So is Jesus a Conservative or a Liberal… Because I wanna be on His side!

The following is a paper I wrote for my Biblical Interpretations class at Providence University-College.

 

“In the words of Jesus: “Split off into groups, love your group as yourself and point fingers at all others; this is what it means to be a Christian… Not.” 

What would Christianity look like if people truly followed Jesus? This is really the question at hand. In our day and age there is this division between liberals and conservatives but rather than seeing who is right and who is wrong we need to start by asking ourselves, “what does following Jesus truly look like?”

 “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn. 17:23). The world will know we are His by our love for one another. I must begin by saying, both so-called liberals and conservatives, above all things, must learn to love one another! This means getting to know each other, giving each other’s thoughts the time of day and forgiving one another. Unfortunately what happens is that we don’t obey this fundamental command to love one another but rather we retreat to our peer groups where we can all agree together that the other side is wrong. It is this kind of groupthink that solidifies the division. “I can disagree, but I can really disagree if ten other people disagree alongside me!” Jesus calls us not to fight one another, but to fight the real enemy. If only we knew how much damage we are creating by refusing to love!

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Yet, here we are with our conservative-liberal split: two obviously different ways to go about interpreting and applying the Bible in our lives. We all fit somewhere on the spectrum whether we classify ourselves or someone else labels us. What tends to happen with this division however is that people get polarized, becoming more and more like the extreme if they wish to really “own” their title. A caricatured conservative will strive to gain a better knowledge of the rules and how everyone should obey them; liberals will strive to reinvent the Christian faith with endless “new perspectives.” These two philosophies represent two truths that have been grossly skewed: the conservative has taken the pharisaic torch and made the Law what it was never meant to be and the liberal has taken freedom in Christ and run off into the distance, away from the cross.[1]

Though we may be tempted when looking at extreme examples to say “Wow, that is so wrong,” we should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. As one will realize, there is truth to both of these views, what we must do is reclaim them for proper use, brushing off the lies that have been heaped upon them. We should never make the mistake of seeing faults in a particular view and then completely disregarding it like it is 100% wrong. Maybe it’s 50% wrong? Maybe we aren’t 100% right? After all, if we had all the answers, we would be God, and we’re just not smart enough to be God… at least I amen’t.

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So then what do we say to the conservative who believes the Bible is a black and white rulebook? What do we say to the liberal who thinks the Bible is an interesting read capable of bending in any direction you’d like it to? In these particular situations, I believe it is appropriate to use the “What would Jesus do?” line. When asked by the rich young ruler about what it would take to get to heaven, Jesus did not throw out the scriptures and explain how every road ultimately leads to God as long as one finds ambiguous “truth,” nor did He give Him a moral checklist (Mark 10:17-22). What Jesus did do, was redefine the question. The rich young ruler was looking at the Ten Commandments through the lens of the Pharisees: a casuistic law where if I do x, y, z then I inherit eternal life. What Jesus was doing by making the rules more extreme was changing our perspective on them from casuistic rules to apodictic commands, or goals to aim at. [2] In other words, Jesus wasn’t just saying “obey the command in order that you might inherit eternal life,” but rather, “become the type of person that does not murder, by following Me.” This is a huge difference. The emphasis was not on the Law; it was on relationship with Jesus first and foremost. The transformation of character is thus a result of a relationship with a person rather than with a rulebook.

What we see in Jesus’ example is neither the typical conservative way nor the typical liberal way. We see Jesus, not treating the obedience to a rulebook as the ultimate end. Neither do we see Him throwing the Law out the window either, suggesting that Christian life can look any way you want it depending on your own unique interpretation of Scripture. What we do see is Jesus elevating the Law and then asking us to follow Him. There is solid truth and answers, but it does not come in the shape of a checklist, it comes through a man.

Jesus is the embodiment of truth, and he cannot be classified within any spectrum. He is the truth we seek for from our spectrum positions. Jesus cannot therefore be put in a box and claimed to be on “our team,” when the common denominator between all of us, conservatives and liberals alike, is the fact that we all have it a little bit wrong. What we should be able to agree upon is our fallibility, and then in humility, search for truth in our loving, and united church body (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10).

What I would like to suggest is that there is a type of middle ground on the conservative-liberal spectrum and it has to do with the way in which we view Scripture. The Scripture is the living Word of God. If this is true, and if we meditate on this for just a few minutes, conservatives might realize that what was true for your grandparents may or may not be true for you. “Heretical teaching!” one might say, but Jesus taught the same thing. Going back to rich young ruler, we see that Jesus asked Him to give away all his material possessions. Now, did Jesus, ask this of all His followers? No, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). What we see is that the Word of God, is able to affect you differently based on the thoughts and intentions of your heart. The word will intentionally have a different effect from one individual to another, it was meant to do that! After all, let’s not forget to realize that we are all part of the Body of Christ, living as different body parts. Naturally, different parts will receive different signals from the Head! Now it all makes sense…

Once again, we must be careful here and realize that this can be taken too far. “Hey, this is the signal the Head gave me, don’t judge,” a liberal might say to his conservative friend. While we cannot perceive the intents of the heart of others, we can measure their outward actions up to the Law. Christ does not ask us to do things, which are outside of God’s commands. He will not ask me to disown my family or leave my wife for another lady, this is contrary to His word and He is not a God of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). While the conservatives tend to go a bit too hard on the Law thing, liberals must realize that there is a Law for a reason and the world’s idea of moral relativism is in complete contradiction to the Word of God. There needs to be a solid foundation for our belief system, otherwise we are building our houses on the sand (Matt. 7:24-27). While we should see variations of application to biblical truth, we need to realize that all authentic Christian living stems from the one true foundation, our Rock, Jesus Christ. What the extreme liberal who believes the Bible to be a nice book with neat lessons should realize is that the Bible is the story of God’s restorative work in the world with a very simple lesson: follow Jesus. This world has a way of complicating things but at the end of the day, the simple Gospel message can be understood by toddlers, it is not something that may or may not be true, it is the very foundation of the Christian faith. To deny this, one is by definition to not following Jesus.

Now what we are left with is the conservative who gives himself very few options, while the liberal has given himself too many of them. We should celebrate diversity yet when this freedom exceeds the scope of the gospel message, we’ve gone too far. Now while we thank God for the simplicity of the gospel message, we can’t kid ourselves, we humans are complicated! Therefore, when it comes to human application, let’s not assume moral formulas will work as a blanket answer to every individual we ever come across. This is where the confusion takes place for conservatives who love straightforward and simple answers for all of life’s complex problems. God is simple and ordered but humans are complicated, messy and living in chaos. We need to realize that life’s chaotic situations take more than a just citing scripture verses at people. People’s problems require communication with the Word of God, not citation. What I mean by this is that we must go to the living God in order that we might receive the living Word for any one situation. Now this is often times a simple procedure: when someone asks you if murder is okay, we don’t need to spend hours in prayer and communication with God to give them an answer, His word is very clear on the issue. What liberals should note from this example is that there is a definite right answer, and there are many definite wrong answers. It is simply a matter of seeking Jesus in all things. Picketing with “God hates homosexuals” signs doesn’t happen when Jesus is consulted, for example.

Humans in general have a tendency of grossly misunderstanding who the Creator of the universe is. The book of Job teaches us that life is complicated sometimes and doesn’t humanly make sense. Paul tells us that we see now through a glass dimly. If anything, there is a need for humility when we tread through the tough issues. In life, we won’t see the whole picture and on top of that it’s a blurry view (1 Cor. 13:9)! How can I translate the beauty and loveliness of God’s Law to an unbeliever when I personally can’t read the fine print through my own foggy glasses? Love is the answer, this above all things in Scripture is loud and clear and shown to us through Jesus Christ. Though we will never figure out all the intricacies of God’s perfect Law given to Moses, we can settle for agape love, which is more than enough. You won’t be wrong, no matter where you are on the spectrum, if you chose to err on the side of grace and love when confused about what to do in any one situation.

In closing, I’d like to offer my own caricature of this situation. It is an image of a conservative climbing higher and higher up the moral ladder leaned against the wall of self-righteousness while the liberal runs freely off into the distance approaching a cliff called apostasy. They are both yelling at each other that they know where Jesus is, if only the other would follow them! Meanwhile Jesus is on the ground in the forefront of the picture helping the poor and broken all around Him. Where we all ought to be!

No matter where we are in that picture, we must not lose sight of where Jesus is: on the ground loving those who are in need of love. At the foot of the cross there is neither conservatives nor liberals but simply the children of God ministering to one another; this is what we should all be striving for, as the Word of God says: this is pure religion (Js 1:27).

 

[2] YouTube, “Casuistic And Apodictic: Part 3: Jesus Reads More Scripture“, last modified 2015, accessed December 15, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUBtNGgdLso.

 

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