Red Letter Christianity: Living the words of Jesus
no matter the cost
Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo
Hodder & Stoughton £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code
THIS briskly paced and energetically argued book takes the form
of a dialogue between two leading figures on the United States' so-
called "Evangelical Left". The radical community activist Shane
Claiborne is paired with the elder-statesman academic Tony Campolo
to debate a broad selection of theological and social topics,
including racism, liturgy, saints, politics, homosexuality,
reconciliation, and Islam.
Their aim is promoting "red-letter Christianity" (www.redletter-christians.org): theologically
Evangelical, but distinct from what they summarise as the
"anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-environmentalist, pro-war,
pro-capital-punishment, and conservative Republican" values often
associated with the label, especially in America.
Being a "red-letter Christian" means focusing on the words of
Jesus, traditionally printed in red in some editions of the Bible,
to try to emulate the dynamism of the Church's earliest days.
While this agenda risks sounding simplistic, the book provides
sufficient anecdotal evidence to show that it can inspire younger
generations in particular, bored by petty church factionalism and
cultural stuffiness. The dominant concept throughout is generosity,
with constant emphasis on seek- ing out what unites rather than
divides groups of Christians. Impressively, the authors urge
membership of existing churches rather than forming yet more
I found the chapter on environmentalism the most stimulating in
its contrast between the bleakness of many US inner cities
(neighbourhoods where it is easier to buy a gun than a salad) and
the transformative projects run by groups such as Claiborne's. He
shows how hope can flourish amid "post-industrial ruins . . . on
the wrong side of capitalism".
While the dialogue style gets slightly wearing at times (and
there are occasional howlers, such as G. K. Chesterton quoted as
"Lord Chesterton"), it fits the book's overall message well by
modelling discussion of - rather than dogmatic solutions to -
complex questions. It is also consistently readable, with coverage
of enough issues to provide points of connection or challenge for a
Naomi Starkey is a commissioning editor with BRF, editor
of New Daylight, and a Church in Wales ordinand.