The Words in Red

I was asked today what I think of the “Red Letter” Christians: the ones who prioritize the red letters, i.e. the words of Christ, over the rest of the Bible.

My response: There is no difference between the red and not-red letters.

Most of the New Testament (Epistles and Gospels alike) is the divinely-inspired words of the Apostles. Some of the Gospels are made of words Christ spoke, as the Apostles were divinely enabled to remember, choose, arrange, and put them in context by means of the events they picked to frame them.

It’s all exactly as credible and authoritative as the Apostles who wrote it. Now I happen to believe in the Christ about whom the inspired Apostles wrote, so this is not a problem for me. But to suggest that the [red] words of Christ are differently authoritative from anything else the Evangelists chose to write about Him doesn’t make much sense to me.

My suspicion is that the "Red Letter" thing is meant to address a particular kind of tunnel vision that’s found among certain Evangelicals. The Epistles of Paul are said to be the blueprint and operating instructions for the Church, while the Gospels are mainly of use as episodes that reveal Jesus’ character. The specific things Christ preached [and preached against] are in these cases filed away as belonging to another Dispensation, since Christ was speaking as a Jew under the law, to Jews under the law. This approach deals conveniently with a lot of otherwise troublesome and difficult sayings where Christ asserts repeatedly that people will be judged by their deeds. See? That was for Jews, not for Christians.

The “Red Letter” folks are trying to refocus attention on the things Christ specifically said about poverty, suffering, fasting, purity of heart, and other things that don’t pop up in a “Romans Road” sort of gospel.

While I appreciate attention being given to the sometimes-neglected Gospels, the impulse to prioritize one passage over another points to a kind of minimalism: What’s most important? And what can I dispense with and pay less attention to?

But discipleship is maximal in nature: Having done everything to honor the God I love, what more can I offer? As unprofitable servants we have no delusions of earning favor, but He is worth all we can offer and more. So read the red, read the black, see how the Church has applied both for millennia, and do all to the glory of God. The red letters