About The Red Letters….

I think its time to revisit a little history of the red letters and some of the people besides me who concentrated on them.  Who started putting the words of Jesus in red letters? Here is what Wikipedia says about that:

The term red letter edition is used to describe Bibles in which words spoken by Jesus, commonly only while he was on the Earth, are printed in red ink. This is not to be confused with the Red-Letter Christian movement, which has used this term to emphasize the teachings of Jesus in the Bible, particularly in regards to social justice.

The red letter edition was invented by Louis Klopsch, then editor of The Christian Herald magazine in 1899, and first published in 1900.  This style of Bible instantly became popular, and is sometimes favored by mainly Protestant Christians in the United States. Especially in King James Bibles, this format can be useful as quotation marks are not used.

Klopsch’s idea of printing the words of Jesus in red originated in Luke 22:20, which says: This cup is the new testament in my blood, which I shed for you. This inspired Klopsch to ask his mentor what he thought of printing the words spoken by Jesus in red, to which he replied, “It could do no harm and it most certainly could do much good.

Wikipedia made the point to emphasize that the  decision to put the words of Jesus in red letters has nothing to do with the Red Letter Christian movement now underway and growing quickly. Here again is what Wikipedia says about this movement

Red-Letter Christians constitute a non-denominational movement within Christianity. Proponents of the movement believe that Christianity, and especially evangelicalism, has been exploited by both right-wing and left-wing political movements and become too partisan and politicized. As a response they endeavor to create an evangelical movement that focuses on the teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly in regard to social issues. The two most prominent figures associated with the movement are Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo. 

Red Letter ChristiansAs you can tell from the title of this blog I am very much aligned with this movement. To me the words of Jesus Christ, especially those aligned with social justice take front and center in my life. If you are interested in learning more about this movement I would recommend the book entitled Red Letter Christians by Tony Campolo. If you search for the term “red letter christian” on Amazon several books will come up. This is a testament to the growing popularity of getting back to the words of Jesus as the early Christians did.  Most of what we call Christianity now is actually the result of men, both well-meaning and otherwise, who came after Jesus, sometime long after Jesus.

If you have read much of what I have written here you will know that to me Christianity has been hijacked to be what we believe about Jesus and many other unrelated things versus trying to “be” like Jesus as he commanded us. Part of the emergent movement that is now taking place in much of the world also aligns with putting the red letters back as the focus of our faith.

Defining Evangelicals…

I have had a Sojourners membership for a number of years now and enjoy the monthly magazine. One reason is that it shows me that I am not alone out there in believing what I do about Christianity.  Jim Wallis, who is the editor-in-chief of the magazine always has an editorial at the beginning of each issue.  This month is was about how the word “evangelical” means to the world in general.  In the editorial Jim opens with the following words:

Here we go again. Presidential elections are coming, and the role of ‘evangelicals’ is predictably becoming a hot political story. Voices on both the Religious Right and secular Left describe evangelicals as zealous members of the ultra-conservative political base.

Why? Perhaps because some conservative Republicans want to claim a religious legitimacy and constituency for their ideological agenda, and some political liberals seem determined to portray religious people as intellectually flawed, right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country.

He goes on to say that while there are evangelicals as described above they do not define the overall evangelical community.  He has been stating this view for many years. But from a personal experience I, like many others in this world,  have trouble getting the secular view of evangelicals out of my head.  For a couple of decades I was a member of an evangelical church and for the most part the majority of its members held radical right political beliefs. I always felt like the odd-man-out in our weekly bible studies especially when the discussions turned political in nature. It seems to me that the “social conservative” values of the these right wing political groups runs very counter to what I read in my bible?  I knew a few others in those studies felt as I did about being my brother’s keeper and doing good works but for the most part they sat silently while the majority, among many other topics, ranted about  personal responsibility and those lazy “freeloaders” who just need to get a job.

So, while I want to believe what Jim says I just saw very little evidence of it in the Christian world immediately around me. This is one of the reasons I have divorced myself from that group and no longer call myself a Christian but instead say I am just a follower of Jesus Christ.  I seem to be more attuned around the following message by Susan Isaacs (her message here also came from another Sojourners source)

While I may detect a difference between “evangelical Christian” (theological connotation) and “evangelical” (political connotation), a person outside the faith may not. Tell an agnostic you’re an evangelical — meaning you believe in the words of the Apostle’s creed — and he may assume you’re anti-gay, anti-Obama and pro-British Petroleum….I don’t know if we’ll ever divest “evangelical” of its political connotation. We might have to ban the word the way Germany outlawed Hitler as a surname. Which is sad, because the Greek root, evangel, means “good news.” – Susan Isaacs 

I like Susan think maybe it is time to ban using the word “evangelical” in a theological mode. It has just been too polluted by the political sphere and that is a terrible shame as the word actually means “good news”.  The words “evangelical” and “Christian” just don’t seem to mix together anymore. They are like oil and vinegar.