Red Letter Ramblings

One very formidable trend that has developed with Generations X and Y (for lack of better terms) is the desire to be a “Red-Letter Christian”.

For the uninitiated, many editions of the Bible print the words of Jesus in red, and the rest of the words in black.

If there are any accountants or finance-types reading this, I have a question for you: Does red ink make Jesus words look better, or worse? Seems like it might be a barrier for those who fear “the red”.

Aside from purely cosmetic concerns, I believe this type of thinking can be dangerous. First, whose decision was it initially to put the words of God the Son in red, but not those of God the Father? Is it not disconcerting to anyone else to read about the baptism of Jesus and see the very voice of heaven descending in ink of black? It wouldn’t bother me, except in a Red-Letter Edition.

It is a magnificent truth that Christianity is not based on a set of teachings, or on a philosophy, or on a group of people or a historical event. It is based on a person; the person of Jesus. So why shouldn’t we let his words stand out?

And that’s the way the thinking goes… fair enough. But there’s more.

I don’t see this simply as a Bible-reading trend, but as a move away from a holistic Christianity, and into one that has a too-narrow focus on the person of Jesus. This has caused many people to believe that Jesus was not so much the agent of the Father here on earth, but rather a rogue liberator attempting to rescue humanity from the wrath of a Crabby Dad. Read more about that here.

A case in point: The 4th of 10 Commandments, in Exodus, commands that we keep the Sabbath day holy, and do no work on that day. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees abused this law (like every other law) and took it to extremes. As we read Jesus’ attempts to correct that abuse, we begin to think that he is rescinding the commandment itself. And whatever we read in red letters seems to trump everything else. (As an aside… my trouble with honoring the Sabbath is that I can’t find where God said that the Sabbath should roll over to the first day of the week, instead of the last. Still percolating on that one…)

The problem is, this approach to the mission of Christ ignores the following red letters from John 8:28: “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” Does this bold assertion leave us any reason at all to lift the words of Jesus above the words of God the Father? Has anyone ever proposed putting all the words of God in red?

Because, in their red letter fervor, some people have even become suspicious of the non-gospel books. Here’s my question for them: Do you believe John accurately recorded Jesus’ words? Then why not read his three epistles and Revelation just as seriously? Do you believe Luke accurately recorded Jesus’ words? Then why not read Acts just as seriously? And if you do, you’ll see that Jesus (in red letters) appointed Paul to be an apostle. Then why not read the letters of Paul as divine scripture? And when we read the red letters themselves, we can see how Jesus honored the words of Moses and the Prophets. In our efforts to follow Jesus and be like him, should we not do the same?

We should. Otherwise we risk letting our faith run into the red.

6 thoughts on “Red Letter Ramblings

  1. Hey brother,Love the main point of the post, as well as the conclusion (Despite your title, I did find it rather coherent). :) Might I, in my usual fashion, push back a bit on one [loaded] comment you made? Thanks, I knew you wouldn’t mind. 😉I think you painted a false trichotomy (…quad-, quintchotomy?) when you said, <><>“Christianity is not based on a set of teachings, or on a philosophy, or on a group of people or a historical event. It is based on a person; the person of Jesus.”<><>A faith based on a person necessarily is based on a historical event (if you want to get technical, “events”, depending on how you define “event”). No event, no person. I will concede that Christianity, which <>includes<> and is explained by a set of teachings, is not based on a set of teachings, but with an important caveat. Christianity is a faith based on <>revelation<>. The person of Jesus, incarnated in full human essence, time and space, is the fullness of God revealed (Col 1:15, 19; 2:3). But He is not the <>only<> revelation given to us. The whole of creation is a revelation (albeit a lesser one) as is Scripture. So “The Faith” (Christianity) is based, to one degree or another, on all of this revelation. They are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, for all practical purposes, the statement “a faith based simply on the person of Jesus” (I’m paraphrasing you) is void of meaning. “Based on the person of Jesus–as attested to in the Word of God, the Bible, and subscribed to by the Historic Church”… now that has meaning, definition.One final thought… how we define “Christianity” fundamentally impacts this conversation. Is “Christianity” the set of teachings and doctrines that constitute “The Faith”? Or is it the indwelling and outworking of those doctrines in the Body of Christ? Is it both? (that is, insofar as your statement, and this conversation, is concerned)Nice chatting with you.As iron sharpens iron… 😉Love you,Matt

  2. Hey brother,Love the main point of the post, as well as the conclusion (Despite your title, I did find it rather coherent). :) Might I, in my usual fashion, push back a bit on one [loaded] comment you made? Thanks, I knew you wouldn’t mind. 😉I think you painted a false trichotomy (…quad-, quintchotomy?) when you said, <><>“Christianity is not based on a set of teachings, or on a philosophy, or on a group of people or a historical event. It is based on a person; the person of Jesus.”<><>A faith based on a person necessarily is based on a historical event (if you want to get technical, “events”, depending on how you define “event”). No event, no person. I will concede that Christianity, which <>includes<> and is explained by a set of teachings, is not based on a set of teachings, but with an important caveat. Christianity is a faith based on <>revelation<>. The person of Jesus, incarnated in full human essence, time and space, is the fullness of God revealed (Col 1:15, 19; 2:3). But He is not the <>only<> revelation given to us. The whole of creation is a revelation (albeit a lesser one) as is Scripture. So “The Faith” (Christianity) is based, to one degree or another, on all of this revelation. They are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, for all practical purposes, the statement “a faith based simply on the person of Jesus” (I’m paraphrasing you) is void of meaning. “Based on the person of Jesus–as attested to in the Word of God, the Bible, and subscribed to by the Historic Church”… now that has meaning, definition.One final thought… how we define “Christianity” fundamentally impacts this conversation. Is “Christianity” the set of teachings and doctrines that constitute “The Faith”? Or is it the indwelling and outworking of those doctrines in the Body of Christ? Is it both? (that is, insofar as your statement, and this conversation, is concerned)Nice chatting with you.As iron sharpens iron… 😉Love you,Matt

  3. Hey MattI probably could have been more accurate by saying that the person of Jesus is the “Fulcrum of our Faith”… that Christianity is based, not exclusively on his person, but fundamentally so.Other elements are absolutely non-dispensable, such as revelations, philosophies, teachings, traditions, events, people, etc. But when Christ himself is recognized as the absolute crux (pun intended) of all these things, then we can have a balanced faith.

  4. Hey MattI probably could have been more accurate by saying that the person of Jesus is the “Fulcrum of our Faith”… that Christianity is based, not exclusively on his person, but fundamentally so.Other elements are absolutely non-dispensable, such as revelations, philosophies, teachings, traditions, events, people, etc. But when Christ himself is recognized as the absolute crux (pun intended) of all these things, then we can have a balanced faith.

  5. I generally agree with you. If you want to get technical and you believe that the Bible is fully inspired, though, you may have to take it a step fuller and say that all the letters should be red.Interesting that you mention the Sabbath and Jesus in the same post. My understanding is that the standard interpretation of Hebrews 3-4 is that Jesus <>is<> our Sabbath rest. The main purpose of the Sabbath (like so much else that God passed to the Israelites through Moses) was to point to salvation through Christ.

  6. I generally agree with you. If you want to get technical and you believe that the Bible is fully inspired, though, you may have to take it a step fuller and say that all the letters should be red.Interesting that you mention the Sabbath and Jesus in the same post. My understanding is that the standard interpretation of Hebrews 3-4 is that Jesus <>is<> our Sabbath rest. The main purpose of the Sabbath (like so much else that God passed to the Israelites through Moses) was to point to salvation through Christ.

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