Red Letter Dialogues: Review and Introduction (Claiborne and Campolo)

For several posts, I’m planning on exploring key ideas from Red Letter Revolution: What if Jesus really meant what he said? and blogging through them. I won’t necessarily hit every individual chapter, but hope to stimulate thought and discussion.


Red Letter Revolution combines the major themes of Tony Campolo’s and Shane Claiborne’s work into one creative title. The Red Letter Christianity movement, spearheaded by Tony and the “revolution” theme that makes its way through Shane’s work, comes together in a series of dialogues. For the evangelical reject trying to navigate through the important issues facing us in post-Christendom, this book is a deep well of wisdom whose waters never run dry (ok, a bit dramatic… but this book is a big deal).

For those interested in progressive forms of evangelicalism (i.e. post-conservative) this book helps as a buffer for understanding the basics of several issues including: community, history, homosexuality, hell, Islam, liturgy, economics, politics, empire, civil disobedience, pro-life, women, immigration, violence, and many more. And, for those turned off completely to the church because of the perception given off by various right wing voices, this book offers a needed credibility often lacking for those who self-identify as non-religious.

Red Letter Revolution is a book has the potential to ignite a revolution that looks like the Jesus of the gospels. This Jesus loves the poor, sick, downtrodden, rich, outcasts, oppressed, demonized , and rejects. Campolo and Claiborne remind us of the Christ of the Scriptures rather than the Jesus of pop-culture or fundamentalist reconstructions. Both of those extremes miss the point of how the God of history incarnated love, inviting followers to embody such to the broken places and people of the earth.

By re-focusing our attention on the basics, the red letters of the Bible, these authors help to open the imaginations of readers to see the way in which the covenant God is bringing heaven to earth. Not only do we readers get to be “flies on the wall” as Tony and Shane dispense their wisdom in a conversational format, but we too are invited into the dialogue with the hope that it will lead to grassroots expressions of the reign of God.


One idea from the introduction stands out: Different generations of Red Letter Christians approach the intersection of faith and politics differently. For Tony’s generation (with which he includes Jim Wallis and Ron Sider), the way to stand up for the sanctity of life and social justice was through engaging the political process. Tony states:

Lately, however, a new generation of young leaders has taken up the baton we’ve been carrying, and they are articulating the same themes of social justice in fresh and relevant ways. A standout among them is the coauthor of this book, Shane Claiborne. His book The Irresistible Revolution, his itinerant ministry, and, most of all, his life lived among the poor, have made him an icon for young Christians who want more than a belief system. They’re looking for an authentic lifestyle that embodies the teachings of Jesus (x).

Tony makes clear that both the politically active (older) and the alternative-polis approach (younger) are faithful ways of implementing a Red Letter faith. (To be clear, all these references to the “red letters” do not negate the “black letters” of other passages. More on that issue in later posts.) He continues:

…[W]e are both committed to taking action to stop wars, defy unjust political structures that oppress the poor, speak out for the oppressed who have no voice, and endeavor in general to change society into something more like what God wants it to be. But while Shane’s generation does not see politics as the primary way to make justice a reality, my generation did (xi).

It would be a mistake to claim that such a distinction means that younger Christians are apolitical. Rather, we tend to be only willing to engage in politics insofar that we can speak truth to power systems that oppress people and the earth. Politics and living as radical counter-cultures get intertwined in all sorts of interesting ways. Tony’s point, as I see it, is that there has been a shift in focus. I would agree.***

Question: In what ways do you think Tony’s analysis of politics and Red Letter Christianity holds true for the different generations? Certainly, a shift has/is taking place. Where do you land on that continuum and why?

***To be clear, the shift is not the sort that is less involved in politics as a “libertarian” response, desiring less taxation and more autonomy. This is an invention of the West and is never conceived as it often expressed in political discourse among some Christians today.

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  • Alex Carlin

    I know I fall into the pattern Tony talks about. I believe in change for the social structures of this world. I believe we as the church are commissioned to stand against these things, but I don’t believe politics is the path to take to see these things happen. Politics can only do so much and I think our generation is doing what can be done there, but focusing our efforts on inspiring movements, and meeting needs with our own two hands.

  • I do not know where I fall at the age of 44. I am tired of the constant arguing, judgments and condemnations that goes around in politics and also the church. My personal journey is to mix with those who are suffering and in pain, the poor and the rejected. More often than not these types of people are the ones the church rejects. We see them as enemies rather than a brother or sister, more often than not ‘broken’. Two years ago I really studied Matthew’s gospel, and it turned my views and beliefs upside down.