Yesterday evening I was at the student lounge chit-chatting with friends. And the question, "How to define a 'liberal'?" came out. My Thai friend, Ong, said that the definition of the term is easier in the past but not now. My Indonesian friend, Andreas, and I agree. It is hard for us to describe a theology as liberal or conservative. Therefore it's difficult to label someone as liberal or conservative.
Andreas drew a good example. He said that me and another college-mate belong to the Reformed tradition, but that college-mate is at the far 'right', while I'm at the far 'left'. I replied by telling a (historical) parable.
J.D. Crossan made a provocative remark during a dialog with N.T. Wright a few years ago. From within the context of the polarization between the 'left' and 'right' in America religious communities and national politic, his remark is provocative:
"... Jesus has been exalted, maybe even to the right hand of God. (By the way, remember, if Jesus is at the right hand of God, then God is to the left of Jesus.)"
(The Resurrection of Jesus, p.26)
The point that I was driving at is that even the category of 'right' and 'left' is not clear.
Later in the evening, Andreas recounted to us about a correspondence between him and Gordon Wong, a professor of Old Testament at Trinity Theological College. My friend was in his first year and was exposed to the many facets of OT studies in Gordon's class. So he emailed Gordon to clarify some issues.
To Andreas' surprise, the first paragraph in Gordon's reply was something like this: "I don't care if anyone call me liberal, conservative, non-Evangelical, or what..."
And our lecturer in New Testament Tony Siew said about the same thing. I think the gist of these lecturers' remarks is to cultivate in students the ability to be intellectually critical and independent, without playing into the labelling games. We have moved on and over the labelling which unhelpfully inherited (from the West?).
In case anyone wonders, both Gordon and Tony are committed Christians who love Jesus and the Bible.