Red Letter Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo could be aptly described as the Red Letter Revolution Movement’s manifesto of sorts. The text is written out as a dialogue between Tony and Shane, explaining their views/beliefs regarding a wide assortment of topics from racism, abortion, church history, liturgy, and much more. All of these tied in to what they call the “Red Letter Movement”–a group of self-described radicals who believe the keys to living are found solely within the red letters of Christ found in the Gospels.
I was initially interested in the book based solely on the title. What Christian doesn’t want to live out the “red letters” of Jesus? An unbelieving world would likely view a sold-out Christian as being radical, so that term alone didn’t resonate negatively with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t get far into the text before disappointment set in. While I didn’t mind the dialogue-type format, I did mind the modern slant and somewhat “new-age” overtones sprinkled throughout the text. I was also quite disappointed in the lack of Scriptural evidence used to back up any of the author’s opinions. Perhaps I was to simply trust their words as truth.
Not wanting to make a rash judgment, though, I stuck with the book as long as possible, but in the end I could not finish it. Certainly my opinion is not a reflection of the authors’ character, as I believe their faith to be wholly genuine and heartfelt. I have no doubt they mean what they say, and live what they believe in an active way.
Most Christians would agree that no one is a judge of the heart except God. It is very possible that there are genuine believers amongst all faiths. What I don’t ascribe to, however, is the need to adopt the practices of various faiths which differ from my own. In the chapter “Dialogue on Liturgy”, Shane talks extensively about reciting certain prayers along with the benefits of using prayer beads. His suggestions, though well-intentioned, set off alarm bells for me. His argument is mostly based on the “works” of many catholic saints and nuns—their works being an outward display of a genuine love for Christ. I have nothing against Catholics, Mormons, Methodists, or anyone else. But I cannot agree with being good (as in doing good deeds) as a sole evidence of genuine faith. A lot of people do great things in the world, but they do not really know Christ. I believe that type of thinking is dangerously erroneous. Tony goes on to say,
“Spiritual disciplines, which include liturgical practices, are requirements for those who are committed to living out the red letters of the Bible. Such disciplines keep us focused on Christ and facilitate our surrendering to an infilling of Christ’s spirit.” (pg.40)
The last thing I need is more practices and procedures to prove to the world I am who I say I am (Christian). Should I cross myself before I pray as well? Will that give me more of the Holy Spirit? I’m sorry, but I do not need beads, books, or regulatory prayers to ensure I am communicating appropriately with Jesus. This is not a judgment against those who do use these things—it’s just not for me. Furthermore, I have no knowledge of such disciplines being a requirement for the filling of the Holy Spirit, and don’t appreciate the implication that I cannot be a “red letter” Christian or filled with the Spirit unless I adopt such practices.
Overall the tone of this book comes across (to me) as very worldly, new aged, and mystical. I would not recommend this book to anyone, unfortunately. My suggestion for someone wanting to live out the life and words of Jesus is to study the Bible—all of it. Not just the red letters, but the black letters of the Old and New Testaments. Surrendering to Christ is the real beginning to reflecting His character. If one wants to study beyond the Bible, I would encourage that person to seek doctrinally sound material and to weigh any books/study guides against the authority and accuracy of Scripture.
Red Letter Revolution is published by Thomas Nelson and available for purchase on Tuesday, October 9, 2012.
**I received Red Letter Revolution from BookSneeze in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to give a positive opinion–and all of the sentiments written here are strictly my own.**