Liberal or Religious, do we have to choose?

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Engaging with an increasingly liberal culture

By Tim Barton

There’s no doubt about it, our society here in the UK is steadily growing more and more liberal. Catch phrases like ‘YOLO’ (You Only Live Once) demonstrate this in popular culture. Changing laws demonstrate it at an institutional level. Of course this is a massive challenge to those of us who seek to follow the teachings of a moral God. A God who does place restrictions on behaviour, a God who states that some things are right and some things are wrong.

As Christians we are faced with an unpleasant dilemma. To be dragged along in the sliding world of ‘liberal’ Christianity, or be cast into the dusty world of ‘religious’ Christianity. On one hand we become open and willing to accept anything (and everything!) that society deems acceptable. On the other hand we embrace a Christianity from the dark ages that at its best doesn’t understand or engage with modern cultural issues, and at its worst is cold, law driven and unloving. What a choice!

As Jesus following, truth desiring, people loving Christians, how do we respond to the culture we find ourselves in today? Well of course, we look to Jesus.

In some ways Jesus faced the opposite problem. Born in Israel, in a strong Jewish culture, Jesus faced a society that strongly believed in moral absolutes. But the way Jesus responds to this society demonstrates how we too can respond to ours.

Let’s consider the story of the woman caught in adultery. A woman brought before Jesus, the law requiring her execution, the Scribes and Pharisees trying to trick Jesus, and the all famous response

‘let him who has no sin cast the first stone’ (John 8 v 7).

The way Jesus responds to this tricky situation is such a fantastic demonstration of how to interact with a culture with both truth and grace (John 1 v 17). It’s a brilliantly clear example of what Jesus meant when He said ‘I came to fulfil the law’ (Matthew 5 v 17), emphasis on FULFILL. Not ‘keep’ the law, nor ‘do away with’ the law, but FULFILL it.

In this one, divine, heavenly inspired statement Jesus manages to;

  • Uphold the moral standard of the law, and more importantly recognise the seriousness of sin (i.e. He doesn’t say, ‘oh it doesn’t matter, come on, it’s all alright!’)
  • Expose Sin in the Scribes and Pharisees heart, who were clearly trying to trap Jesus (John 8 v 6)
  • Do all of this whilst offering grace and mercy to this precious woman

Is there a better example of Jesus fulfilling the law? Is there a better example of grace and truth? Is there a better example of how to interact with society whether religious or liberal?

Sometimes I imagine myself being confronted on a whole host of hot topics; by a young person, an angry atheist, or a hurting believer. And I imagine how I would respond. I pray that I would not be tricked into making the choice between liberalism and religiosity. But instead, through the grace and wisdom of God, that I would be enabled to respond in a way that fulfils the law. That upholds the moral standard of the law, exposes Sin in my heart and in others, and whilst doing all of this offers grace and mercy to the broken, hurting and lost.

Do we have to choose between liberal or religious Christianity? Not when we follow Jesus.

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