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May 27, 2008


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Quotidian Grace

I hadn't heard of the Red Letter Christian Network before--thanks for posting about it. Stackhouse's critique raises some important issues with their approach to Biblical interpretation. Are any of them addressed by the Network anywhere?

Michael W. Kruse

Stackhouse's book has only been out a couple of months and I haven't heard any response to him specifically. I haven't read any responses to the concerns Stackhouse raises but it doesn't mean they aren't out there.

Benjamin P. Glaser

Actually I think the whole Bible should be printed in Red Ink.

Viola Larson

Thanks Michael,
I just read something last night on red letter Christians although I can't remember where I was reading it. That was the first time I had heard the term. Stackhouse's book sounds very good. I think I will order it.


Mike, this is good stuff. One obvious thing that comes to my mind is the idea of excluding other crucial contextual items not defined specifically by Jesus himself. One thing that comes to my mind is eschatological texts from Revelation which are extremely relevant to believers and the idea of the present Kingdom. Also Paul's exposition on the resurrection is quite relevant to our faith, not to mention the typological aspects of Israel vs. The Church.


I think "Red Letter Christians" is a poor choice of name for the group. It appears that their intent is to communicate that Jesus said what he meant and meant what he said. It is not an attempt to reject the rest of Scripture but rather to allow the words of Jesus to frame how we read other texts, with particular focus on the Sermon on the Mount.
This is a centuries old debate now clothed in a two color printing process!

Michael W. Kruse


Stackhouse's approach to Christian ethics so parallels mine it is scary. He has thought things through more thoroughly and articulates them better than I do but this is one of those books where I felt the author was putting my thoughts and feelings down on paper. I don't know that it will be the same for you but I love this book.


I agree. The non-Gospel books are not addendums or supplementary. The entire canon gives the complete picture.

Michael W. Kruse


I think some of the RLCs are reacting to an overly Pauline, substitutionary atomement only, "fire insurance" mode of reading the Bible. I agree with the concern. I just don't find this "Red Letter" metaphor helpful. All scritpure is interpreted by the rest of scripture. That is where I think the focus needs to be.

Matt Ferguson

Since I first heard of the Red Letter Christians (I heard Campolo speak at the National Youth Workers Convention) I have been trying to find a Bible with all red letters to affirm much of what is said in this post and comments. If anyone knows where such a Bible can be purchased, please post a note telling where. Thanks. The piece by Stackhouse is excellent and states things much better than I could.


I just don't find this "Red Letter" metaphor helpful. All scritpure is interpreted by the rest of scripture.

A good hermeneutic can reduce redness...probably swelling as well.

Michael W. Kruse

Matt, I've usually seen these as inexpensive, no frills KJVs. I suspect most Christian bookstores would have them.

Van, LOL. Visine, the hermenueutical cure. :)


Red Letter Christians are those who believe that the ethics and teaching taught directly by Jesus should take priority over other agendas presented in the Bible.

It strikes me as an overreaction to excesses many perceive to have come from the religious right.

Or also, perhaps an overreaction to some of the things said by Paul that they find rather awkward..."if it's not in red letters, well then it's not so black and white...er...wait, let me rephrase that..."

I like Matt's idea of a Bible printed entirely with red letters...even the maps.

adam lehman

the main weakness with your article and Stackhouse's passage is that it is a rebuttle against those that attempt to follow Jesus' lifestyle (celibacy, giving up carpentry, etc). However, the "Red Letter Christians" are those that aren't simply asking "What Would Jesus Do?" but they are asking "What Did Jesus Say?" or "What Did Jesus Teach?" Thus, the title of Red Letter Christians.

Michael W. Kruse

But the point is that you only have "What Did Jesus Say?" and "What Did Jesus Teach?" from the witnesses who compiled the gospels. Jesus didn't write anything for us to read. These witnesses are from the same community as those writing the other NT books. As Stackhouse notes, some or all of the gospels were written after some the Pauline epsitles (Gal., 1 Thes, 1 Cor.) They are all equally valid witnesses to the teaching and application of Jesus teaching. Red Letterness is an exercise in elevating one genere (gospels) of scripture over another.


What scripture do you use to assert that every word in the Bible is the word of God?

Why is Paul quoted much more than Jesus in discussions about Christianity and the teachings of Jesus?

Michael W. Kruse

"What scripture do you use to assert that every word in the Bible is the word of God?"

I don't think I said this?

"Why is Paul quoted much more than Jesus in discussions about Christianity and the teachings of Jesus?"

My guess is that Paul's writings are more in tune with our western didactic modes of learning while Jesus relied much more heavily on middle-eastern metaphorical theology. Enlightenment and modernist modes of thinking have skewed our thinking and often blinded us to the depth of Jesus' teaching.

All the books of the NT became canon because they carried widely recognized authority. The gospels were not written by Jesus. They were compiled, edited, and arranged by disciples. There is no access to Jesus' teaching except through his disciples.

The same people who later recognized the authority of the gospels are one in the same with those who recognized the authority of the rest of the NT.

Again, the solution to the elevation of Paul above all else is not the elevation of the gospels above all else. It is respect for the whole NT as canon.


I received a RSV Bible when I 9 years old, and it is a "Red Letter" version. Every quote of Jesus is in red print. I have loved it my entire life. As a young Christian, that Bible helped me fall in love with Jesus. The verses in Isaih which refer to Jesus' coming, when they are said by Jesus, are also in red.

I see nothing wrong with Red Letter Christianity. You have no idea how many people will give their lives to the Lord via the 'red letter' approach.


I am not convinced by this argument against 'red-letter' Christianity, because it seems to say that red-letter Christians do not take the rest of the bible seriously - which isn't true, I think that the authour says: “In adopting the name, we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that Jesus taught.” in terms of social justice and stuff like that.

And anyhow, believing that is is the son of God, if Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life" then how can any one argue against prioritizing his teachings? :)


I think you have made some good points but have missed the most fundamental point - red letter Christianity is about hermeneutics. One commenter has noted that red letter elevates one genre over another but it doesn't elevate a genre it places the words of Jesus as the central lens through which the rest of scripture should be read and understood. He (Jesus) is the visible image of the invisible god.

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks Richie. In response...

The gospels are four takes on the life of Jesus. Much like there are can be multiple movies about a historical event that come at things from different angles ... and use poetic license to more accurately communicate the significance of events ... but still present different aspects of the truth of the events, so it is with the gospels. The gospels are not court transcripts of Jesus' teachings or court records giving "just the facts" of Jesus ministry. Who assembled these gospels? The same community of people who produced the rest of the New Testament.

Furthermore, how did the NT become canon? Over the next few generations the books became canon not because of who wrote the books, but because the books carried authority across the breadth of Christian communities. The community that recognized the authority of the gospels is the same community that recognized the authority of the rest of the scriptures.

We can't possibly understand the rest of the NT without the presence of the gospels. But the rest of the NT is the church working to give practical application of Jesus teaching and therefore are critical in interpreting the gospels. They are in symbiotic relationship.

There has been an error to see Paul as the master theologian and Jesus as the savior who, in his teaching, mostly gave lots illustrations and basic ethical teaching. Scholars like Kenneth Bailey demonstrate that this is a gross misunderstanding because Jesus' teaching is often in the form of near eastern metaphorical theology and much of it is lost on us Westerners. So yes there is a needed corrective that rediscovers Jesus' teaching.

However, elevating Jesus teaching in the gospels above, over and against, the rest of the NT as though the rest somehow carries less authority, or Jesus teaching will somehow correct the "errors" elsewhere in the NT is not plausible to me. The NT is one inextricably intertwined unit.


Red Letter Christians are, to quote Tony Campolo, "Christians with a very high view of Scripture. The writers of Scripture, we believe, were invaded by the Holy Spirit and were uniquely guided by God as they wrote, providing us with an infallible guide for faith and practice. We emphasize the "red letters" because we believe that you only can understand the rest of the Bible when you read it from the perspective provided by Christ".

Michael W. Kruse

But David, the issue I have is: Where did the gospels' authority come from? They were deemed authoritative by the early Christians who knew Jesus teaching... the same folks who also found the rest of the NT authoritative. This treads close to saying that somehow Paul and other NT authors were less informed or less reliable than the gospels when in fact they were all written and deemed authoritative by the same community. The NT all stands or falls together.


Dave, in addition to Michael's comment (wow, when did this discussion come alive again!?) I would like to pick up on your comment: "e believe that you only can understand the rest of the Bible when you read it from the perspective provided by Christ"

But do we even have the prespective of Christ? We have the perspective of whoever wrote Matthew, we have the prespective of Luke, and we have the perspectives of the Markan author and that of John. Each perspective is slighly different, and each therefore makes the "perspective of christ" look slightly different, depending on which one you read. So to elevate the "red letter" sections, is not really elevating the perspective of christ, it is simply elevating the recollections/ perspectives of the gospel authors.


I'm confused. Aren't Christians supposed to prioritize church work above daily trades?

Jhn 12:25 NIV - The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Jhn 12:26 NIV - Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
Luk 9:59 NIV - He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
Luk 9:60 NIV - Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
Luk 9:61 NIV - Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
Luk 9:62 NIV - Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Mat 10:37 NIV - "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
Mat 10:38 NIV - and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Mat 10:39 NIV - Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.


Also, no one can serve two masters. So whose work should we be concerned with doing, Christ's or the world's?

Michael W. Kruse

JediMobius, God created humanity in his image and gave them dominion over the earth. We were made vice-regents with God over creation. (Gen 1:28, Psalm 8, Heb 2:5-9) We are to bring all creation, including the human elements of it, to fullness and flourishing. This often called “Human Vocation” (or the “cultural mandate.” This vocation was not revoked with the fall or any later development.

The fall corrupted human vocation. God has entered the world to humanity and redeeming humanity also means redeeming the purpose for which humanity was created and restoring humanity to their role in holy relationship with God. You wrote:

“I'm confused. Aren't Christians supposed to prioritize church work above daily trades?”

I say no. The church’s mission is to give witness to Chirst’s reign and seek the redemption of all creation, including the daily trades.

Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God. A kingdom has a monarch, subjects, a domain, and a code by which the kingdom lives. When God created the world, he was king, all the creatures of the earth were his subjects (including humans were both subjects and vice-rulers) his domain was the whole earth, and his commands where the code the kingdom lived by. A kingdom includes every aspect of existence that goes on within the domain of the kingdom.

When sin entered the world, humanity tried to establish its own kingdom in opposition to God. God countered by establishing the nation of Israel: God was king (the Israelites as vice-regents), all the creaturely inhabitants were his subjects, his domain was the land of Israel, and the covenant was his code. If you read the covenant is full of directions about trade, private property, and the management of daily life. The idea was the people would see this kingdom and all people would be drawn to God.

Israel sinned and did not fulfill this mission. Jesus came and fulfilled, and expanded, the mission. Jesus is now king of all creation, all creatures are his subjects even though many live in rebellion, the whole earth is his domain and the new covenant is the code. The new covenant also addresses how we live and interact in our daily lives. We are to be living witnesses to this kingdom until he returns and completes the process of bringing everything under his reign.

I can’t go back and unpack each of the verses you listed, but the emphasis in most of these verses is making a choice between two kingdoms, not a choice between doing “earthly” work or “spiritual” work. We are to continue to fulfill the human vocation but we are called to do so as transformed agents and subjects of Christ’s Kingdom.

“So whose work should we be concerned with doing, Christ's or the world's?”

The world’s work IS Christ’s work. Jesus reigns over all.

Joe Mann

You all should be ashamed to call Christ your lord if you do not love his words! Just sayin
John 5:39-47 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. 40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. 41 I receive not honour from men. 42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. 43 I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. 44 How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. 46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. 47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

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