Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Seeing Red

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a debate between Tony Campolo and Stan Guthrie about the "Red Letter Christian" movement. Since my interest at that time was more about the integrity of the whole Bible than about political interests, I tried not to weigh in on the political implications of what the debate was about, but tried to stick to the interpretive issues raised by the existence of the debate itself.

This morning, Scot McKnight mentioned the debate as well, and it seems appropriate now to turn to the political concerns that sparked the current debate in the first place. McKnight is usually a fair thinker when it comes to issues like this, and so I look forward to what he has to say on the issue. He barely scratches the surface here, but hopefully he'll have more to say in the coming days.

McKnight starts by citing Campolo's definition (taken from a blog entry that, while undated, appears to have been written a couple of years ago) of just what a "Red Letter Christian" is. McKnight quotes the important aspects of Campolo's definition itself, but it's also interesting to note the reasons Campolo cites for using this label as opposed to some other:
Because being evangelical is usually synonymous with being Republican in the popular mind, and calling ourselves “progressive” might be taken as a value judgment by those who do share our views, we decided not to call ourselves “progressive evangelicals.” We came up with a new name: Red-Letter Christians.
Campolo knows that words have meaning, and that how a group chooses to identify themselves will affect not only how people respond to them, but who will continue to listen to them in the first place. When I was in college, I knew of Campolo as a Christian who refused to be tied to a "conservative" agenda, yet who my conservative friends continued to take seriously. Since I've been in Southern California during most of the recent years in which "liberal" and "conservative" camps have moved so far away from each other, and since the political climate of Southern California is admittedly quite different from the political climate of North Carolina in any event, I'm not sure how my college friends would look at Campolo today. Still, as I read his words, I see nothing that a Christian seeking to do God's will, conservative or liberal, should find objectionable.

Although I still would hope to have a more holistic view of using the words of the Bible as we seek to impact the world around us, one could scarcely find a better place to start than the words of Jesus. And if we do take Jesus's words seriously, then there must be political implications. I look forward to seeing what develops out of this discussion.

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