Red Letter Christians
February 21, 2013
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
[The following critique of Campolo’s “red letter Christianity” is excerpted from What Is the Emerging Church? which is available in print and eBook editions from]
Emerging Church leader Tony Campolo calls for a “red letter Christianity” that follows the teaching of the Gospels as opposed to that of Paul’s Epistles. In a message at a minister’s conference at Georgetown College in Kentucky, January 10, 2013, he said:

“I grew up at a time when the church was organized around the theologies of the Apostle Paul. ...  Being solid theologically was of crucial significance. It still is. The shift that has taken place, however, is a shift away from the Pauline epistles to the Gospels. ... As young people are forcing us to shift to the red letters of the Bible -- to the words of Jesus highlighted in red -- the first thing we have to deal with is the Kingdom of God. This has incredible ramifications, because the Kingdom of God stands in opposition to the kingdoms of this world. ... You can’t read through the Sermon on the Mount and believe in war. ... We have a country that is cutting out programs for the poor at a rate that is staggering” (“Campolo sees future ‘red letter’ church,” Associated Baptist Press, Jan. 11, 2013). 

In reality, what Campolo is calling for is not a Biblical approach to following Christ; it is a deluded, failed, liberal humanistic, socialistic approach. 

His doctrine of building the kingdom of God in this present world is not Scriptural. The kingdom of God will be established by Jesus Christ at His return, and it will be established with a rod of iron backed by the absolute authority of the risen Son of God. It cannot be built before then, as no one has the authority and power to do it. (See “The Kingdom of God: Emerging vs. Bible” at

There will be no peace on earth until Christ returns, and until then individuals, homes, and nations need to protect themselves from their enemies, and nowhere is this forbidden in Scripture. 

As for helping the poor, a government give-away program is contrary to Scripture in that it allows people to live without working. “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Th. 3:10). Campolo’s socialism is not Scriptural compassion; it is a foolish waste of money that destroys human initiative and removes the onus of caring for the needy from the family, the community, and the church and puts it on a faceless governmental bureaucracy that uses socialistic redistribution of wealth to rob the workers of their rightful profit in order to empower itself.
America has given away billions upon billions of dollars to “the poor” but “the poor” only increase in number. American’s social welfare is a failed program. It doesn’t need more money; it needs to be dismantled, but that certainly isn’t happening. For Campolo to say that America is “cutting out programs for the poor at a rate that is staggering” under the reign of Barak Obama is beyond ridiculous. 

Further, Campolo and his emerging buddies are rank hypocrites who decidedly
do not follow Christ’s teaching.

There is a great hypocrisy that permeates emerging church writings. 

They denounce dogmatism in the most dogmatic terms! 

They reject judgmentalism in the most judgmental terms, typically having nothing to say of fundamentalist Christianity except ridicule and denunciation. 

They reject traditional patterns of Bible “spirituality,” such as daily devotions, as dull and legalistically obligations, but they accept the most stringent forms of Catholic “spirituality,” such as
lectio divina and keeping “the hours” and monasticism, as exciting and life-giving. 

And they claim to be “Red Letter Christians,” when in reality they don’t keep the commandments Christ gave in the Gospels.

Tony Campolo says: 

“By calling ourselves Red-Letter Christians, we are alluding to the fact that in several versions of the New Testament, the words of Jesus are printed in red. In adopting this name, we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that He said. Of course, the message in those red-lettered verses is radical, to say the least. If you don’t believe me, read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). ... Figuring out just how to relate those radical red letters in the Bible to the complex issues in the modern world will be difficult, but that’s what we’ll try to do” (“Red Letter Christian,” Oct. 25, 2007, 

Jim Wallis of Sojourners says the same thing. 

“In Matthew 5, 6, and 7, Jesus offers his Sermon on the Mount, which serves as the manifesto of his new order, the Magna Carta of the new age, the constitution of the kingdom” (
The Great Awakening, p. 62). 

But Campolo, Wallis, and other emergents are very selective in their obedience to the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, the Sermon on the Mount clearly refutes emerging church theology

Christ warned against breaking even the least of God’s commandments (Mat. 5:19). This is in contrast to the emerging church’s position that only the “cardinal” doctrines are of great significance.

Christ frequently warned about hell fire (Mat. 5:22, 29-30), but this is a subject that emergents grossly neglect and even blatantly deny.

Christ warned about imprisonment for disobedience to God’s Word (Mat. 5:25-26), but emergents do not take this literally.

Christ warned strongly against divorce and remarriage (Mat. 5:31-32). In contrast we have the emerging church’s tendency to downplay the importance of strict morality. The emerging church is even hesitant to condemn homosexuality, but if it is adultery in God’s eyes for a man to divorce his wife and marry another
woman, except for fornication, how much more is it immoral for a man to sleep with a man or a woman with a woman?

Christ taught against laying up treasures on earth (Mat. 6:19-21), yet Campolo and most other emergents and their churches and organizations have a great many treasures on earth. In an interview with Campolo in February 2008 at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta, Georgia, I asked him if he obeys the Lord’s command in the Sermon on the Mount to sell what you have and give alms. He admitted that he is a hypocrite in that area. He drives a nice car, lives in a nice house, has nice clothes, owns heaps of possessions, has a retirement fund, etc. There are exceptions, but in general emergents really don’t take this part of Christ’s Sermon all that seriously! 

Christ taught the people to be heavenly-minded (Mat. 6:19-21), but the emerging church ridicules this mindset and instructs us to be earthly-minded.

Christ said to take no thought about food or clothing (Mat. 6:25, 31), but the emerging church typically takes plenty of thought about this.

Christ said to take no thought for tomorrow (Mat. 6:34), but the emerging church makes detailed plans.

Christ said not to give holy things to dogs (Mat. 7:6), but the emerging church doesn’t want to believe that there is a great difference between holy and unholy and does not believe in dividing people into groups and calling some dogs, disliking “judgmentalism” and “labeling.” 

Christ taught that men are evil (Mat. 7:11), but the emerging church thinks that this is not necessarily true. 

Christ taught that the way of salvation is narrow and few are saved (Mat. 7:13-14), but the emerging church claims that the way of salvation is broad and many might be saved, even if they don’t have personal faith in Jesus. 

Christ taught that we should be on the outlook for false teachers (Mat. 7:15), but the emerging church claims that we should relax and not be uptight about doctrine and error.

Prominently in His teaching on the kingdom of God, Christ commanded men to repent of their sin. “
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat. 4:17). Yet the emerging church is exceedingly weak about the business of repentance and is not even certain that homosexuals have anything to repent of! 

Further, the Sermon on the Mount reminds us that Christ was a bold and dogmatic preacher, whereas the emerging church doesn’t like such preaching, preferring story-telling and “sharing.” 

Thus, this idea that we should be “red letter Christians: is not consistently followed even by its own proponents. 

The Gospels do not present a Christ that looks anything like the emerging church. 

The hypocrisy within the emerging church is amazing to behold.

[This is excerpted from What Is the Emerging Church? which is available in print and eBook editions from Way of Life Literature.]

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