Red Letter Christians And The Rest Of Scripture

I have, for the most, part when doing theology (on the laymen’s level that I do it) have relied on two major sources, reading and talking to others. But there is also what is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In other words, I use other authoritative sources to reach as much of a sound moral/ethical decision as I can. I am not a Red Letter Christian–giving Jesus’ words priority over the rest of scripture. That just sounds weird to me. Stan Guthrie wrote a critique about Red Letter Christians at Christianity Today here. Tony Campolo responded in the same online article–though I think Campolo can be easily refuted here. With just one word: Justice.

Let’s think about this for a second. Red Letter Christians ACTUALLY do give priority to Jesus and his words that you find in those older renditions of the Bible. The justification for this is rather simple. Let’s go through this.

Stephan Jarnick says this:

“Another thing some Christians say that needs to be challenged is “I read the WHOLE Bible” as if giving the Old Testament and the New Testament equal weighting somehow makes them better Christians. Jesus made it clear that the Old Testament is important when he said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” but he also said several times “You have heard it said, but I tell you…” whenever he’s about to teach something that’s different from what’s found in the Old Testament. The law said “An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth” but Jesus said “Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” I don’t want to accuse anyone of intentionally ignoring Jesus but it’s sometimes tempting to do an end run around him to find a sound bite in the Old Testament that will support our agenda. I often encounter this kind of thinking when talking to people about Jesus’ peace teachings. Reading the Old Testament to learn about how God interacted with people prior to Jesus coming on the scene is a good thing. Using it as an optional guide for how to live when we don’t like what Jesus has to say to us is…not Christian.”

Essentially, what Jarnick does is say that Jesus “peace teachings” is above the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (even though, pretty much, justice is not fully accomplished in this fashion: Do you think justice can be served by punching someone’s tooth out the same way that they punched yours out? For it to be a tooth for a tooth it would have to be done in the exact same manner and force and making sure you only knock one out and not others, etc. Not to mention, do you REALLY feel justice has been accomplished? Don’t you feel a just a little jaded? Really, the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” was a VERY JUST law as it had to do with the concept of proportionality. Which meant that you didn’t go overboard with a DESERVING punishment. If this interpretation is correct, then the “eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth” is not really all that contradictory to Jesus words.

So when Campolo responds to Guthrie in the above CT article saying:

“While we, like you, have a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture and believe the Bible was divinely inspired, you are correct in accusing Red Letter Christians of giving the words of Jesus priority over all other passages of Scripture.”

He begs the question. How would not going overboard with punishment (thus being a just punishment) be contrary to Jesus’ peace teachings? If we WERE to ask, “WWJD?” could we not say that Jesus would say, “Hey, don’t go overboard with punishment!” So why would we give priority of Jesus’ words over this Old Testament law?

If I were to add the Ten Commandments into the equation, we might ask, how is say, “Not making idols” (graven images) NOT relevant to Jesus’ commands to love God with all our hearts first and foremost? It should be obvious that not only is there no contradiction but the Old Testament could give us a “filler” so-to-speak (explanatory power) to the words of Jesus.

But let’s go further. Campolo says:

“You got us RLCs right again when you suggested we were anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty primarily because we believe Jesus is anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty. The only mistake you made was to imply that thinking this way—or trying to influence our government according to these values—makes us the Religious Left:”

OK…this is where I have serious reservations with what Campolo is saying. The anti-war, pro-enviroment, deeply ending poverty are USUALLY the staple of the Left NOT the Right. I mean, after all, the right is more concerned with abortion and same sex marriage. So it really is not a far cry to say that Red Letter Christians fall to the left side of the spectrum. But, is not most in the evangelical community REALLY against war PER SE even though some on the Right may be more quicker to go to war than others on the Left?

However, let’s go back to that word I mentioned above–justice and it’s opposite, injustice. Is injustice not injustice no matter what? Let’s say, through some political educational policy, that we take taxes from citizens to pay for education because we as a society have seen fit to educate our children up to a certain age. However, let’s just say that someone wants to educate their kids according to their particular history or political science (as these last two are not neutral unbiased territory, who’s to say that the public educational system’s teaching on these subjects is the “correct” one?) or values or tradition. However, in order for them to do so, they must pay for it OVER AND ABOVE their taxes and in effect penalizing them financially for doing so as well as treating them like second class citizens. Is this not an injustice? And if it is an injustice, why would Jesus be any LESS concerned with this? Sure, we might prioritize “life issues” as more important than education but we would never say that it is not important and we especially would not say that treating others in society as second class citizens is not important.

So, what am I saying in bringing this up? I’m saying that all of these diverse issues are important as far as justice is concerned. Jesus would be concerned about war and whether we should participate in it. Jesus would be concerned about abortion. Jesus would be concerned about the enviroment. Jesus would be concerned about marriage. Jesus would be concerned about poverty and and homeless. And lastly, Jesus would be concerned about the ways in which we treat others as citizens. You do realize there is more than one way to treat people as second class citizens right? The human imagination for dehumanizing others seems to know no bounds!

So if it is the case (that Jesus is concerned about JUSTICE as a whole) then why the incessant need to differentiate between what Christ says in red and the rest of scripture? Should we not be concerned about reflecting idolatry (an Old Testament declaration of freedom) in our laws and policies? I don’t see how we should not be and thus I don’t see why we should prioritize one scripture over another.

In closing, I think this whole idea of being a Red Letter Christian is condescending. **I** follow the words of Jesus. While everyone else….what?


The Marriage Pledge

In this post, I will put up links and then a little commentary on Reno’s and Doug Wilson’s piece. First, we have the pledge itself with the second being a response by Leithart to critics with the third being an endorsement by R.R. Reno and the forth being a critical response by Doug Wilson to the pledge itself. A sixth one has responses by various authors and lastly, a seventh response is by Catholic lawyer, Edward Peters.

Looking at what Reno says:

“But the season of sewing is ending. Now is a time for rending, not for the sake of disengaging from culture or retreating from the public square, but so that our salt does not lose its savor.”

A. What, pray tell, does “salt losing it’s savor” mean if not something more tangible then what Reno is saying? What does Reno mean by this? In what way would the Church being losing it savor by not backing out of the civil marriage? Would “losing it’s savor” in this context mean that there is too much concentration on moral issues while neglecting the “more weightier” matters of the Church ie., preaching, sacraments, etc? If it has to do with offending our neighbours over a moral issue and not the Gospel then I think this is a poor reason. I think of that scene in Acts 16 when Paul and Silas were thrown in prison unlawfully. As citizens, they had certain rights that were violated. Paul not only insists that they be escorted by those who violated their rights but he even seems to “rub it in” in this act and when asks to leave, he rubs it in a little more by not leaving right away but by going to Lydia’s house and THEN leaving. It seems to me he knew how to balance “pushing the issue” and “backing away.” Would we say that he lost his savor by pushing the issue with the authorities and insisting on his citizenship? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about not offending people for the most part, but there is SOME point at which, well, you can’t help it. Can there be such a thing as “offending in love?” Kind of like, can we actually “kill our neighbour out of love” or kill our neighbour while loving them at the same time? If love is narrowly defined, I can understand opposition to it. If it is broadened enough to include a wider goal for a wider situation, ie., someone is killing someone and you kill them or put a “stop action” to their action for not only their sake but for the sake of a greater good then it might be possible to see this as loving.
B. On the point of Doug Wilson’s post, while I would agree that this is not a time of retreat, and with his stance on marriage, I don’t agree that ministers sending people to Caesar is as much of an ethical issue as he says it is PER SE. It’s not as if the state itself is evil. The state may do evil things at times, but it isn’t exactly sending folk into a lion’s den. If a pastor sends a couple to the state to have their marriage recognized, how would doing THAT be unethical? The state will simply recognize those marriages as well as “same sex” marriages. Is that a bad thing for the opposite sex couple involved? All this would be is the government recognizing all relationships that come to them for marriage AS a marriage. They are not doing the “dirty paper work” by simply going to the state to have it recognize their marriage. The problem is the so-called foreseeable future where pastors perform marriages not the couple seeking marriage. The problem is, if the couple go to the state, and then go to the church and the church/pastor performs and recognizes a marriage, then they would be discriminating against same-sex couples if they opt out of performing/blessing THEIR “marriages.”

Alas, the problem of the government legitimizing same-sex “marriages” as marriages is that there others will be forced to legitimize same-sex marriages or recognize same-sex marriages as marriages. This, doesn’t just stop at the church door for it will eventually insist, like the wolf in the fairy tale of the Three Little Pigs, of blowing the whole house down and coming on in. For example, say we go along with the Pledge where pastors don’t perform marriages and leave it to the couple to seek the legitimacy of their marriage with Caesar who recognizes other relationships (same-sex) as marriage. What happens then? Say that same couple who went to Caesar to legitimize their marriage want to open a photography business or open a bakery? Or let’s say they don’t even do anything of that nature. Regardless, that couple will be forced to legitimize same-sex marriage that the state has legitimized. In other words, once the state legitimizes same-sex marriage it expects everyone else to follow suit–tow the line, which is to say that it will insist that churches recognize, in some way, shape or form, that the marriages that it has legitimized need to be legitimized by them as well, at which point they will baulk such that we are back at square one of whether we are losing our savor or not. It would seem to me that all we have done by this pledge is push the line we drew in the sand just a bit further back only to say, “OK, NOW I’m serious. Don’t cross THIS line.”


More On Assisted Suicide: Another Eschatological Paradigm?

One of the problems I’ve had with “dying with dignity” is this question of autonomy. But first let me say that I really don’t like the terminology. When someone asks someone else to assist in their death they ask no small thing. It is to actually KILL ANOTHER. HUMAN. BEING. for, in most cases to end their suffering. Now, if we are willing to assist someone to kill themselves, then it seems that this claim (to kill them for the reason of ending their suffering) has such a powerful sway or ENOUGH sway over us such that the question should be asked about restricting such a killing to those who are competent fully autonomous determinative agents. Surely there are people who suffer greatly but are not competent enough to request someone to kill them. But there are some who don’t suffer greatly, and ARE competent ENOUGH to request help but whose pain is not that great. In other words, there is the problem of the measurement of pain as well as the problem of the expansion of candidates such that folks who were once thought not “worthy” of such assistance are now suitable for it (which is actually what is presently before the courts and what the debate is coming down to).

This really should concern us as a society. As autonomous individuals we seek not only to define our own destinies through the killing of ourselves, when and how (an unbiblical eschatology but an eschatology nonetheless) by the way) but we seek to to be little messiahs in defining the destinies of others.


Ethics: Attempting To Sort Through The Maze

Three of my favorite areas of study are: religion (theology), politics and ethics. I’ve read a number of good books on ethics. Mouw’s, “The God Who Commands” while it is not an applicable piece, he does approach ethics from a theological, philosophical angle. “Readings in Christian Ethics” Volumes 1 and 2 (one is theory the other is practical). “The Moral Quest” by Stan Grenz. “Ethics,” by Arthur Holmes. Wyndy Corbin Reuschling,”Reviving Evangelical Ethics.” Richard Longenecker’s short book on Christian social ethics and a few others.

I’ve ALWAYS thought that there was no such thing as an “ethical-less” Christianity. With W.D. Davies and Longnecker I came to the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t only the Saviour but that he was also a Rabbi and a teacher. Being that Rabbi and teacher he also gave us ethical imperatives to follow. On the other hand, on Greg Boyd’s Open Theism boards years ago and with the reading of Vanhoozer and his quote from David Clark, the idea of being guided by “principles” was brought into question with the this: “What happens when one principle “tops” another? Are they no longer absolute?” And of course, we see this sort of questioning going on with the whole picking and choosing of ethical principles and scripture and whatnot that progressives consistently point to. This, seemingly, goes the route of relativism.

Now, there is an area of ethics in which ethics are situational. I don’t doubt that. But there are areas in which ethics are, no matter how much one may claim otherwise, “absolute.” They are for all times and all places. It is on that broad strand that ethical principles do not cross or “top” the other. On the situational level, yes. On the broad categories, no. And let’s remember something, to live ethically is to live in loving relationship with God and others. It is to love God AND my neighbour.

David Gill’s book, “Doing Right” has been very instrumental in helping to put this all together right in the beginning of the book. The failure to understand what he means by “cover principles” and “area principles” is, I submit one of the reasons for mass confusion about hermeneutics (why we pick and choose this scripture over that) and in ethical deliberation within evangelical and progressive circles. I’ll have more to say in the future.


The Problem Of Autonomy With Regard To Assisted Suicide

I want to talk a little bit more about assisted suicide as we approach the date of Brittany Maynard’s self appointed time of death.

As I stated, whether you are a Christian or not your life is not your own. It’s God’s. What that means is that when we use the terminology of “right to die” or “right to life” what we are doing i starting right out of the gate with the view of independence in our sights without acknowledging our dependence on God–“**I** have a right…”

Some Christians say that you can’t impose your Christianity on unbelievers. But to start off saying that God is the author of our lives we automatically think that this Christian view (of life and death) applies to unbelievers. Christians of all people should recognize that this belief makes claims on not only our community but on unbelievers as well. It’s only a logical conclusion that if God is God he is God to unbelievers as well. They stand in relation to the God of the Universe. He is Creator. They are his creation. So the question becomes such that if this view is not reflected in law and policy, then the independence one will be which, though I may not be forced to commit suicide or assist in someone else’s immoral behaviour, I am still affected by this and so is society as a whole because we are affected by the atmosphere that law and public policy creates in similar ways that families are affected as much by the suicide of a love one. That is, Christian theology has begun to recognize that as image bearers of God we are not only social creatures as God is–who exists as triune but this is reflected in our very being in relation to others. In other words, that our lives are not our own is reflected when one commits suicide they “take a part” of others with them. And so this happens to the wider community in how that burden bears down upon as (think about what you think or feel when someone commits suicide).

If such is the case that my life is not my own and is God’s, (and this is where our messianic tendencies come in) then the lives of others are not mine either. Which is to say that I have no control over THEIR destinies. I am not the Lord of their life OR their death and they cannot make me such (by asking for my help). Which is to say that I should not participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Our messianic tendencies come into play when we attend to one of two extremes:

A. When we continue to fight death even as it is at our door and it is useless to do so.
B. Assisting death such as to hasten it. That is, that it is our AIM to hasten it.
Our only response, should be to “care for the dying” of which neither A nor B is. Actually A and B a form of abandonment.

Why should care be our greatest concern? Because care recognizes our finiteness as humans in the face of excruciating pain and suffering (not only for the one dying but for the community as a whole. Going to one or another of those two extremes is to always give something that is other or less than care.

Interestingly, as I was thinking about the writing of this post today I thought about both the health and wealth gospel crowd and the advocates of assisted as being two sides of the same coin–the avoidance/relief from pain. The assisted suicide crowd wouldn’t ever admit that but I ask myself how one side (the AS folk) are any different in this respect from the health and wealth group.

Rgardless, does this mean that we should refuse treatment? Well, if I want to avoid “A” above I would say, “No.” I will talk about that soon enough. In my next post though, I want to discuss another reason why I think the argument from autonomy is skewed.


Assisted Suicide: The Ultimate Solution From An Ultimate Philosophy

We first heard about Brittany Maynard this past month when she first drew national attention to talk about having help to kill herself because of an incurable brain tumor. I’m SURE that was the precursor to the event in which her life will be taken with the help of a doctor and with her husband and family by her side. It seemed to me to be at the time a “gauging of the winds” to see what public sentiment is going to be like.

Interestingly, many modern issues like this have to do with “freedom from” some restraint or another. Some authority or another. We see it with sexuality and in this case we see it with regard to the ultimate act–the ending of one’s life. Surprisingly, many Christians have bought into the highly autonomous individualistic culture which is what (assisted) suicide is the ULTIMATE result of.

I know I will probably hear sentiments in which people will say I’m being heartless. I mean, speaking on some philosophical level about “highly autonomous individuals” seems pretty cold and callous compared to the pain of dying and losing love ones. But it is my hope to expand on why this is really not the case (that talking about highly autonomous individuals is not the really cold and callous) because assisted suicide is not only about the person who is facing it, but also about the wider community. It is not only about those of us who are faced with the question of dying “taking control” of our destinies, but also about our own messianic tendencies to alleviate others of pain and suffering. And if we are called to love God and our fellow human beings, then love will be expanded to include both the individual and the community.

On the one hand, I can sympathize with those who want to kill themselves–the idea being that we should not accept pain and suffering as good. But this means we should care for those who are suffering (what the Christian tradition has usually been about). On the other hand, we must never pretend that we can eliminate suffering completely from human existence or that it has no point or purpose in our lives. An “any and every means possible” to achieve a certain good end is not always justifiable. We human beings, ESPECIALLY in this area of medicine, need to remind ourselves that we are not saviors. Could it not also be the case that many Christians have bought into a radical individualism such that it has a veneer of Christianity to it but is anything but? In other words, it has the robe of Christ on it, but underneath is the devil? A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Part of the teaching of the incarnation is not only that Christ dwells along side of us and identifies with us in our pain and suffering but that WE do the same with others. That, in itself, should say something about our persistent need to eliminate pain and suffering as our highest priority or ultimate goal. In the incarnation we can see that there can be a purpose to our pain and suffering. In thinking that we should eliminate pain and suffering in this final act, we essentially are saying that pain and suffering and the negative destructive powers of the universe are ultimately victorious in our lives. And this is a different eschatological vision then that of the Bible.


Do All Roads Lead To God? No. Kinda. Sorta.

Greg Boyd has an interesting piece here. Here are my thoughts.

A. Totally agree with Greg. Jesus is the only way to God.
B. I agree with his argument contra the idea of “The truth is there is no truth.” Or said otherwise as he puts forth. That’s a flat out contradiction not to mention arrogant because it claims to have a birds eye view of reality. It sits up on its tiny perch above everyone else and proclaims “the truth of the matter”–the truth about reality.
C. This has sort of argument has been put out for the general reader in the work of Watkins and Kreeft and others.
D. [Side note rant] What I have ALWAYS found interesting about the exclusive position that Greg is espousing here is that it is usually connected with some moral issue such that when you talk about Jesus in this fashion, you talk about a moral issue. For an example, most folk think that when you speak about Jesus you are already labelled a “fundie” or religious which entails being of a particular moral standing on an issue, ie., following Jesus=no sex before marriage (it always has to do with sex for some reason). Now we could take the moral issue away and simply be left with the theological issue. Thus folks would still be deeply offended (which is what Greg is proposing) which ultimately goes to show that whether you tack some moral issue on to Christianity or NOT, the exclusivity of saying, “Jesus is the only way to God” is going to be offensive to others. For them, that is tantamount to being arrogant and telling everyone else they are wrong which doesn’t fly in 21st century North America or much of the world for that matter. Regardless, for the most part, most Christian evangelicals give at least lip service to the “no sex before marriage ideal” such that even if they intentionally try to rid tacking on some moral issue the “world” will still judge you and your purity. Regardless X2. The Gospel does come with demands because the Gospel STORY comes with demands–some ethical imperative (though Christians have disagreed about those imperatives at times based on their traditions).
E. I take it that this question can’t be understood aside from other theological questions ie., those who died before the coming of Christ and those who have went to their graves having never heard a peep about the Gospel. As well as the eschatological idea of the eternal destiny of the lost and whether there is actually any hope for people post-mortem (of which I believe there is–and it’s not a very novel idea either). The idea here is whether Christ death is SUFFICIENT for even these (of which I believe it is: Think of a can of soup of which there is only so much of. That can can be watered downed to take care of the needs of the others. In other words it is sufficient. I think of the story of the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. Ultimately, is this story not also, among the many interpretations, about the the Saviour who has more than enough and is more than able to satisfy all of humanity’s need (the interpretations I’ve read are usually anthropocentric in nature but I think we should keep in mind first and foremost a Christological view)? He is our provider even of Himself for all others.
F. Some have drawn the distinction between “Christian” and “saved.” As I see it, I do think other religions have a salvific purpose to them. By that, I don’t mean that one becomes “Christian” or finds Christ in or through them. But that is not to say that there is not SOMETHING of salvific value in other religions. This understanding is based on the idea that the Holy Spirit is working through other religions to bring humanity to a knowledge of Himself. Just as the Spirit is at work in Creation, bringing humankind to SOME knowledge of the divine, so is the Spirit active through other religions. We can think of this in terms of those whom Clark Pinnock (a dear friend of mine) called, “Old Testament pagan saints” found in the Old Testament.

In conclusion, while Christians believe that Christ is the only way to the Father we should never say other religions are completely worthless. In saying otherwise, not only may Christians be able to learn more about their own faith, but bridges can be built with others of differing beliefs possibly bringing them to a fuller understanding of God in Christ.


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