Best-selling Christian authors Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo say discussions about Christian doctrine are important, but believers today have gotten away from living out the simple, practical life-teachings of Jesus Christ.
In their newest book, Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? they tackle a number of controversial issues – the Middle East, abortion, national debt, immigration and more – in an attempt to show how Jesus' words could transform modern Christianity and the world.
Both Campolo, 77, and Claiborne, 37, are Red Letter Christians – a movement of people who have shed other Christian titles and are attempting to simply live out the teachings of Jesus, which in some Bibles are printed in red letters. Their book is divided into three sections to discuss what Christians believe, the ways they live, and the social and political implications of "taking Jesus seriously".
"What we've seen is that we've focused a lot on the doctrines of our faith, and not as much on the lifestyles, so that the church has been really good at making believers but not as good at making disciples," Claiborne told The Christian Post on Monday.
Claiborne is a part of The Simple Way, a nonprofit organisation and a community of believers living in the Kensington neighbourhood of Philadelphia. He says Christianity is more than just sharing ideas, but rather a movement of God's love in the world. Jesus Christ spoke of "the real stuff of the world" – orphans, widows, unjust judges, day labourers and more – he says, but Christians often treat the faith as if it were nothing more than a ticket out of this world.
"I heard growing up from my grandmother that a lot of our Christianity is so heavenly-minded that it's no earthly good," he said. "So that's what we're challenging, is a Christianity that it's just a ticket into heaven and a license to ignore the hells of the world around us."
One thing Red Letter Revolution doesn't seek to do, he says, is give all the answers. Young people today are looking for those who can raise the right questions, not just give answers, which is one reason why the book is written in a dialogue format. To write the book, Claiborne and Compolo transcribed several recorded conversations between each other.
"We believe that it's really necessary to have an intergenerational conversation about the changing face of Christianity, and the kind of crisis that, in many ways, we find the church in right now," said Claiborne. "Also, we really believe that we learn not through monologue but through dialogue, and the way that Jesus taught and the way that the disciples learned was always in conversation."
The book challenges some views of both theological conservatives and liberals, which is why Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University and founder and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, hopes readers will approach it with open hearts and minds.
"We hope that they come to the book saying: I'm going to be open and I am not going to impose my values on Jesus. We tried to avoid that so far as we could when we wrote this book," he said.
The 40-year age difference between Campolo and Claiborne, one of his former students, adds a multi-generational perspective to the book. Campolo admits that his generation tried to use politics to create justice, while Claiborne's doesn't think that is possible. The retired professor also says young people today are realising the importance of living in Christian community together, where believers can have everything in common and share their goods with one another beyond Sunday worship services, though he says he missed that opportunity.
"If you're going to live out this radical lifestyle that Jesus prescribes, individualism has to be set aside and we have to learn to live in fellowship and in community with each other," he said.
Though the Red Letter Christian movement is, at least in name, a new trend, both Claiborne and Campolo emphasise the need to stay connected to the universal Church and to its history.
"We make a big point of the fact that there's a place for liturgy, there's a place for connecting ourselves as a church to the long tradition of Christianity. We didn't just invent the Christian faith yesterday; sometimes evangelicals act as though there were no Christians prior to the Reformation," said Campolo.
Instead of coming up with individual solutions to each of the controversies faced by American Christians, the authors suggest some issues would be best addressed through a transition to a more overarching "pro-life" mindset.
"One of the things we suggest is that a lot of times when we use the word 'pro-life' really we just mean anti-abortion," said Claiborne. "And to be pro-life from the womb to the tomb, you know, from the cradle to the grave, affects how we think about the death penalty, immigration, poverty, militarism. And so, absolutely, I think we need to insist as Christians that every human being is made in the image of God ... and to protect every life."
Claiborne added that the grace of Jesus Christ through the cross has not only spiritual but also political ramifications; if Christians believe "no one is beyond redemption," that should impact how they view certain issues, including the death penalty.
One goal of the book, Claiborne said, is to help people who disagree to "disagree well", but at the same time to start seeking answers in the words of Jesus Christ. Campolo noted that Christians often fail to follow the simple way of Jesus, yet there is grace available to them when they fail.
"We don't want to turn Christianity into a new form of legalism. We want it to be a grace-filled faith, but of people who recognise what Jesus did for them on the cross, and in return say, 'We will, in gratitude, do whatever you ask us to do,'" said Campolo.
Red Letter Revolution, which was released last month, is just one of a number of books published by the best-selling authors, including Claiborne's Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical and Campolo's It's Friday but Sunday's Comin'.