Red Letter Year: Introduction

Red Letter Year


At the church I pastor, we’ve been moving toward a centered set approach (you can learn more about that here). Last Sunday I preached about the two concerns of this approach: direction and proximity — are you moving toward Jesus and how close to Jesus are you (you can listen to that sermon here). Using Peter as an example, I stressed the importance of giving attention to this, no matter how long you’ve been a Christian, making an effort to be Jesus-oriented is a good, necessary thing. I also offered some practical suggestions for going about this.

One of those suggestions was to commit to studying the Bible. New Year’s is a good time to start a reading plan and there are many read-the-Bible-in-a-year strategies. Those are great, but it is a lot of reading (especially if you have a busy life) each day, so even if you manage it, I’m not sure how much retention you can expect, or how much you will get to reflect on each reading. Then it occurred to me (the way it usually does when the Spirit nudges me with a too-clever-to-have-come-from-me idea), if we want to focus on Jesus, we could slow down and take the whole year to read the Gospels. Which is what we’re going to do right here on this blog – we’re going to have a Red Letter Year (you know, how some Bibles put the words of Jesus in red).

A few things to note:

  1. I am going to post a reading on this blog every weekday, Monday through Friday. (Gives you the weekend to catch up if you need to).
  2. My hope is less reading will lead to more thinking. Read it slow, read it more than once, try to visualize the scenes. Read it out loud. Let it sink in.
  3. We will read each of the four Gospels in full (so the red letter name is a bit of a misnomer). There are approaches that lump the Gospels (at least Matthew, Mark, and Luke) together, since they do share many of the same stories. I don’t prefer that because each Gospel writer tells the story in a unique way (even for all the verbatim language) by ordering things differently. I think our approach here will enable us to better appreciate the nuances each writer brings to the table (there are good reasons why we have four Gospels and not just one).
  4. We are going to read them in the order they were (likely) written to further help us appreciate the editorial choices they made. It is my considered opinion that Mark was the first one written (likely Peter’s account set down by John Mark who was traveling with Peter). Matthew had a copy of Mark and used it to write his Gospel, adding material not found in Mark. Then Luke used both Mark and Matthew in writing his account. Everyone agrees John was written last, his is so different he may not have ever seen the other three (though I personally think maybe he did and his nearly unique account was a deliberate choice). Not everyone agrees with this theory, but it makes the most sense to me, so that’s what we’ll be doing here. (If you so desire, you can study this issue in more depth here.)
  5. For the most part (at least for now, I may change my mind later, and maybe many times) we are going to use the NLT translation. I went back and forth about this, trying to choose the “best” translation for this project, or debating about using different ones on different days. The NLT gives the clearest English meaning (in most cases) and being consistent will probably be better than changing tone/tenor randomly. But, I reserve the right to amend any reading if I think the NLT has failed to get the Greek meaning across. If I do that, I will make a note of it.
  6. I will post comments with the daily reading, but these will be clearly separated and I will do my best to keep the comments to a minimum and focused on the reading, not something I’m on about at the time. Comments will be open for each reading as well, if something occurs to you that you want to share, please do so.
  7. I am doing this primarily for the benefit of the folks at my church, the Wake Forest Vineyard, but of course everyone is welcome to join us in reading and commenting. The more of us that have a Red Letter Year, the merrier!