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Posted: March 3, 2011 6:15 p.m.

Dees: Was Jesus a Liberal?

One of the phrases that you will hear from time to time in the news media is, "Jesus was a liberal," meaning that Jesus was left winged in his political thought. Many political pundits will say that when one reads the New Testament, it is obvious that Jesus was socialistic in his thinking, and that if he walked the earth today, he would surely be among those on the political left.

While most of this is just political banter, I think that this is an important conversation to have. Ultimately this is a question of the values of our Lord. Some people say that it is unwise to combine church and politics and that may be true, but it is wise to combine the church and belief. After all belief is the foundation of the church.

So, what did Jesus believe? When it comes to the tenants of political liberalism or socialism did Jesus really believe in the redistribution of wealth or a government-managed economy?

Now since there is no verse in scripture that says, "If Jesus had come in 2011, he would have been politically liberal or politically conservative," we are forced to understand his beliefs on such matters through thematic Biblical Theology. For the purpose of this article I want to examine two themes that we see in the scripture, compassion for the poor, and responsibility.

It is obvious in a study of the Gospels that Jesus had great compassion for the poor. To give just a few examples, in Mark 10:21 he told the rich young ruler to, "go, sell all that you have and give to the poor." Jesus told his disciples in Luke 12:33 to, "sell your possessions, and give to the needy." He also likened those who gave to the poor (the least of these) to those who will be in welcomed into his Kingdom in Matthew 25.

These are just a few examples of the undisputed fact that Jesus had great compassion for those in need. So, does this make him a liberal? Are all liberals compassionate toward the needy and conservatives oblivious to the needs of others?

I have a few conservative friends who would disagree with such a notion. The statistics also prove otherwise. In 2006 Arthur Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published an extensive study on the charitable contributions of those who are politically conservative versus those who are politically liberal in his book, "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism." He found that although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give on average 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household. He also found that conservatives donate more time and give more blood.

Beyond his compassion for the poor, we must also examine what Jesus believed about personal versus group responsibility. In other words, did Jesus believe that individuals were responsible for themselves or that individuals had a responsibility to one another? In terms of personal responsibility one of the most telling parables of Christ is found in Matthew 25. This has been dubbed "The Parable of the Talents" and tells the story of a master going on a journey and giving his servants money to invest for gain. Two of the servants invest their money and gain more, but one servant buries the money his master had given him. When the master returned from his journey, he called his servants to report on their earnings. For the two who had invested and gained more, he was pleased with them and they were rewarded, while the one that buried his talent was called, "wicked and lazy," and was cast out into the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. This parable of Jesus gives the very clear message of personal responsibility.

On the other side of this argument we see a plea for group responsibility in the church of our Lord Jesus. In Acts 2:44-45 the Bible says, speaking of the church, "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." Is this a plea for communism in the scripture where everything is shared? How do you reconcile this very clear action of the church with the very clear call for personal responsibility in Matthew 25?

Ultimately I believe all of this fits together very nicely. The group responsibility that we see in scripture is a responsibility to the church, to fellow people of God, not to a secular state. It is ultimately a call for charity and none of the individuals in the church are coerced or made to participate in it. The charity and compassion for the poor is their decision, the people give out of the goodness or their own heart, and are motivated by love for others. Most people in society understand that there is a difference between a tax and a gift, and I believe Jesus understood that as well. He was once asked by a Pharisee, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" Jesus responded, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s," and in this Jesus teaches his disciples that it is right to pay the taxes of the land. But then Jesus went on to say something quite profound, he said, "and (render) to God the things that are God’s."

When you think about the ministry of Jesus, who did he believe had responsibility to take care for the poor and the needy, Caesar or people motivated by charity and a love for God? I think it is best that I let you make your own conclusion on that question, and when you do, I think you will know whether or not Jesus was a liberal. My hope is that God would lead you to truth in all things, for the sake of the glory of his son, our Lord Jesus.

Amen.

 

Jason Dees is pastor of First Baptist Church of Covington. Learn more at http://www.fbctoday.net/

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