Can We Categorize Jesus? Was Jesus a Conservative or Liberal?

Today I thought I would share a little insight I got from my Pastor…enjoy!

Our family moved here in 2003 to plant Christ Redeemer Church – and as people began to check out the vision of the new church they often started with this question in their minds: Are you liberal or conservative? Often times political parties are “thought” to be one or the other on social and governmental issues – while with respect to moral issues it is usually not so easy to assign categories. Sometimes our initial response to new people we meet and new ideas we hear about is to immediately put them into categories.

Was Jesus liberal or conservative? Both sides have claimed him as their champion. Even in his own day Jesus managed to say and do things that would confound both groups. His first sermon, recorded in St. Mark’s Gospel, was short and sweet: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” This probably made the religious conservatives rejoice and the religious liberals wince. But quicker than you can say “Focus on the Family” he’s having dinner with publicans and prostitutes and (gasp) drinking wine. “A glutton and drunkard!” shouted the conservatives. “Broad-minded and inclusive!” rejoiced the liberals.

Poor Jesus; by the end of his life he had managed to alienate almost everyone (which may explain why on the last week of his life the crowds were shouting “Hooray!” on Monday and “Crucify!” by Friday. He refused to be the poster boy of the Left or Right.

The early Christian theologian Tertullian once said that just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so the Gospel (the message of Christ) is crucified between two opposite errors. These two “thieves” can be understood as moralism (usually conservative) and relativism (usually liberal.)

Moralists tend to stress truth without grace, for they say we must obey the truth in order to be saved. As Tim Keller once said: “Moralists do not have to be religious, but often are. When they are, their religion is pretty conservative and filled with rules. Sometimes moralists have views of God as very holy and just. This view will lead either to a) self-hatred (because you can’t live up to the standards), or b) self-inflation (because you think you have lived up to the standards). Moralistic people can be deeply religious–but there is no transforming joy or power.”

Relativists on the other hand tend to stress grace without truth, for they say we are all acceptable to God (if there is a god) and we have to decide what is true for ourselves. Relativists tend to prefer “liberal” religion. They may talk a lot about God’s love, but since they do not see themselves as morally deficient (“sinners”) God’s love costs him nothing.

The Bible describes Jesus as being “full of grace and truth” which is why he never seems to fit comfortably into either the conservative or liberal stereotypes. This is seen in the well known story of the woman caught in adultery. The religious conservatives were ready to stone her for her sin, and dragged her to Jesus to get his opinion. “Let he who is among you without sin cast the first stone” answered Jesus. The result: stunned silence. And then one by one the crowd dispersed, leaving the woman standing alone with Jesus. “Is there no one left to condemn you? Then neither do I. Go and sin no more.” There it is: the extension of mercy and the call to repentance; grace and truth working together.

The ironic thing about moralism and relativism is that they are both ways of avoiding Jesus as Savior and keeping control of our lives. And the result is either pride (because we have lived up to our rules) or despair (because we have failed to keep them.) How different the biblical Gospel, which cannot be co- opted by either conservatives or liberals, for on the one hand it tells us we are far more sinful than we ever dared imagine, but on the other hand we are far more loved than we ever dared hope. It will surrender neither truth nor grace, but unites them both in the person of Jesus.

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