There is a problem when our reflex action is “Jesus didn’t really mean to say….” It’s almost like a scene from a Monty Python skit involving a bunch of religious leaders debating Scripture. No, Jesus really did mean for us to deny ourselves and lay down our lives for him (Luke 9:23) and consider all other loves as hate in comparison with love of him (Luke 14:26). Jesus did call us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), and give sacrificially to those who cannot elevate our careers—namely, the poor. Because the kingdom of God has been given to us we are not to cease caring for the poor; rather, because the kingdom of God has been given to us we are to care for the poor (Luke 12:32-34).
We must take to heart all those red letters in Scripture. Of course, we must take to heart all the black letters, too. There should not be a canon within a canon, but Christ really is the center of the canon.
Red letter and black letter Christianity should not be equated with red political states (Republican), or blue political states (Democrat), for that matter. However and unfortunately, Evangelicalism has so often been associated with Republican politics (red), and wrongly framed in terms of what we are against rather than what we are for. Evangelicals should not be associated with elephants and donkeys, but with the lion who is the lamb (Revelation 5:5-6), longing for the day when the lamb will lie down with the wolf (Isaiah 11:6).
Portland, Oregon where I work does not allow much room for Evangelicals to practice nominal Christianity. Sometimes I think I am in Missouri—the “Show me” state. In fact, more and more people are from Missouri today when it comes to calling for Christians to practice what Jesus preaches. Not that Portland is all about Jesus; but if we want to challenge Portland as Christians, we are learning that we had first and foremost better be willing to challenge ourselves by allowing his red letters and the black letters in Scripture, too, to shape our Evangelical lives. We have made some headway in our witness, but we had better keep moving—breaking down divisions between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free in and through him (Galatians 3:28). These are black letter words from Galatians, but they build on Jesus’ red letter words and on his life.
As we Christians continue to take to heart Jesus’ red letters and all the other letters in the Bible too, as centered in him, we will come to celebrate increasingly Jesus’ death and resurrection life and his holy enemy love. In turn, we will cultivate an all-encompassing theology and ethic of life in a world so often fixated with bloodshed, warfare, and death.
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths. This volume and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.