Photo by babsteve

Photo by babsteve

Not all Christians are literalistic fundamentalists or even orthodox in their theologies. There do exist “liberal” Christians who focus on a loving, generous message of Jesus rather than the more traditional views of God’s fitful nature. Many liberal Christians consider parts of the Bible mythology, metaphor, and primitive, bronze-age expression of the unknown. With those points, skeptics may agree and also appreciate the holistic approach to the scriptures.

This view is much more friendly and acceptable than the hellfire and brimstone extremist views held by a few overly-vocal groups. However, I still have problems understanding how someone can be a liberal Christian without cherry-picking, contradiction, and unsure/unsteady beliefs.

My first question is: Do liberal Christians trust Jesus?

If Jesus was God in the flesh, as many liberal Christians still believe, then he would know which stories in the bible were true, fabrications, fact, myth, or scientifically inaccurate. If Jesus was God, one would also suppose Jesus would be totally honest and not spread untrue information as if it was real.

Yet in a few passages, we see Jesus shows no more wisdom about science, history, or mythology than his followers. Either he did not know, or he did not tell the whole truth. If he did not tell the whole truth, why should we trust what he says? If he did not know better, why should we think he was a sinless god?

  • In Luke 17 and Matt 24, Jesus teaches the myths about Noah and Lot as if they were real people whose stories were all true.
  • Matthew 12:40–Jesus believed Jonah was inside a whale for 3 days as the myth teaches.
  • In Mark 10:6, Jesus teaches about divorce saying that “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female”. Jesus either did not believe in evolution, or he lied.
  • In many verses, Jesus heals the viably sick and disabled (blind, epileptics, paralyzed) not through medicine, but through exorcism. Do we “cure” the physically and mentally ill through exorcism today?
  • Mark 4:31- The mustard seed is not the smallest seed.
  • Jesus teaches you can move mountains and wither fig trees (Matthew 21:21-22), and raise the dead (Matthew 10:8)– all scientifically unproven or impossible.

So, dear liberal Christian, do you trust Jesus? Do you ever find yourself realizing that you know more about the world than he did? Do you ever wonder why he kept important information or fact correcting out of his teachings? Why wasn’t he clear? If some of the bible is myth, metaphorical, or untrue, why would God himself perpetuate the belief that it was true?
Feel free to explain how this works to me.

New! Check out this fun-loving cartoon about the things Jesus could have done but chose not to. Lots of fun and challenges for the more fundamental believer.

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75 thoughts on “Do Liberal Christians Trust Jesus?”

John Miller · January 25, 2011 at 10:48 am

I saw your comments, and just had to reply you state that :
■In Luke 17 and Matt 24, Jesus teaches the myths about Noah and Lot as if they were real people whose stories were all true.
You are saying therefore that the stories about Lot and Noah are untrue, based on what evidence? Just because something happened a long time ago does not mean it is untrue.

Matthew 12:40–Jesus believed Jonah was inside a whale for 3 days as the myth teaches.
Again, you say this is a myth, based on what?

■In Mark 10:6, Jesus teaches about divorce saying that “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female”. Jesus either did not believe in evolution, or he lied.
It may actually be that the “theory of evolution as we are taught at school” is wrong, because it is just a theory, the other side of the coin is that evolution may actually be how God creates the world and all in it. Most importantly Christians beleive that Jesus was God, hence he had the power to create the world and therefore we can trust him unless of course he isn’t God, in whuch case he was both a liar and ignorant of the truth, which I strongly doubt.

■In many verses, Jesus heals the viably sick and disabled (blind, epileptics, paralyzed) not through medicine, but through exorcism. Do we “cure” the physically and mentally ill through exorcism today?

Again, you compare modern medical methods which are basic at best with the power that comes from God to heal and to rid those of demons. why would you suppose Jesus would heal in the same way as a doctor? Those who are physically and mentally ill don’t actually get cured by modern medicine (I know this because I practice as an osteopath) they are helped with their condition. I have prayed however with patients and had miraculous healings. Patients who had severe arthritis in the knees and spine receiving the ability to walk pain free when I was physically unable to help them. This is proof that God is real and the name of Jesus has power, and that those who believe in him do actually heal in the same way.

Mark 4:31- The mustard seed is not the smallest seed.
This is a ridiculous statement you are making, the mustard seed is a small seed, you need to look at the context: the analogy is to show that from a small seed a big plant can grow. To attack this area shows you are nit picking

■Jesus teaches you can move mountains and wither fig trees (Matthew 21:21-22), and raise the dead (Matthew 10:8)– all scientifically unproven or impossible.

Of course these are scientifically impossible, they wouldn’t be miracles otherwise (that is an intervention by God). There are many people who have been raised from the dead by Jesus today, type it in google and find out. In the particular reference you cite, the mountain is an obstacle, not necessarily a mountain that is in your path but something that through faith can be removed. Most Christians can testify to the removal of an obstacle by God in their lives.

NotSoMightyGod · March 2, 2011 at 10:20 am

I think John missed the point. He’s discrediting the examples rather than addressing the root question.

I’ve posed the question to my Christian wife, “If Jesus knew that he wouldn’t be coming back for 2000+ years, why didn’t he instruct the apostles to write anything down?” Instead we’re left with conflicting accounts written years after Jesus’ passing.

I could go on, but I think most people reading this can begin drawing their own conclusions and formulating their own questions. (Better to ponder it yourself than have it laid out anyway.)

Stephen · March 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Jesus, like Socrates and Confucius, did not write anything. So there’s no reason to require technical accuracy from the divinely inspired writers. Not writing stuff yourself seems like an inspired strategy.

Perhaps Jesus was illiterate.

There is modern evidence of someone surviving days inside a big fish, in the recent case, a big grouper. Not a pleasant experience. But even if there wasn’t, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The experiment to have hundreds of people swallowed by various creatures for days is unethical. But there are lots of biblical inconsistencies and so on that are worth considering.

“However, I still have problems understanding how someone can be a liberal Christian without cherry-picking, contradiction, and unsure/unsteady beliefs.” Most people have not thought about their religion (or atheism) very deeply. I’ve only met a very small number of Christains who have read the Bible cover to cover. (I’ve read it. It’s pretty tough going, and the jury is still out on if that effort was worth it.) Most rely on the arguments of others. I agree that it’s lazy. And it’s easy to come up with theological questions that an individual has not considered. But most followers of science also leave both the experiments and explanations up to others. It’s increasingly impractical to do otherwise. So it’s also easy to ask questions which are incorrect, due to mistranslation, context, and so on.

I doubt your question about theologically liberal christians can be answered. It’s not a well defined group. There are probably an infinite number of answers ranging from ‘yes’ to ‘no’, and with other answers. Infinite because individuals can hold more than one view, even if they don’t intend to.

    Frank · January 3, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Stephen: I don’t think Jesus as presented in the scriptures was illiterate at all. After all, he is introduced as going into the synagogue and reading from the scrolls in a public reading that introduces himself as the long-awaited Messiah. He also stoops down and writes in the dirt during the episode of the woman caught in adultery.

    According to the text he writes in the ground and then says, “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.” And when he does that, they all take off, leaving not a single person left to cast a stone. He must have written something pretty impressive!

Dominic · March 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I am a liberal Christian . So let’s start with question 1 do we trust god – yes with complete faith . Question 2 exorsism only exist in the new testement god performed miracles not exorsism there is no such thing as demon possesion read the old testement god is with in us all so he’s our protector that’s like saying some one like Anderson silva came by and kicked ur but why would u want to fight him again u wouldn’t ud run away and Christ is god the problem with the bible is it was written by man not god ! further more every one reads the bible and interpurts it diffrently , and in the 1500s the pope was corupted and burned 550 theologian writtings and a pope in the 400 ad buried books so there’s alot of information missing and the pope use to get married till they started giving off to much land and almost destroyed the catholic religion and almost all the deciples were married . and yes lots of thing are use as metaphores . About Noel ark is a true story it is found in every religion . U should take humanities ! as far as metephore goes is marry was a virgin this is not biblical no deciple nor Jesus ever said she was this is borrowed by so manny other religions there are over 200 virgin births I can put a cell of sperm in a women with out sex she is still a virgin but according to Catholics this is playing god archelogist belive the gods were aliens there are many beliefs just belive what u can belive in what makes sense if u need more information please ask ?

    Frank · January 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Dominic: The Noah’s ark story in the various religions is not identical, and if one of those myths is more true to the actual facts it is difficult or impossible to say which one.

    The story is “true” in the literal sense only because it probably is based upon some catastrophic flood in ancient history, and was most likely seized upon by various religions in order to apply moral lessons and justify the horror of such a flood.

    Does this ruin the story for me? No! It’s a great myth that raises a lot of spiritual questions even for modern man.

    The fact that this myth is so widespread is evidence enough that it is a great myth. The myth “works” for millions of people. It defines our place in the universe according to various cultures, and justifies the horrors of natural catastrophes without overturning the various gods or religions of those regions that adopted the myth.

    It’s a good myth, as testified to by the fact that it still captures our imaginations, makes us think about our behaviors (and their likely consequences) and informs many faiths even today.

Frank Lockwood Senior · December 21, 2011 at 1:57 am

Well, aside from some of the inappropriate and off-topic responses, there is much to be said in reply to the question, as it is many faceted.

First out of the chute, the questioner engages in Bible interpretation, and makes assumptions that may not be true.

Assumption 1: If someone talks about a myth as if it were true, that proves he believes in the myth as more than a myth, as a literal, non-fiction account.

My reply: “Not true.”

Yes, that assumption may well have been the case with Jesus, but it also may not have been. We simply don’t know what Jesus believed about Noah, for example, even though he alluded to this mythological character. University teachers frequently refer to fictitious characters, such as Willy Lowman, as it they were real people. They are real people in the sense that they represent the common lot of a large group of people, or perhaps of all people.

To be continued.

Frank Lockwood Senior · December 21, 2011 at 2:04 am

Continued:

The questioner assumes that all liberal Christians believe that Jesus is Jehovah, God, and therefore all-knowing. This is a mistaken assumption.

In fact, this assumption is not even true of all conservative Christians. Conservative in the sense of believing the Bible is the inspired Word of God.

The fact is, there have always been some Christians who believed otherwise, although the Roman Catholic church condemned them as heretics, burned their books, excommunicated them and killed many of them.

As to being all knowing, almost every serious Christian accepts the verse that says that it is not “given” to Jesus to know the plans that God has in mind for the end times, words to that effect.

Frank Lockwood Senior · December 21, 2011 at 2:10 am

Continued:

About “cherry picking”

The questioner may have taken note of the various differing strands of Christianity among literalistic Christians. The fact is, they/we all “cherry pick,” even the most legalistic of us do that, as has often been noted on atheist web pages. It’s just human nature. People interpret the Bible through their own unique filters, the filters of culture, of group affiliation, and of “Gestalt.”

Gestalt is the variety of ways in which a mind can take bits and pieces of information and “fill in the dots,” so to speak. We don’t all fill in the dots in the same way. Unfortunately, some Christians feel it necessary to claim that their way of filling in the dots is the definitive Christianity.

Frank Lockwood Senior · December 21, 2011 at 2:16 am

Is it fair to say that “Jesus shows no more wisdom about science, history, or mythology than his followers”?

I think not. Jesus showed much more wisdom than, say, the Herodians who were collaborating with the Romans in extorting money from the poor in order to maintain the wealthy life-sytles of the filthy rich.

His wisdom, if not a perfect replica of, say, modern molecular science, is at least more advanced than that of many of today’s so-called world leaders, even of leaders in science.

His wisdom is one reason we follow him even today.

Frank Lockwood Senior · December 21, 2011 at 2:24 am

Continued:

Mark 10:6 “Jesus did not believe in evolution …”

Of course he didn’t! You wouldn’t have either if you had live back then.

Exorcism: Today we cannot “cure” the mentally ill. Mental illness is controlled but not cured. People believe that he healed the incurable diseases. That’s something that modern medicne cannot do. That’s something to think about, even if first century science did explain things in differnt terms. You may come to a time in your life when you wish for a “miracle” too. May God grant you one.

Frank Lockwood Senior · December 21, 2011 at 2:36 am

The mustard seed: Nope, it is not the smallest seed. And I am not 100 percent sure that “mustard” is even the bush he was referring to. Maybe yes, maybe no. But that’s beside the point.

The point is that you have to interpret scripture according to first century literary conventions, not according to those of our century. The fact is, they used language differently than we do, and there are examples of this throughout the Bible.

The Bible uses such terms as these: largest, smallest, all, none etc. in a relative sense. Mope, it does not make sense to the modern mind. Deal with it.

But the language “holds together” for the intended audience.

Other examples would be the use of numbers to represent relative sizes rather than to give exact accounts like a modern auditor would require. It’s a fact of life that different accounts of the same event report different numbers, and sometimes those numerical differences are extreme. Live with it. It’s not a magic book. The bible is a book written by men and transcribed by fallible humans. No doctrine doctrines of inerrancy or infallibility can ever account for the Bible.

Why would I expect it to? Even the New York Times contains errors. Even modern textbooks have misprints! And the best of scholars make a wrong call from time to time. The Bible is no different. But if a scientist makes a wrong assumption about, say, the speed of light, does that mean we reject everything the scientist ever said or wrote? Of course not!

We may well live to see the day that Einstein’s theory of relativity is replaced. He will still have been a giant in the land of modern thought. And so is Jesus.

Frank Lockwood Senior · December 21, 2011 at 2:47 am

Continued:

“If some of the bible is myth, metaphorical, or untrue, why would God himself perpetuate the belief that it was true?”

Well, different parts of the Bible are, indeed, all of those things, and no, God himself does not “perpetuate” the belief that all of these are true in a literal sense.

Men perpetuate the myths. And men perpetuate their own interpretations of the myths that are common to our culture. That’s the nature of the beast, so to speak. That’s the maze that one finds himself in as he becomes a seeker of God.

The job of the Christian is to embrace the truth, not to place unreasonable expectations upon past believers, or unbearable burdens upon modern believers either. Jesus did not come to drive us crazy with folly; he came to make us sane! So why have we turned it around so that it works just backwards for so many people.

Hey, Questioner, I want to impress one thought upon you: Jesus is one of the good guys! Get with his program, you will be glad you did.

Frank Lockwood Senior · December 21, 2011 at 2:59 am

Continued:

“Jesus teaches you can move mountains and wither fig trees (Matthew 21:21-22), and raise the dead (Matthew 10:8)– all scientifically unproven or impossible.”

Well, although I think he was speaking figuratively, in this case the saying happens to be true literally as well. Give me enough time an I can move a mountain by myself! But I won’t live long enough. But if all the Christians in the world determined to remove a mountain, given enough time it could and would be done. But Jesus was speaking figuratively, as the mountain he spoke of most likely was a mountain that represented the place from which God speaks.

As to raising the dead: This can be done too. Not yet, but the day may come when scientists could take a sample including your genetic codes, and create a new you out of them! That, of course, would open a whole new area of ethics to be considered, but it could happen.

Again, I don’t think this is what they authors had in mind.

It seems likely at least that something factual was behind the stories of the raising of Lazarus. Whether he was actually “dead” for four days … that strains my credulity. But … when Jesus raised the dead in another setting he said, “She is not dead … she is sleeping.” And the people laughed him to scorn. It turns out he was right.

People always attack what they don’t understand. I don’t understand the raising of Laz, but I won’t attack it either. With God, all these things are possible.

Back to you.

Paul1972 · January 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Jesus was God in that he embodied God. He was a reflection of God. This article and cartoon misunderstand what the Word made flesh means. Jesus was not all-knowing as if God turned Himself into a human and popped down to Earth. Jesus was not God in that sense. Besides, when Jesus referred to Noah etc He was not giving a history lesson – he was teaching about spiritual and timeless truths, much like mythology does today.

Frank Lockwood Senior · January 6, 2012 at 9:38 pm

I am with you Paul. Caesar is not a God folks: JESUS is a GOD!

People really do misunderstand the literary conventions of the first and second centuries.

As to Jesus being Jehovah, that interpretation may be way off the mark.

I am reminded of a movie; the big Australian hero is in, I think it was NYC, but a big city anyway, and the local gang accosts him with a switchblade.

He looks at them in amazement and says words to the effect, “That is not a knife!”

He proceeds to pull out a big knife that looks more like a machete and he says, “THIS is a KNIFE!”

And the bad guys run for cover.

That’s kind of what I think was going on in the first century. It’s kind of a “My God’s bigger than your God” situation. The Romans are making Gods out of their emperors and the Christians are saying words to the effect, “THAT’s not a God; THIS is a GOD!

But soon Christians were taking the words out of context and Orthodox Christianity is what we ended up with.

So Paul, I say you go guy!

Frank Senior

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