Dumb Teaching: Red Letter Christians

There is false teaching…and there is just dumb teaching.

This is the last of four little rants that I’ve been writing on for the last few weeks. But this one is probably the worst – it’s my big axe to grind.

This week in Edmonton, one the church’s most dearly beloved evangelical leader is here to visit – Tony Campolo.

And what is his talk about?

It’s about being a “Red Letter Christian.”You know how the old NIV puts Jesus words in red. Well that’s all you really need to read when it comes to being a really good Christian says Campolo.

And what does that actually mean? Well it’s Campolo’s attack on Paul of course. The Gospels, says Campolo, is where real discipleship happens. Jesus, says Campolo, was a kind soul who spoke on the Kingdom of God blessing the poor, where Paul was just a cold doctrine-head who only cared about establishing order in the church and speaking against homosexuality.

But there are four reasons, at least, for why this is nonsense:

  • First, because Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). Part of that meant using Paul to write Scripture after the ascension of Jesus. In other words, Jesus not only endorses Paul but we actually need Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers (Luke, Peter, James etc.) to have a complete walk with God in all truth.
  • Second, Paul knew theology yes, but he is intensely practical. Paul cared so much for the poor (Gal 2:10). Paul cared about families and how they followed Christ (Col 3). Paul is no ivory tower theologian. He worked with his hands. He mentored people.
  • Third, the red letter thing is dumb because Jesus didn’t actually write the Gospels. So the red letters are biographical, and not actually authored by Jesus. And if Luke wrote Luke, then isn’t Acts just as inspired by the Holy Spirit? And if John recorded Jesus’ words in his Gospel what about the words Jesus spoke in Revelation? What about 1,2,3 John? Pretty soon you start to realize that…wait a minute…the whole New Testament should be in red letters!
  • Fourth, this Red Letter thing is nonsense because…there were never any red letters to begin with. When the New Testament Greek Manuscripts were written and compiled the words of Jesus were not written in some special ink, or red ink, or whatever. Some translation team for the NIV or something decided to put Jesus words in red for effect. But all the original manuscripts were in black…all black letters.

So what are we really dealing with here? Well it’s nothing short of classic theological liberalism – finding a “canon within a canon.” That’s what biblical liberals do. Some parts of Scripture bother them, so instead of reading them and repenting they find a few special verses they like, isolate them from the rest of the progressive revelation of Scripture through history, and then make those few verses the focus of their life and walk with God. I’m sorry but that is just not discipleship. It doesn’t cut it.

Nope. You need the wholeBible if you are going to be a whole Christian. And that means that when you are offended by parts of the Bible, like Paul, that means you are out of line – the Bible isn’t.

You see the trouble is if you keep walking down that road – where Paul is the bad guy and Jesus is the good guy – eventually Jesus also is going to become the bad guy.

Let me explain. Peter completely upholds Paul’s writings as sacred text (2 Pet 3:16). Jesus told Peter that he would be the rock on which he would build his church, which also meant giving him the authority to “bind and loose” (Matthew 16:13-20).

So then…where does it end? If we dismiss Paul’s authority do we also dismiss Peter’s authority? And if we dismiss Peter’s authority do we dismiss Jesus authority? Was Jesus is wrong? Are the red letters wrong? Oh wait. There are no red letters.

Dumb Teaching: Ceremonial, Civil, Moral

There is false teaching…and there is just dumb teaching.

For years people have told me to read the Old Testament Law in three categories: ceremonial laws (relating to sacrifice etc.), civil laws (relating to government etc.) and moral (relating to issues of right and wrong etc.)

Now apparently that type of dicing up the Old Testament law started with Thomas Aquinas. It’s been around for a long time.

But can we maybe stop talking this way?

You see, if you were living in ancient Israel how could you ever separate the moral from the civil? Or the moral from the ceremonial? Or even the civil from the ceremonial? They were all wrapped up together. It was immoral not to obey God in his civil law. And it was uncivil not to go to the temple and engage in the sacrifices at the temple.

I guess the reason people talk this way is because they are trying to teach that we need to submit to all the moral laws of the Old Testament even though we are now free from the ceremonial and the civil laws that related to Israel and her governance and sacrifices.

But how can I honestly go through the bible with a pen and just separate these categories so cut and dry? “Civil….yep…oh that one is definitely moral…oh and there’s ceremony.” That’s impossible.

No the reality is that the law was all one massive piece of work – the New Testament writers regard it as one, organic, interconnected whole: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10). He’s talking about the whole thing.

So then, the million dollar question: do the Old Testament so-called “moral” laws apply to us today if moral, ceremonial, and civil are all interconnected” The new testament answer: “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest [i.e., Jesus] to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” (Hebrews 8:11-12 ESV)

So we are under the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21). And that same Christ is the one who on one hand completely fulfills the law without relaxing or abolishing it, and then takes the Ten Commandments and plows then deeper into our hearts then it ever had been before (Matthew 5:17-30). In sum, we have a new and greater and in many ways more difficult law in Christ than we did under the Old Covenant, which we can still learn from, but are no longer bound to.

(Man, I can’t believe I just called Aquinas’ teaching dumb…I feel kinda bad about that.)

Dumb Teaching: Rapture Theology

There is false teaching…and then there is just dumb teaching.

One of those teachings is the idea that one day there will be a secret rapture of Christians. You’ve probably heard this one before. Yet another sensational “Left Behind” movie came out last year in the ever lucrative, but dumb, rapture line of rapture books and rapture movies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrXe8YDbzYs.

The basic idea here is that Jesus will come back secretly and all the Christians will be sucked into his presence in safety before the tribulation (seven year tribulation) begins on the earth. The problem is that you won’t find a secret rapture of Christians anywhere in the Bible. It’s a myth.

The only text that really tells us about the rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (ESV)

What that means is that when Jesus will come back only once. At the end of a long period of tribulation, the trumpet will sound and the Lord will descend and we will rise to meet him. Then it’s game over. No tribulation after – just the reign of Christ on earth.

Now wait, wait, wait, you say! “What about where Jesus says, ‘I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world….’” Well look again at what is going on in Revelation 3:10. It is not a promise of being exempt from trial and difficulty – rather, Jesus is promising to will keep us through it all. The same way, every day, he is keeping his saints through persecution, cancer, divorcing parents…

Now wait, wait, wait, you say! “What about where Jesus says, ‘Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…’” (Matt 24:40-42 ESV) Again, look a little closer. In the four verses leading up to this Jesus talks about Noah and when some were taken and some were left. In Noah’s day it was the ungodly that were taken to judgment. In other words, at the second coming there will be some taken to judgment and some delivered through it. And I sure don’t want to be taken – I want to be left behind!

You see this pre-tribulational rapture view originated in the 1820s to 1830s in England. Did you catch that? This Rapture Theology, that has swept North America by storm, has only be held to by a sliver of Christians in the history of the church. You can look for it – but not a single teacher or leader or writer prior to the 1820s ever believed or wrote on a pre-trib rapture. None of the church fathers. None on the monks, popes, bishops. Not a single one.

Sorry – but you gotta dump your left behind, dispensational, rapture views. They are historically and biblically unjustifiable.

The reason this is important is two-fold. First, so you can stop buying all these silly books. Seriously man! And second, so that you brace yourself for suffering. The Christian life is not easy. During the tribulation, God will be judging the world and the world, in turn, will be judging Christians. Yes, God will “keep us through the hour of tribulation” but he won’t evacuate us from the earth. And that, my friends, is the whole logic of the book of revelation and the whole logic of the cross – the ones who reign with Christ are the ones who “loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11 ESV). Christian conquering happens by dying. The cross precedes crown.

So suffer well. Conquer well. Reject this American-dream-health-and-wealth-theology that says God will always prosper you in every aspect, area, and avenue of your life. Nope. The crown is given to those who take up the cross. So take it up. To live is Christ – to die is gain.

Dumb Teaching: “All Sins are Equal”

It’s not uncommon for Christians to say things like: “his sins are just as bad as everyone else’s” or “my sin is just as bad as yours.” It seems like the right and humble thing to say, and I think they say it because of verses like James 2:10 where it says that if you break the law in one part you break it all.

But let’s get this straight – there are sins that are worse than others. There are “weightier matters of the law.” Jesus said to the Pharisees, “…you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23 ESV). In other words, it’s better to show faithfulness in marriage, for example, than to donate those herbs; it’s worse to oppress the poor than to to keep back some teaspoons of basil to use in your casserole.

Consequences alone show that some sins are worse than others. Yes, Jesus said lust is on par with adultery and anger is on par with murder (Matthew 5:21-28). But no, lust isn’t actually extra-marital sex and anger isn’t actually taking a life. Related? yes. From the same attitude of heart? Yes. Equally severe in consequence? Nope.

So what was James getting at when he said if you break one point of the law you break it all (2:10)? It means that even the smallest offense against God makes you guilty under God’s law. One breach in the law and you’re heading straight towards the wrath of God. One breach in the dam and the river is on top of you.

In that regard we are all guilty. We are all unfit. We are all law-breakers. We all need the mercy of God. We all need the unmerited grace of God found the righteous-making, wrath-removing death and resurrection of Jesus. And that’s available today if you turn to him.

Dumb Teaching: The Agape-Love Thing

There’s false teaching…and then there is just dumb teaching.

One of those dumb teachings is said by nice Christians at Bible Studies all the time, probably because they’ve heard it from nice radio preachers who haven’t done their homework. And I’m just a wee bit tired of hearing it so often, so I decided to write a quick blog on it – for you, for us.

Many have been taught that the Greek language (in which the New Testament was written) has a special word for God’s love. It’s the word “agap” or “agape” from the verb “agapao.” Many blindly assert that this word conveys the notion of a special love from God, the love that is unconditional, unique, and sacrificial.

That’s a myth. Sorry.

I was reading the other day and found a nice little post by Kathleen Tuttle, in which she discusses with my old Briercrest prof, Marty Culy, about this issue. As Marty says, we need to look at the way the word “love” is used in the Bible in context to see what sort of love is in view:

For example, we’re told in the Greek Old Testament that Ammon “agapd” his half-sister Tamar and proceeded to rape her (2 Samuel 13:1-15). Clearly not Godlike, self-sacrificial love.

Similarly, we’re told that in John 3:19 that men loved (agapao) the darkness instead of the light because their deeds were evil; and we’re told in 2 Timothy 4:10 that Demas loved the world and so deserted Paul.

In reality, the Greek word agap simply means “love,” with the context dictating what type of love is in view.[1]

So there it is. Next time you hear a preacher do the agape-love thing you have my permission to raise an eyebrow slightly. And next time you hear it at a Bible study then you can – graciously – correct that view.

But yes, God still does love you – uniquely, sacrificially, and unconditionally – in Christ and in his cross.

[1] http://www.naplesnews.com/community/marco-eagle/church-lady-greek-expert-shares-gods-true-childKATHLEEN TUTTLE – 2:16 PM, Aug 1, 2013