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.