CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith For the Years of Winter…
RED WORD AND BLACK WORD CHRISTIANS [Sat 1-27-18]
[A reprint from 3-24-11. On that date, I used the title CHRIST-IANS AND BIBLIANS]]
Recently I heard an Assemblies of God pastor from Louisville interviewed on TV. The occasion was an upcoming Sunday at his church called, if I remember correctly, “Open Carry Sunday,” for which people were invited to bring their loaded guns [yes, loaded was specified] to church. The invitation poster shown on TV had several phrases like “They won’t take our guns away.”
The interviewer asked if this were not contrary to Christian theology. The pastor replied in a quite reasonable way along these lines: Pacifism is not the only Christian tradition. For instance, “turn the other cheek” might be more a matter of dealing with dishonor than with personal protection. We believe in the whole Bible, the Old Testament as well as the New. We believe that God covenanted in this way.
Then he said specifically, “We do not live by the red words alone.”
The red words, of course, are the words of Jesus in the red-letter editions of the New Testament.
We notice first the end result of the difference between Christians called “conservative” or “evangelical” and those called “liberal” or “progressive”—a 90 to 180 degree difference on social concerns such as abortion, homosexuality, guns, taxes-economy, poverty, AIDS, war, torture. How can people who read the same Bible and claim the same Christ come to such different conclusions?
The answer, I think, is that we do not claim the same Christ. Most conservative Christians are really not Christ-ians; they are Biblians. Christ-ians believe in Christ as the full and only necessary revelation of God, continued through the Holy Spirit. Biblians believe in the Bible as the full and only necessary revelation of God.
Biblians believe that the “black” words of the Bible have equal revelatory quality with the “red” words.
This is not new, of course.  Many churches have advertised themselves for a long time as “Full Bible” churches, meaning the black words have equal weight with the red words. It is what Hans Frei referred to as “the eclipse of Biblical narrative.”
Biblians are basically anti-narrative. There is no movement in the Bible, except in claiming that Christianity has superseded Judaism. Jerry Falwell used to say that “Jesus wrote every word of the Bible.” That means that it is not God’s story book, a narrative culminating in the ministry of Jesus and the resurrection of Christ, but God’s rule book, where any rule at any point in the book has the same weight as any other rule. “Destroy all the inhabitants of that place” is equal to “Love your neighbor.”
When Martin Luther first proclaimed “scripture only” as the guide for Christians, he specifically disavowed creating a “paper pope.” He wanted NO pope, no overlord authority. That’s why he proclaimed “the priesthood of all believers.” Any Christian was on equal footing with the priests in interpreting Scripture. The purpose of the Bible was not to replace the pope and the priests as overlords for Christians—replace the Roman pope with a paper pope--but to allow every Christian a place in the ongoing story of God’s salvation, guided by God’s Holy Spirit.
Christianity and Biblianity are two different faiths.
Biblians are somewhere between Jews and Christians, trying to live by both Jewish Law and Christian grace, by black words and red words equally.  That’s really quite impossible unless you have an “ex cathedra” authoritarian pope of some kind that cuts off discussion, like the bumper sticker I used to see, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”
I am sure, however, that Biblians will never call themselves that. They, of course, have every right to call themselves Christians, but I would like to be able to distinguish myself from that sort of Christianity. I guess I’ll just have to say that I am a red word Christian.
1] The growing and now huge chasm between Christians called “conservative” or “evangelical” and those called first “mainline” and more recently “liberal” or “progressive” started with the “fundamentalist-modernist” controversy of the 1920s, featuring most prominently J. Gresham Machen for the Fundamentalists vs. Harry Emerson Fosdick for the liberals.
2] Like when the Cubs had [Mark] Grace playing first base and [Vance] Law playing third. You can’t win if you are caught between Grace and Law.