When I questioned my friend about his statement that he takes Jesus “much more seriously” than he takes Paul, another friend jumped in and said, “You mean the red letters, right?” Wow! Talk about rattling my cage.
Again, I see this as a pendulum swing away from teachings that travel from the manger to the cross to Pentecost without taking a breath along the way. We need the words of Jesus, his teachings. We need the red letters.
But let us never forget that the Word became flesh. The Word didn’t become more words. God could have sent us The Collected Sayings of Messiah Jesus instead of allowing his Son to take human form. But that’s not what happened.
Jesus came and lived among us. When those that walked with him described his life, they talked about how he went around doing good (Acts 10:38). Talk is cheap; Jesus lived out what he taught. His followers spoke of the miracles he did by God’s power (Acts 2:22). To them, what Jesus did was as important as what he said.
I don’t want to lose Jesus’ weeping at Lazarus’ death. I don’t want to forget how he reached out and touched an untouchable leper. I want to remember that he changed water into wine and cleared the temple. I want the image of him sitting and eating breakfast with his disciples on the shore of Galilee.
I value the teaching, as well. I want to be reminded that in the beginning was the Word, that he was with God and was God, that he made everything. I want to be reminded that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Red-letter Christianity loses insights like that which were provided by those who knew Jesus best.
I don’t believe in a “canon within a canon” that makes certain books authoritative and reduces others to mere suggestions. I don’t accept the idea of a “canon within the gospels” that says red letters carry more weight than black ones.
Red-letter Christianity is trying to follow a bodiless Messiah. It ignores the importance of the Incarnation. There are lots of books with wise sayings and helpful teachings; if we only read the red letters, the gospels become more examples of the same.
A friend of mine was recording a video about his ministry and said, “I’m a red-letter Christian because I try to do the things that Jesus did.” Through his mistake, he gave an excellent argument against red-letter Christianity. We’re called to be like Jesus, to imitate him. If we only use half the gospels, we won’t be able to do that nearly as well.
The Word became flesh… not more words.