I recently received a complimentary copy of Red Letter Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo through BookSneeze, in return for an honest review. I am quite familiar with Claiborne’s other books, such as Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President and I am also vaguely familiar with Tony Campolo’s blog Red Letter Christians.org. Therefore, I was naturally attracted to and curious about this book. The provocative front cover subtitle “What if Jesus really meant what he said?” is a question often posed by Claiborne through his books, public speaking, and articles. This exact question is also what drew me into wondering what could possibly happen when a young ‘ordinary radical’ such as Claiborne combines forces with an older veteran such as Campolo to answer this question.
However, the book was slightly disappointing. Instead of what one would normally expect, the format for this book was a collection of dialogues between the two authors covering a wide range of subjects such as community, saints, hell, Islam, being pro-life, environmentalism, homosexuality, civil disobedience, giving, politics, the middle east, and missions….just to name a few. In fact, they cover 27 subjects in total – some sparking much interest while others not so compelling. Nevertheless, it still seemed like this book could be an incredible read, just from the standpoint of getting to understand these two author’s perspective on so many powerful issues. But still, the book seemed to disappoint. The dialogue was hard to follow, wasn’t very in-depth, and each author failed to really back up their beliefs, not even attempting all that much to establish their arguments within scripture. Not that I disagreed with many of their beliefs (though I did on a few occasions), I just found it not nearly as convincing as I had expected. Instead of a discussion on why their stances are Biblical and Christian, the book seemed more of like a “manual” for those who agreed with them. Nevertheless, I pushed through even the topics that barely interested me and learned a little more (but not much) concerning each author’s beliefs on certain issues. The primary problems I had with this book was their failure to really dig deep and ground their argument within Scripture or theology, the occasional and subtle glorification of each author’s deeds and lives, and of course the few points scattered throughout that I disagreed with on a few minor subjects.
Yes, certain chapters got me thinking. Indeed I learned a few things and had my interest sparked concerning a handful of issues I’ve never really thought about before – but overall the book really didn’t ‘wow’ me. Of course many of the chapters have extremely valuable information and hold a message that every Christian needs to hear today – such as the chapter on community, giving, war/nonviolence, etc. But again, those chapters were not nearly as in-depth as I would hope. I think this problem stemmed from their attempt to cover almost 30 issues within a relatively short book.
In the end, to be completely honest, I would not recommend this book to other Christians without hesitation. The quality and depth of this book is simply lacking in many aspects and on many topics, while again, the dialogue can be hard to follow. In fact, I have the sense that this book didn’t take very long to write, edit, and publish. Nevertheless, I will still hold onto this book, maybe read a chapter now and then and whenever a certain issue comes up I would certainly consider flipping through and refreshing myself on the dialogue between these two undeniably interesting and inspiring Christians.
A few more specific thoughts….
First and foremost, I have no doubt that the title and label of “Red Letter Christian” will spark some alarm in many people’s minds. They will begin to assume that these type of Christians do not view all of Scripture as inspired by or from God and therefore discount much of what has been considered orthodox theology or doctrine based off other parts of the New Testament outside of the four Gospels. However, this is not necessarily true. Both authors of this book support the belief that all scripture is inspired by God. They chose the title of Red Letter Christian (rather than Evangelical Christian) primarily because they believe that in the past 50 years the term “evangelical” has lost favor and is now viewed in extreme negative light while at the same time they argue that Christianity has discounted and watered down much of Jesus’ more “radical” teachings and therefore we need to get back to having Christ’s word (especially the Sermon on the Mount) being the foundation for our lives and theology and let the rest of the Bible build off of that. It’s an interesting concept. I would recommend that you read the Introduction to this book before assuming anything else concerning their choice to call themselves Red Letter Christians.
Though my review of this book may come across as negative in many respects, it is simply because I didn’t like the format and level of depth this book took. I want to reemphasize a point I made in my review that “many of the chapters have extremely valuable information and hold a message that every Christian needs to hear today.” And this is very true. I want to point out that every single chapter has good points to look at and consider – even those that I disagree with. That is mainly why I am keeping this book; because all perspectives and interpretations ought to be considered. Something I fear many Christians will do when reading this book is find error in a few of their points/beliefs and therefore discount the rest of what they say. This is a position I refused to take when reading this (and many other) books.
Lastly, I want to note that in many cases, these authors are pushing a “movement” or “revolution” that is founded upon beautiful and Biblical theology (and it is very much like the Restoration movement in many respects), but occasionally they go about it in a way that may turn off much of the older generation. I want to encourage people of all beliefs to consider their thoughts concerning what Jesus honestly has to say about wealth, giving, poverty, simplicity, nonviolence, war, and community.