“Red Letter Christians” (McKnight)

Some greatness from Scot McKnight, responding to a post about “Red Letter” vs “Black Letter” Christians (i.e., those who focus on the words of Jesus in the gospels as the highest teaching in the Bible vs those who focus on the whole of the Bible), and how this distinction is over-simplistic.

Main point: everyone has a hermeneutic, whether they know it or not.  It’s better to have a good hermeneutic, carefully thought out, than a bad hermeneutic.

Matt Smethurst, at The Gospel Coalition, pokes at the Red Letter Christians movement (RLCs), the movement that wants us to focus on the “red letters” in the Bible — namely, the sayings of Jesus. I, too, have heard some simplistic, reductionistic and misguided statements from those impacted by the RLC.

Smethurst knows there’s some nuance here but he begins with a sketch of the RLCs, not all of it nuanced:

… the whole Bible read through which hermeneutic? One doesn’t just have the whole Bible. One has a way of reading the whole Bible. A simple illustration: we don’t follow the food laws of Israel or of Jews at the time of Jesus or, perhaps, even of Paul (at least when among fellow Jews). Why?

That’s the question. Why? Because we have a hermeneutic.

It’s simplistic to claim the whole Bible for two reasons: most everyone does that, even the Red Letter Christians I know who think Jesus fulfills the Old and thus brings revelation to the fullest. So does Greg Boyd, who operates with a cruciform hermeneutic. So does Tim Keller, who operates with a grace-vs.-religion hermeneutic that allows him to read even Genesis through that hermeneutic.

One might respond to Smethurst then with this: Red Letter Christians, too, claim the whole Bible but they have a different hermeneutic. It seems to me Smethurst has pushed us into a false choice: either we believe the Bible because we believe in Jesus or we believe in Jesus because we believe in the Bible. Isn’t it the case that Jesus is the fullness of God in whom we see God and through whom we now know the mind of God?

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