What are “Red Letter Christians?” How do they relate to all Scripture?
Red Letter Christians
Red Letter Christians are growing in number and popularity Christians, so we need to know what they are, or really, who they are and what they believe. I have a Red Letter Bible where Jesus’ words are in red, and that’s why that Bible bears that name, but Red Letter Christians are not believers who only read and teach the red letters in the Bible (Jesus’ words alone), but they do emphasize Jesus’ teaching more than others, focusing more on the words of Jesus, and strive to follow in His footsteps, so Red Letter Christians are a lot more than those who simply read the sayings of Jesus and that’s all, however, there’s a vast differences between a Red Letter Bible and a Red Letter Christian. I didn’t buy my Red Letter Bible (about 25 years ago) in order to focus only on Jesus’ words. I certainly didn’t buy it so that I could just pass over all the other Scriptures, because if we did, what would we make of the Old Testament? I bought the Red Letter Bible because I liked the translation, not because of the red letters, and if I read only the red letters, and zeroed in on them alone, I could read “through the Bible” in just a few days. That would be a huge mistake. I currently reading the four gospels, Matthew to John, and then starting over again, but I also read Old Testament Scriptures every day too, but I would not call myself a “Four Gospel Christian” just because I’m going through the four gospels. Next month, I’m going to do the same with the Book of Romans and spend about 3 months reading the same book so I become highly familiar with it. I do this in order to know as much of the Word of God that I can.
Red Letter Beliefs
What Red Letter Christians believe (not all) is that Christians should be questioning the cultural norms of society while trying to affect it. They believe this can lead to wholeness; however the culture’s not the first problem. We are! We all, 100% of us, fall infinitely short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23), and not one of us are “good” or even seek after God (Rom 3:10-12). Wholeness is not achieved through seeking to change the culture but changing ourselves by God’s Spirit! With such an agenda as to challenge the cultural norms, Red Letter Christians fight for the well-being of all people “as children of God.” It sounds good and society loves the idea that we’re all the children of God, and yes, I agree, we should advocate for those disenfranchised in the world, seeking to serve them (Matt 25:34-39) as serving Christ (Matt 25:40), but not everyone is a child God.  I believe all people are created by God and made in the image of God, but even Jesus told the self-righteous Jewish leaders, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19), so can someone be a child of God if they don’t know their Father? Were these religious leaders really the children of God? Jesus said, “No!” It takes the Spirit of God and a person of God to share the Word of God to make the children of God for the glory of God. Changing the culture doesn’t save anyone. I agree we are to be salt and light to a dark and decaying world, but our first obligation is not changing the culture but seeking to have the Spirit of God change us and others so that they might know Christ. I do appreciate their willingness to work alongside others of different faiths (or no faith), but wholeness doesn’t come from trying to change society; wholeness comes from repentance and faith. Change can come to the culture, but it first must come to us. We cannot change the culture until God first changes us.
My old Bible that has Jesus’ words in red letters is great when I want to read Jesus’ teachings, but I don’t want to stop there because Paul was taught by Christ for three years, while the disciples had the same kind of intensive training with Christ for three years. That must have surpassed the best seminaries of history. You could say they were taught in the Master’s College by the Master Himself, and they didn’t have to study to find out what was true. They had the Truth in front of them (John 14:6), so yes, Jesus’ words are important, but to give less importance or minimize the remaining Scriptures, is to do an injustice to the Word of God. Having the whole Word in context is essential for understanding the truth. Some Red Letter Christians have stated that they believe Christians to the “far right” (whatever that means!) spend too much time fighting against things like abortion, but not enough on social issues, so are they saying that abortion isn’t a social issue?  This movement clearly seeks to fight against the far-right, but to me, it’s not about the “far right.” It’s about being right!
The Whole Word
When we give less regard, attention, or study to the Scriptures outside of Jesus’ words, we’re limiting the very Word of God which has the power to save (Rom 1:16; 1st Cor 1:18), and besides, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2nd Tim 3:16), not just Jesus’ words. It must be the whole Word in the whole context or you could have holes in your theology. All Scriptures is profitable, not just the gospels. When the Apostle Paul wrote that, all they had were the Old Testament Scriptures, so when Paul said that “All Scripture” is “God-breathed,” then he meant all of the Old Testament for sure, and we need the whole Word of God, so “that the man (and woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2nd Tim 3:17).
I understand that RLC’s are not voiding the rest of the Word of God but seek to live out the teachings and principles of Jesus in society in order to effect change, and I realize that most are not discarding the rest of the Word of God and ranking those in red over those in black, so make no mistake about it; Red Letter Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we must also remember that it takes the whole Word of God to better understand the whole counsel of God, so to restrict particular Scriptures based upon Jesus’ words alone, is to choose for ourselves what we want to accept from God and what we don’t want to bother with. RLC’s may not agree with our fight for life (pro-life), and they may considered that “far right,” but it’s right in the sense that we are not supposed to murder. RLC’s statement, “You can only understand the rest of the Bible when you read it from the perspective provided by Christ,” sounds good, but Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1, 16), and all of the Word of God must be taken up…not just parts. Apparently Jesus wasn’t a Red Letter Person because He quoted Genesis, Leviticus, Psalms, Isaiah, and many of the other books in the Old Testament, and Jesus clearly opposes abortion because He is the Author of Life (Acts 3:15). Isn’t that worth striving to change our culture for….fighting for a human life to be sparred? It disturbs me when I see Red Letter Christians trying to counter the far-left (Thank you Tony Campolo), when they are actually countering the “far right” in trying to save lives. What part of the whole Word don’t they understand, in particular, the verse that says, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13), so you see, all of the Word of God is profitable, particularly if it saves a baby’s life!
1. “What is RLC?” Red Letter Christians.com. https://www.redletterchristians.org/what-is-rlc/ (Accessed, Aug. 11, 2017).
2. Campolo, Anthony ‘Tony’ (2006-02-27). “What’s a ‘Red-Letter Christian’?”. Beliefnet.com (Accessed, Aug. 14, 2017).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.