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Though I own several Bibles with the words of Christ printed in red, I've always found the concept a bit iffy. After all, we evangelicals believe in the plenary, or full, inspiration of Scripture, don't we? Setting off Jesus' sayings this way seems to imply that they are more holy than what is printed in ordinary black ink. Sure, Christians understand that Jesus the incarnate Word fulfills the written Word. But if all Scripture is God-breathed, then in principle Jesus' inscripturated statements are no more God's Word to us than are those from Peter, Paul, and Mary—or Ezekiel.

That's why I felt a bit queasy when I heard about a group calling itself "Red-Letter Christians." In the book Letters to a Young Evangelical, Tony Campolo says RLCs have an "intense desire to be faithful to the words of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament." That's a worthy start, of course—but only that.

This approach sounds reminiscent of a problem dividing the church in Corinth. Hear some cogent words printed, unfortunately, in black letters: "What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,' or 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided?" RLCs seem to say they have found a higher truth.

No doubt Campolo, a wonderful evangelist and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University, would demur. But while in no way denying the genuine desire of RLCs to be faithful to Christ, it seems to me that the key color here is not red, but blue.

Campolo insists RLCs are strictly nonpartisan. "We are people who want to assure that Jesus is neither defined as a Republican nor a Democrat," he recently told the Associated Baptist Press. "When asked about party affiliation, the Red-Letter Christian is prone ...

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When Red Is Blue
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In the Magazine

October 2007

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