As the tides of culture rise and fade out into the night God continuously raises up fresh and formidable exemplars of the Faith to stand as monuments of steadfast commitment. The previous premiership, however valid at one point in time, will simply no longer do; eventually they must give way to men and women whose brand of Christianity is ripe and in due season—Fundamentalists eventually give way to Evangelicals, and now Evangelicals are sure give way to Red Letter Christians. And heading up this new-fashioned form of the Christian faith is the well-seasoned Tony Campolo and his younger Jedi companion Shane Claiborne whose life of simplicity and compassion is proof positive that Jesus’ vision of the truly-human life is still valid and yes, doable. Together in their new book titled Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? they spell out what a seasonable Christianity looks like in our time.
The book is in the format of a dialogue between Tony (representing the previous generation of the faithful) and Shane (representing cultural-apropos form of Christianity) discussing as it were the major issues of our age. Caveat!—the aim of the book is not to swap the ways that previous generations of Christians maintained the faith for that of a culturally capitulating brand of Christianity, but a conversation on how to better live out those ways in a manner that is culturally conducive to the problems of today. Campolo adds:
‘Younger Red Letter Christians are teaching older ones like me whole dimensions of the Christian faith that go back centuries before the Reformation. And it seems there’s a growing movement of young Christians like Shane who are aware that even though God is doing something fresh, we can still follow in some great footprints of those who prepared the way. That’s why this intergenerational conversion is so important. Our goal has not been to homogenize but rather to harmonize our dreams.’
“Red Letter Christians” are those “who take the radical teachings of Jesus seriously and who are committed to living them out in our everyday lives” and every generation has had to do the dirty business of figuring out exactly what that looks like. Now Tony and Shane are not offering a neo-Marcionite-like hermeneutic wherein we disregard the words in black in total favor of those in red, all of Scripture is important, but are simply reminding us that Jesus’ own teachings carry a special and unmatched authority by which even apostle Paul submitted. It is therefore imperative to reexamine Jesus’ teachings afresh and to ever place ourselves, however unwillingly, on his potter’s wheel. Shane sums up why Jesus’ teachings remain preeminent:
‘Jesus shows us what God is like with skin on—in a way we can see, touch, feel, and follow. My Latino friends have taught me that the word incarnation shares the same root as en carne or con carne, which means “with meat.” We can see God in other places at work throughout history, but the climax of all history is Jesus, revealed in those red letters.’
The moment we, the readers, finally pull up a chair to listen in on Tony and Shane’s discussion is the same moment we realize that they aren’t going to leave any major “hot topic,” twenty-six to be exact, hidden under a rock, nothing appears to be taboo for these red-lettered-men-of-the-cloth. The issues that are raised for deliberation range from the realities of hell, to questions surrounding Islam, to the urgent alarms sounded environmentalism, to the heated debate around homosexuality, and the ever-mounting power and threat of empire. Surprisingly, and sometimes frustratingly so, their answers are consistently counter-cultural challenging our comfort zones and calling us to account for our compromises and for our pharisaical ways. Most challenging for this reviewer was Shane’s simple and communal lifestyle, a Jesus-patterned life that sheds much scrutinizing light on my own materialistic ways of living. Shane writes:
‘Salvation is often manifested by the release of possessions. It’s not a prescription for salvation but a description of salvation. When we are born again, we want to share! We realize we have siblings we didn’t know about, and many of them are suffering deeply.’
Ouch, but he’s right!
Though I am certain you will not agree with everything these red-lettered prophets put on offer, I am confident that you will be challenged to live out ever more faithfully the kingdom vision of Jesus. Tony and Shane will drive you back to those over-familiar red-letter passages of the New Testament which often criticize our complacency, condemn our wanton greed and self-interest, and surprisingly encourage us to continue on in those things which aren’t “far from the kingdom.” And the end of this book is not the end of the discussion for it is just the beginning; it is just a microcosm of a larger dialogue that church universal needs to have: how precisely for this generation we are to live out the teachings of our Lord and Savior. Therefore, let the discussion continue!
Title: Red Letter Revolution
Authors: Shane Claiborne/Tony Campolo
Shane Claiborne is a bestselling author, activist, speaker and a visionary leader.
Tony Campolo is Bestselling author and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University. Founder and president of Evangelical Association for the promotion of education. A renown international speaker, authored over 35 books.
Tony and Shane both have a passion for the Scriptures and love for the Savior. They have come together to talk about what it means to be a Red Letter Christian today, oppose to the stereotypical evangelical image of what a true Christian is in most of the minds of this generation and in America. There are several chapters of dialogue throughout the book with topics that are relevant to this generation and the church. The contents are Theology, Living, and the World. Shane and Tony both chose divisively many of the questions that need to be answered concerning many evangelical Christians today. Compolo says, “Our goal has not been to homogenize but rather to harmonize our dreams […] “Our hope is that our conversation (through intergenerational conversation) provides you with insight as you seek to live the teachings of Jesus” (xv). To answer their questions they pose this question, what would Jesus do?” “Part I, “Red Letter Theology – Liturgy.” Tony makes a statement about spiritual discipline that is insightful, “if we try to do the work of God in the world one must spiritually prepare himself by prayer. “This book is about connecting these practices with Christian activism, and it makes the case that If we try to do evangelism or work for social justice without first having taken time each day to be spiritually empowered, we will burn out […] Spiritual disciplines, which include liturgical practices, are requirements for those who are committed to living out the red letters of the Bible” (40). Part II, “Red Letter Living – Environmentalism, I really enjoyed this chapter, pro-life and pro-earth evangelical’s caring about God’s creation struck a chord in my heart. Shane, looks at I Peter 3:10 “These verses often say the world will be ‘destroyed’ by fire. But, Stephen Bouma –Prediger points out these words and images of fire used in Scripture are a refiner’s fire, one that restores life. How we think theologically can make a big difference in how we live. Whether we think God’s end plan is to restore creation or burn everything up affects how we walk on the earth” (99). Something to think about? This book has twenty-six chapters of dialogue Tony and Shane both shedding new light upon the Scripture and it’s interpretation encouraging Christians to live out the “Red Letters of the Gospel” as told by Jesus.
The “Red Letter Revolution” book allows you to listen in on a theological discussion with sheer delight, the chapters and content is divided in to categories that are easy to follow and relevant in today’s Christian world and society. Everything about the book is “important” every chapter helps one to refocus, reconstruct and refire one’s walk with God to ascertain if what we call praxis is keeping with scripture or not. This book redefines the images that one has when one hears the word evangelical; it offers a solution, that solution is to take Jesus seriously, by committing ourselves to living out Jesus’ words in the world. What is good about this book it offers both critique and encouragement. This book is for all who are called evangelical.
Red Letter Revolution was an engaging and thoughtful read, though admittedly, I struggled through some of the exegetical problems of the first 10 pages. In the early going, I feared that the book was going to be long on anachronisms, lacking appropriate cultural engagement with the “red letters” of the Gospels of the New Testament. Thankfully, the exegetical issues did not prove to be overly problematic, allowing for serious introspection and analysis without the distraction of the interpretive mis-steps that could be off-putting for a reader such as myself.
Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, in many respects are an odd couple. One would not expect to find such disparate individuals (in both age and life experience) thrown together for a single work. However, the pairing worked well, allowing the reader to encounter issues from two perspectives, both useful and valuable.
Throughout the work, I found myself creatively challenged, as I examined my own responses (whether mental or practical) to so many issues of the day. Naturally, there were points of disagreement, as is quite normal for any two people approaching problems from different angles. I found myself curious to learn more about many of the approaches to practical problem-solving suggested by the two authors.
I did have a frustration with the book, in that on a number of occasions, the conversation between the two broke off, with a new subject or line of thinking engaged, at points where delving deeper into more detail about root causes could have been useful. Naturally, there must always be a point of departure for any line of thinking, if one wants to keep a book within a manageable size, but many times it seemed like just a few more words on a subject would have aided the reader in reaching a helpful conclusion versus an unhelpful conclusion. I am sure that there are many that had the same feeling.
Overall, I believe to have been a good fit for Academia’s book of the month list. Though it would not be considered to be academically rigorous, in the strict sense of the term (it was highly technical, nor packed full of information and in-depth analysis), it does stir the intellect and the soul, prodding at transformation in the reader (though not demanding the path which should be taken by that transformation) as it poses its question of “What if Jesus really meant what He said?”, while also causing the reader to ask questions while priming him or her for the acceptance of answers in the never-ending process of learning to be more fully and truly human (the essence of a liberal arts/humanities education) which is very much the heart and soul of the academic (and Academia) experience.
What can I say about the book “Red Letter Revolution,” other than agree with its purpose of following every red letter written in the bible, spoken by the Messiah himself, our lord, our savior, Jesus. I always find myself on the topic of forgiveness, meaning people always ask me; how can God forgive this?, how can God forgive that?, and my answer is always, then what was the point of Jesus being crucified and sacrificing himself for our sins. The more I read the book written by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, the more I realize that these people should probably pick up this book and read it. The book itself is not a regular read, its more of a conversation between the two authors, in which you find yourself at times wanting to join in and speak your mind. Only to realize, that you are actually reading the book and are not part of the conversation.
The authors discuss every topic written in the New Testament, specifically the ones that Jesus spoke of. It challenges you to realize how deep are you involved with the word and actions of Jesus. As you read the book, you will find that these same authors, faced these demanding challenges. The difference is, that they are up to the challenge, starting a revolution, so you and I, take Jesus seriously. Serious in a way, that we take an honest try to live out His desires for life.
The Book itself is a very easy read, it flows smoothly in a way that you belong to the conversation. We all need to educate ourselves to the teachings of our Messiah and this book is a good starting point. I read it and recommend being read and discussed with who ever has an open ear. Wouldn’t you like to be part of Jesus’ extended family, let us then live out the teachings of Jesus and follow the simplicity of His beliefs.
Academia Church © 2013