You might not want to read this book.
It will make you angry. It will make you shake your head in disagreement. And it will probably make you realize that there are some things about your life that you need to change.
So if you want to read something you’ll agree with that will make you feel good about your Christianity, this is not the book for you.
But if you’re serious about following Jesus… keep reading.
In “Red Letter Revolution”, Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo let us in on a rambling conversation about what it means to follow Jesus. When I say “conversation”, I mean that literally. In a format that would make the most trendy emergent weep for joy, the chapters are actually arranged as “dialogues” on a variety of issues. I imagine that they probably turned on a tape recorder, talked about stuff for an afternoon, and then had some poor transcriptionist type the whole thing up. Easiest book ever. But it works.
You should probably read the last chapter first.
It’s called “Dialogue on Resurrection”, and it lays out some of the starting assumptions for everything else in the book. Basically, if you believe that Jesus is going to come and burn up Planet Earth with fire, you’re gonna have a hard time with this book. If you believe that the Kingdom of God is something that exists only on a spiritual plane or in a future reality, you’re gonna have a hard time with this book. Here the authors are operating from the idea that God’s ultimate plan for our planet is restoration, not destruction. And as all creation waits with anticipation for that restoration, our role as Christians is to work to bring about the Kingdom of God starting right here and right now. Campolo makes that distinction when he says,
“The Gospels are a declaration of how to live as kingdom people, working to create the kingdom of God in this world… We are not like those old-time social-gospelers who believed they could create the kingdom of God on their own. Nor are we like the fundamentalists who say we can accomplish nothing lasting in our efforts to make this world a better place… Our goal is to seek first the kingdom of God. What would it look like if Jesus were in charge of my block, of our city, of our country, our world? “
Red Letter Christians work to live out the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God in faith that it’s already beginning here amongst us. Or as Claiborne so poignantly says,
“If we know that the story ends with folks beating swords into plows, we start now.”
So basically, you should know that going in. If you disagree with that theology, you’re probably going to disagree with a lot of the stuff about ecology, justice, economics, reconciliation, etc. If you think that Christianity is just about life after death and not life before death too, you’re probably gonna have a hard time. And that’s ok. There’s a lot of content in these pages; if you disagree with something, keep reading till you find something you agree with. Maybe something will change your mind too.
I really respect these guys for the way they plunge headlong into the most controversial topics in American Christianity and constantly direct our attention back to the red letter words of Jesus. Ecumenicalism, hell, homosexuality, Islam, economics… if it’s a divisive issue in the Church, it’s been addressed here. I’ll let you get the book and work through that on your own. It’s worth your time. Even if you disagree, it will probably enlarge your ways of thinking.
On a side note, this book includes one of the best discussions of racisim I’ve ever heard; it never feels like an appeal to “white guilt”. I really have to give props to these guys. This is the first thing I’ve ever read that made fair-trade and earth-care issues make sense at a spiritual level (and not obnoxiously pretentious). Also, a lot is said about non-violent resistance, civil disobedience, conscientious objection, etc. I grew up in an anabaptist culture, so that was pretty easy for me to relate to. If you’re a pretty staunch God/Country/guns person this will probably rub you the wrong way a few times. That’s ok.
If you love money and comfort (like I do), you’re gonna have a hard time with this book. Before I even reached the end, I had this growing realization that the Gospel must be social in additional to spiritual. Or as God put it, true religion includes caring for the widows and the orphans. So this week, my wife at I sat down and looked at Kiva.org and decided that we’re gonna put money to our faith. That was while I was still halfway through the book.
This book has changed me, I think. I can’t tell for sure, because I just finished reading it this morning. But as I turned the pages and drew circles and lines around the words, I realized that I can’t keep following Jesus and cling to my tiny view of my brothers and sisters and neighbors. Seriously. Too long, I’ve used my religion as an excuse to justify Islamophobia, racism, exclusive nationalism, individualism, a judgmental attitude toward the poor, and an arrogant attitude toward other members of the Church (not to mention greed and materialism). Though I’ve seen and repented of some of those attitudes before, they are deep-rooted and nasty. Red Letter Revolution pried at those ugly roots and pointed me again to Jesus.
Anyhow, here are some of the best quotes. Feel free to put them on your Twitter / Facebook / bumper-stickers:
“Jesus is the lens through which we look at the Bible and the world; everything is fulfilled in Christ.” -Shane
“Jesus shows us what God is like with skin on – in a way we can see, touch, feel, and follow.” -Shane
“Christianity has become obsessed with what Christians believe rather than how Christians live… In Jesus we don’t just see a presentation of doctrines but an invitation to join a movement that is about demonstrating God’s goodness to the world.” -Shane
“Jesus did not send us into the world to make believers but to make disciples.” -Shane
“If our faith is only promising people life after death and not asking if there’s life before death, we are going to lose them.” -Shane
“Jesus didn’t come for folks who have it all together, but for folks who are willing to admit they are falling apart.” -Shane
“When we ask God to move a mountain, God may give us a shovel.” -Shane
“Independence may be an American value, but it is not a value taught in the Gospels. The Gospels teach us interdependence.” -Shane
“God hates sin, not because we are breaking random laws. God hates sin because God loves people. And sin hurts people.” -Shane
“We are all illegals in the kingdom, and Jesus got us in.” -Shane
“To love God is also to love the most vulnerable of God’s children. We are made for compassion.” -Shane
“One must embrace simple living to follow the red letters of the Bible and endeavor to faithfully live out the words of Jesus.” -Shane
(Sorry Tony, I liked what you said too. Shane just says it succinctly with pretty words. Don’t take it personal?)
published October 11, 2012
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