Talking ’bout the Revolution: a book review

A friend suggested I review Red Letter Revolution, and I happily complied. Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo are two  authors who have impacted me in significant ways. I’ve heard both speak at various conferences and Tony Campolo was instrumental in my wife and I deciding to give a year of our life to serve the urban poor (which turned into two years and a life long change in priorities). I read Shane’s first book while working with homeless in Miami and  was challenged and inspired by his journey (and impressed by his graciousness to places like Willow Creek).

The Red Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said? by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo

This book records a dialogue between Claiborne and Campolo. These two men are in many ways kindred spirits. Campolo taught Claiborne at Eastern University. Both men challenge the evangelical church to take the gospel seriously and take radical stances. Campolo is considered a provocateur by older evangelicals because he is a democrat. Claiborne is some what of a ‘radical’ because he makes his own clothes and lives in intentional community.  Yet both men have a concern for justice, peace, care for the poor, and reconciliation. In twenty six chapters their conversation covers a number of topics under the broad headings of “Red Letter Theology,” “Red Letter Living,” and “Red Letter World.”

So what is this “red letter revolution?” Campolo and Claiborne are part of a movement which seek to pay close attention to the ‘red letters’ of the bible–that is, the words of Christ. The accusation may be leveled at them that they are promoting a limited canon (or a canon within a canon), but they are careful to say early on in this book that they take all of scripture as God breathed. They just regard Christ and his words with central importance. Other Evangelicals share this Christological focus and I think it is appropriate.

I happen to agree with many of the convictions which the authors present, such as as suspicion about ’empire, the need to be counter-cultural, and a commitment to a consistant pro-life ethic which encompasses from the womb to the tomb. However the limitations of this book is its breadth. Campolo and Claiborne discuss world politics, racism, sexism, several hot-button issues, hell, other religions, the global church, the middle East,  Missions, Reconcilation and more. The problem with this book is not that the authors do not have great things to say (they do). The problem is that their desire to cover so many topics means that they do not give adequate space to any one topic. What is said here, is said thoughtfully, but I was hungry for more.

On the other hand the graciousness of their dialogue is commendable. Of course they  share mutual respect for one another (this book is a dialogue not a debate), but they are also gracious in their discussion of other Christians and church movements.  Given their convictions you would expect to hear points of critique and you do, but in this book they more often shine a light on what they see is good.

That being said, Campolo and Claiborne both address all of these issues more fully in other publications. Also the authors spend more time discussing their convictions on a range of topics than engaging the gospel. The title and subtitle suggest a little more biblical engagement to me than I read here. Still I think it is a worthwhile read.   These are thoughtful Christian thinkers/activists who are serious about living the kind of life they see Jesus calling us to. I give it 3 stars ★★★☆☆

I received this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for this honest review.

Published by


I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

One thought on “Talking ’bout the Revolution: a book review”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.