(A Christian Study on Today’s “Intolerance” Attitude)
Dr. Roger G. Ford, Ph.D., P.E.
Ever been confronted with accusations of being intolerant? Has someone said that your opinions and statements were arrogant or condescending or elitist or even racist? Been accused of being biased against transgenderism or homosexuality or same sex marriage? Has someone who knows you are a Christian asked where your “Christian love” was when it comes to denying a woman’s right to choose? Sound familiar?
What we are dealing with has been around since Jesus walked the Earth, and even before that. God has always talked about longsuffering in His Word, even to the Jews during their time of slavery and exile.
Tolerance is never mentioned in the Bible as a virtue, except in the sense of patience, forbearance, and longsuffering (Ephesians 4:2.) In fact, the contemporary notion of tolerance is a pathetically feeble concept compared to the love Scripture commands Christians to show even to their enemies. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:27-28).
When our grandparents spoke of tolerance to us, they meant it as a virtue and they had something like Jesus’ words in mind. Tolerance used to mean respecting people and treating them kindly even when we believe they were wrong. But the post-modern or prevalent-today notion of tolerance means we must never regard anyone else’s opinions or ideas as “wrong.” Biblical tolerance is for people, but, post-modern or today’s definition of tolerance is for ideas. Let me explain.
Accepting every belief as equally valid is hardly a real virtue, but it is the only kind of “virtue” post-modernism or prevalent-today thinking knows anything about. Traditional virtues (including humility, self-control, and chastity) are openly scorned, even regarded as transgressions in the world of post-modernism or currently.
Predictably, this post-modern definition of tolerance has had a disastrous effect on real virtue in our society. In this age of so-called tolerance, what was once forbidden is now encouraged. What was once universally deemed immoral is now celebrated. Marital infidelity and divorce have been normalized. Profanity is commonplace by both sexes and by all ages regardless of the circumstances one finds themselves in. Abortion, homosexuality, and moral perversions of all kinds are championed by large advocacy groups and enthusiastically promoted by the popular media. The post-modern notion of “tolerance” is systematically turning genuine virtue on its head, convincing young people of today that what the Bible says is wrong is really OK. We have come so far today that society even has no hesitation to criticize a person’s religion (as long as it’s Christianity), to say that any other religion is a person’s “right” and should not be criticized regardless of how cruel or evil it may be (Islam), to demonize anyone for even hinting at the notion that another person’s “alternative lifestyle” is wrong, and raise objection to the very common possibility that your perspective about something is different and, therefore, intolerant.
One major exception to the rule of being “tolerant” of virtually everything today and considering that rule a “virtue” is that it is OK for post-modernists to be intolerant of those who claim they know the truth, particularly biblical Christians. In fact, those who fancy themselves the leading advocates of tolerance today are often the most outspoken opponents of evangelical Christianity.
Look on the Web, for example, and see what is being said by the self-styled champions of “religious tolerance.” What you’ll find is a great deal of intolerance for Bible based Christianity. In fact, some of the most bitterly anti-Christian material on the Web can be found at sites supposedly promoting religious tolerance. Why does authentic biblical Christianity find such ferocious opposition from people who think they are paragons of tolerance? It is because the truth-claims of Scripture, and particularly Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God, are diametrically opposed to the fundamental thinking of the post-modern or currently prevalent mindset. The Christian message actually represents a death blow to the post-modernist worldview.
But as long as Christians are being instructed by false teachers, or duped by self-appointed “experts” in societal psychology, or intimidated by society itself into softening the bold claims of Christ and widening the narrow road, the church will make no headway against post-modernism and the scourge of “intolerance”. We need to recover the distinctiveness of the Gospel. We need to regain our confidence in the power of God’s truth, His Word! And we need to proclaim boldly that Christ is the only true hope for the people of this world because the alternative in every case is eternity in hell!
That may not be what people want to hear in this pseudo-tolerant age of post-modernism. But it is true nonetheless. And precisely because it is true and the Gospel of Christ is the only hope for a lost world, it is all the more urgent that we rise above all the voices of confusion in the world and say so, boldly, regardless of the feedback.
Here are six key concepts that set Christianity in opposition to the very spirit of our age, that spirit of tolerance for the sinful acts of men and intolerance for the truth of God’s Word:
True Christianity starts from the premise that there is a source of truth outside of us. God’s Word is truth (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17). It is objectively true meaning it is true whether it speaks subjectively to any given individual or not. It is true regardless of how anyone feels about it. It is true in an absolute sense. Today, people prefer to seek truth inside themselves. If they contemplate the meaning of Scripture at all, it is usually only in terms of “what this verse means to me”, as if the message of Scripture were unique to every individual. But authentic Christianity regards Scripture as the objective revelation of God’s truth. It is God’s Word to humanity, and its true meaning is determined by God. It is not something that can be shaped according to the preferences of individual hearers or readers.
Biblical Christianity is also based on the conviction that the objective revelation of Scripture is rational. The Bible makes good sense. It contains no contradictions, no errors, and no unsound principles. Anything that does contradict Scripture is untrue. People today are taught to glorify contradiction, embrace that which is absurd, prefer that which is subjective, and let feelings (rather than intellect) determine what they believe. But such irrationality is nothing less than an overt rejection of the very concept of truth. As Christians, we know that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He does not contradict Himself. His truth is perfectly self-consistent. That sort of black-and-white rationality is one of the main reasons biblical Christianity is intolerable in a generation that rejects reason.
Authentic Christianity is based on the conviction that God’s objective revelation (the Bible) approached rationally yields divine truth in perfectly sufficient measure. Everything we need to know for life and godliness is there for us in Scripture. We don’t need to seek principles for godly or successful living through any other source. Scripture is not only wholly truth, it is also the highest standard of all truth, the very rule by which all truth-claims must be measured. Such a conviction is the very antithesis of the postmodern notion of “tolerance.” And that is another major reason why Christianity has been targeted by the proponents of postmodern “tolerance.”
Because Christians believe Scripture is true, they teach its precepts with authority and without apology. The Bible makes bold claims, and faithful Christians affirm it boldly and without compromise. That is a profound threat to the “tolerance” of a society that loves its sin and thinks of compromise as a good thing. In actuality, compromise is accepted as proper in a modern society, but compromise is the very jackhammer to the foundations of our Republic.
Scripture says, “No lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). As Christians, we know that whatever contradicts truth is by definition false. In other words, truth is incompatible with error. Jesus Himself affirmed the utter exclusivity of Christianity. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). That sort of exclusivity is utterly incompatible with postmodern notions of “tolerance.” Also, as Christians we understand that whatever opposes God’s Word or departs from it in any way is a danger to the very cause of truth. Genuine Christians therefore speak out boldly toward known error, and that alone has set the postmodern defenders of “tolerance” against us.
Since all of the above is true, genuine Christianity sees integrity as an essential virtue and hypocrisy as a horrible vice. Such a mind-set is virtually the opposite of postmodern “tolerance,” and it is yet another reason our society despises our faith.
Unfortunately, the church in our generation is drifting from these fundamental convictions and many denominations and independent churches have already embraced postmodern ideas uncritically. Evangelicalism has lost its footing, and the church is becoming more and more like the world mainly because of compromise with the world. Fewer and fewer Christians are willing to stand against the trends, primarily because they do not know the Bible and God’s Will, and the effects have been disastrous. Subjectivity, irrationality, worldliness, uncertainty, compromise, and hypocrisy have already become commonplace among churches and organizations that once were the evangelical mainstream.
The only cure is a conscious, wholesale, and bold rejection of postmodern values and a return to these six concepts of biblical Christianity. We must be faithful to guard the treasure of truth that has been entrusted to us (2 Timothy 1:14). If we do not, who will? Chaos is just around the corner if we don’t!
And, the answer to all of those originally posed accusations and really ignorant questions that we hear today is that their problem is not with us. Their “intolerant” attitude towards the truth should be taken up with God and what He says in the Bible. Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no man comes to the Father but by Him. If anyone has a problem with biblical truth, we should refer them to the Word. If that is unacceptable to them, consider the situation, discern what the Spirit wants, and proceed. Realize that walking away can often be the correct thing to do. Arguing with a fool is foolishness itself (Proverbs 26:4).