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Sunday, October 22, 2006 

Are You a Red or Black Letter Christian?

Red Letter or Black Letter Christian? Which one are you? If you aren't sure, then you are in good company. "Red-Letter Christian" is a new distinction suggested between conservative and liberal Christians which has been proposed by guys like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis. My favorite raving Baptist liberal Bruce Prescott picked up on this a while back and now once again has posted on this in response to a well-written critique by Mark Tooney, Director of the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. Prescott uses the term "Red Letter Christian" in conjuction with another new distinction "Black-Letter Christian" in hopes of showing how much more Christlike these "Red-Letter Christians" are. In Tooney's article, "Red Letter Leftists," which was published by FrontlineMagazine.com on October 18th (and which Prescott has failed to link to in his comments on it), Tooney alleges that "[f]rustrated by the conservative tendencies of most religiously active Americans, a group of liberal religious activists have started "Red Letter Christians" to espouse political themes of the left." So what are "Red Letter Christians"? According to their website, located at Jim Wallis's Sojourner's website, "The Red Letter Christians are a network of effective, progressive, Christian communicators urging an open, honest and public dialogue on issues of faith and politics." They go on to state the following:
We believe and seek to put in to action the red letter words in the Holy Bible spoken by Jesus. The goal of the group is to advance the message that our faith cannot be reduced to only two hot button social issues - abortion and homosexuality. Fighting poverty, caring for the environment, advancing peace, promoting strong families, and supporting a consistent ethic of life are all critical moral and biblical values.
Additionally, under the subtitle, "Why We Are Speaking Out" the group says:

For decades, leaders of the Religious Right have attempted to convince Christians and the American public that people of faith and strong moral values have only one option when it comes to voting. This narrow view continues to overshadow the majority of Christians in America whose faith motivates them to care deeply about a range of ethics and values. Our nation is hungry for an open dialogue on moral values and its role in the public square. God is not a Republican or a Democrat, and candidates should be measured by examining an array of social and economic issues.
Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners Magazine recounted in an article on his website entitled, "Red Letter Christians: Somehow, Jesus Has Survived Even the Church" how this term first came to be used:

“I’m a secular Jewish country music songwriter and disk jockey,” my interviewer on a Nashville radio station said. “But I love your stuff and have been following your book tour.” He told me he loved my “riffs” and would like to spend an evening together just to get some lines for new music. “You’re a songwriter’s dream.” Then he told me he believed we were starting a new movement, but noticed we hadn’t come up with a name for it yet. “I’ve got an idea for you,” he said. “I think you should call yourselves ‘The Red Letter Christians,’ for the red parts of the Bible that highlight the words of Jesus. I love the red letter stuff.”
Wallis goes on to say that,
The truth is that there are many people who like the “red letter stuff,” and many of them are not even Christians. Try it yourself sometime. Go out on the street or to your school or workplace and take a poll. Ask people what they think Jesus stood for. You’re likely to hear things like “stood with poor people,” or “compassionate,” or “loving,” or “he was for peace.”
In another article on the Sojourner's site, Tony Campolo weighs in with a commentary called, "What's a 'Red-Letter Christian'?" (originally published by BeliefNet on 2-27-06). In this article he further explains the motivation to refer to himself and others as "Red-Letter Christians":
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.
Moving on to "Black Letter Christians", Bruce Prescott says regarding them that they

. . . believe that the words of Jesus are too liberal and utopian for life in the real world. While claiming allegiance to biblical authority, in practice they deny any temporal authority for the words of Jesus. They emphasize the values of the neo-conservative police state -- pre-emptive strike defense, unregulated capitalism, social darwinism and Christian nationalism.
I find that these sort of distinctions only blur the debate that should be the focal point of discussion between moderate, liberal, and conservative Christians - and that is the authority of the Bible. What we have seen throughout history is that the axis upon which all of Christianity turns is the Biblical witness. When Christians have been made to emphasize one aspect of the Biblical record to the exclusion of another, then the Gospel itself has been compromised. So the question remains, "Which group is de-emphasizing certain parts of the Biblical text - 'Red Letter Christians' or 'Black Letter Christians'?" Bruce Prescott seems to indicate that it is the "Black Letter Christians" who are doing so, but since he seems to have invented the distinction, then the burden of proof rests on him to actually prove that what these Christians are doing is ignoring the words of Jesus to act in certain ways politically (which is a whole 'nother topic, given that Prescott blurs the lines here between political action and living out a Biblical worldview). What we can gather from Prescott's article is that it is certain that "Red Letter Christians" do ignore or de-emphasize a portion of the Biblical record in favor of another portion. Notice his words here:
While recognizing the authority of the entire Bible, "Red Letter" Christians believe that the words of Jesus should have precedence when weighing biblical values. They emphasize the values of peace, justice, equality and the common good. They are concerned about poverty, global warming, human rights, and health care.
Ignoring the fact that Jesus never spoke on global warming or heath care (and I say that not because I believe that to be a legitimate critique of Prescott's position, but because I find it a bit interesting given that Prescott must go outside the "Red Letters" to find support for such a position Biblically), what Prescott has done here is to openly admit that he and others who consider themselves "Red Letter Christians" actually do place an emphasis on certain passages. What we have seen in history is that this generally results in causing those who hold this type of view to do so to the detriment and exclusion of other relevant and authoritative Scripture passages (from early on certain figures like the Docetics, the Gnostics, and men like Arius and particularly Marcion, whose opposition to the Old Testament was starkly refuted by Tertullian, flesh out this tendency).

Additionally, what I think is happening here is exactly what began transpiring in the Southern Baptist Convention many years ago and eventually was brought to a head during the Conservative Resurgence (*note: this comment is not meant to endorse all the actions that took place during that time period in SBC life, but merely to point out that this sort of debate regarding the authority of Scripture provided a spark that resulted in the the conservative, moderate, and liberal in-fighting during those years). And so over the next week or so I hope to publish an article or two that deals with the idea of whether certain points of Scripture ought to be emphasized above other parts and on whether or not "Black Letter Christians" do in fact de-emphasize the words of Jesus, as Prescott has charged. Meanwhile I welcome your thoughts about the validity of such a distinction.

I agree that we cannot emphasize certain parts of the Scripture over other parts. The Scripture is complete and its words should not be added to our taken away from; however, I also agree with those who say we cannot limit our concepts of social justice to Republican conservatism or to homosexuality and abortion. We absolutely must get involved in all aspects of helping people through the love of Christ.

I like this post. I have never hit your site before, but if it is always as well written as this post, it will be a more frequent read. Thanks.

Good post, Daniel. As if the "red letters" of the Bible are somehow more important or more authoritative than the rest of it.

To Campolo, Prescott and others of their ilk -- Jesus said it all, folks. Red letters and black letters. They all came from Him.

I hadn't seen/heard of this new distinction, but I'm really tired of everything in America being dichotomized. I understand the benefit of categories in organizing and understanding things, however there seems to be a dangerous tendency for everything to be us against them with hard and fast lines of distinction. As a prime example, I think our political system needs serious reform. And, perhaps the best way to accomplish that is the rise of a third major (hopefully conservative) political party.

And, now for a couple of somewhat random related thoughts. I would make a distinction between emphasizing parts of Scripture and adding and taking away--doh, did I just set up a dichotomy. One should plainly emphasis the clear teachings of Scripture above the obscure passages. I dare say one of the major sources of division within Chistiandom is the elevation of secondary issues and intolerance of "theological diversity" on those issues. Tongues seems to be the hot one in the SBC this year.

I'd encourage any mature person to follow DR's example and don't be afraid to give Campolo a hearing. While he may be off base on this issue, he's not as bitterly partisan as you might expect. And he may just expand your thinking a little. It's so easy to ignore those we disagree with, but you might just learn more from them than those you mostly agree with.

Bryan, thanks for stopping by and I do hope you will come back. I do agree with you that we as Christians "cannot limit our concepts of social justice to Republican conservatism or to homosexuality and abortion." But, as I hope to show in a later post, I think Christians should be engaged in politics, but yet not expect government to do what we, ourselves, should be doing. Those on the left who push a Democratic agenda will ultimately fall into the exact same problems they claim conservative Christians have - and that is believing that government is the best vehicle by which to solve spiritual problems. Laws must be enacted that to curb the impact of sin, but government will never end poverty, and may in the make it worse. My worry is that liberal Christians will continue down the path of making the Gospel into a social experiment, rather than a royal decree that Christ is Lord, only this time, they plan on using a government program to do so.

Tim, good words, but you are giving away my next post. Oh, well, I might as well spoil it now - Tim is right - JESUS DID SAY IT ALL. All one has to do is read the Gospel of John to see that.

Tracy, I think you are correct in saying that compartmentalization is the trend in American culture. But, we have to admit that Christians have been perfecting it for some time. We often act one way on Saturday night, but find a way to stumble into church the next morning - broken, but seemingly ignorant to our own sin.

Thanks for the compliment and I do like much of what Tony Campolo says. When I was in college I heard him speak at Union and he did a tremendous job of setting forth a Christian manifesto for helping the poor. Unfortunately, in recent years, I think he has begun to project a socially liberal tone - one that seems to have made him forget his theologically conservative past.

I think you may be correct, DR, in saying that you:
"find that these sort of distinctions only blur the debate that should be the focal point of discussion between moderate, liberal, and conservative Christians - and that is the authority of the Bible."

Wallis, Campolo, myself, et al, are more interested in the authority of God than the authority of the Bible, and so there does seem to be a distinction between the two groups on the role of the Bible.

The purpose of the Bible is to point to Jesus, it is not an end unto itself. I am concerned that too many in the evangelical world have begun to worship the Bible rather than the Word found therein.

I think I can include myself in their company and say that clearly we do not reject the Bible at all - we love the whole of it - but, like my Southern Baptist forbears USED to say, we must interpret the Bible through the lens of Jesus and not the other way around.

Looking forward to seeing what else you have to say on the topic.

Black letter Christians are like those who revised the Baptist Faith & Message to take out the all-important (and very Baptist) phrase on Scripture, "The criterion for the interpretation of Scripture is Jesus Christ." Both groups want to neuter Jesus hermeneutically--not allowing him to say anything new from (their understanding of) the rest of Scripture.
They want Jesus to be a passive sacrificial atonement--a cypher in a "plan of salvation," but in no sense LORD for whom obedient discipleship is required.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7), Jesus tells the parable of the dude who built his house on sand vs. the dude who built his house on rock--contrasting those who hear his words and DO THEM and those who hear and DO THEM NOT.
Even the favorite verse of SBC evangelists, the Great Commission, includes the command "teaching to observe ALL THINGS WHATSOEVER I HAVE COMMANDED Y0U." In Matthew that MUST refer to the 5 great teaching sections, the first and largest of which is the Sermon on the Mount.
Black letter Christians--give distorted evangelism and teach folks to build their houses on sand. They should change their names to "Disobedient Ones."

I think this new nomenclature is as dishonest and as insidious as the movement of some atheists to rename themselves "brights," which begs the question, are theists "dims"?

The term "red-letter Christian" isn't descriptive: it's propaganda. Politically (and generally theological) liberal Christians like the demagouge Prescott use the term to position themselves implicitly as those who uniquely or most completely follow Jesus. Michael Westmoreland-White is at least a little more straight-forward in this attempt than Prescott, in his suggestion that conservative Christians should be impugned with the label of "disobedient," but accepting either label gives people like them high moral ground that they have not earned.

Besides, there's no such thing as a genuine red-letter Christian, since the Logos Jesus Christ not only authored the black letters, too, HE REPEATEDLY VERBALLY AFFIRMED THE AUTHORITY OF THE BLACK LETTERS.

He quoted Scripture constantly, often beginning with the statement, "It is written," implying that that, if Scripture teaches it, that's all we need to know.

He made that implication explicit, teaching in Matthew 5 that He came to fulfill Scripture, that not a single iota of it would pass away until all is fulfilled -- and that "whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven."


Besides, what liberal Christians want to do with this idea of focusing solely on what Christ said is on shaky ground, intellectually and theologically.

Liberal Christians want to use Christ not only to justify government welfare programs and the elimination of the death penalty, but also to make their positions the only possible Christian positions. But it should go without saying that commands to feed the poor do not imply a requirement to do so through government programs. Likewise, the command to love our enemies doesn't imply that we must prohibit capital punishment, but if it did, we surely cannot stop at eliminating just the death penalty: life sentences, any sentences, the mere existence of prisons, armed police forces, any police forces could all be seen as a rejection of "turn the other cheek," if one were serious in suggesting that "turn the other cheek" must be applied politically.

And while liberal Christians are trying desparately to find unique sanction for their positions on social programs and capital punishment, they are working equally hard to ignore the Bible's clear teachings on homosexual behavior and the Bible's likely condemnation of abortion.

Problem is, limiting yourself to the red letters isn't limiting enough, as in Matthew 19 Jesus affirmed Genesis 2's account of the creation of man and God's plan that marriage be permanent, monogamous, and heterosexual -- and as Jesus was clear that we'll be judged by how we treat the least of our brothers, and it's hard to find anyone in a more vulnerable position than the unborn.


Maybe Prescott should start, not with the red letters of the Bible, but with the few verses that the Jesus Seminar says are authentic. That eliminates more than 80% of words attributed to Jesus, but if they are still there, he could excise those horribly inconvenient affirmations of the authority of Scripture and references to Scripture. Maybe for good measure he can cut out that passage about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's so that he can persausively argue that when Jesus taught us to care for the poor, He must have surely meant through government programs.

Then, Bruce Prescott can collate the passage or three that remain, make a one- or two-page pamphlet of sayings of Jesus that Prescott will actually follow, and then condemn the rest of us for not following the real Jesus who -- wonder of wonders -- agrees with everything Prescott believes.

Michael,

"Disobedient ones." That's funny. You want only to believe and obey only a small percentage of Scripture, and yet we're the disobedient ones.

Thanks for the chuckle.

"but also to make their positions the only possible Christian positions."

ha. That sounds familiar...

"You want only to believe and obey only a small percentage of Scripture, and yet we're the disobedient ones."

As I said, most of us (myself, anyway and most of my friends - I believe this is true for Wallis and Campolo, as well) LOVE the OT. We just believe it must need be interpreted through the lens of Jesus.

Just as everyone else does, in reality. The OT calls for killing "men who lay with men," disrespectful children and all sorts of transgressors and NONE of y'all (I'd hope) believe we ought to do so. And we set aside those and other "words from God" despite the fact that nowhere in the Bible are we given permission to do so. Rather, we use the words of Jesus and a bit of the God-given reason we have to know that we ought NOT kill children, disrespectful or not.

We interpret the individual passages through the whole and - we from the anabaptist and what used to be baptist and many if not most others from orthodox Christianity - interpret the whole through the lens of Jesus.

Dan, I am going to address a couple of points and then move on to what Michael said in a separate post.

First, you state that
Wallis, Campolo, myself, et al, are more interested in the authority of God than the authority of the Bible, and so there does seem to be a distinction between the two groups on the role of the Bible.

and you continue on by saying, "The purpose of the Bible is to point to Jesus, it is not an end unto itself."

Later you say,
We interpret the individual passages through the whole and - we from the anabaptist and what used to be baptist and many if not most others from orthodox Christianity - interpret the whole through the lens of Jesus.

Today I read through the Anabaptist confessions of faith and I found some interesting statements regarding the Scriptures.

In Article V of The Dordrecht Confession of Faith entitled, "Of the Law of Christ, i.e., the Holy Gospel or the New Testament" (notice even in that title that these men did not separate the Gospels from the greater New Testament, or the role of the Holy Spirit in their inspiration, but found them all to be one - hence no higher emphasis on the words of Jesus), we find the following passage:

We also believe and confess that before His ascension He instituted His New Testament, and, since it was to be and remain an eternal Testament, that He confirmed and sealed the same with His precious blood, and gave and left it to His disciples, yea, charged them so highly with it, that neither angel nor man may alter it, nor add to it nor take away from it; and that He caused the same, as containing the whole counsel and will of His heavenly Father, as far as is necessary for salvation to be proclaimed in His name by His beloved apostles, messengers, and ministers-whom He called, chose, and sent into all the world for that purpose-among all peoples, nations, and tongues; and repentance and remission of sins to be preached and testified of; and that He accordingly has therein declared all men without distinction, who through faith, as obedient children, heed, follow, and practice what the same contains, to be His children and lawful heirs; thus excluding no one from the precious inheritance of eternal salvation, except the unbelieving and disobedient, the stiff-necked and obdurate, who despise it, and incur this through their own sins, thus making themselves unworthy of eternal life.

And we find this interesting passage in A Declaration of Several People Called Ana-Baptists (1659).

Nor do we desire, in matters of Religion, that Popery should be tolerated, the bloud [sic] of many thousands of the people of God, having been barbarously shed, by the Professors thereof; or any persons tolerated, that worship a false god; nor any that speak contemptuously and reproachfully of our Lord Jesus Christ; nor any that deny the holy Scriptures, contained in the books of the Old and New Testaments, to be the Word of God: And yet, we are not against tolerating of Episcopacy, Presbytery, or any stinted form, provided they do compel any others to a compliance therewith, or a conformity thereunto: for whatever Composers of any form of worship, may possibly erre; it is derogating from God, and his holy Word, and injurious to men, to compel any to practice thereof (emphasis mine).

You see the AnaBaptists saw the Scriptures as a whole, not as divided parts by which one could emphasize one part over against another. Nor did they seem to, at any point, set Jesus in opposition to Paul or the Law in opposition to Jesus, who came to fulfill it. Additionally, in several early Baptist confessions we see the phrase "Word of God" being used interchangibly with "Scriptures." So what the early Christians believed, the AnaBaptists believed, and the Early Baptists believed is all the same - that the Scriptures form one unbroken corpus of authoritative teachings. And further all those groups did not see any contradiction in the Bible between any of the NT writers and Jesus, Himself.


Now, Dan regarding your statement, "I am concerned that too many in the evangelical world have begun to worship the Bible rather than the Word found therein," please point these people out to me and give me a detailed explanation of what it means to "worship the Bible." What I think is that this is merely a red herring to the debate of what we should regard as authoritative in Scripture. I have never seen someone actually worship the Bible and I doubt very much that you have either.


On to this statement:

Just as everyone else does, in reality. The OT calls for killing "men who lay with men," disrespectful children and all sorts of transgressors and NONE of y'all (I'd hope) believe we ought to do so. And we set aside those and other "words from God" despite the fact that nowhere in the Bible are we given permission to do so. Rather, we use the words of Jesus and a bit of the God-given reason we have to know that we ought NOT kill children, disrespectful or not.

If you remember correctly, in our debate on homosexuality I offered an explanation regarding the covenantial community and the role of the Law with in it. This covenantial community served not only as the Church, but as the government, thus the OT Law was both religious (moral) and judicial (pertaining to the rule of law and the execution of government). Since we no longer function underneath a covential community whereby laws are both religious and judicial, the execution of penalty does not apply to us today. Still, as the anabaptists and our Baptist forefathers noted often, the Law is to be kept in accordance with the NT understanding of grace and redemption. Thus, we can clearly still glean from the OT laws that are authoritative, especially those related to sexual purity. And if you bring up shrimp again, though I adequately answered that charge over and over again I am going to delete your comment (which is something I don't do often, but in this case the beligerancy of such a comment will be too much to bear given that it has be adequately answered and never rebutted by you in our previous discussion - for more see Acts 11, where we find Peter keeping the food laws until Christ HIMSELF repealed them). Additionally, as noted in the homosexuality discussion you never provided adequate rebuttal to my questions on Jesus in Matthew 15 and on His words in Matthew 5:17-18 and 23:23, as well as Luke 16:16-17.

So if you want to rehash all this, then go back to that point and answer the questions you neglected. But for right now, let's just focus on the NT implications of the "Red Letter" v "Black letter" Christianity.

Michael, I am glad you reposted your comment from the Mainstream Baptist site over here. I had thought about emailing you and asking you to do so, in order that I might better address it. For now I mainly want to deal with one aspect of it and that is your charge that
Black letter Christians are like those who revised the Baptist Faith & Message to take out the all-important (and very Baptist) phrase on Scripture, "The criterion for the interpretation of Scripture is Jesus Christ." Both groups want to neuter Jesus hermeneutically--not allowing him to say anything new from (their understanding of) the rest of Scripture.

First, this would put me square in the camp of Black lettered Christians, since I very much agree with deleting that phrase. Second the phrase was an addition to the 1963 BF&M, which was not in the original 1925 edition, nor in the 2nd London Confession, the Philadelphia Confession, and the New Hampshire Confession - the latter two from which the section on Scripture was directly copied.

In fact, that phrase was added by Hershel Hobbs, Baptist theologian/extraordinairre in hopes that it would curb German theological liberalism as it related to Scripture, which began to creep into SBC life as early as 1925, but came to a head prior to the 1963 edition. The new phrasing backfired, as liberal professors took the phrase and flipped it on its head - reading it to mean that one could pit the teachings of Jesus over against the teachings of Paul. And many did do this. What resulted was a free-for-all in NT exegesis and a departure from the historic Baptist position of the harmony of Scripture.

Now as to the historical Baptistic theology of such a statement, none exists. We find no such phrase anywhere in any previous Baptist or anaBaptist confession of faith. Nor do we find anything that resembles such a theological position regarding Scripture. And since the phrase was not useful to the intent to which is was inserted into the 1963 edition, the BF&M 2000 committee felt it best to replace it with a phrase that more accurately represented Hobbs' intent in 1963. And as I hope to show in a future post, I think the new statement more accurately reflects Jesus' words regarding inScripturization and apostolic teaching.

I do want to add one more thing in response to this shocking statement:
They want Jesus to be a passive sacrificial atonement--a cypher in a "plan of salvation," but in no sense LORD for whom obedient discipleship is required.

I find this ironic given that you are a member of a church that fully embraces the practice of homosexuality, which is not only Biblically indefensible but morally corrupt. Evangelical Christians have taken a stand on sexual purity and have clearly articulated the Scriptural position that sex outside of the God-honoring position of one man and one woman in holy matrimony is sinful and acting in such a way is an offense against the Lordship of Christ. Furthermore, as one who considers Himself of the anaBaptist tradition, your position is clearly in opposition to their historic views on the matter.

So before you go weilding the sword of spiritual maturity, realize that you, yourself, preach a Gospel that allows people to build their house on the sand as well.

Bubba, all I can say is - Man I have missed you. Thanks for stopping by and articulating well an Evangelical and historically Christian view of Scripture. I hope you will stick around for the next post where I will deal with Jesus' words in the Gospel of John regarding the Holy Spirit.

DR said:

"You see the AnaBaptists saw the Scriptures as a whole, not as divided parts"

Says you. Your sources notwithstanding, a practical understanding of Anabaptist thinking and belief will show that anabaptists put a great deal of emphasis on the Sermon on the Mount. On following Jesus' teachings in general.

One source:
While the great Reformers were in one sense or another Augustinians, Anabaptists were unaware of -- or at least were uninterested in -- the teachings of that great church father. As for the emphasis in biblical studies, the stress is shifted from Pauline doctrines, developed above all in the great Epistle to the Romans, to the basic instructions and teachings of Christ himself as found in the Synoptic gospels. The idea of discipleship therefore becomes foremost. In a rather general sense one could formulate this situation somewhat as follows: While for the Reformers the question of personal, individual salvation (from the taint of original sin and punishment for it) stood in the foreground, a question usually answered by the so-called "solafide" theology, the Anabaptists were primarily interested in the idea of Nachfolge (following Christ) which is based on an implied "theology of the kingdom of God."

http://www.anabaptistchurch.org/anabaptist_theology.htm

Now understand that, as I've already stated, we do NOT dismiss the "black letters," as you seem to be implying. We LOVE the whole of the Bible and find great truths and history in its pages.

We just think that, if we're going to be Christians, we need to follow, first and foremost, Christ's words.

As to your suggestion that I "never provided adequate rebuttal to my questions on Jesus in Matthew 15" etc, all I know to tell you is I answered them to my satisfaction and it seems that we had a communication problem going on.

I simply don't "get" your argument about why you dismiss part of the OT and think it's okay but when I put less emphasis on parts of the OT, it's wrong.

I mean, I fully understand that you offer many words about "an explanation regarding the covenantial community and the role of the Law with in it." etc, etc, etc. But all I see in that is you using your God given reasoning and the rest of the Bible's context - including Jesus' words - to come to a conclusion as to why THOSE particular commands are okay - even righteous - to ignore.

As I have done. So what I don't get is how your reasoning away those black letters is any different than my reasoning away some other black letters that are less than clear in their meaning and intent.

It is great to see a post by Bubba. Marilyn

Dan, Go read the AnaBaptist confessions. There is no hint of this dichotomous relationship between Jesus' words and those of the entire Bible. The source you quoted does not indicate that the AnaBaptists left any Pauline teaching, but rather that in their communities they tried to live out the Sermon on the Mount. That doesn't mean they neglected the passages on homosexuality (as you have) or held to inclusivism (as you do) or believed that both women and men could serve as elders (as you do and they did not). And they often kicked people out of the community for blantant and unrepentative sin (what do you think of that?). In fact they held to the historic Christians doctrines on these issues and on Scripture (that it was a complete record of God's revelation and none was to be ignored, especially not in the NT). In fact, they even held to doctrines like Original Sin (certainly a Pauline belief) - the rejection of this came with John Smyth and the Early General Baptists.

So again, examining the confessions shows you don't have a leg to stand on in relation to the AnaBaptists in this regard. Certainly it is legitimate to say they desired to hold fast to the teachings of Jesus, but nothing is there to indicate that they held them to the exclusion of all Scripture, or even that they believed that in following Christ you could ignore the commands of God in the OT and through the NT writers.

Now, moving back to this issue on OT Scripture. You have blatantly disregarded my exegesis and my cultural hermeneutic in favor of continuing to misrepresent my position. We addressed the fact that there is a difference in obeying the commands of God and living in the community where when violates those commands, there is a physical punishment. But you continued and do so even now to assert that one must believe in "killing gays" or "disobedient children" (though you never have adequately dealt with Jesus' use of that verse) if they believe that Leviticus 18 and 20 teach that homosexuality is wrong. And that is simply laughable. You dismiss my analysis by saying it is "many words", but yet never deal with it. The same is true with the passages you don't like that Jesus uttered about the Law. You just passed over them. So, since you are not going to deal with it and you only want to misrepresent my words, this discussion on the OT is over. Until you are ready to go back to that post and actually deal with those questions and positions I set forth, this discussion is finished. I am not going to let you misrepresent me or the historic Church's position here.

"but nothing is there to indicate that they held them to the exclusion of all Scripture,"

This, again, is a distortion of my position. I'll say it again, slowly:

I LOOVVEE the Old Testament and the whole Bible. I don't read Jesus' words "to the exclusion of all Scripture," nor do Wallis or Campolo. Rather, we interpret the whole through the lens of Jesus, as I've said, as Michael has said, as the Baptist confession used to say.

We need not rehash what we've covered on the other. I know YOU think you made your point. I didn't/don't buy it. You failed to convert me with your wisdom and many words.

From where I stand, YOU don't believe every word of the OT literally and neither do I. That's all I'm saying.

YOU don't believe every word of the OT literally

This is not true. Remember our discussion on literal v. figurative. I believe all the Bible literally. It's literally all God's infallible Word. The application of God's Word to our context and in relation to the New Covenant is what Christians must deal with - not whether all the Bible is literally true or trustworthy - which it is.


And I noticed you didn't deal with the second half of my sentence in your last comment. The whole sentence read:

Certainly it is legitimate to say they desired to hold fast to the teachings of Jesus, but nothing is there to indicate that they held them to the exclusion of all Scripture, or even that they believed that in following Christ you could ignore the commands of God in the OT and through the NT writers.

So Dan, in following Christ can you simply ignore the commands of God in the OT and the NT writers when you think they conflict with Jesus' teachings?

Finally, you said:
we interpret the whole through the lens of Jesus, as I've said, as Michael has said, as the Baptist confession used to say.

Please show me somewhere in any ancient Baptist confession where we see anything like the BF&M's statement: "The criterion for the interpretation of Scripture is Jesus Christ." I want actual proof, not a statement that assumes this is true.

"in following Christ can you simply ignore the commands of God in the OT and the NT writers when you think they conflict with Jesus' teachings?"

I'd suggest you darned well better ignore the commands of the OT if Jesus says something different. As you agree we do with the dietary laws.

Do you suggest we ignore the teachings of Jesus when they conflict with OT teachings?

"Please show me somewhere in any ancient Baptist confession where we see anything like the BF&M's statement"

I'm no church historian, I don't know anything about "ancient baptist confessions." I know what I learned growing up and I know that it makes sense from the Bible that I read.

I further know from the anabaptists I read and hang with now what they teach and how that makes sense in the context of the Bible.

I further know from the anabaptists I read and hang with now what they teach and how that makes sense in the context of the Bible. (Dan T. said this)
After reading this statement, Dan T. I would like you to give your interpretation of Romans 1 and the homosexual view you hold. I am afraid you will lose a lot of accountability real quickly. Marilyn

Thanks for your kind words, Daniel and Marilyn: Daniel, I'm glad to see that you're posting again, and I have every intention to keep up with your blog and even comment as the need arises.

The need arose again here, as there was one other salient point I forgot to mention. We've brought up two ways that Christ is tied to the "black letters" in the Bible:

1) Jesus inspired the entirety of Scripture, including the black letters, as John implies in the beginning of his gospel and as Jesus Himself implies when He made clear His divine nature in the unambiguous statement in John 8:58: "Before Abraham was, I am."

2) Jesus regularly quotes the "black letters" of Scripture, presumes its authority (in that "it is written" is all we need to know) and makes explicit its complete authority.

There's a third thing I should not have forgotten:

3) The claim that Jesus is the Christ hinges on the inspiration of Scripture.

"Christ" isn't Jesus' last name, it is a title, the Greek word for the Hebrew "Messiah." It refers not just to Jesus' being the Savior, but to His being the promised Savior. Undermine the authority and inspiration of Scripture, you undermine the very promise of the Christ.

Put another way, when you claim that Jesus is the Christ, you implicitly accept the prophetic authority of the Old Testament. It's hard for me to see how one could accept its prophetic authority while denying its moral authority: God revealed the future to its writers but not His moral will?


Dan:

"I'd suggest you darned well better ignore the commands of the OT if Jesus says something different. As you agree we do with the dietary laws.

"Do you suggest we ignore the teachings of Jesus when they conflict with OT teachings?"
[emphasis in the original]

In Matthew 5, Jesus asserted that not a single iota of the law (i.e., the law and the prophets -- Jewish Scripture, the Old Testament) will pass away until all is fulfilled. If Jesus contradicted Scripture, was He lying in that part of the Sermon on the Mount?

Or, do we accept that promise in the Sermon and presume that Jesus didn't contradict the Old Testament but rather fulfilled it -- in some cases, giving the full meaning of God's will; in other cases, initiating and providing for the new covenant that was promised in the old.

I hope you realize that this reconciliation between the Old and New Testaments isn't some modern-day invention of political conservatives but is rather explained in Scripture itself, particularly in Hebrews.

"do we accept that promise in the Sermon and presume that Jesus didn't contradict the Old Testament but rather fulfilled it..."

I don't care if you call it contradicting it, fulfilling it or pasteurizing it. Jesus changed some interpretations. As long as you agree that we no longer read every word in the OT as literally applying to us, I'm okay with it.

I can't believe you seriously don't care what we call it: if Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament, He kept His promise from Matthew 5 and the Sermon on the Mount, which you claim anabaptists emphasize. If Jesus contradicted the Old testament, He did not keep His promise and is thus a liar.

"As long as you agree that we no longer read every word in the OT as literally applying to us, I'm okay with it."

I'm not sure what to make of the "no longer" bit since I didn't think much of the OT applied to us Gentiles anyway, but though I haven't read much of what you've written here and elsewhere, I suspect that you're like theologically liberal Christians I have dealt with at length: I suspect you simply refuse to see the continuity from the Old Testament to the New.

The fact is, you cannot disentangle the New Testament from the Old without causing the whole thing to unravel. The NT is not like the Koran or the Book of Mormon in asserting that older scriptural texts have become corrupted by apostasy and thus untrustworthy: the New Testament affirms the authority of the Old, and the Old predicts the arrival of the New.

It's not just that the Old Testament promises the Messiah, and that therefore undercutting the OT's authority also undercuts Jesus' claim to be the Christ. It's also the case that the OT anticipates a new covenant that fulfills what the old, Abrahamic covenant could not, and does so quite explicitly:

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, Know the Lord,for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." - Jeremiah 31:31-34

True enough, we are under the new covenant, but we have no logical or scriptural reason to treat the Old Testament as anything less than divinely inspired and authoritative, and any attempt to do so is in rebellion against the clear meaning of both testaments.


Think of it this way: the Old Testament was written primarily for the biological nation of Israel, and the New Testament was written primarily for the spiritual nation of the new Israel.

But they both have the same Author. Even though the second group of writings was intended more directly for us, the first group constantly points to the second group, and the second group constantly references the first group.

If you really, truly wanted to know the Mind behind both groups of writings, why in the world would anyone limit his careful, faithful studies to one or the other?

Great post, Daniel!

Michael and Dan, one question:

Do you believe in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ?

I believe we are saved by accepting and not rejecting God's gift of heaven. I believe in recognizing God's Way as the correct way and my own fallen nature as incorrect. I therefore believe in repenting from going my way and asking God for forgiveness and for strength to follow God's Way.

I believe some high-falutin', extrabiblical religious words (like "substitutionary atonement") don't have much meaning to me.

Does that help?

(I just realized we have a Dan here posting comments on Daniel's blog; to avoid confusion, I'll refer to Mr. Randle as Daniel and Mr. Trabue as Dan.)

Dan, I'm not quite sure I understand the purpose of Brett's question, but I also don't quite understand your answer:

I believe some high-falutin', extrabiblical religious words (like "substitutionary atonement") don't have much meaning to me.

Does that include an extrabiblical word like "trinity"? Or can we not admit that there are "high-falutin'" but nevertheless precise terms for ideas and principles that are expressed quite clearly in the Bible.

I believe (but stand to be corrected) that substitutionary atonement is a principle that is justifiable by Scripture, most notably I Peter 2:24 and all of Romans 5. If that's the case, then there's nothing wrong with saying that we affirm that principle.


All that said, I'll reiterate that I don't see the particular relevence of Brett's question, but it's hard not to notice that your answer made no specific mention of Jesus Christ -- neither that Christ provided God's free gift of grace, nor that Christ demonstrated (and even rightly claimed to be) God's Way.

Then allow me to state it this way:

I believe we are saved by accepting and not rejecting God's free gift of heaven. I believe in recognizing Jesus' Way as the correct Way and my own fallen nature as incorrect. I therefore believe in repenting from going my way and asking God for forgiveness and for strength to follow God's Way as revealed by God's Son, Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

=====

As to Romans 5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access (by faith) to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.,

that's a fine description of what I believe. As long as we understand that when we say we have been "justified by faith," it is clear that we're talking about faith in Jesus Christ as present in the Bible - not necessarily the Jesus that is so often presented in religion-dom.

The Jesus who came preaching Good news to the poor, release to the captive, the year of God's good favor. The Jesus who is described as the Prince of Peace who called us to love one another, to love our enemies, even! and to overcome evil with good (Paul's actual words, but certainly Jesus' teaching).

THAT Jesus, whose teachings were considered a threat by those in power - those who preferred good news for the wealthy and powerful - and who therefore killed Jesus. This same Jesus who was the son of God and who could not be kept in the grave but who lives on eternally. THAT is the Jesus I believe we need to believe in and whose Way we need to accept.

Do I think one HAS to believe that God had to have Jesus killed in order to forgive us of our sins? No, I don't think one has to believe that. Such a "ruling" is never offered in the Bible as being necessary for salvation and I don't hold much for our doctrines that are extrabiblical (yes, such as the Trinity).

I think all these extrabiblical doctrines (virgin birth, gay marriage = wrong, trinity, etc) can be interesting and even worthwhile to discuss, think and pray about, but I don't think ANY extrabiblical doctrine is included in what's needed for salvation.

I'll ask again what I've asked before: If we believe that we are saved by God's Grace offered to those who repent and follow Jesus, are we going to add this checklist of items of faith you ALSO must believe in order to be saved (trinity, gays=bad, virgin birth, etc) and, if so, what possible biblical grounds would you have for creating such a list?

Dan, I don't believe Brett asked whether you believed that a belief in substitutionary atonement (s.a.) is necessary for salvation, but whether s.a. is simply true.

There's a difference also in believing that the virgin birth is biblical and true and believing that belief in it is required for salvation.


And I think you're off-base in asserting that the virgin birth, the trinity, and the heterosexual nature of marriage are "extrabiblical doctrines."

The virgin birth is, I think, particularly clear in Scripture. You disagree? Do you furthermore deny the virgin birth, despite apparently agreeing that Jesus "could not be kept in the grave [and] lives on eternally"?

If the bodily resurrection of Christ a perfectly reasonable and Biblically incontrovertible claim, how is the virgin birth not?

I don't have a problem with the virgin birth. I just don't have a problem with Mary NOT having been a virgin.

In short, I don't think it's a biblical principle at all - and certainly not "incontrovertible." It's a moot point.

Unless I'm mistaken, the word translated "virgin," does not necessarily mean virgin in our sense of the word, but rather, "young maiden."

God could birth a savior through a virgin or through a harlot or through a donkey. God can do whatever God chooses, that being the nature of God. I just think that we spend an awful lot of energy worrying about extra- or marginally biblical ideals and fail to come to grips with the meat of the gospel: Love God, Love Others.

God could birth a savior through a virgin or through a harlot or through a donkey. God can do whatever God chooses, that being the nature of God. I just think that we spend an awful lot of energy worrying about extra- or marginally biblical ideals and fail to come to grips with the meat of the gospel: Love God, Love Others. (quote by Dan T.)

That statement took my breath away. Maybe, I'm just getting old, but that does not honor my Lord and Savior in the sense of awe that I feel we should have. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and somehow that statement seems cheap. Marilyn

I guess Mary was mentally retarded, that being the most obvious explanation for why she wondered at her pregnancy, if, that is, we apply Dan Trabue's apparent belief to Luke 1:30-34.

And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

And Mary said to the angel, How will this be, since I am a young maiden?


Apparently the idiot girl didn't know young maidens could get pregnant.

I know, we should look at the text's original Greek phrasing and see what word is used for virgin/maiden.

Problem is, the word parthenos, found in Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:27, is absent in Luke 1:34. The verse ends with the Greek phrase, "since I know not a man."

Must I explain the meaning of that little idiom?


The virgin birth is not an extra-biblical principle. It is not the single most important doctrine we have, and belief in it may not be necessary for salvation, but it's the clear teaching of Scripture: rejecting any clear teaching of Scripture is dangerous, as Christ Himself taught in Matthew 5.

But I wonder what you think about the other side of Jesus' earthly ministry.

You suggest that, if the virgin birth isn't extra-biblical, it's at least a principle of marginal significance:

I just think that we spend an awful lot of energy worrying about extra- or marginally biblical ideals and fail to come to grips with the meat of the gospel: Love God, Love Others.

Is the Resurrection itself extraneous to this "meat of the gospel"?

If so, was Paul wrong to make such a big deal of it in I Cor 15, and to write that we "preach Christ crucified"?

No, Dan, the two great commandments aren't the "meat" of the Gospel: the core of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again.

The great commandments (and the Great Commission, a logical consequence of the Big Two) are our response to the Gospel; our failure to obey them underscores the need for the Gospel. They are crucially important things to teach and obey.

But they are NOT the Gospel itself, and they do not supercede in importance the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

The greatest thing of all -- the central truth of the Bible, of our lives, of the entire universe -- is what God has done for us, not what we are to do in obedience to Him or even in gratitude for that gift.

As a Christ following Christian, it is my duty to live my life following the teachings of Christ. I feel that some Christians today are so worried about histroy, theology, and the like that they forget the teachings of Christ. I am a student in the ministry recieving a pastoral degree at a Bible based university so I deeply cherish the OT and the NT alike, but I do feel that if Jesus says something like "Turn the other cheeck" it goes for EVERY aspect of my life. I feel that Red-Letter Christianity is finally an answer to prayers for reconciliation in government for Christians. I have always dis-liked the fact the the Religious RIght has said that they were the only way to vote for Christians. I believe the whole Bible was inspired by God, but I do follow the teachings of Jesus...even if they are offensive. When I read this blog I saw people who love the Lord with all their heart and want to give him the glory...so who cares about the Anabaptists and this and that. Red-Letter Christianity is not heretical, it's a call to REALLY follow the words of Jesus...

What's so wrong with that?

oth Paul and Jesus were sentenced to death for exercising their faith of love and humilit. As Christ's words are the very essence of the New Testament's reason for being, (there would be no New Testament without Christ's ministry) there is every reason to go "back to the source" for the spirit of all that's to follow ie; Christianity. There's nothing wrong with wrenching Christian values from the pig-headed who equate everything generous and kind and compassionate with political liberalism. Too many so-called Christians will follow any demagogue who dares to raise the flag with the bible and a gun.

iggyaztec,

My problem with the concept of "Red Lettered Christianity" is that by nature it seems to suggest that we must de-emphasize the rest of the New Testament in order to emphasize the words of Christ. However, there is nothing in the Bible that seems to suggest ths should occur. Let me give you some reasons:

1) The New Testament writers (and Christ, Himself) often quote the Old Testament writers as authoritative. They NEVER seem to indicate that the direct words of God in the OT are somehow more important than, say, the Psalms of David or the prophesies of Isaiah.

2) Without the Biblical writers we would not know the words of Christ. The same Holy Spirit who inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to quote Christ accurately also inspired Peter, Paul, John, Jude, etc., to write authoritatively for those who would read their words. Peter even acknowledges this authority in regards to Paul in 2 Peter 3:16 when uses the term "Scripture" to describe Paul's epistles.

3) When we do not harmonize Christ's words with the other NT writers we ignore and negate Christ's words in John 14 and John 16:

John 14:25-26: 25 "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 16: 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

You see, Christ first instucted the disciples that it would be the Holy Spirit who bring to their memory what He had spoken and then later He explained that the Holy Spirit would also teach them what they could not hear during His lifetime. In both cases He affirmed that they were His words. The former was obviously what was written by the apostles in the Gospels. The latter has always been viewed by the Church to have been the additional Books of the NT, written by other apostles.

And if we believe Christ, then He clearly declared that in both cases, they are HIS words. The Holy Spirit took Christ's words and gave them to the disciples. Thus, no part of Scripture is to be regarded as less or more authoritative, for it is all Christ's words, communicated either by rememberance of His direct quotes by the apostles or though the words of the apostles by means of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (for all Scripture is God-breathed).

As for your other statements, it seems you are venting more about your personal political feelings than you are dealing with the reality that all of Scripture is indeed equally authoritative.

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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