Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When Red Is Blue | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

When Red Is Blue | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
Stan Guthrie: "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. ...."

Tony Campolo: "...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. What is more, we believe that you really cannot rightly interpret the rest of the Bible without first understanding who Jesus is, what he did, and what he said. ..."
Both Stan Guthrie's comments and Tony Campolo's response are found at the link above.

When I first saw this exchange I thought of Paul's admonition to the Corinthians:
1Co 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas’”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
Perhaps the comparison is a bit harsh, but this debate cuts right to the core of what it means for me to claim that I am part of the Reformed tradition. Well before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Schlosskirche door, the first Bibles were appearing in the vernacular. For the literate, at least, the Word of God could be read in their own language. For others, it could be heard. Many gave up their lives in an effort to make the Scriptures accessible to all.

For those of us in the Presbyterian tradition (specifically the PC(USA)), all deacons, elders, and ministers must answer nine questions in the affirmative in order to be ordained. The second of these is:
Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
-- Book of Order G-14.0207b
We make no distinction here between the Old and New Testaments, nor do we give special weight to the words spoken by Jesus.

Having said that, in all likelihood we all take Jesus' words with a little more gravity than we do, say, the genealogies in Chronicles.

What I see, much to my concern, is a tendency to use the lack of Jesus' words on particular topics to suggest that such things are of no concern to him. For example, what did Jesus have to say about urban sprawl and habitat destruction? Or about stewardship of the environment? The Old Testament says a lot both directly and indirectly. But do we assume that such things are of of little importance because Jesus did not emphasize them?

Jesus quoted the Scriptures as support for his words to the people, as illustrations of how legalism has distorted the meaning of God's Word, and in some cases he provided a radical reinterpretation. But in no instance that I am aware of, did he tell anyone that any part of the Scriptures were not important. Quite the contrary -- See Matthew 5:17-20 or Luke 16:16-17 for the words of Jesus regarding the Law and the Prophets.

The "red letters", along with the chapter and verse numbers, are an invention of later translations, and are to be used only as a convenient way to organize the Scriptures. As such they are simply tools to be used -- and tools that are capable of misuse.

As much as I appreciate Tony Campolo and his contributions to understanding Christian theology and practice, I have to partly disagree with him here. I agree with him that Jesus' words are important. But arguing that Jesus' apparent silence on some topics means that references on such topics in other parts of Scripture are not as important, is wrong, and is well outside my Reformed understanding of Scripture.

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