Monday, January 26, 2009

Book Review: The Red Letters

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 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.

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.
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.

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.


R.J. Anderson said...

Amen. :)

Heather said...

really well put Becky.

ANovelMenagerie said...

Becky... I gave you a little blog award that is posting on Wednesday!

I appreciate your site!

Amy said...

This sounds like it comes out of the current thinking that all that matter are the words of's so strange to me, because we only know to follow Jesus from what we read in the Bible...ah the constant tension!!

Beauty said...

Oh my soul!!!!
I have had this tremendous drawing to read only the words of Jesus for the past few days. I have been looking online today for hoursssssss!
and just about gave up until I came to this site.
I totally agree with what you wrote about the mixed feelings on writing this book.
I love reading the whole bible, yet for some reason Holy Spirit is drawing me to focus on just Jesus' words right now. It seems to be of utmost importance.
So thank you for writing it. I am purchasing it today!

Beauty said...

I have been desiring a book on only the words of Jesus for days now. This morning I just had to go on line to find one. I have been searching for hours. I just about gave up, then somehow I came to this website!

I love what you wrote about the mixed feeling you have in writing it. I totally agree. I don't understand why Holy Spirit is drawing me to read only Jesus' words, yet I know I have to. I love the whole word of God BIG TIME....yet the drawing to read only Jesus' words is tremendous!

Thank you so much!

Resist4Justice said...

Gentle Reader:

This blog post is a review of the book. This is not the author's website. If you purchase the book you will not be purchasing a book by the author of this blog or this review.

I have no association with the book, its author, this blog, or the author of this review.

I hope my comment doesn't come across as spam, since this blog entry is on topic. Intentionally, I will include no link.

I am half of Justice Words Publishing. We have one product, the "Just His Words" red letters reference book.

No more, no less. No commentary or suggestive re-arranging. Merely a reference book, containing all of and only the spoken words of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the 1611 King James Version of the Bible (because the KJV is the most widely published book in the world, and the most used Bible in the world.)

People with many beliefs and none might find such a reference book useful, just as some people who are recorded in the Bible as having heard him speak these words found them compelling enough to want to get to know more about the source.

In "Just His Words" every quote is referenced back to the Bible. They are presented in exact Biblical order.

Our idea behind "Just His Words" is not to replace Bible reading, and each book says that, although reading "Just His Words" can easily be seen as a gateway to more Bible reading.

I have not read the book reviewed here.

I agree with the author of this review. Interpretations and presentations of just the words of Jesus can easily be mis-interpreted.

At "Just His Words" we'll never have anywhere near enough understanding or knowledge of the Bible to believe we can start interpreting any of it for anyone.

We made this book because we wanted a quick reference to these words without having to deal with anyone's interpretation, and there was no such thing. Besides ours, there still isn't.

Bible editions without red letters make it difficult to locate what Jesus said, as reported by the people around him.

The red in "red letter" editions is not dependably readable, and there is quite a lot of material, spread throughout the New Testament.