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Red-Letter Christians: Who Are They and What Do They Believe?

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.


Most people know that the words Jesus spoke in the New Testament are printed in red letters in some versions of the Bible. Therefore, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne came up with the idea in 2007 to start a non-denominational modern movement within Christianity that focuses on what Jesus said. Their followers are called movement Red-Letter Christians.

Needless to say, not all Christians agree with limiting Christianity to only the teachings of Jesus and what He said in the New Testament particularly in the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There are a few red-letter scriptures in the Book of Acts before Jesus ascended back to heaven. There are no more red letters until the end of the Book of Revelation. Therefore, most of the New Testament contains no red letters in the books written by Paul, the general epistles, and the books written by Peter and Jude.

Christians who do go along with the movement say believing only the red-letter portion of the Bible can be compared to walking into a movie theater when the movie is half over. Surely, moviegoers can catch up on some of the themes of the movie from that point on, but they would have missed the foretelling and everything important that came in the first half of the movie. That is to say that Red-Letter Christians do not focus on the Old Testament because no red-letter scriptures are included.

Who Are Red-Letter Christians?

Many Red-Letter Christians are twenty-and thirty-somethings evangelicals. Campolo describes Red-Letter Christians as progressive Christians whose main goal is to follow the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament that are printed in red.

The founder of the movement added that being evangelical is usually synonymous with being Republican, and they might be judged by calling themselves “progressive.” He and his co-founder decided not to call the group “progressive evangelicals.” Therefore, they came up with a new name: Red-Letter Christians.

Red-Letter Christians are using their voices and actions to promote what Jesus taught. They write, visit college campuses, preach sermons in churches, and use the media to spread their beliefs.

The founders of the movement believe Christians should focus more on what Jesus said about taking care of the hungry and thirsty, the homeless, the sick, and the prisoner. Jesus also taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our enemies.

Even though Jesus is well-known among Christians today, the church may not focus on Him and give Him any more credit than they give advertisers, the media, popular sports figures, celebrities, and politicians. Jesus is mentioned in churches, but too often churchgoers forget most of what He said and did.

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What Do Red-Letter Christians Believe?

Red-Letter Christians believe that people should be paying attention to Jesus' words and follow His examples by promoting major social issues. That includes loving and forgiving others, taking care of the unfortunate and downtrodden, and promoting peace in the world.

Campolo says, "The purpose of this gathering was not to create a religious left movement to challenge the religious right, but to jump-start a religious movement that will transcend partisan politics." A year after the movement started, Campolo published Red Letter Christians, A Citizen's Guide to Faith and Politics. The book explains what it is to be a red-letter Christian.

When people call themselves Red-Letter Christians, they are saying they are committed to living out the things that Jesus said and did.

What's Wrong With Being a Red-Letter Christian?

It is a good thing to pay close attention to the teachings of Jesus and to follow His examples about how to live a righteous life. However, there is something disturbing about the movement. Red-Letter Christians limit their focus to just the four gospels that contain most of the red-letter scriptures. Everything in the Bible is worthy enough to be read, including the rest of the New Testament. In fact, “All scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) and not just the scriptures that are printed in red ink.

Another thing that should be noted is that everything Jesus said, taught, and did is not recorded in the Bible. The four gospels give us only some of the things Jesus taught. In fact, only a tiny part of His life and teachings are recorded there. According to the Gospel of John, if the apostles and eyewitnesses had tried to write down everything they had experienced with Jesus, “the whole world couldn’t contain the books” (John 21:25).

Jesus taught the disciples things that are not recorded in the Bible. He told them things we know nothing about. Jesus came in contact with many people during His 33 years on earth. Many of the things Jesus said and did are recorded in the New Testament. In the same manner, many of the things He said and did are not recorded in the New Testament. For instance, Jesus is in the temple with the teachers when He was 12 years old (Luke 2:41-52). We read nothing else about Him until He was baptized when He was 30 years old (Matthew 3:13-17).


Final Thoughts

When red-letter editions of the Bible first came on the market in 1899, they were not designed to make people think the words in red carried more theological weight than the words printed in black.

Louis Klopsch, the originator of red-letter editions of the Bible, wanted more people to begin reading the Bible. He decided to highlight the words of Jesus Christ, but he did not do it for scriptures printed in black ink to be neglected. He published the first red-letter Bible in 190l, and it became a success.

The danger of being a Red-Letter Christian is that followers favor reading only the scriptures that are printed in red mistakenly thinking they are more important than the scriptures printed in black. When they neglect to read what is printed in black ink, they miss a very large portion of the Bible.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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