think different sorts of Christians need to see the strengths in other ways of expressing their faith, instead of just focussing on the things they disagree on.
I sense that you have been hurt by what you feel as liberal Christian attacks on you personally. I hope you do not feel I am attacking you personally. If you really believe that God condemns homosexuality and women preaching and that people who do these things will be condemned for eternity to hell, then I quite understand that you would believe the most loving thing you could do is warn them. I think that liberal Christians who fail to understand this point of view and dismiss conservative Christians as being merely mean-spirited and bigoted are being just as judgmental as conservative Christians who select particular “sins” like homosexuality for their approbation, while ignoring others like greed and divorce (and in some instances domestic violence). There are churches where conspicuous over-consumption is almost celebrated while homosexuals are treated like lepers. That is the sort of smug and judgmental I am talking about. I don’t sense that from you but in some way I also feel concern for you (as you do for me) that you and others like you who feel you are acting out of love, are taking a thankless burden upon yourselves that does not really belong to you. Why, for example, would you feel that you had to tell people they were sinning? Are you assuming that they cannot read the Bible for themselves? If you think they are unaware of scripture, once you’ve pointed it out, isn’t it up to the Holy Spirit to convict them? Why is it necessary for you to communicate God’s judgment? If, as you claim, this is all laid out very clearly in scripture, isn’t that enough?
I certainly don’t encourage people to be homosexuals- how would I do that? Nor do I don’t encourage people to be heterosexuals, for that matter. I’m not sure how I would do that either. On the other hand, if a gay couple is in a committed loving relationship, and they are not harming anyone else, it is not up to me to judge or for me to tell them how to live. As you say, it is up to God. They can read the scriptures as well as I can and the Holy Spirit can lead them – it is not my responsibility. If I feel someone is wasting their money on their own selfish extravagances and not giving enough to charity (certainly one of my sins), again, that is between them and God. If a couple has a loving marriage and they have both agreed that they want the husband to be the “head” of the household, that is up to them. I’m not going to try and “liberate” a happy wife or husband. If a friend of mine was in an abusive relationship it might be a different story, although even then I have found that it is very rare that anything that we say can change the behavior of another.
As to whether I think I am right or not, I do not think I have any answers for others, except that if we follow the teachings of Jesus with a loving and committed heart, we can be healed and become better people. I hope I don’t come across as being sure of my rightness or righteousness because I am far from it. I am one big ball of doubt and guilt, and more grateful than you can imagine for God’s forgiveness and patience. My theology evolves the more I read and pray and the more I think and discuss with others – even this conversation that we are having will subtly change what I think. I also know that I have much to work on in myself and that my time is better spent working on my planks rather than someone else’s slivers. My concern about pointing fingers at others and telling them they are sinful, when they are doing no harm or they are struggling with a behavior like an addiction is that it is 1. hypocritical unless we are perfect ourselves and 2. it doesn’t work – it is not helpful.
Again, thank you for the dialogue. I think there would be a lot less acrimony between Christians if we could just try and truly understand why people believe what they believe.
Peace and love in Christ.



report abuse
 

Brad Cooper

posted October 31, 2007 at 12:01 am


Mariam,
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Even though I have some concerns about what you believe (as you do for me), the conversation is helpful to me and I am enjoying it. I am hopeful that we are both growing as a result.
I certainly don’t agree with you about God changing in the Bible. I don’t see that at all. I see the same holy loving God revealed in Genesis that I see revealed in the gospels and in Revelation.
Also, I’ve studied the issue of evolution quite in depth over the last 30 years–both its science and its philosophical history. I’ve found the scientific evidence for it to be completely lacking and its philosophical roots to be quite obvious. It’s actually rooted in ancient Greek philosophy that was borrowed by renaissance, enlightentment and deist philosophers who wanted to subvert the Biblical worldview because they were tired of how so many were abusing the authority of the Bible, a mission which they have accomplished quite well for the majority of the western world. (That’s a quick/rough synopsis of what I’ve learned.)
Of course, I may come across as seeming to have all the answers. I could answer most of the objections that you raise above about the Bible, but there are certainly things in the Bible that don’t make sense to me. I learned long ago, though, that just because I do not presently understand something does not mean that I should just dismiss it as wrong. That’s the mistake that too many people make. Wisdom demands humility and patience. Assuming that something is not right because you do not understand something shows a lack of humility. This is where we stand with the Bible. It judges us. We become arrogant when we judge it. I have found that with this kind of humility and patience, God has continually revealed to me greater understanding of his Word so that many of things that used to make no sense to me, now make perfect sense.
There are things, though, that the Bible is very clear about and that I am confident that I do understand very clearly. And so I speak about them with confidence.
I do not believe that those who wrote the Bible were deceieved or mistaken. I believe that the Holy Spirit spoke through them directly just as they claim.
Of course, I don’t just go around telling people what sinners they are. In fact, I take 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 very seriously: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside….” So I don’t go around judging the people of the world. If necessary, if it is my responsibility to do so, I do confront fellow believers. When I do so, I strive to do so in gentleness and humility (as in Gal. 6:1) and you can be sure that it is with fear and trembling and a nervous stomach. (I absolutely hate doing it.)
As for homosexuality, I have had some good friends that are homosexuals. And I have some very close friends who used to be homosexuals. I have always shown them nothing but love. I don’t ever remember having to confront any of them. (Although one did grope me, which shocked me, he started crying and apologized, and then we sat down and talked it out. I forgave him and we went on as very good friends.)
I don’t make a big deal about it when people use vulgar language around me, etc. I just look for ways to love them. On some very rare occasions when I really sensed that the Holy Spirit wanted me to confront someone about something in order to bring conviction and help them come to terms with their need to be reconciled to God, I have done so. But that has been a very rare event. Every day, all day long, I look for ways to love people, but I can’t even remember the last time I confronted anyone about sin in their lives.
All this to say, I do not go around telling people what sinners they are. I’m all too aware of my own sin. But I do not condone sin of any kind–even overconsumption and greed. (And I totally agree with you about the inconsistent way that so many Christians deal with sin, harping on certain sins while completely accepting others. It truly saddens me. I’ll even go one step further: I see so many Christians harping on things that the Bible shows little or no concern for while barely paying attention to things that the Bible shows major concern for–e.g., taking care of the poor, etc.)
And if an issue of sin comes up in any way, I deal with it by going to Scripture and clarifying what God’s judgement on it is–not arbitrarily making my own judgement. I allow the Word of God to define what sin is and what love is. I can’t see that any other approach is anything but arrogance. (Sorry. I’m not trying to be offensive here, but this is truly how I see it. And believe me, if I am pointing out what I think may be some pride in your blind spot, I am all too aware of the struggles that I have with my own pride in completely different areas. May the Lord graciously help us all. I constantly thank him for his amazing patience with me.)
Well, that’s more than enough for now. Thanks again for the conversation.
May our Lord Jesus fill your life with grace, peace and joy this week.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.