When the Red Letter Christian movement got underway, there was a sense that the Evangelical community, in general, had become overly focused on the theological issues raised in the Pauline Epistles. Without any desire to diminish the significance of theology, we recognized that the time had come to create some balance to this overemphasis on theology by taking more seriously the things that were written in the Gospels—especially in those red letters which emphasize the words of Jesus. There was a growing awareness that Evangelicals, with the exception of people like many in the Anabaptist tradition, had sought to escape those hard sayings of Christ in respect to lifestyles.
Examples of this are easy to find. There has been a minimizing of the Beatitudes which call upon us to be merciful. A survey of Evangelicals suggests that the majority of them believe in capital punishment, and if a capital crime is committed they advocate capital punishment. This, to many of us, seemed to be a violation of Jesus’ saying, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”
Most Evangelicals have been very supportive of recent war efforts of the United States, almost seeming to suggest that our armies marching into Afghanistan and Iraq had the right to be singing, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war…” More simply put, Evangelicals did not seem to be willing to ask what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.” Nor was there any sense that when Jesus told us to love our enemies, He probably meant we shouldn’t kill them. The militarism which most Evangelicals support seems to run contrary to the beliefs of those Christians who take the red letters seriously and contend that one cannot read the Sermon on the Mount without coming away convinced that Christians should be committed to non-violent resistance.
Furthermore, Evangelicals have been reluctant to face up to the clear message of Jesus in Mark 10, that to be called to be Christ’s disciple is to be called to make a radical response to the poor by selling one’s possessions and giving the money to the poor. It is in this vein of thinking that Shane Claiborne and I wrote a recently published book, Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said?
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