The Common Good

Stan Guthrie's Red Letter Blues

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


Dear Stan,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


I'm sorry you don't want to be one of us, Stan. In the struggle to convince our fellow believers to think, act, give, and vote according to the teachings of Jesus, we Red Letter Christians could really use a bright, articulate guy like you.



Sincerely,
Tony Campolo

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