Beals, Timothy J. 2009. The Red Letters: The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus.
The Red Letters is a book that reprints the words of Christ and only the words of Christ. Arranged into two parts--the 'sayings' and 'teachings'--the book is unique in many ways. The first section is arranged chronologically; the second section is arranged thematically.
I have extremely mixed feelings on the book. And I hope my review explains just why.
My first thought is what is the agenda? What is the need of this book? Why is it important for Christians to have this book in their library?
I can't say what the intentions were behind this project. I don't know. But my thoughts are that while the sayings and teachings of Christ are important--essential, vital--they are only so in context. Separating out the words of Christ, divorcing them from their context, stripping them from their surroundings...it just doesn't make sense to me. Is reading the four gospels really so difficult for modern readers that we have to give people a shortcut?
Furthermore, this first section in particular, just doesn't make much sense on its own. It's like listening to half of a phone conversation. In many places in Scriptures, Jesus is having a dialogue with people, with individuals. Removing the audience, removing the questions, removing the how, where, when, and why's of his words, they lose context, meaning, and significance.
The truth is...the details matter....the context matter. The gospel as a whole is necessary for people to learn and grow and understand.
If the book is really making the argument that only the red letters matter, why would people read the whole gospel when they can just skim this little volume?
Of course, that is a big if. I don't know if that assumption is true. They could have all the best intentions in the world.
The second section--The Teachings--makes a bit more sense. These are largely the discourses, the sermons, the longer arguments of Jesus. And for the most part, there are enough verses linked together that there is some context--greater context than you'll find in the first section. And because they are arranged thematically, it works in a way. If you want to know what Jesus has to say about this or that...then this book could prove useful to you.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16)Product description from the publisher:
A groundbreaking book that allows Jesus to speak for himself, presenting his own topically arranged words from the Gospels—but without any human commentary—so that people may hear the foundational message of Christianity from him personally.
A groundbreaking book that presents Jesus’ own words from the Gospels, topically arranged but without any commentary, so that people may hear his message in his terms.There's just something about that description that makes me hesitate. Something that makes me think that they didn't quite realize how it sounded. Because it sounds like they are saying that the black letters, the words that ground the red letters--that provide necessary context and holy narrative--are human commentary. And I'm sure that's not quite what they meant. Or maybe it was. Who knows? I can understand the position, the philosophy, that human commentary can sometimes get in the way. That it is good--healthy, even--for readers to come into the Bible without human commentary intruding in on the experience. But that is what text-only Bibles are for. A text only Bible will give readers the whole truth, the whole and Holy Word of God, minus of human commentary. The Bible is God-breathed. These words--all of these words--are God's. All are important. All are essential. All are sacred.
While the entire Gospel narrative is essential to Christian theology, Jesus’ own words distinctively teach us how to live and how faith makes a difference in one’s life. The Red Letters gives a clear overview of Christianity’s foundational message in a unique way: allowing Jesus to speak for himself, without any human commentary.
This groundbreaking book simply includes all of Jesus’ words from the Gospels, arranged by topic and rendered in the ESV translation. Jesus’ own words. Nothing more, nothing less. For everyone who would like to rediscover the heart of Christianity—or perhaps discover it for the first time—as Jesus Christ himself communicated it.
Yes, the red letters representing the sayings and teachings of Christ are important. But equally important are the surrounding black letters. How can you really and truly appreciate these 'red letters' if they're taken out of context and scrambled here, there, and everywhere.
I'm a big advocate that people should read and study and embrace the Words of Christ. But what people need to be reading are the gospels as a whole, the Bible as a whole. Not just the red letters.