What's so awful about 'Red Letter Christians' and the 'Jesus Hermeneutic'?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been figuratively cleaning off the bottoms of my shoes after stepping into multiple controversies with people who seem to be following different gospels than my own. One of these systems is held by many of the twenty- and thirty-somethings I come in contact with. These younger Christians try to take the moral high ground. They’ve been deceived.

The Jesus Hermeneutic is a learned heresy. Two of the wolves behind it are the false teachers Jim Wallis and Tony Compolo.

Red Letter Christians

Red Letter Christians is a radical movement aimed at the political and social overthrow of evangelical Christianity. Here’s how Tony Compolo describes it:

We are evangelicals who are troubled by what is happening to poor people in America; who are disturbed over environmental policies that are contributing to global warming; who are dismayed over the increasing arrogance of power shown in our country’s militarism; who are outraged because government funding is being reduced for schools where students, often from impoverished and dysfunctional homes, are testing poorly; who are upset with the fact that of the 22 industrialized nations America is next to last in the proportion of its national budget (less than two-tenths of 1 percent) that is designated to help the poor of third-world countries; and who are broken-hearted over discrimination against women, people of color, and those who suffer because of their sexual orientation.


The social issues Compolo raises are real and significant. But the true gospel is not political. Jesus said clearly, My kingdom is not of this world (John 18.36).

Compolo admits his movement is actually cloaked progressive liberalism:

Because being evangelical is usually synonymous with being Republican in the popular mind, and calling ourselves “progressive” might be taken as a value judgment by those who do share our views, we decided not to call ourselves “progressive evangelicals.” We came up with a new name: Red-Letter Christians.


Gandhian non-violence

My latest run-in with a proponent of this pseudo-Christian political radicalism occurred in the comment section of Winging it. Josh correctly and succinctly defines the Jesus Hermeneutic with these words:

“Jesus teaching carries more weight than other teachings in the Bible.” (Josh - op cit)

If you take a moment to think about this, you will start to see how this method of Biblical interpretation does violence to what Christians and the Christian church have understood about God and ethics for two millenia. First of all it denies the hermeneutic principle of Scripture interprets Scripture. Secondly (as LPC has pointed out), all the words of the 66 books of the Bible are Jesus' words.

Josh’s moral umbrage against Christians who believe it’s just to defend the weak and powerless aligns perfectly with Campolo’s Gandhian agenda:

In those red letters…He calls us to be merciful, which has strong implications for how we think about capital punishment. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he probably means we shouldn’t kill them…Figuring out just how to relate those radical red letters in the Bible to the complex issues in the modern world will be difficult, but that’s what we’ll try to do.

Gandhi once said that everybody in the world knows what Jesus was teaching in those verses - except Christians! We will try to prove him wrong.


Notice how Campolo cleverly misleads his audience by confusing the governmental responsibility to uphold justice and punish crime with the behaviors of individual Christians. He also creates a false dichotomy between love and all the other virtues commended by our Lord.

As an aside we should ask ourselves how much the devoted Hindu and anti-Christian Gandhi really has to teach us. Just because the world upholds him as a hero does not mean that he should be a moral light to you and I. This man who rejected the salvation offered by Jesus Christ slept naked with 13 year old girls to practice his ability to resist sexual temptation. Gandhi has no part in defining how the Bible should be interpreted.

The social gospel is no gospel at all

A hundred years ago the social gospel ran roughshod over the American Protestant churches. Christians from many streams left their denominations in rejection of this false gospel. And here it is returned to suck in a whole new generation of the deceived. I bet you’ve heard one or more of these ideas in the so-called neo-evangelical church:

  • The government is violating God’s will when it puts murderers to death.

  • Jesus was a radical.

  • Christians are called to reform the world.

  • Non-violence is the supreme morality.

  • God’s nature is only love.

  • If you’re not feeding the poor, clothing the homeless, etc, you are no real Christian.

Etcetera. Do you notice the biggest social evils specifically called out in the Bible - sodomy, religious apostasy (you are a little god) and child sacrifice (abortion) - are conspicuously missing? Nowhere is the true nature of this false gospel more apparent. These three evils are explicitly defended or at the very least ignored by the red-letter followers of the Jesus Hermeneutic. This is no coincidence.

Jim Wallis’s reasoning for the Jesus Hermeneutic

Jim Wallis may be right that large portions of the visible church don’t agree with Biblical teachings. But his solution is not to bring people back to the Scriptures, but to sever the parts he doesn’t like. Which includes the Old Testament and the writings of the Apostle Paul.

We have a problem. Most people have the idea, as crazy as it may seem, that Christians and the church are supposed to stand for the same things that Jesus did…The truth is that there are many people who like the “red letter stuff,” and many of them are not even Christians…


You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the creators of the Jesus Hermeneutic and Red Letter Christians are ecstatic in their love for the Emergent Church:

This issue includes a section of Brian McLaren’s new book, The Secret Message of Jesus—a message often kept secret even by the churches themselves and utterly disguised by many of our television evangelists who seem to preach a different gospel. Brian is the spiritual leader of a new movement called the “emergent church,” which is drawing a generation raised in the churches back to Jesus and attracting many outside the religious community to a Jesus they never heard about from the churches. He knows that people intuitively recognize that Jesus' message of God’s kingdom—a new world of compassion, justice, integrity, and peace—is the good news they’ve been searching and waiting for.


Wallis is indirectly speaking the truth. His is another gospel at war not only with other false versions of Christianity like those of the televangelists, but most importantly at war with the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Lord’s warning and curse of Revelation 22.18-19 applies, no matter how glibly Josh and those caught up in this movement deny it. Don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself. It’s a red-letter passage. And it’s a fearful curse from our Lord.

Apostate teachers rarely admit their hatred of the real Jesus as Jim Wallis has here. I encourage you to read his whole sorry statement: Red letter Christians: Somehow Jesus has survived even the church.


If only this were the only apostate movement striking hammers at the foundations of the beleaguered church of Jesus Christ. Fortunately God has comforted us with his promise which can never be broken:

…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

Where have you come across this Jesus Hermeneutic/ Red-Letter Christians? Please share your personal experiences. They are very helpful to others.

Let’s pray that all of those who have unknowingly been caught up in this false gospel will see the error, renounce it and separate themselves.


Stan approaches the Jesus Hermeneutic from a different perspective. You can read his post here: The Jesus Hermeneutic

Alec Satin
Alec Satin

Your editor is a Bible-believing Christian with no illusions about our darkening age. Keep reading your KJV. If you don’t have one, get a printed copy with good type and read it every day. May God bless you, keep you, and protect you.