The serious problems with being a Red-letter Christian

Red-letter Christians‘ is a movement or network started in the States, but now coming to the UK, (primarily) initiated by Tony Campolo with the support of Jim Wallis. Alongside Campolo, another main contributor is Shane Claiborne, a leader in the New Monasticism movement. The name of the movement comes from the practice in some Bibles of printing the words of Jesus in red, as Campolo explains:

During a radio interview with Jim Wallis, the DJ 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. … 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).

This commitment is a response to two issues: the social reality of life in contemporary America; and the way that evangelical Christians there are all too often aligned with the political right. Campolo hopes that this new movement will not simply take a position within these politico-religious culture wars, but offer a non-partisan approach that transcends the divide:

The purpose of this gathering was not to create a religious left movement to challenge the religious right, but to jump-start a religious movement that will transcend partisan politics. Believing that Jesus is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, we want to unite Christians who are concerned about what is happening in America.

He then lists the social issues that are of concern—inequality, the environment, education, overseas development aid, and discrimination. I don’t think I would disagree with any of these issues, as you could see from wandering around this blog. It is worth noting, however, that Campolo’s proposal of transcending the right/left divide looks somewhat disingenuous here, as these are all ‘left’-type issues. Where is the mention of parenting and the scandal of a fatherless generation? Where the need for a sense of personal moral responsibility? These classically ‘right’ issues also have a good claim to be rooted in Christian values.

More importantly, I think focussing on the ‘red letter’ words of Jesus is the wrong way to address these problems. In fact, this approach offers considerable problems of its own.

The first danger is that it detaches Jesus from his Jewish context by failing to read his words in the context of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) that Jesus himself read. One of the refrains on the website is ‘If Jesus didn’t talk about it, why is it so important?’ But, as Wes Hill points out, this has never been the main way Christians engage with ethics, and it is potentially highly misleading.

Contrary to the “red-letter Christians” experiment, it is simply not a classic Christian practice—among Catholics, Orthodox, or Protestants—to pit the words (or silence) of Jesus over against other portions of Scripture.

And if we do, this very quickly leads to a neo-Marcionite position, where we contrast the (rather nasty and obsessive) god of the Old Testament with the radical and inspiring message of Jesus. Apart from anything else, this is incoherent and unnecessary. If you want to look for resources for a radical alternative to consumerism, you can do no better than turn to Lev 25 and read the teaching on the Jubilee—as many other Christians have in fact done. Here we find a radically communitarian vision of life under the reign of God where we do not own our possessions but are merely stewards of them. And in the gospels, Jesus is mostly presented as a fulfilment of such a vision, not a contradiction to it.

The second danger is that this approach dehistoricises Jesus. In removing him from his Jewish theological context, we also remove him from his historical context and treat what he says as though they were timeless statements of truth which need no interpretation. Ironically, this has a similar effect to the one imposed by the Jesus Seminar, a group of historically sceptical scholars who believe we need to recover the historically authentic words of Jesus from the layers of later theological additions. To do this, one criterion apply is the ‘criterion of dissimilarity‘; we can be confident that something is from Jesus if it is untypical of both his Jewish context and the later teaching of the church. But this is not a way to find the authentic Jesus; it is a way to find the eccentric Jesus. And by focussing on his radical sayings, the RLC movement does the same.

One consequence of this is a common but bizarre assertion that Jesus was not particularly religious—or that the main people he had a problem with were the religious people. Andrew Wilson deals with this deftly:

“The only time Jesus drew a line, it was religious people who were on the other side.” Well, since pretty much everyone in the Mediterranean world in the first century was religious, including a certain circumcised, Torah-observant, festival-keeping Jewish Messiah, that’s not a particularly striking claim. Everyone in that scene (John 8:1-11) was religious. So what?

This has immediate implications for our approach to discipleship. I am the last person to defend the idea that truth is to be found in a religious institution rather than relationship with Jesus. But in fact we all need ‘religion’, if by this we mean a tradition and pattern of devotion into which we are inducted with others. That is why the disciples saw no need to end their regular visits to the temple (Acts 2.46, Acts 3.1) even after Jesus was raised and the Spirit poured out. If we are not shaped by these habits, it all becomes a matter of individual effort, and we end up with what Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline called ‘will worship.’

PeterPaul12-360x311The third danger is that the RLC approach emasculates our theology. It is very clear from even a cursory reading of the NT that the first disciples, whilst they attended very carefully to the teaching of Jesus, proclaimed a good deal more than that. Jesus was not just someone who told us things we did not know; in his resurrection God had done something we could not do. That is the centre of Peter’s teaching in Acts 2; that is clearly the message of Paul in Acts 17. Even in the gospels themselves, Jesus’ teaching can never be separated from his miracles. In fact, the later apostolic teaching about Jesus is presented very strongly in continuity with the teaching of Jesus. Wes Hill again:

The unfolding of the New Testament canon presents itself as the continuation of Jesus’ speech, so much so that Paul’s words in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 and elsewhere about sexual behavior are to be read as having the authority of the same Jesus who allegedly said nothing about homosexuality during his earthly life. Notice how Paul describes his identity: “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…” (Galatians 1:1).

If we focus only on the teaching of Jesus, we are aligning ourselves with the Gnostics; the so-called ‘gospel’ of Thomas, which contains 114 sayings of Jesus, is no gospel at all, since a ‘gospel’ announces good news about what God has done.

My friend John Allister commented (on a previous edition of this post):

Added to which, it presupposes a crazy notion of translation. We’ve only got a handful of ipsissima verba – talitha koum, etc. The rest are already in translation (albeit divinely inspired translation, often by those who knew Jesus well), which necessarily changes the shades of meaning. Given that we trust John’s translation of Jesus’ words, which can probably be fairly free at times, why shouldn’t we trust his teaching about the consequences of Jesus’ words?

The irony of all this is that focussing on the ‘red letters’ is not what is need, nor does it deliver what is necessary. One of the ‘trending’ articles on the website explores the idea that ‘Being born again is not about Going to Heaven‘. The articles draws on the writings of Tom Wright—hardly a ‘red letter Christian’ but in fact a renowned Pauline scholar. Another related articles loudly proclaims ‘The Bible Isn’t Perfect And It Says So Itself.’ It is arguing against the notion of biblical ‘inerrancy’, but is probably one of the worst examples of engaging with this issue I can think of. It suggests that, because 2 Tim 3.16 says that Scripture is ‘God-breathed’ then it is not God. And only God is perfect. So Scripture is not perfect.

My mom isn’t perfect. She would be the first one to tell you so. She has several degrees and a lifetime of experience, but she would also tell you she’s not inerrant.

And the Bible is like that. We go to it for wise advice, but it is not perfect. This is the most appalling logic—and quite the opposite of what Paul intended in 2 Tim 3.16! The reason for the problem is that the writer of this is locked into the same assumptions as the people he is criticising—that the opposite of ‘inerrant’ is ‘errant’ and so the Bible must be one of these two. But in fact the real problem that needs to be tackled is the background of nineteenth-century rationalism which is framing this whole discussion.

What is actually needed here is not to read less of the Bible, Jesus’ words alone, but to read more of it. If Campolo and others are concerned that abortion and homosexuality are taking up too much of evangelicals’ attention, then the answer to that is to locate these issues in the whole of the Scriptural witness, and give them due weight—no more, and no less. Campolo is wrong that the main issue for Christians in America is inequality, or poverty, or discrimination. The main problem there, as here, and in every place, is that all have sinned; that the kingdom of God is at hand but we need to repent. If some Christians twist this into a right-wing, moralistic, individualised message, then the solution is not to try and ‘transcend’ these issues, but to engage with them in a better reading of the whole Bible that we all share.

(A version of this article was first posted in 2014—but since the RLC movement has now announced it is coming to the UK, it felt appropriate to post this again.)

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media, possibly using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

47 thoughts on “The serious problems with being a Red-letter Christian”

  1. Ian I wish you would follow the rule that many of us try to in Inter Faith debates, that is engage with the best of people’s theology not the bit you can pick holes in. Red Letter Christianity is in essence a version of Anabaptist theology, a tradition I’m sure you know has a long and thoughtful tradition. I hope none of us Red Letter Christians are Marcionite. We just choose to make the words works and life, death and resurrection of Jesus the centre of our faith, to not read the Bible in a flat way or to pretend it is innerant. I’m sure Dr Ash Barker would love the chance to respond to what you’ve written more fully on your blog.

    • A response would be interesting! But a couple of things worth noting.

      First, Campolo claims to want to bridge the left-right divide in politics, but I have pointed out that he doesn’t in fact. Do you think I am mistaken in that? And do you think we are in the same situation in the UK as in the US? I don’t think we are, and I don’t think this move will be helpful.

      Second, Campolo himself says: ‘There is a whole different feel about God when we move from the black letters of the Old Testament to the red letters of the New Testament’. I think that is a deeply problematic claim, in that he is indeed contrasting the unpleasant God of the OT with the nice God of Jesus. I don’t think it is unfair to say that this ‘can quickly lead to a neo-Marcionite position’. (I don’t say that any RLC themselves are Marcionite, but this comment might easily lead followers in this direction.)

      Campolo elsewhere says that when Jesus talks of a new commandment ‘I believe that these commandments were genuinely new’. In doing this, he detaches Jesus’ teaching from the OT; he takes a position different from Jesus himself; he ditches the constant tension we find in the NT to see Jesus as both a genuinely new revelation of God *and* the revelation of the same God as the OT (see Heb 1.1 as a classic expression of this, ‘many and various…in these last days’); and he sets out a problematic theological position which divides Jesus from the God of Israel.

      I short, the move to come to this country either appears to be trying to solve a problem we don’t have (at least not in the same way as the US); or it is wanting to bring in a particular agenda. Either way, I think its configuration of reading the NT is problematic.

      On a Facebook thread, someone has claimed that Jesus’ words are *the* interpretive key to the Bible. I think it is fair to say that Paul viewed Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension (rather than any specific teaching of Jesus) as the interpretive key to the Scriptures, and this was followed in the early church. Do you think that is a mistake?

      • I think you’re the one who’s guilty of Marcionism as you believe that God is a monster who wants to torture people forever. The rest of us think that God isn’t like that!

      • “On a Facebook thread, someone has claimed that Jesus’ words are *the* interpretive key to the Bible.”

        Maybe you’ve hit the nail on the head here though. The difference between us progressives and bigots like you is that we’re more concerned with the religion of Jesus than the religion about Jesus.

        • Ah, the ‘religion of Jesus’. That would be the one where he will tell people “depart from me you evildoers, I knew you not”. The one where he, being the Son of Man, will say to some “depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The religion of the one who said:

          – And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell
          – Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
          – And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
          – ‘You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

          You will find all the above in red-letters in suitable bibles.

          But also, you will find in red letters that the religion of Jesus includes that he had come to give his life as a ransom for many.

          • These are good points. I don’t think Jesus was right about everything – I think morality has certainly progressed in 2000 years.

            I’ve tried using “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” against people protesting at Pride, but I’m not sure how effective it was. I think trying to reason with people is a better approach, although I still think that telling people off for their behaviour towards others is sometimes appropriate.

  2. Yes, of course Christianity shouldn’t be reduced to the sayings of Jesus, out of context of who He is and what He has done (and is doing). This involves ignoring half the NT as well as the OT. But I’m a bit sad that this interesting piece can’t resist bringing in the issue of homosexuality, of which we already hear a lot. (I appreciate that the Red Letter Christians may talk about it, and you may just be responding.) It was of course CS Lewis who points out that Jesus’s words are actually much scarier than Paul’s, and I’m very happy to have Paul too!

    • Thanks Penny. I only make reference to the sexuality issue in proportion to the prominence it has been given. I think the methodological issues are much more important.

      I have written in other posts about Campolo’s position on sexuality; you can find those by searching for his name.

  3. For me, the points raised in the article “Being born again is not about going to heaven” seem a fair reflection of Tom Wright’s ideas. The article doesn’t focus unhealthily on ‘red letter’ sayings and refers to very necessary teachings about heaven being here and now, and that God has already started the new creation in Jesus. Any irony is lost on me – unless you mean that a website apparently designed to take a particular, narrow view of Scripture actually engages successfully (at least sometimes) with all of it. Surely there are better examples of where you think RLC might lead people astray?

  4. I see the red letters as the equivalent of nodding, genuflecting, kissing the Bible at the end of the gospel reading, saying ‘peace be upon him’, honorific titles like ‘Blessed’, ‘Our Lord’, ‘The Lord Jesus Christ’. They are a way of saying that certain things cannot be broached or entered upon or mentioned without a mark of proportional respect.

  5. The seems to be an almost “magical” element in the emphasis on what are marked as “The Words of Jesus”. As you point out, such a view ignores the distinction made in Gospel studies between what is known as “Ipssissma Verba” and “Ississima Vox”. Both are equally inspired and have been treated as such by the orthodox Church through the centuries. She has read the Scriptures Christologically: through the lens provided by the complete NT presentation of the person and teaching of Jesus. The point about neo-marcionism is also important. Marcion was selective in what he considered to the inspired parts of the NT because he wanted to justify his understanding of the character of God. So today, any special emphasis on one part of the NT at the expense of the rest is bound to lead to an equally unbalanced theology.

    • In fact , I venture special emphasis is placed on these parts of the bible to deflect from the obvious dissonance caused by trying to balance the Old God)and the New(God). Or even one gospel with another or Paul and Jesus. Anything to distract the believer and bring him/her back within the fold?

      Maybe it is because apologists have realised that people are a lot more savvy these days and will not be brushed off with faux explanations when trying to harmonize certain obviously contradictory parts of the text that make no sense.
      Hence: ”Let’s not worry too much about that …. here, have a Red Letter Bible.”

      Marcion was cleverer than most Christians are prepared to give credit. Then again, maybe if he wasn’t so quick off the Mark (sic) the church may have held back on its version of the bible?
      You never know, Christianity may have taken a very interesting turn.

      • ‘Ark’, are you going to continue sniping at orthodox belief on every thread? I am interesting in engaging in serious debate and difficult issues…but we don’t appear to have got to that point yet.

        • Orthodoxy has no qualms hand waving away difficult issues when it suits, or simply making stuff up, and there is no shortage of examples. Eusebius comes to mind. Even Paul is claimed to have asked if it isn’t true what’s the point? or words to this effect. But he didn’t have evidence then, and that situation hasn’t improved. In fact, from the Christian perspective it has deteriorated.
          That there are so many denominations /sects is evidence enough that there will never be agreement so the Red Letter controversy ( is it really a controversy? ) is just another example of yet one more form of watered down Christianity in an attempt to appeal.
          Surely you can see that, because there is no evidence, there can never be uniform understanding, and therefore what you are all trying to understand simply will not stand up to serious scrutiny, any more than trying to establish historical veracity about what Moses said or did. And in Moses’ case the answer is easier to arrive at – he was not a real historical character as depicted in the OT. Maybe this should be a clue when discussing what Jesus said and did?
          In truth, there is no more verifiable evidence for what Jesus actually said than there is for anything else about the man.

          I would have thought my ”sniping”, as you put it, would have you chomping at the bit to demonstrate just why this atheist upstart is so wrong.
          I’m sure if Ken Ham were the one commenting you would pull out the big guns in a flash – well, after you had stopped laughing , of course.


          • So, if everyone here just agrees to admit that you are right, God doesn’t exist, and it’s all in our imaginations, will you leave us alone to discuss our fantasies, and instead go to one of the many places on the internet where you can find lively Christian v. Atheists arguments to join in?

    • Thanks Tim, that is useful. I think it is striking that you identify as a separate issue the use of this language specifically to push a particular social/activist position—and I think you are right!

      • I hope that research helped add a small bit to your great analysis in the original post and to the lively discussion down here in the comments! I’m learning a lot here!

  6. Ian,
    Thank you for your article.
    I find the whole thing more than wearying as it is little more than regurgitation, as you say, neo Marcionism. I am grateful for your necessary stamina in rebuttal and this excellent article.
    For a good number of years, Campolo was greatly feted by leaders of local churches (including New Wine) and a frequent visitor (England) speaker at a number events, including fund raising for Tearfund.
    He was/is an engaging speaker, though the last time I heard him speak on behalf of Tearfund, his health and voice were not strong.
    The first time I heard him, a couple of years after my conversion, he made reference to the fact that he was/had been a Chaplain to the President Bill Clinton and passed comment on Clinton’s relations with Leiwinski.
    Campolo came across as a radical social activist, in a Christian setting, joking that someone had said of him that he hadn’t an “unpublished thought.” There certainly wasn’t any exclusive emphasis on red letters. In fact I can recall him speaking about Genesis!
    He was then/is first and foremost a sociologist/social scientist pressing for social action, change.
    It is therefore unsurprising that he is hanging his social inclusive hat on the peg of red letter words of Jesus. It fits with Steve Chalke’s new- but -old- theological Emperor’s new clothes.
    As it happens, the first Bible I bought after conversion was the Spirit-Filled (study) NKJV Bible which included red letters. But no particular prominence was made of those words to the exclusion of any other either . A few years later I bought a used NASV Bible which included red letters. It had the cross-references throughout and a small concordance, and was a version I sought.
    The point is: red letter versions are not new, but the purposes for which they are being used -to promote a particular inclusive social agenda of today is. (Though it’s hardly new that the Bible is being used to promote social agendas, schools, education, literacy- Liberation theology, anybody – at the expense, even to the exclusion, of proclaiming the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.)
    Once again, thank you for your perseverance, Ian, not least in the light of your last article on disability.

    • Geoff – when wasTony Campolo greatly ‘feted’ by leaders of New Wine?
      Ive spoken at 15 summer conferences and dont recall him ever being there?

      Notwithstanding, about 18years ago he spoke at St Aldates and I hosted him. We walked together across town and he showed a ‘genuine’ interest in me, my family, my ministry. He was gentle and humble. I was impressed. At church he gave his famous “Its Friday but Sunday’s coming” talk and it was deeply moving and people responded to the gospel. Later that week he spoke at a CS Lewis event and I still recall the experience – brilliant analysis & synthesis of Lewis’ cosmology!!! Over the years I have met many big named speakers, and in all honesty, Tony Campolo stands out both intellectually and personably over most of them. I disagree with some of his recent emphasises and his sexual ethics and his politics, but he is a provocateur, prophetic and I have no doubt he is not only a man of great intellect, but also integrity, humility and of God.

      • Hello Simon,
        In NE England, on the coat tails of the Sunderland/Toronto revival/blessing, as part of “Churches together in Christ”, which included AoG, Salt and Light, Elim, New Frontiers and more in late 1990’s and early 2000’s . There seemed to be something of a flow between Campolo and the NE at that stage, with Campolo hosting some NE youngsters. A lead coordinator, organiser, which also included promotion of Transformation Video’s and organising trips to Argentina was/is a New Wine Anglican Minister. His church web site continues to display a New Wine graphic. He was also a lead in setting up and supporting development of Street Pastors. He seems to have known Campolo well and would be able to correct anything I’ve got wrong.
        The link is here:
        I wouldn’t seek to gainsay all you said about Tony Campolo. I was a mere, old but young Christian convert, a member of the audience. But not so sure about the prophetic, though he certainly came across as a “provocateur”, and knew how to engage and hold the room, with humour. I didn’t know him personally.
        From all Ian Paul points out Campolo seems to have shifted significantly in his theology and use of scripture, to support his espousal of homosexual relationships, and from what you describe, he is of an intellect to more than understand what he is doing with this Red-letter Christian movement.
        I still have a couple of his books somewhere, which may or may not reveal how much he has moved in his understanding and application of the whole bible.
        As for prophetic, I’d say say that this whole article of Ian Paul has something of the prophetic, watchman/wakeman on the walls, about it.
        Hope that helps.

        • Thanks Geoff
          I misread you as to say he spoke at New Wine events and was feted by New Wine leaders – which he did not and was not. My first hand experience was of a kind man and a very gifted communicator. But that was almost 2 decades ago, and it is clear that people can go off the boil, and indeed slip into error and even danger. I have not really followed his subsequent ministry & career and as Ian highlights, alarm bells ring. But I am grateful for the few days he had with us in Oxford when he made a good and godly impression. I wish I could say the same for other world renowned evangelicals we entertained who were verbally violent, shrill and ungracious. I wonder what the Lord makes of it all – of us all.

          • ps – I totally agree – Ian is prophetic and a watchman and I thank God for him and his gifts used in the service of the Church. He is not only spiritually perceptive, a brilliant communicator in word spoken and written, he is a very kind man, and kindness goes a long way with me.

          • Campolo *did* speak at some of the Spring Harvest events in (I think) the 1980s. Not that SH would have been confused with NW in those days 🙂

          • hello Paul
            Nice to see you hear
            Hope you are flourishing
            How did TC o down at SH?
            I recall him doing greenbelt about 3 decades ago

  7. Having now read the link to Tim Stewart’s comment, the live talks I heard from Campolo in England were before 2006/08 mentioned in the the link.
    Campolo’s politics (appointed by Bill Clinton as one of his Chaplains) and his professor speciality, to me, undermine his stated desire to jump start a movement to transcend partisan politics, when the movement he now espouses is based on what I see as a development of his previously held views on social movements and identity.
    It has been said that Bill Clinton justified his behaviour based on the belief that he knew he’d be forgiven! Antinomian liberalism in action.

  8. If we believe that the scripture is God-breathed then everything is red letter.

    It’s false in every way to remove the Jesus quotes from the framework that gives it shape and from the theology of its human authors. It also makes the mistake (though often trumpeted) of thinking that St Paul neither knew or relied on the teaching of Jesus. So he’s definitely not red letter….

    If red is only used to highlight the quotes, fair enough. That’s quite an old practice (early 20th c?). Emasculating the bible is another. The worry might be that the leaders of this movement might be nuanced and sophisticated in their views but followers often don’t have the same grasp. They just go for the headlines.

  9. It seems to me that one danger in considering only the red-letter text is that can reduce Jesus to just a teacher or guru, and it decentres who he is and what he has done. The firm notions of Jesus as the unique Saviour and Lord cease to be central. The red-letter text does have evidence of these attributes of Jesus, but we also need the evidence of his actions and his character.

  10. Am I right in saying not a single word of the Old Testament has any red letters? Does that mean God never spoke throughout those centuries, or is it just that we can ignore His words then because Jesus has arrived? I find that notion bizarre. Their logic is also flawed. Homosexual behaviour has been mentioned. Jesus didnt explicitly condemn same-sex sex, at least as recorded in the Gospels, therefore He didnt condemn same-sex sex and neither should the church today. But He did condemn ALL sexual immorality, in red letters, and for a 1st century Jewish rabbi you can bet your bottom dollar that included same-sex sex, and would have been assumed by His hearers. But because of a simple understanding of the words of Jesus and purposefully ignoring the teaching of the apostles, they come to the wrong conclusion.

    I would also remind them that Jesus Himself told His disciples (in red letters) that when the Holy Spirit arrived they would be lead into all truth. That is AFTER Jesus left. Are we then to ignore what the Holy Spirit subsequently taught His followers?

  11. To be a Christian means that you follow Jesus Christ

    The modern society we live in in the western world is horrendously divided, argument and hateful of each other. That makes any discussion difficult.

    You wrote:
    “….in the gospels, Jesus is mostly presented as a fulfilment of such a vision, not a contradiction to it.” Agreed.

    You then wrote that:
    “…. what he says as though they were timeless statements of truth which need no interpretation. ”

    Yes it does need interpretation but it is still our Lord Jesus Christ who said it and Jesus Christ didn’t lie to us and so we are bound to do our best endeavours to understand what he was saying.

    We instead have arrived at the point of even Bishops of the Church coming up with surprisingly anti-Christian ideas preferring instead to worship secular society. That is what happens when we take “interpretation” to unwarranted extremes. The Rev John Parker and the teaching of transgenderism is an example when he discovered that the diocese and bishop supports the indoctrination of children. I don’t think Jesus would have supported such ideas as he put great value in our caring actions towards children.

  12. Rev John Parker in his resignation letter writes:

    …..As you know my understanding of scripture is that we should not be in financial partnership nor fellowship with those who teach what is false, because I believe this to be unscriptural. To continue in fellowship and financial partnership is, I believe, not to trust in God.

    I believe I have taught this scriptural case and so because I believe it to be what the Bible teaches, I believe it is the revealed will of Jesus Christ. I do not feel at liberty to ignore Jesus Christ’s instruction on this issue and because every wedding and funeral provides funds for the Diocese, Bishops and those they appoint, many of whom promote what is wildly contrary to scripture, in conscience, I can no longer work for the Church of England. I believe I must practice what I preach.

    Of course, I respect those brothers and sisters in the church family here, and nationally, who do not share this conviction and have a different understanding and want to continue to send money to support the Diocese, Bishops and ministry over and above what we receive back. I do not share this view and after having given time through teaching, leadership and discussion for us to come to one mind on the subject, this has not been the case.

    Of course I have considered other points of view and read counter arguments, but I have not found them biblically persuasive. The potential for division and ongoing conflict that this has brought about, has meant that it seems wise for me to leave and give the church the opportunity to recruit someone who has a commitment to remaining in fellowship within the Church of England for longer than I can.

    He then write about ongoing conflict starting with the point that:
    ….1. That we do not spend a lengthy time of acrimonious disagreement on these issues, given that different Christians have different “red lines” regarding what it means to be faithful to the scriptures.

    Hence, whilst I am a convinced Anglican and because my heart is very much with those ministers, churches, Dioceses, Bishops and Archbishops who are supportive of GAFCON (some 70 million globally) it seemed right that I give my remaining years of ministry to this movement rather than seek to persuade others of the need for it within the Church of England in genuine financial partnership.

    This is the acrimonious disagreements as I now witness with little agreement on Scriptures and some simply ignoring Jesus Christ whilst pretending to be Christians (pretending because their actions directly contradict the meaning of the word Christian).

    I admire his courage, because courage is what it takes.

    • I agree with what John Parker has written and done. My days in the Church of England seem numbered as well – for the same reasons. End of this year looks most likely for me.

      Red Letter Christians; a neat and tidy way to excise about 95% of Holy Scripture.

    • @ Clive
      Are you planning on starting you own denomination based on you understanding of the text in question?

  13. Ian, you offer a charitable reading of the “Red Letter” movement; nonetheless, you can’t avoid two concerns:
    1. That this will remove Jesus from his Jewish context, which he uses constantly to explain what he’s about (see wilderness temptation, Sermon on the Mount, Emmaus Road lesson in Christological hermeneutics).
    2. That this move will wander into a Marcionite position.

    I believe the movement has already done the deal on #1, and adopting #2 is necessarily implied.

  14. I’m intrigued with Red Lettering being totally clear about where the colouring should be. I guess John 3 is a good example: should the red lettering finish at verse 15? Before that Jesus refers to himself as Son of Man and then suddenly it becomes Son of God suggesting these are John’s comments. If Jesus didn’t actually say verse 16 it opens an interesting hermeneutical can!

  15. Hello Peter,
    John 3
    NASV 1977 Lockman , and NKJV Thomas Nelson 1991, both have John 3 v 10b – v 21 in red type.

  16. Whilst I agree with what you say about Red Letter Christians, the problem is a circular one in that every so often we have a ‘new’ movement, whether on social issues, church planting, renewal, spiritual gifts, moral issues, politics, evangelism, prayer, small groups, church growth, advocacy, etc, we never seem to get it right and integrate all them as part of a reproducible discipling movement, based on the whole Scriptures. Even Integral Mission does not really go far enough. I would be interested to hear people’s comments on my feeble attempt to produce something –

  17. You have to question why it’s coming to the UK? Me being a cynic immediately thinks about book sales and new members donating to the cause.

    The whole Bible is God breathed, and we are warned not to add or take away from it.

  18. Laying aside the political left vs right and conservative vs progressive issues involved in ‘red letter’ Christianity, my puzzlement is why the words of Jesus seem more authoritative (acceptable) than other parts of the Bible. Others have pointed out Jesus is far from being the source of a more palatable faith. He a) heightened OT judgement to eternal damnation b) insisted on the authority of the OT and cited it as such c) gave authority to his apostles to lead, teach and discipline the future church e) was stricter than the law on divorce e) taught creation gives us God’s norms for sexual relationships f) gave ethical teaching that demanded perfection g) refused to be hijacked for political agendas h) promoted a kingdom that required new birth i) promised only suffering and trauma in this life j) anticipated destruction for a world that rejected him g) claimed to be God and the exclusive way to God…

    Then again, he never personally wrote a word. The red letters are what is claimed he said.. Of, course, other NT writers or teachers often claim dominical authority for what they proclaim. Why privilege one and not the other.

      • I wrote the original response back in 2019 and I think we connected at that point? I stumbled this thread again this year and thought a link to rlcuk site might be helpful? As anyone can see we are not really a group looking to pick theoretical battles! Here’s our sense of purpose
        Red Letter Christians UK is a relational network for those who want to live for Jesus and Justice. Our focus is connecting and supporting Christian activists and community leaders across the UK. We aim to provide practical tools for developing advocacy and organising skills alongside deepening spiritual resilience. We seek out spiritual and tactical resonance, creating opportunities to pursue justice together. We aim to amplify prophetic voices from the margins who bring spiritual depth, experience and a healthy dose of challenge to national conversations.

  19. Ian,

    You are being hypocritical. You claim that the Red Letter Christians are taking the “Jewishness” out of Jesus, and yet you adhere to the teachings of Paul? It was Paul who tirelessly worked to achieve this objective…2,000 years ago!

    • thanks—but what an odd comment. Paul was an observant Jew who taught that you did not have to become a Jew to follow the Jewish Messiah Jesus. He did this in line with the agreement of the church in Jerusalem, as per Acts 15—which recognised this as a fulfilment of the vision of the Jewish scriptures.


Leave a comment