2007October11, Thursday

“RLCs” and the Role of Government

Posted in Bible, Politics, Theology at 18:49 by Trey Austin

In my time in the Southern Baptist Convention, i remember folks who held to the view that the words of Jesus (in the older Bibles, these words are printed in red to set them off from the other words) were more important, represented a higher teaching, and were more fundamental to Christianity than the words elsewhere. They usually represented a more liberal strain of Christianity. In the fight over Scripture’s inspiration among Southern Baptists, those who stood against the folks who advocated verbal plenary inspiration always had a kind of interpretive grid. In fact, in the Baptist Faith and Message, the closest thing to a creed/confession that Southern Baptists officially have, in the 1963 version, there was one particular line in Article I, speaking of the Scriptures, which said: “The criterion by which the Bible is
to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” Well, the self-proclaimed “moderates” (really, those who wanted to dismiss the whole idea of inerrancy and infallibility) always would take hold of that phrase (as anti-creedal as they always claimed to be) and would drive it home that we must interpret the Bible through Jesus and his words.

Well, apparently, Tony Campollo is one of those guys. I guess i shouldn’t be all that surprised at the fact. He’s not Southern Baptist (he’s American Baptist), but he still fits that same bill. These folks are called, not surprisingly, “Red Letter Christians,” and Campollo really puts this whole way of looking at the Bible forward in his book Letters to a Young Evangelical.

The way this came up was by reading a kind of “rebuttal” of sorts that Stan Guthrie wrote about the whole concept and the political ideas that come across from that kind of thinking (invariably left-leaning, politically), and he takes Campollo to task personally about it. It’s actually a very balanced and gentle critique that makes excellent points not only about that hermeneutic, but it’s own blindness to see that those ideas are politically ideological, and really politically motivated before they are religiously informed, even if they claim otherwise. Campollo gives an answer to Guthrie’s critique (and gives away the farm, if you ask me). It’s a really interesting read.

Really the point of contention between politically left-leaning Christians and politically right-leaning Christians is not whether you’re for protecting the environment, seeing equality and social justice, stopping the slaughter of infant children in the protection of the womb, or even wanting to feed and clothe the destitute. The real point is whether it is the job of the government to accomplish those things. This is where even a good healthy dose of political separation of Church and State is proper, and it is also the place where a healthy view of the truth of all Scripture equally would help people realize that Scripture itself has a bunch to say about the limitation of the powers of the government to enforcing the most basic moral principles to keep society in proper order. That’s their delegated task from God—not to control the Church, not to co-opt the Church, and not to leave off doing its own job by trying to tell the Church what to do and how.  Apparently, though, politically liberal Christians seem to think that it is the job of the government to do that. And that means that, ironically enough, all the Christians who talk about the government enforcing equal rights, government feeding the poor and providing them with healthcare, government doing anything other than enforcing common morality and maintaining order in society, they are the ones who advocate a defacto combining of Church and State.

The real clincher for me in this discussion, especially where RLCs are concerned, is the marked lack of anything from the mouth of Jesus that tells us that it is the job of government to enforce his teaching or that the Christian purpose should be so to influence the government as to do the job of the Church. It’s just funny to me that people who put so much stock in the words of Jesus (to be clear, Jesus’ words are absolutely important, but just as important as all other words of Scripture) above all else would ignore the silence of Jesus in directing that the government be as closely involved in what they seek to see done. It simply strikes me as a kind of laziness: wanting something done, but wanting someone to do it for you—that’s really an indemic problem in the Church today, anyway.



  1. tempe said,

    The real clincher for me in this discussion, especially where RLCs are concerned, is the marked lack of anything from the mouth of Jesus that tells us that it is the job of government to enforce his teaching…

    Spoken like a true postmillenialist/reconstructionist. 😉
    Seriously, I’ve heard Gary DeMar make this same comment many times, and you are both correct on it.

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why Tony Campollo keeps getting held up as some kind of evangelical hero. The more he opens his mouth, it seems the more he continues putting a modernist (postmodern?) foot into it.

    I thought about the “Red Letter” thing last week during a sermon on the opening verses of Galatians 1. Paul has to defend his Apostleship, and he makes it very clear that his teaching is not from men/man but from God. I’m always astounded by folks who dismiss Paul’s teaching because they don’t like what he has to say. This might be from full-blown theological liberals (the ones, like Bart Ehrman, who claim he “hijacked” Christianity), as well as the more subtle folks who dislike what he has to say about homosexuality or gender roles. Of course, Paul had to defend himself from heretics and Christians alike 2000 years ago, but this seems to get lost on them.

  2. Trey Austin said,

    The thing is that the only time Jesus ever spoke about government was when he spoke about the question of paying taxes. He said that his disciples were to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. But that just begs the question in this discussion: What exactly is it that belongs to “Caesar”? Well, you have to go to the black letters to find that out. And it is precisely to Paul (or that dreaded “Hebrew” Testament, as Campollo calls it) that we must go to find this out. But people who have made it a point to be in favor of feminist and homosexualist causes will likely not like what Paul says (which is why they want to dismiss them as meaningless and to hold Christ’s words alone as worthy).

    Really, it amounts to doing the very thing that some of the Corinthians were doing and what some of the Galatians were doing, in denying Paul’s Apostleship or trying to set up their own “Super-Apostleship” above his, with more authority and more truth than his teachings which they perceived to be sub-Christian or improper. That’s really what modern feminists and homosexualists in the Church do.

    The truth is that Paul and all the Apostles speak for Christ on the Earth. What they said was as binding and as true and as perpetual as anything Jesus said. That’s what it means that Jesus established Peter (as leader of the Apostles) as the rock upon which the Church is built. Paul clearly takes that image of the foundation serious, as he repeats it, being sure to emphasize that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone around which the foundation is built. The picture couldn’t be clearer, though, because the Apostles, as the foundation of the Church, are absolutely authoritative only under Christ—but his authority was delegated to them, so that they speak for him in all things.

    So, not only is it a false dichotomy to be a so-called “RLC,” but it also leaves us without a complete word of God that is fully authoritative.

  3. tempe said,

    Yes, it is key to note that Acts 2:42 mentions the teaching of the Apostles as being one of the foundations of the early Christians. Not that this is different from the teaching of Christ, just that they weren’t using too much “red ink” in those days. 😉

    I do have to take issue with this, however: But that just begs the question in this discussion: What exactly is it that belongs to “Caesar”?

    Arrrghhh, absolutely atrocious use of “begging the question.” Now, I know you were taught better logic skills than that! Just one more example of giving in to the culture around us… 😉

  4. Trey Austin said,

    Actually, this isn’t as bad as you might have us believe. 🙂

    The only point that so-called RLCs can make about the role of government (if they are indeed tied to and have the highest authority in Christ’s words alone) is the single statement that Christ made. So, if the hypothetical conversation was between a political liberal and a political conservative, it might go something like this:

    L: Don’t you think that, as Christians, we should vote for people who want to feed the poor and support the elderly? After all, that’s what Jesus said we should do, and his words count more than anything else.
    C: Well, only if you think that it’s the government’s job to do those things. Where do you get the idea from Jesus that that’s the government’s job to take care of in the Christian’s place?
    L: Jesus said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”! Obviously, we give everything to God, and Caesar gets our taxes to be able to take care of the poor!
    C: Well, that doesn’t prove what you said; you’re just assuming the very thing you’re trying to prove. That just begs the original question that is trying to be answered to begin with: “What is the role of government in taking care of these directives Christ gave to Christians?”

    So, as i said, it begs the question. 🙂

  5. tempe said,

    OK, a much better job! Of course, this is from the guy who had to ask you what “Liam” meant…

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