In conservative Christians circles, a clear shot across the bow is calling someone LIBERAL. It’s a warning, like a mother giving her rambunctious child the stink eye. Watch out, or real consequences will follow!

We hear it all the time in Facebook comments on our Jackass Theology posts; as a preacher I sense it bubbling behind peoples’ questions to sermon content. It seems that to the Evangelical, the greatest fear is fear of being duped by, slipping into, or having compassion for THE LIBERAL AGENDA.

Liberals just make crap up

When someone is deemed liberal, their opinion no longer matters to conservatives, because in the mind of Evangelicals, liberals have abandoned the Bible, tradition, and orthodoxy, and now just make new crap up. So instead of patiently dialoguing, we put you in your place like a good ole’ fashioned Amish shunning, trading in scarlet “A’s” for its 21st century Conservative Evangelical equivalent, BLUE “L’s”.

When someone is deemed liberal, their opinion no longer matters to conservatives, because in the mind of Evangelicals, liberals have abandoned the Bible, tradition, and orthodoxy, and now just make new crap up.

In our experience with Jackass Theology, you are most likely to encounter this type of branding on social issues, where politics and faith collide. These hotbed topics center around class tensions, racial tensions, illegal immigration, the role of women in ministry, faith and sexuality, and the tell-tale sign that you have a serious case of the liberals: adding highfalutin words like “PRIVILEGE” to your vocab.

So I ask the question: Was Jesus a Liberal?

Was Jesus Liberal?

Of course, it depends on how you define it.

So, let’s do that. In the dictionary, liberal has a variety of meanings. So let’s walk through each of them and test if Jesus was a LIBERAL.

In his methods of Education?

Lib•er•al | adj. | 1. Concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.

Most people hip slinging liberal jabs aren’t referring to Jesus’ pedagogy. But if they were, would he fit the bill?

Jesus was all about broadening experience for his disciples. As he journeyed with them through the countryside, he demonstrated compassion to outsiders. Under Jesus’ tutelage, his disciples were forced to engage the world differently, people differently, and God differently. He didn’t train them technically. He exposed them to a whole way of being and living. He asked them rhetorical questions, demonstrated love, miracles, service, compassion, he challenged their fears, and let them try a few things for themselves.

Jesus embodied a liberal arts approach to education.

In His interpretation of scripture?

Lib•er•al | adj. | 2. (esp. of an interpretation of a law) Broadly construed or understood; not strictly literal or exact

This one is tricky territory, but it is important. Conservatives link themselves arm in arm to a literal “plain-sense” interpretation of Scripture. Did Jesus use the same interpretive lens (hermeneutic)?

Jesus certainly affirms the Old Testament and its teachings. Jesus had a high view of Scripture, and he didn’t twist it to mean anything that suited his purpose, but he didn’t always stick to a literal interpretation either.

Many passages in the Sermon on the Mount are good examples. For example, “you have heard it said an eye for an eye, but I say to you…turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:38-42). The Old Testament doesn’t say that, but Jesus does. Jesus is implying that turning the other cheek was always the heart of God, even if the law permitted otherwise. That’s a generous understanding of a fairly clear Old Testament passage. But that is what Jesus did, that is why people recognized his teaching as having authority.

Before you freak out and maliciously infect our website with a fatal virus, please understand that I’m not suggesting that we humans should take a free and liberal interpretive approach to all of scripture. There is a difference between some dude on the street, and the Son of God. For our purposes here. I’m simply saying, Jesus does not always hold to a purely literal understanding of Scripture.

But Jesus’ liberal interpretations didn’t ever loosen our moral responsibility to love one another or him. His liberal interpretation often led to an even more stringent view of sin (more on this in the next post) and a much higher demand of love.

In his values?

Lib•er•al | adj. | 3. Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

So was Jesus willing to discard traditional values?

Regarding religious structures, Jesus was incredibly liberal. Jesus actively threatened and dismantled the existing religious structure and hierarchy. He talked about the destruction of the temple. Upon his death, the curtain within the Holy of Holies was torn in two. His harshest critiques were at the religiously minded; his life and ministry turned the Jewish religious landscape upside down. In this way, he was the most progressive of progressives regarding religion and its structures.

Regarding social norms, Jesus ate with sinners. He touched lepers. He sat with promiscuous women. He had a reputation as a drunkard because of who he hung around. In the way that Jesus engaged humans he was incredibly liberal, edgy, progressive, and revolutionary.

Regarding moral behavior, Jesus in some senses heightened and in some senses lowered expectations. Jesus said his yoke is not like the yoke of the Pharisees, his yoke is easy and his burden light. But at the same time, he heightened the expectation of commitment. He didn’t expect people to live some exteriorly perfect life, but simultaneously he did not allow anyone to follow him who wasn’t fully committed. Without parsing all this out, let’s just agree that even in morality Jesus did not hold traditional views. He challenged EVERYTHING. In that way I’ve got to say he fits the liberal bill again.

In His Politics?

Lib•er•al | noun | 4. A supporter or member of a liberal party.

Jesus famously called his followers to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” It’s basically a big shrug regarding political movements. Ruling authorities exist, but they are not the important thing in Jesus’ mind.

So is Jesus politically liberal? In the sense of joining a political party, nah. I don’t think so. Mostly because I just don’t see him putting much emphasis on the kingdoms of this world.

In His giving?

Lib•er•al | noun | 5. giving generously, (as in liberal amounts of wine being consumed)

Since liberal can be synonymous with generous, this fits Jesus perfectly. When it comes to giving, nobody out gives Jesus. He was liberal in his love. He was liberal with his life. He called his disciples to live outrageously liberal lives. He challenged a rich young ruler to sell all and give it to the poor. Jesus is generosity. 100%.

Since liberal can be synonymous with generous, this fits Jesus perfectly. When it comes to giving, nobody out gives Jesus. He was liberal in his love. He was liberal with his life. He called his disciples to live outrageously liberal lives.

What Should I Do About this?

For starters, the next time someone accuses me of being liberal, I will take it as a compliment and know my many hours at the feet of Jesus are paying off, because I’m becoming more and more like him.

If you are highly offended at this statement or this post, just wait till next week when I’ll post: “Was Jesus a Conservative?” You just might find that Jesus had the capacity for a little of BOTH.

Resources:
If you want to watch a hilarious video. Watch “GOP JESUS.” If you are a Republican you need to have a sense of humor, or you will miss the point.

Dan White Jr. has a great book, called LOVE OVER FEAR, in which he gives a great break down of the polarizations we experienced in our world and in the church. It gives some hope that Liberals and Conservatives can coexist.

Ryan MacDiarmid is currently the Lead Pastor of a church in Sacramento, California. He has served vocational ministry for over 15 years, working at small churches, large churches, and everything in between. He is a husband, and father to five children. He loves Jesus, but like so many of us can be distracted and disillusioned by all the religious crap. And even on his best days, he can be a real jackass. This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. There are costs associated with running the blog. These links help to cover overhead.

4 COMMENTS

  1. “I’m simply saying, Jesus does not always hold to a purely literal understanding of Scripture.”
    I get what you were going for here, and I agree in principle, but I get hung up on “understanding of Scripture”.
    It doesn’t feel like the right word to use there.

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