Friday, May 20, 2016

Addressing Liberal Theology: Was Jesus Nicer than Thou?

"Buddy Christ" from Dogma

If you interact on the web, or with folks in your hometown you may come across Christians who tend to believe that Jesus Christ was the nicest of nice person who ever walked the planet.  This Jesus apparently never offended anyone.  This Jesus was all inclusive.  This Jesus endorsed gay marriage.  This Jesus doesn't give truth, but only gives love and acceptance.  This Jesus accepted everyone.  This Jesus never said anything mean.  This Jesus embraced every ideology.  But it turns out... this Jesus never existed.  

Let's look at some of Jesus's all inclusive statements:

In Matthew 12:36 (ESV) Jesus said,"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak."

In Luke 14:26 (NLT) "If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison--your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple."

In Matthew 5:10 (NIV) "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

In Matthew 19:21 (ESV) Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

And finally we see in Matthew Chapter 23 the quintessential tepid, all inclusive Jesus having a few words with the scribes and pharisees, including: "
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness." -Matthew 23:27 (ESV)

Jesus was awesome.  In fact Jesus is presently awesome, seated in glory and majesty at the right hand of God the Father.  He is presently completely awesome.  Why?  Because he was very loving.  But he was also so truthful.  He was a warrior for truth.  He took a stand.  And as a guy, I love that.  I love the love of Jesus, and the mercy of Jesus, but more and more so I appreciate the defiant, courageous, truthful Jesus who stood against the corruption of those times.  

Jesus was God in the flesh, when he walked on Earth. If God himself took a stand 2,000 years, we must be in good company when we take a stand today.  But watch out for those nicer than nice Christians.  They are the ones who will stand up and call you out when you take a stand on some key issue like bathroom policy, marriage laws, pornography, human trafficking, abortion, or other issues.  I've seen this, they stand up and say, "Hey you can't do that.  You can't say that.  Who are you to tell others what they should do?  Jesus said do not judge!"  Now my first response is to reply, "Well, if you think Jesus meant never stand for anything, and to never judge anything or anyone, then why are you judging me for judging?  Aren't you violating your own standard?"  This gets them rather flustered, let me tell you.  But ultimately the issue is: I'm not called to judge, as in condemnation.  But I am called to judge in terms of discernment and standing for the truth.  The word says "discern all things."  The word also says "you will judge all things" (Hebrews 5:14, Philippians 1:9-10).  Jesus said in John 7:24 (ESV) "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”  

Why do they stand up to attack those who stand for the truth?  Very simply, because they aren't standing for anything.  They carry the same arguments progressives and atheists use to attack what they call the "religious right."  It is a favorite past time of some Christians and bloggers to go after the "religious right" and bash them.  Why?  Because it gives them a false sense of moral superiority.  In the cultural debates of our time and age, often what we see is various groups of individuals attempting to take the moral high ground from one another.  One group says they're standing for "LGBT rights" then the next group says they're standing for "Religious liberty" and on and on it goes.  With liberal Christians they disdainfully critique the "religious right" as hateful, when they have no idea what they're talking about.  And even worse, they're shooting their own and attacking those who are fighting for their rights, rights that are in peril every single day.  In fact, if it weren't for "religious right" organizations like the Alliance defending Freedom taking on the ACLU in court time and again, we'd have lost our religious liberty by now.  That's how critical this struggle is.  Ultimately, it goes to a lack of understanding of the scriptures and how they are applied.  But it's not entirely the fault of the person, the problem often is that pastors and leaders are too concerned with filling their church seats, and they don't address key issues like religious freedom, the Constitution, abortion, gay marriage, and such concerns.  They're too concerned with being "loving and cool." And many of them are more concerned with attendance numbers and the dollars coming in.  Sad, but true.  

What is liberal theology?  What is conservative theology?  Well, conservative theology suggests that the Bible means what it says.  The teachings are literal, meaning, the historical events depicted in the Bible actually occurred, and when teachings are given they're meant to be timeless and universal.  So if teachings on marriage or the sanctity of life become inconvenient... well, they're still in there, so they still apply.  

Liberal theology is the idea that the Bible means whatever they "feel" it means at any given moment.  Feelings rule, thoroughly influenced by the culture and pretty soon Jesus is carrying a gay pride flag, Jesus would never offend you, and it's just all about the love.  The Bible according to liberals is more "symbolic" and "idealistic" which means in essence: "Shut up, it means whatever I say it means, you bigot." 

Was Jesus nicer than thou?  I've debated folks endlessly who really believe that Jesus was so "nice" and so "loving" that he wouldn't dare challenge someone else's beliefs.  I mean, my goodness, the only way someone could hold this view is if they'd never read the gospels! 

The instinct of man is to remake God in our own image.  Remember that 90s song, "What if God was one of us?  Just a slob like one of us?"  We want Jesus to be like us.  We want Jesus to get on board with our viewpoints and with our plans.  But that isn't the Jesus of history, and that isn't the Jesus who is alive and well in heaven, seated at the right hand of God.  We're delusional people sometimes, as humans.  It's amazing some of the things we'll read into the scriptures, or cut out of the scriptures to suit our tastes.

In fact recently I had someone suggest that it's good that the gospel has been watered down because "Jesus taught in parables to leave that open to us." 

Our instinct as humans is not to trust the Bible.  Our instinct is to trust our own opinions.  That's the default position of our minds.  It's easy to get on board with "Jesus saves" and "God is love."  It's harder to get one board with "Homosexuality is disgraceful behavior" (Romans 1:27). It's harder to get on board with the judgment of the righteous and the wicked (Revelation 20:11-15).  It's harder to get on board with the concept of hell and eternal disconnection from God (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

But it's all in there.  And it doesn't change.  We can't change God's word.  Either we believe every word of the books of the Bible, or we toss it all out and just make it up as we go along.  There is no intermediary position there.  Either it's all God's word or it isn't God's word.  It can't be partially God's word or somewhat God's word.  I'd like to challenge you to believe all of it.  Believe every word of it.  Trust God's word.  Trust God's word even when it seems terrible to you or offensive to you.  Why?  Because more will be revealed.  

Remember this vital, central fact: According to the Christian worldview I'm not God and your not God.  We can't see things from a full perspective.  That's true for anyone, Christian or atheist, we know our discernment isn't perfect.  We all make mistakes.  So maybe we need to trust that if something in the Bible offends us, maybe it's because we aren't seeing it from the right perspective.  Maybe we're the ones who are holding the wrong opinion, or a limited opinion, or opinions based on false or incomplete evidence.  Take the radical step of believing things that may offend you.  The gospel is an offense right?  The Bible gives me hard, hard truth about myself and the universe.  It isn't easy to take at times.  But I love it, because I love the truth.  Love the truth as well, even when it's tough to comprehend!

Jesus Christ came to save us.  He came fully of love and mercy.  He came to show mercy to sinners.  But he also called sinners to repentance.  He asks us to change our ways, not to change His word.  We have no business, none whatsoever in changing any part of the word to suit the ever changing views of the culture.  The culture has embraced child sacrifice, the culture has embraced pornography, the culture has embraced gay marriage, the culture has embraced boys in girls restrooms, and in ten to twenty years I have no doubt the culture will be singing the praises of pedophiles.  And who knows what else.  We don't change the word for the culture.  The message doesn't change.  Our application of it may change, our modes of intersection may change, but the timeless truths don't change.  Jesus Christ came full of grace and truth.  Let's not cut out either truth or grace.  Jesus wasn't nicer than thou.  Jesus was too awesome for that.  

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