Thursday, January 06, 2005

What is a 'liberal' Christian?

Some can already find this tidbit in a few places around the net. It can be found in one form at Xn and another at Chuck Currie's blog. But here it is again for those who've never been to either of these places and have no intention of ever visiting:

The definition of 'liberal' from Webster's dictionary reads as follows: "broadminded, tolerant, not bound by authoritarinism, orthodoxy or traditional forms."Some labeling themselves as 'liberal' Christians (and some who wish to impugn 'liberal' Christians) cite especially the first two: broadminded and tolerant, and seek to justify the holding of all points of view as equal and good. Furthermore, the phrase 'like Jesus' is tacked on to give it more authority. So 'liberal' Christians claim to be 'broadminded and tolerant like Jesus.'

Then Jesus himself throws a monkeywrench into this whole thing by going after the Pharisees and some of their practices. 'A brood of vipers' and 'whitewashed tombs,' he calls them. So Jesus is suddenly less broadminded and tolerant than some may think.

So what WAS Jesus broadminded and tolerant about?

Well, this is the answer I've come up with so far: People, to be sure. Jesus loved people of all walks of life: lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, those physically afflicted, and even the rich (one Gospel account of Jesus' encounter with a rich young ruler says he "looked on him and loved him"). So he was broad-minded about people.

Was he broad-minded about beliefs? He doesn't seem, at least in the synoptics, to be that overly concerned. John, on the other hand, has him saying "believe in me" at every turn. A few basics, of course, are lifted up such as belief in God, certain beliefs about the law or the kingdom, and whatnot, along with his asking, I believe in all three synoptics, "Who do you say that I am?" But he doesn't spend a whole lot of time (if any) with a lot of specific doctrines or systematics.

So for sure we have one thing Jesus was definitely broad-minded about, with a second up for dispute. A third, practice, is something that he was NOT as broad-minded about. He condemned practices such as false piety, shunning the poor, and not loving one's neighbor (the basic reasons for yelling at the Pharisees).

So if one says that one is broad-minded just like Jesus, one can for certain say that one is broad-minded about people, perhaps less so about beliefs (this is the one I'm still wrestling with), and as a result of being broad-minded about people, much less so about practices that affect others.


Paige said...

Oh no! You did it! :)

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the blogosphere Jeff! Forgive me, I'm going to jump in with two feet and really get your readers stirred up... :)

I guess to consider these statements about liberal Christians, we need to equate broadminded and tolerant as synonyms to love. Jesus' embrace of lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors... "even the rich" was not driven by His broadmindedness and tolerance, but rather by His love.

I believe these are VERY different things.

Consider John 8:1-18...

You have three parties involved: Jesus, the adulturess and the self-righteous Pharisees and teachers looking to stone her.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus accepts lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors and the like with love, but each of these people then repent of their sinful ways and follow Him. Jesus says "go now and leave your life of sin."

As Christians, we have no place in judging others, because we all sin. However, many liberal Christians point to conservative Christians as those Pharisees... self-righteous people ignorant of the plank in their own eye. For many that is an accurate description.

However liberal Christians also tend to confuse Jesus' love for sinners with a fictional tolerance for sin... when those stones hit the ground, the sermon ends, and we forget Jesus' important command in verse 11.

In my humble opinion, the UCC (in its television commercial that practically advocates a homosexual lifestyle) goes out of its way parading broadmindedness and tolerance, and inadvertently spits in the face of Jesus' gentle but clear command to repent.

At what point does the homosexual couple in the commercial hear Jesus' words "Go now and leave your life of sin?"

JH - Former "HOG"

Jeff Nelson said...

Welcome to my new corner of the 'net, 'JH.' Long time, no see.:)

First off, I completely agree with your observation that Jesus was driven by something deeper than 'tolerance,' which all too often can sound flimsy. Love is what drove Jesus, which suggests a deeper, more genuine interaction with and concern for all those with whom he interacted. 'Love one another as I have loved you.' This is the version of the command to love that we hear in John.

To stir the pot even more (and I wonder if you saw this coming in some form), the life of sin that I see Jesus calling homosexuals away from (as he does all of us) is that of promiscuity, that is, casual relations that treat the other participant as an object, a means to an end, or someone to lord power over in some manner. This is the 'lifestyle' they are called away from.

The Biblical writers were not aware of the concept of 'homosexuality' that we know today. There WERE same-sex acts that took place, such as rape in order to assert authority (the actual sin attempted by the men of Sodom), or as part of apprenticeships in Greek culture. But to have mutually loving couples walking around (and let's assume the best about the couple in the commercial) would have been a strange thing indeed.

The more general truth, I think, to which you seem to point is the brand of 'liberal' Christianity that comes off all too often as 'I'm O.K., you're O.K.,' which was a position I used to be more sympathetic toward but have become increasingly dissatisfied with. An alcoholic who beats his wife is not O.K. A man who sexually molests his daughter is not O.K. A woman who slowly erodes her family's life savings at the local casino is not O.K. To 'tolerate' these situations (obviously) would be very destructive AND sinful. To love these people enough to get them help is what Jesus calls us to do.

P.S., my 'even the rich' comment was actually a reaction to another 'liberal' Christian belief (at least as it can sometimes manifest itself), that rich people, by virtue of their being rich, automatically have less stature in the eyes of God. I beg to differ. Rich people who hoard their money for themselves with no consideration for the poor, in effect making money their god, are those for whom Jesus had some harsh words. It made more sense in the other contexts in which the statement was published, at least to me.:)

Anonymous said...

The "I'm OK, you're OK" ideaology is expressed in a song you might be interested in hearing, though it doesn't have drums.

Check out the lyrics to Lost and Found's song "Strong Feelings."

Jeff Nelson said...

I've heard good things about Lost and Found. Thanks for the link.