Within the last few years, evangelicalism has seen several new sects spring up with alternative views on Christianity (some legit and some way off base). Each new sect is usually riddled with some level of controversy. No stranger to such controversy is the group known as the Red Letter Christians and the two most well-known men behind the revolution, authors Tony Campolo (Stories That Feed Your Soul, Connecting Like Jesus) and Shane Claiborne (The Irresistable Revolution, Jesus For President). The two have come together for their latest book, Red Letter Revolution, which features a dialogue between the two who talk about what they believe, as well as seemingly all of the controversies and issues surrounding the Church and world today.
Those who are unfamiliar with the beliefs and practices of the Red Letter Christians, but who are intrigued by the question on the cover - "What if Jesus really meant what He said?" - will get a glimpse into what they're all about within the first couple of chapters. Part of that is summarized in Claiborne saying "There's a ton of energy right now behind thinking about what Jesus has to say about things like economics, about violence. Because these are things we see everywhere right now - poverty and war, for example. The good news is that Jesus had a lot to say about these things. He wasn't just talking about what happens after we die. He was talking about how we live right now. He was talking about widows and orphans, laborers and wages - the exact same things that young people are talking about today." Unfortunately, a lot of Christians do focus a lot more on life after death than about life right now, and this book seeks to show how Jesus cared about social issues and about how to live a life of love before you die and pass into the manifest presence of God.
The book is conveniently divided into three sections, the first of which is "Red Letter Theology." The first chapter of this section gives a little taste at just what exactly it means to be a Red Letter Christian. Since this sect gets a bad rap in some evangelical and fundamentalist circles, starting off with this was a good idea, and should help to calm the rumors of what heresy they're supposedly involved in. The following chapters of the theology section offer up some healthy conviction, as well as views into their hearts and why they believe what they believe. It's easy to see why they've become so controversial: Jesus Himself was controversial. He went against a lot of the cultural ideas of His time, and the Red Letter Christians seek to do the same here. Not because it's what Jesus did, but because a lot of what we do, Christian or not, is against what Jesus taught. I particularly enjoyed the chapters entitled "Dialogue on Saints" and "Dialogue on Hell." In the former, Claiborne talked about why he looks up to St. Francis of Assisi, and tells a story about how Francis, a Christian, went against the "Christian idea" of the Crusades and engaged "the enemy," a Muslim sultan, in a conversation about God's love and grace. Instead of killing him, like the soldier he was supposed to be, he did what Jesus would have done and reached out to him with the love of God. The latter of the chapters speaks a little on Hell, but ironically, they mostly talk about why it's important not to talk so much about Hell. Many, many Christians use Hell as a way to scare people into Christianity, but Claiborne makes mention that Jesus spent more time talking about the Kingdom in His evangelizing than about Hell. A lot more time, for that matter. These ideas are so contrary to modern, mainstream Christianity, but I really find the beauty and Christ-likeness in them.
"Red Letter Living" is the second section, and it continues with the Red Letter Christian theology, but also goes into a little more detail about how the theology is applicable (or how it should be applicable) to our lives. A lot of what they speak about in this section is very much the opposite of the traditional views that are held by many evangelical Christians. This can bring about multiple different reactions (skepticism, anger, conviction, you name it), but regardless, they provide the appropriate Scripture to biblically back up their viewpoints. The topics of this section are wonderfully relevant to today's Christians, offering beautiful insight on topics such as immigration, civil disobedience, giving, being pro-life, and homosexuality. Claiborne and Campolo's idea of being truly pro-life expands far beyond being just "anti-abortion." In "Dialogue on Being Pro-Life," Claiborne says "As Red Letter Christians, we need to be pro-life from the womb to the tomb. Abortion and euthanasia, the death penalty and war, poverty and health care - all of these are issues of life and death. And they are issues Jesus cares about because they affect real people." The chapters about immigration and civil disobedience were also very eye-opening for me, as they focus heavily on transcending cultural, national, and earthly boundaries and focusing on Kingdom boundaries and standards. Red Letter Christians make the case that Jesus would be more welcoming of immigrants coming to our nation, and Claiborne talks about times he's been arrested when he didn't think the law was just. There's an amazing story that Campolo tells here about some college students who were Christians during the Vietnam War. They thought the war was immoral and had planned to move to Canada to legally escape, but were encouraged to stay and say "Arrest us! We find this war to be immoral, but we are submitting ourselves to the jurisdiction of a government that says it will punish anybody who violates the legal ruling that we must report for military service." It's exactly what Jesus would have done and it's something I had never thought about before.
Finally, we come to "Red Letter World," the third and final section of Red Letter Revolution. The application of the faith and principles of Red Letter Christianity carries over into this section, but it's more of a collection of discussions on world issues and events. There are chapters dedicated to the United States' economic downfall, the Israel/Palestine turmoil, and even the subject of non-violence as demonstrated by Jesus Himself. Claiborne and Campolo don't devote a lot of time to discussing possible solutions to these problems, as they can be much larger than an adequately-sized book would be able to cover, but they do speak a lot on how Christians should look at the issues and what parts they should or should not play in them as outlined in the Bible. I'm especially fond of the chapter on non-violence, and I could fill up a couple paragraphs with really good quotes from said chapter. In an age where many Christians have become pro-war, this is an especially important chapter that I easily recommend for any follower of Jesus. On that same note, "Dialogue on Missions" is an important chapter, too. Using the 2009 earthquake in Haiti as an example, Claiborne and Campolo brought up good points about ways missionaries may have hurt their economy more than than helped it, despite the good intentions that they really had. The chapter doesn't paint the two as anti-missionary (if you read the book, you'll see that they are completely the opposite, honestly), but they see that the way we do missions needs to change.
To quote a Showbread song, "the world has become frustrated with a fake Jesus." Many who claim to follow Christ are legitimately doing the opposite, as they tend to oppose His very words as written in the Bible. Red Letter Revolution is an excellent book that focuses on living out what Jesus really said as well as examining things that He didn't say (that we still practice) and calls them into question. It's challenging, convicting, and eye-opening. If you've ever read Jesus' words and wondered why some of them seem to be ignored in modern Christianity, or even if you're just curious about what sets the Red Letter Christians apart, this is the place to start. Just make sure to prepare for your life to change to some degree.- Review date: 6/10/13, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
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