Red Letter Christians

15 Jan

I picked up this book the other week when we visited a used book store in this country. I just started to read it when there were a few ideas that were expressed that troubled me. I am not going to say whether the author, Tony Campolo, is a Christian or not as I know very little about the man and only familiar with his words contained in this volume. This work is a defense for his involvement in politics, which we really have no problem with, Christians need to be involved in politics as that world needs the light shone upon it as well.

But what bothers us is his approach to scripture. The first quote we will look at is found on page 23:

Second, we are 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 can only understand the rest of the Bible when you read it from the perspective of Christ.

The first thing that troubles us in those words, and it is probably a minor point, is the word ‘invaded’. it makes the filling of the Holy Spirit to be some sort of attack and conquest of the believer instead of a response to the voluntary invitation made by the believer to God to be filled with the Spirit. That word makes God look like an evil attacker who invades where he is not wanted simply because he wants control of that person or body.

The second thing that bother us is their belief that we cannot understand the rest of the NT unless we use Jesus words only. The problem with that view is that the rest of the NT is from the perspective of Jesus, not only because he taught the disciples what he wanted them to know but also because the Holy Spirit works with Jesus, not against him, and leads the biblical authors to provide Jesus’ and God’s perspective.

Many people, and I have done it, have appealed to the words of Jesus to make a point or two but we must not forget that the rest of the NT is not inferior to Jesus’s words. They are approved by him and God and are as authoritative as the words spoken by Jesus as recorded in the gospels. One passage of scripture doe snot overrule another. if they did, we would have anarchy in the church and everyone would be free to practice their faith as they saw fit not as Jesus or the apostles taught.

If we look at Acts 2 we see the following words

Ac 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching  and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread  and to prayer

You will notice that it was to the apostles’ teaching that they dedicated themselves not just to the words of Jesus. We can conclude that the apostles taught the words of Christ, the ones we now have in our red letter editions, but also all the words that God wanted his new followers to hear and adopt. Then while Jesus’ words do help us understand apostolic teaching in later books, the apostolic teaching in those later books also help us understand what Jesus taught.

Jesus taught us about marriage and divorce but his words did not go far enough so Paul was enlisted to provide further teaching on marriage, giving us a more complete picture of what Jesus meant by his words. We cannot elevate one biblical book over another because all books of the Bible work together to bring us one simple and common message.

Another point that troubles us is his idea about authority comes from sacrificial giving. Mr. Compolo writes:

It is important to stress that for Christians, authority comes from sacrificing to meet the needs of others (pg. 38)

There is no biblical teaching or verse that supports this idea. We read in scriptures the following verses about gaining authority:

14 And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, 15 and to have authority to cast out the demons. (Mark 3)

And He *summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; (Mark 6)

But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given suchauthority to men. (Matthew 9:8)

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. (Matthew 10:1)

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you (Luke 10:19)

and He gave Himauthority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. (John 5:27)

Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin. (John 19:11)

As you can see by this short study that authority is given freely not because someone has sacrificial love for someone else. Even the verse on the husband’s leadership over his wife are not phrased in the sacrificial love context. Authority has been given already to the husband to rule over his wife, We see this in the curse in Genesis and in Paul’s teaching as well. Sacrificial love has nothing to do with authority or its granting to humans.

A lot of the times we are troubled because Mr. Compolo does not go far enough in his explanations and just throws out poll results to make a point. He writes:

In Europe, survey shows that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians are considered the most serious threat to world peace…(pg. 77)

We already know this threat is a reality and will disrupt world peace because the Bible tells us that armies will converge on the Middle East and fight. We also know through the Bible that there is no such thing as world peace, not only because there will be wars and rumors of war, but because world peace is not on God’s agenda. Jesus tells us that true belief in him will divide families etc.

Christians are not to be working towards world peace but that all men be saved then made into disciples.

These are but a few of the comments made by Mr. Compolo that we find troubling. His comment that he works with unbelievers also causes us trouble because it seems that he is using the red letter words to ignore biblical instruction to work with and side with unbelievers. It is not that we doubt his sincerity or his claims to being a Christian, or that we disagree with his political activism, (the jury is still out on that),we are worried that he is in need of proper instruction to get on the right track in using the Bible and getting his behavior in line with biblical teaching and the red letters of the Bible.

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Posted by on January 15, 2016 in academics, Bible, church, comparative religions, controversial issues, faith, Justice, theology


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