Benjamin L. Corey is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering The Radical Message of Jesus, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and (ironically) a forthcoming book called American Heresy.
He has also put a new(ish) twist on Red Letter Christianity. He does not want to live biblically; he wants to follow Jesus. He writes at Patheos:
Now, don’t mistake what I’m about to say– I am a Christian. A committed, devoted Christian– and I have been for more years of my life than I have not been.
But… and here’s the kicker: I’m not interested in having a “biblical worldview” or even in following the Bible.
This isn’t to say I don’t love the Bible; I do. I believe the Bible is “inspired” and “useful” just as the New Testament claims.
It’s just that the Christian life is not about developing a “biblical” worldview or following the Bible– the Christian life is all about Jesus. And, I have to be honest: those two things don’t always align in harmony.
The Bible is a collection of 66 books written over wide spans of time, from a variety of different cultures, and penned by a wide array of people– from kings and death row inmates. One can find many different ethics, examples, and world-views, all of which could be rightly considered “biblical.” However, the fact they may be “biblical” doesn’t mean they line up with the teachings and example of Jesus.
We do not follow the “biblical” laws that commanded stoning people to death, burning people alive, condoned slavery, or that commanded sacrificing animals to God. We follow Jesus– the one who taught us that if we are not without sin we’d better put that stone down, that we are to love our neighbors as ourself, and that God doesn’t desire sacrifice at all.
We do not embrace the “biblical” teaching of the author of Ecclesiastes who wrote that all of life is “completely meaningless,” but instead we look to Jesus as an example of all that God is doing in the human story, and how we are invited to participate in that narrative of beauty, purpose, and direction.
He goes on and says the goal was never to follow the Bible but to follow Jesus.
I first I need to define what “progressive Christians” like Corey, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, and others mean by “Red Letter Christian.” Campolo says it means “(t)o take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.”
All the red letters in your Bible (words Jesus spoke) are important, but Matthew 5-7 is most important!
Essentially this is the thrust of what Corey is getting at here. He wants to follow Jesus, and most of the Bible is irrelevant to that endeavor.
I am just going to borrow, in part, from my response to Campolo’s Red Letter Christian claims because my answer is much the same.
Now, what did Jesus have to say about the Bible? Straight from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Himself said he did not come to abolish the law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them, (Matthew 5:17).
The Law and Prophets, you know, what Corey deems irrelevant.
Jesus also said, “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished,” (Matthew 5:18, ESV).
He goes even further, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:19a, ESV).
Now there can be several ways of looking at this passage, especially regarding dietary restrictions, but one has also to remember those particular laws were given to the Jewish people, not gentiles. The main takeaway here is that to be considered righteous you must perfectly follow the law which is an impossible task.
The law is not relaxed, the penalty for not following it is the same – death, and in our case, it would be spiritual death. The law still condemns us today as it would have at the time it was given. The thing that has changed is that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our not following the law. We cannot follow the law perfectly, but Jesus was without sin and could.
We also need to remember that the Law was a “shadow” of what Jesus was to bring, (Hebrews 10:1).
The point is that Jesus Himself did not deemphasize the Old Testament. He is the purpose of it.
Scripture also states that all scripture is God-breathed, meaning God-inspired, (2 Timothy 3:16). Corey seems to want to disregard what God inspired the apostle Peter to write, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Peter 1:20b-21, ESV).
Also, we read, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).
We then also read in James, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing,” (James 1:22-24, ESV).
The Bible itself does not get in the way of following Jesus. Poor theology can, improper application of scriptural truth can, but to follow Jesus, it is necessary to read, study, know, and apply the Bible. In the Bible, we see who Jesus is, what He has done for us, and who we are in Christ. It is the Bible that reveals Jesus. We cannot more fully know or follow Jesus without the Bible. We cannot possibly understand our need for the Gospel apart from the law.
To say otherwise is just nonsense. Following Jesus and having and living a Biblical worldview do not conflict with one another. They are one in the same.
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