Jesus Was a Pluralistic Liberal?

March 29, 2013 at 2:08 PM

One morning, as I scanned through one of the local papers for my area, I came across the following:

Webster’s dictionary defines a Liberal as one who is open-minded, not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional or established forms or ways.  Jesus was a pluralist Liberal who taught that one need not conform to strict and orthodox views of God, religion, and life.  He rejected greed, violence, the glorification of power, the amassing of wealth without social balance, and the personal judging of others, their lifestyles, or beliefs.[1]

The label “liberal” is really a misnomer since the only open-mindedness the liberal embraces is directed to other individuals who think as he/she does.  They are completely closed-minded toward anyone who does not share their way of thinking.

As far as the liberal not being strict with respect to traditional or orthodoxy ways, that is likely the truth.  The liberal – who used to respect others strict in their observance of traditional ways – essentially rejects traditional values and orthodoxy and expects everyone else to reject them as well.

William A. Galston states with respect to liberalism, “Liberalism requires a robust though rebuttable presumption in favor of individuals and groups leading their lives as they see fit, within a broad range of legitimate variation, in accordance with their own understanding of what gives life meaning and value. I call this presumption the principle of expressive liberty. This principle implies a corresponding presumption (also rebuttable) against external interference with individual and group endeavors.”[2]

It is easy to see how this definition of “liberal” does not really define today’s liberal; having been corrupted by political correctness.  Today’s liberal is not in favor of people living their lives as they see fit.  Today’s liberal believes that external interference (by government) should play a part in the way our lives our lived.

Liberal pluralism essentially believes:

  • Individual choice and freedom are seen as a crucial human right.
  • Democratic societies allow a range of political views and opinions and a range of political parties between which the population choose in free elections.

Based on this information, we are to believe that Jesus was a liberal pluralist in the sense that he understood that choice and freedom are a basic human right.  Beyond this, it would be argued that He also understood (and allowed for) a range of political views and opinions among the populace.

The person quoted assumes that because they are a liberal pluralist then so is Jesus because of certain things they see in His life.  Unfortunately, I believe they have taken exception to the Bible and stretched the truth beyond credulity.

According to our liberal friend, he/she believes the following characteristics apply to Jesus:

  • taught that one need not conform to strict and orthodox views of God, religion, and life
  • rejected greed, violence, the glorification of power, the amassing of wealth without social balance, and
  • rejected the personal judging of others, their lifestyles, or beliefs

But did Jesus really teach that conformity to a strict and orthodox view of God, religion, and life was unnecessary?  This appears not to be the case.

In fact, throughout the gospels, we learn that Jesus came to fulfill the Law (of Moses), not destroy it by setting it aside.  He clearly stated His intentions in Matthew 5:17 when He said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”  This is, of course, simply one example of His utmost respect and devotion to the Law in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament).

Consider that within the Mosaic Law, there exists 613 individual laws.  While some of those laws were specific to the Levitical Priesthood, there were still hundreds of laws and regulations that the average Jewish person was expected to fulfill.  Obviously, if Jesus is saying that He came to fulfill the Law, not abolish it, then He is also obviously conforming to strict and even orthodox views of religion, isn’t He?

Jesus was even very careful about paying the Temple tax, though He was not really under any compunction to do so since He was the Messiah.  Nonetheless, He tells Peter to go fishing and take the coin out of the fish’s mouth that he was going to catch.  Matthew 17:27 tells us, “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”

What people (like the person quoted) fail to understand is that there is a tremendous difference between obedience to the Law and obedience to tradition.  For instance, there was nothing in the Law that prohibited Jesus from speaking with a Samaritan woman in a public place (the well; cf. John 4).  Jesus broke no Law by speaking with her and asking her for a drink of water.

What Jesus did was to strip away the tradition from the Law.  He fulfilled the Law, but in many cases, by ignoring the humanly created tradition, which not only failed to add anything to God’s Law, but more often than not, wound up hiding the truth of God’s Law under mountains of religious garb (tradition).  This made the Law very confusing for the average Jewish person who earnestly wanted to follow the Law in order to please God.

Of course Jesus rejected greed, violence, glorification of power and the gathering to Himself of wealth simply to be rich!  These are all sins and Jesus would have none of it!

But what I believe the person I’ve quoted misses are several cogent points here.  In exchange for worshiping him, Satan promised to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world (cf. Matthew 4).  This was a short cut offered to Jesus; a way to bypass the cross.  In the end, Jesus will physically reign over all the kingdoms of this world.

I’m not sure our liberal pluralist friend whom I’ve quoted truly understands that this is the reason Jesus rejected Satan’s offer in the first place.  Jesus chose not avoid the cross.  It was the reason He came into this world, so that humanity could become reconciled to God.

Jesus’ rejection of violence as a means of gaining dominion over the world was in keeping with the Father’s will.  He went through this world peacefully, resisting the urge to react the way the world reacts.  Why?  Because He had to go to the cross, not resist it.

Even in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal, He rebuked Peter for using force.  He told Peter that, if Jesus chose, He could call on His Father to send legions of angels to rescue Him.  He goes on to ask how the Scriptures would be fulfilled if He chose that path (cf. Matthew 26:47-55).

As far as rejecting wealth without the balance of social responsibility, the quote may be referring to the rich young ruler of Mark 10:17-27.  Here, we learn that this young man comes to Jesus and asks what he should do to be saved?  Jesus points out that the man needs to sell everything he has, give to the poor, and follow Jesus.  The man walks away thoroughly dejected.

This has nothing to do with social balance because Jesus was asking the man to give up everything, not just “some” of his wealth.  Giving up wealth is not a prerequisite for salvation.  However, the man’s love for and faith in his riches would forever be the one stumbling block that would keep him from ever seeing Jesus as the true source of salvation.  The man’s riches were his anchor.

As far as the charge that Jesus never judged anyone, their lifestyle, or beliefs, that is simply not true at all.  We see this in a variety of texts throughout the four gospels.

In one example – John 8 – a woman is caught in adultery.  A group of men are ready to stone her but before they do, they want to know what Jesus has to say about it.  Should she be stoned as Moses said she should?

Jesus answers the question by telling the men that whichever one of them was without sin could throw the first stone.  Eventually, all the men leave with only the woman remaining.  Jesus asks whether there was no one to condemn her and she says they had all left.  Jesus affirms He would not condemn her either.  But that’s not the end of the narrative.

Please note that Jesus ends His conversation with the woman by making a very clear point to her.  “Go. From now on sin no more,” (John 8:11b).  That is a judgment on Jesus’ part.  He told her what she had done was sin.  He spoke to her lifestyle.

In John 5, we read of the man at Bethesda.  Jesus healed the man and afterwards, pointedly told him “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you,” (John 5:14).

In both of these cases, Jesus took issue with sin and forgave those sins.  This is something liberals don’t like to deal with because it tends to be seen as negative and of course, judgmental; the idea that we have sinned and are in need of forgiveness.

But probably the most misunderstood text of Scripture is the one that quotes Jesus as saying that we should “judge not.”  That text is found in Matthew 7:1.  Jesus is definitely saying that we should not judge.  However, the very same Jesus who said not to judge in Matthew 7 also tells us to “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly,” (John 7:24).

How do we marry these two seeming opposites?  In both cases, Jesus is essentially saying the same thing.  He is telling us not to judge a person’s motives for doing something because we cannot see their motives.

This has nothing to do with judging a person’s words or actions, something we should do, just as Jesus did (and we should also judge our own).  When Jesus speaks of judging here, He is simply authorizing us to use discernment (and the absolute truth of His Word) to decide what is right and wrong.  We are not to judge a person’s motivation for why they say or do something.  That is beyond our ability.  We are not seers.

Self-righteous, hypocritical, legalistic, unfair and plain wrong judgments against another are never good or acceptable.  Using God-given wisdom and discernment to determine the value of actions or words is what the Christian is to do daily.  We are not to go around vilifying, castigating, or denigrating someone.  This is opposed to God and His righteous judgments of us.

Yes, Jesus loved people liberally, but He was avidly strict about fulfilling God’s Law as revealed to Moses.  Jesus avoided anything that was sin.  He judged individuals and their circumstances and offered forgiveness for their sins.

Jesus loved the Father and His will.  He dutifully followed the Father’s will every day.  He was not some politically correct Left-leaning pluralistic liberal of His day.  He was certainly not a social liberal.  He was, in fact, very devoted and zealous when it came to God’s Law.  He would not set aside any portion of it, but ensured that He fulfilled all of it.

This is not the lifestyle of a pluralistic liberal.  It is the lifestyle of a conservative who fully believed that there was one way and only one way to God, the Father.  That way happened to be through Jesus, God the Son (cf. John 14:6).

[1] The Henry County Times, March 27, 2013, p. 5 “Quips from You to Us”

[2] William A. Glaston Liberal Pluralism (Cambridge Press, 2002), p. 3

Entry filed under: Religious - Christian - Theology. Tags: .

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