Review of Red Letter Revolution

Meet the Authors

Shane Claiborne is a founder of The Simple Way, a New Monastic community in inner city Philadelphia that has helped to birth and connect radical faith communities around the world.  He “writes and travels extensively speaking about peacemaking, social justice, and Jesus.”  Claiborne is the co-author of several previous books, including The Irresistible Revolution (2006 with Jim Wallis), Jesus for President (2008 with Chris Haw) and Common Prayer (2010 with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro – my review).

Tony Campolo is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University, and founder and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education.  He speaks more than 300 times a year, blogs at, and is the author of more than thirty-five books including Love Not Power (2010),  Stories That Feed Your Soul (2010); Red Letter Christians, A Citizen’s Guide to Faith and Politics (2008), and Letters to a Young Evangelical (2006).

Book Basics

Red Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said? is written as a conversation between Campolo (b.1935) and Claiborne (b.1975) about what it means to be Evangelical when one takes seriously the words of Jesus as recorded in the biblical text.  The book’s twenty-six chapters are divided into three substantive “Red Letter” sections (theology, living and world) that embody a more progressive form of Evangelicalism than that of the mainstream with its perceived allegiance to the Republican Party.  Nonetheless, the positions espoused on many issues are traditional and conservative including: (1) Campolo on salvation: “I know that Jesus is the only way of salvation” (p.63) and (2) Claiborne on being pro-life: “As Red Letter Christians, we need to be pro-life from the womb to the tomb” (p.85).  Together they predict a future for Red Letter Christians that will grow as a result of a “hunger for this kind of Christianity,” will become more active in social justice, and will participate more in the spiritual disciplines (p.256-257).

Overall, Red Letter Revolution is an important read for those seeking to understand what it means to be Evangelical without being tied to the Republican Party.  With the configuration of many chapters, one can easily infer that the elder academic activist Campolo is passing the torch to the much younger experiential activist Claiborne.  Both men exhibit an intentionally narrow focus on the so-called words of Jesus that unfortunately blinds them to much of the wisdom of the early Christian tradition, including words written decades before the gospels.

So What?

Many modern print editions of the Bible offer “red letter editions” in which the words attributed to Jesus are printed with red ink while all other words are printed with black ink.  The very existence of these Bibles suggests a widespread acceptance for the significance of words placed in Jesus’ mouth by the biblical authors.

  • How have the red letter words in the Bible shaped your own faith?
  • What interpretative framework or guiding principles do you use when considering these words alongside others in the biblical text?


Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo.  Red Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said?  (Thomas Nelson, 2012).  ISBN: 9781400204182.

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