In broadly defining both these terms as:
liberal: “contemporary variety of government-driven social reformism.”
conservative: “opposes the contemporary government-driven variety of social reformism in the name of some cherished thing which he finds that it endangers.”
maybe helpful, maybe not. But it’s a starting point. Justin Taylor provides more detail in his summary of J. Budziszewski’s set of articles for First Thingson “The Problem with Liberalism” and “The Problem with Conservatism.”
The important point as a Christian is that I do not assume or co-opt one side or other automatically as my default. This runs afoul of the notion that evangelical Christians are always right-wing conservatives, but if I am true to my allegiance to Jesus then I will often find myself on the “left” side of the table.
How does classical Christianity differ from both? Here are Budziszewski’s comparisons.
Comparing liberalism with Christianity:
- Propitiationism: I should do unto others as they want. Christianity: I should do unto others as they need.
- Expropiationism: I may take from others to help the needy, giving nothing of my own. Christianity: I should give of my own to help the needy, taking from no one.
- Solipsism: Human beings make themselves, belong to themselves, and have value in and of themselves. Christianity: Human beings are made by God, belong to Him, and have value because they are loved by Him and made in His image.
- Absolutism: We cannot be blamed when we violate the moral law, either because we cannot help it, because we have no choice, or because it is our choice. Christianity: We must be blamed, because we are morally responsible beings.
- Perfectionism: Human effort is adequate to cure human evil. Christianity: Our sin, like our guilt, can be erased only by the grace of God through faith in Christ.
- Universalism: The human race forms a harmony whose divisions are ultimately either unreal or unimportant. Christianity: Human harmony has been shattered by sin and cannot be fully healed by any means short of conversion.
- Neutralism: The virtue of tolerance requires suspending judgments about good and evil. Christianity: The virtue of tolerance requires making judgments about good and evil.
- Collectivism: The state is more important to the child than the family. Christianity: The family is more important to the child than the state.
- The Fallacy of Desperate Gestures: “The perfectionist acts, at least in the beginning, from a desire to relieve someone else’s pain. The desperationist acts to relieve his own: the pain of pity, the pain of impotence, the pain of indignation. He is like a man who beats on a foggy television screen with a pipe wrench, not because the wrench will fix the picture but because it is handy and feels good to use.”
Comparing conservatism with Christianity:
- Civil Religionism: America is a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious aspiration. Christianity: America is but one nation among many, no less loved by God, but no more.
- Instrumentalism: Faith should be used for the ends of the state. Christianity: Believers should be good citizens, but faith is not a tool.
- Moralism: God’s grace needs the help of the state. Christianity: Merely asks that the state get out of the way.
- Caesarism: The laws of man are higher than the laws of God. Christianity: The laws of God are higher than the laws of man.
- Traditionalism: What has been done is what should be done. Christianity: Any merely human custom may have to be repented.
- Neutralism: Everyone ought to mind his own business, therefore moral and religious judgments should be avoided. Christianity: While one ought to mind his own business, moral and religious judgments can never be avoided.
- Mammonism: Wealth is the object of commonwealth, and its continual increase even better. Christianity: Wealth is a snare, and its continual increase even worse.
- Meritism: I should do unto others as they deserve. Christianity: I should do unto others not as they deserve, but as they need.
The conclusion? Participate in the political process, remain objective and consider your opportunity to influence and persuade. Don’t bind yourself to one side of the table because that’s the “Christian thing to do” and compromise objectivity and lose relationships that you can nurture.