Thursday, May 29, 2008

Legalism and Liberalism

I recently read an article by the leader of a large Christian organization where he says that “Legalism and Liberalism are not the design of” the Gospel. The article, which was in reality a weekly letter meant for the inspiration and encouragement of members of the organization, likens the extraordinary design of the Tower bridge London to the form and function of the Gospel. He says the all the aspects of Jesus message such as “Humility, mercy, brokenness and peacemaking embrace righteousness, holiness, courage and zeal. are all in balance.” Like the bridge whose form and function allow the bridge to be a “strong and sure” means of transmitting vehicles and people over the bridge as well as an aesthetically striking landmark, so the Gospel is balanced in it’s beauty and power. Others have said in the Gospel, “Love and justice embrace.”

It is a very good analogy. But, in a further point, the author says that the Gospel and is not legalistic or liberalistic. The phrase goes nicely in the author’s chain of alliterating phrases. I believe with all my heart that the Gospel is not legalistic. But is the Gospel not liberalistic?

A look at various definitions of liberal and liberalism show a range of meeting:

1. "Open to new behavior and opinions, willing to discard traditional values"

If this is the meaning of liberal then I believe it is wrong to say the Gospel is not liberal. Jesus was a "liberal" of his time. He definitely challenged the traditional values and was openly professing new behavior and opinions. As a preacher of the Gospel I hope I help people discard their traditional values that are not in accord with the Gospel.

2. "favorable to individual rights and freedoms"

If this is the meaning of liberal then I believe it is wrong to say the Gospel is not liberal. Jesus upheld the rights and freedoms of individuals. This one of the watch words of the Reformation which contributed to the formation of "liberal democracies". The United States is a liberal democracy, meaning that is favorable to individual rights and freedoms. Freedom of religion is one of the great watchwords or our liberal society. Would we have it any other way? Would Americans tolerate the persecution and restrictions of the beliefs of others? Would we prohibit, Muslims to bury their dead in the United States because they are Muslim and not Christian?

3. "concerned with broadening a person's general knowledge and experience rather than technical or professional training"

If this is the meaning of liberal then I believe it is wrong to say the Gospel is not liberal since it is indeed concerned with broadening a person's knowledge through the Spirit-led journey of searching for truth. The Gospel is about bringing people New Life and not turning them into religious encyclopedias. John Piper said something like "Brothers, we are not professionals."

But if liberalism refers to theological liberalism which does not hold to the inspiration and authority of Scripture and therefore denies that the Bible is God's word, then I could say that yes, the Gospel is not liberal. Salvation of the people God loves depends on “conserving” the reality of the truth of the Scripture and the truth about the Scriptures.

If liberal means that the death of Jesus on the Cross is "cosmic child abuse" instead of an atoning sacrifice the redeems a fallen world, the the Gospel is not liberal.

If liberal means the libertine throwing off the morality of Jesus concerning such aspects of like as monogamous marriage, the sanctity of life, living with integrity, loving another through taking care of the poor, the Gospel is not liberal.

My reason for taking up this issue I am very concerned that Christians turn their back completely on the word liberal. We should not always be conservative as being conservative is not always in keeping with the message of the Gospel. I am a liberal when it comes to the Christian traditional value of not taking care of the environment. I am a liberal when it comes an end-times theology which does not promote good and right treatment of people and the world in the here and now. I am a liberal in challenging the current tradition of tolerance that does not allow Christians to live and be Christian in all theatres of their life.

Most of all I am liberal with regard to the habit of many American Christians who always make conservative and liberal black and white categories. I am not always conservative. I am often liberal. But I am not always a liberal and I am often conservative. It all depends on whether being liberal or conservative is in accord with the Gospel.

Christians need to be careful in always thinking that the word liberal is a dirty word. It’s not. Thankfullly, the Gospel is liberal in it’s outlook on the life and freedoms of people. It is liberal in that God wants all people to be saved.

I am tenaciously conservative in holding on to the liberality of the Gospel.

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