|OTE TO SELF: Here lies a lesson on how really bad ideas get started.|
Tony Campolo, eager to promote the Evangelical Left's newest movement -- "Red-Letter Christianity" -- writes that the label comes from ...
"A secular Jewish Country-and-Western disc jockey in Nashville, Tennessee. During a radio interview he was conducting with Jim Wallis, he happened to say, 'So, you're one of those Red-Letter Christians -- you know -- who's really into those verses in the New Testament that are in red letters!'
Jim answered, 'That's right!' And with that answer, he spoke for all of us. 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).
Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and others (everybody Campolo names in his group are left-of-center on the political continuum) have decided to galvanize believers disturbed by evangelical Republicans by dubbing themselves and all who will join them "Red-Letter Christians."
One wonders, of course, if the real reason they have decided to use Scripture this way is that Jesus never actually uses the terms "homosexual" and "abortion." The Red-Letter designation ostensibly frees these passionate lefties from the issues they despise the most and the texts that more directly address them. One also has to muse -- Did they miss the part of the Sermon on the Mount (apparently a favorite "red-letters" of Campolo) that says,
"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. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
Much that does not appear in red letters in the minds of the Campolo crowd seems to be present in this red-letter passage. Law. Prophets. Old Testament. Commandments. Pharisees. Teachers of law.
But more to the point, weren't the words of Yahweh in the Old Testament articulated by a Triune Godhead, which would include Jesus? And weren't the words of the New Testament writers, some of whom walked with Jesus and actually heard and experienced His red-letter pronouncements, recorded under the inspiration of the Spirit of Jesus?
Dr. John Oswalt, research professor of the Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and a leading biblical scholar, says that "Whatever else the doctrine of the Trinity asserts, it asserts that the Yahweh of the Old Testament is Father, Son, and Spirit. Thus, Jesus is just as surely in the 'God of the Old Testament' as he in the 'God of the New Testament.' Any attempt to remove Jesus the Son from the Old Testament is finally non-Christian, whether in Marcion in the 2nd century A.D. or so-called 'evangelicals' in the 21st century after Christ."
Many heretics get their start by differentiating between parts of Scripture they want to believe and parts they don't. Soon, the object of their faith becomes only a reflection of themselves and their preferences in the current cultural milieu. If Campolo and others want to build a movement only on the "red letters," they are making a mockery of the pre-incarnate Jesus and of the Christ who sent Spirit-filled apostles into the world to make disciples of all the nations.
A humble message for Dr. Campolo and others of his persuasion: If you are frustrated with George W. Bush, Karl Rove and the fact that 83 percent of evangelicals voted Republican in the last election, in your irritation don't obliterate the vast majority of Scripture and the Jesus of all the canonical books of the Bible.
For God is not mocked.
Matt Friedeman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary. Respond to this column at his blog at "EvangelismToday.blogspot.com."
More columns by Matt Friedeman