Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Jesus was a "Liberal"

This was quoted to me by a good friend, and, of course, I agree with the statement up to a point. However, I think it is imperative, if we are going to call Jesus a "liberal", as some would even call Him a "Republican" or a "Democrat", that we define our terminology. It is easy to say that Jesus was "a liberal"..or even that Jesus was liberal, but what do we really mean? What does the conservative mean by the term "liberal" or "liberalism" and what does the liberal mean when he uses the term? In my previous post concerning J Gresham Machen he writes, "In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called "modernism" or "liberalism." Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter, in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as "liberalism" is regarded as "liberal" only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts." (Christianity and Liberalism, 1923)

Machen, in this book, immediately lays out a dichotomy of understanding between friends and opponents of "modernism or liberalism" which, I believe, continues to this day. Therefore I think it behooves us to lay out some definitions to see if my liberal friend and I can agree on whether Jesus was really a "liberal". The "liberalism" about which I speak is not to be confused with political liberalism or left wing vs right wing politics. The liberalism we are concerned with here would best be described as Christian Liberalism, if that is not really an oxymoron, that is. And, by the way, there are some that would deem it just that, an oxymoron. (e.g., an evil good person) Ok, so let’s get down to definitions. What, exactly, is Christian Liberalism?

Let’s take a look at Wikipedia : "Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically informed religious movements and moods within late 18th, 19th and 20th century Christianity. The style of scriptural hermeneutics within liberal theology is often characterized as non-propositional. This means that the Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements but instead documents the human authors' beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing—within an historic/cultural context. Liberal Christianity looks upon the Bible as a collection of narratives that explain, epitomize, or symbolize the essence and significance of Christian understanding. Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings." (selected portions)

So, if you’ve read that previous paragraph closely, what it all seems to boil down to is a question of hermeneutics. In other words, the major difference between Liberal Christianity and Conservative Christianity lies in the method of scriptural interpretation. (hermeneutics) According to the above definition, Liberal Christianity is "philosophically informed, non-propositional, individualistic in its hermeneutic, and is characterized by its view of the Bible". So...what, then, is Conservative Christianity? Basically, just the opposite! Conservative Christianity is: divinely informed (scripture interprets scripture), holds to propositional truth (truth may be deduced logically from scripture within certain limits), and this truth is objective truth, not subjective or individualistic, and finally, the Scriptures are held in the highest regard. ( inerrant in all parts, in the autographa ) Both definitions certainly do not exhaust all the various nuances of each group and all the various sub-groups under each umbrella. In my humble opinion, scripture teaches Conservative Christianity, sola gratia along with four other SOLAS! We can explore that statement in a subsequent post.

Back to the original question. Is my friend correct when he says that Jesus was a "Liberal"? In view of the above, I believe that my friend had in mind the political view of liberalism. Political liberalism is identified as a concern for the common man, the downtrodden, the worker, etc. So...yes, in that sense Jesus was a "liberal". However, I think that I could just as easily make the claim that Jesus was, politically, a "Conservative", especially in His claims of exclusivity and in many other areas. However, Christians, I believe, are to be defined theologically and certainly not politically. "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." John 18:36 Please don’t mis-understand. I do not mean to imply that, as Christians, we are to meekly bow out of the political struggles in which we find ourselves. Rendering to Caesar, as Jesus admonished, in our form of government, means involvement.

And, rather than defining our Lord in any 21st century political fashion, whether from the right or the left, my friend and I will both agree that our predecessors and friends from a bygone era did a masterful job in the year 451 AD: "The Chalcedonian Creed":

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

In view of all the above, my good friend and I will certainly disagree in many areas; however, I am sure our 59 year friendship will continue to flourish, as brothers in Christ.


Ed of Lost and Found said...

I know that when it comes to morals and ethics we are very close, politically not quite so close. Theologically a wider split yet, but we both love Love our Lord. What gets to me what ever the label, liberal or conservative, is the "Yeah But Syndrome", which comes into play as our leaders or we ourselves decide who is eligible for a quick reference back to the philosophy that Jesus taught. Let the Holy Spirit bring pictures to your mind if you can be in a receptive and humble attitude of meditation. Jesus taught us how to treat others whether they be aggressive, disagreeable, or unlovely and poor. It's hard to do this if we are going to be tagged unpatriotic or liberal. We would hear, "Yeah But" He didn't mean when it was like this, or He didn't mean if it was to our discomfort. It must be alright to kill thousands of innocent, or ignore the suffering of thousands if they won't fall in line with our political way of doing things. I am uncomfortable with this line of thought. Our Christian leaders are asleep, being content to ponder lesser worries that won't give them a label that is hard to wear. We need to worry about the label that our Lord might be ready to pin on us if our judgement day comes, did we feed Him when He was hungry, or clothe Him when He was naked?

Dave Van said...

It is a testimony to the Grace of God that a Christian Liberal and a Christian Conservative, as well as a Political Liberal and a Political Conservative can be friends for 59 years. How is that possible? Must be the Grace of God. Praise be to God for good friends!