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Amy is co-host and blogger for both Stand Up for the Truth and Naomi's Table, two ministries that give her the opportunity to write and talk about Jesus all day long. She has written, produced and broadcast in the realm of television and radio news, magazine business journals and marketing materials. She continues her freelance work as a writer and social media consultant.

Who are the Red Letter Christians?

Before we get to that question, a little history: As many of you know, Stand Up For The Truth owes its birth to the question, “Who is Jim Wallis?” Several years ago Mr. Wallis made a big splash by merely accepting an invitation to keynote a Christian youth music event in Wisconsin. But the bigger kerplunk came when Mike LeMay quietly removed this radio station as a sponsor of the event. Suddenly national media coverage sparked the outcry over this man and his background, and awoke the sleeping Church.

But long before that, while many of us were snoozing, Mr. Wallis and his emergent friend Tony Campolo launched Red Letter Christians, which is still very much awake today. So who are these Red Letter Christians, and what do they promote? Over at the Empowered By Christ blog, Richard Haas answers the question and offers the history — and several problematic areas — in the Red Letter movement.

Who Are The Red Letter Christians?

The term “Red-Letter” refers to New Testament verses printed in red letters to indicate the actual words that Jesus spoke without the use of quotations. The Red Letter Christians are a group of liberal progressive Christians who purpose is to counter the political influences of normal the conservative Christian movement. This movement came about because liberal progressive Christians felt disenfranchised and that their faith was “hijacked” over conservative Christians and their movements like Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition and American Values.Today the two most prominent figures associated with the movement are Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo.[1]The Red Letter movement was started by Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine. Wallis has enlisted the help of people like Richard Rohr, a well-known Catholic writer; Brian McLaren, an Emergent Church leader; and Tony Campolo, a popular speaker and author of Red Letter Christians: a Citizen’s Guide to Faith and Politics.Under Jim Wallis’s leadership the group chose the name for a couple of reasons: first, to stress that its political philosophy is based on Jesus’ teachings of “What Would Jesus Do?” Second, they wanted to appear apolitical, the appellation of the wording “Red Letter Christians” avoids the political connotations of labels such as “liberal” and “progressive,” and it facilitates the group’s claim that it transcends politics.

The view of the Red Letter Christians on the issues of abortion and homosexual rights are contrary those of more conservative Christian movements. The Red Letter Christians teach since Christ did not teach on the issues of abortion and homosexuality that they should not make these issues more urgent than other issues. Red Letter Christians instead focus more on political agendas that affect poverty, global warming, racial discrimination, the role of the military, capital punishment, foreign aid and public education. In other words, the Red Letter Christians are more focused on the Social Justice and temporal issues and not meaningful salvific related issues. They basing their goals on works not faith in Christ. Followers within this group teach and believe that Social Justice issues are more important and must be the main focus of a “Christian” than evangelizing the lost.

To say the very least there are some major problems with the Red Letter Christian movement. One of the major areas of concern is this groups theological stands in the area of having an “open” theological representation within the group. When we bring together various faith groups with different backgrounds and theological positions on essential doctrines to the faith while it may seem very tolerant and progressive, it is theologically untenable. Founders in this group like Richard Rohr believe that we must earn our way to heaven, which is opposite of what the bible teaches in Rom. 3:28-30, Rom. 4:5, Rom. 5:1, Rom. 9:30, Rom. 10:4, Rom. 11:6, Gal. 2:16, Gal. 2:21, Gal. 3:5-6, Gal. 3:24, Eph. 2:8-9, and Phil. 3:9. Also some like Brian McLaren distrust the inspiration of the Word of God and questions its ability answer the questions facing people today. This is why many times when interacting with Red Letter Christians they will refuse to use the bible or Scripture to back their claims. Often times is the case followers will rely on emotionalism and opinions to push their views on topics.

Another major problem with the Red Letter Christian movement is its cherry picking approach to the use of Scripture. This group will concentrate on certain parts of the Bible that promote their agenda while excluding other parts of the Bible that are either contradict or do not fit the Red Letter Christians agenda. Once again the Red Letter Christians are practicing and teaching something contrary to what the Bible actually teaches. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we are told by Paul that “All Scripture is God breathed.” Members of this movement would argue that that statement was made by Paul and not Christ so they are justified in not following that teaching. What followers in the Red Letter Christians fail to recognize is the Epistles that Paul wrote were written to instruct us on the practical workings of Jesus’ teaching and are just as inspired as Jesus’ own words. Paul’s words should not be considered inferior, as the red letter Christians would imply they are. This failure by followers of the Red Letter Christians demonstrate the lack of their proper hermeneutical understanding of the Christology that is woven throughout the entire Bible. This Christology pointing to Christ from the beginning in Genesis to the very last verse in Revelations. The Bible is not about us or a social gospel but instead is about Jesus Christ and the glorification of God.

A third major problem within the Red Letter Christian movement lies in the area of the interpretation of the words of Jesus and their meeting. This movement sees Jesus Christ as trying to fulfill the role of a national government policy maker, which all right contrary to what Scripture actually teaches. In Matthew 5:17 we see that Jesus came presenting Himself as a fulfillment of the Old Testament law and the Savior from sin for all who believe in Him. In John 18:36 we actually see the contrary being talked about political involvement from Jesus Christ. Christ showed a clear separation from all political movements and paradigms when he said, “my kingdom is not of this world.” What the Red Letter Christians have done is actually perverted the teachings of Christ and twisted them to fit their own progressive political agenda.

While it is true we can see that Jesus was neither a Republican nor a Democrat, and we need public discussion on moral values, not just abortion and homosexuality, we must handle and delineate the word of God honestly and correctly. We must guard against those who undermine the inspiration of Scripture and the Atoning work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Groups like the Red Letter Christians while seeming tolerable and peaceful in their purpose are actually undermining and dishonoring Christ and His kingdom.

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2 Responses to “Who are the Red Letter Christians?”

  1. t #

    RLCs believe that other political issues may be more important than abortion and homosexuality but that does not mean that they see politics as more important than salvation. we dont all agree on anything but then no group ever has and from what i've read Tony Campolo seems traditionally evangelical in his beliefs

    January 9, 2014 at 3:27 AM Reply
  2. t #

    also RLCs dont read the red letters and ignore the rest of the bible they read the whole bible through the 'lens' of jesus' words as he fulfilled the law

    January 9, 2014 at 3:37 AM Reply

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