The New Gospel of "Tolerance"
I originally wrote this in 2003, but the message is relevant to the moment in which we presently live.
In our current social climate the fastest way to be labeled an intolerant bigot is to stand up for Biblical truth. To affirm the teaching of God’s Word is in violation of the new gospel of “tolerance.” Intolerance, as defined by our culture today, is rapidly becoming our society’s unpardonable sin.
From a Christian perspective, it’s not that tolerance is bad – it’s just that it doesn’t mean what it used to mean. Theologian and New Testament scholar D. A. Carson speaking at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky addressed the issue of how the word tolerance used to refer to a simple respect of another’s right to believe differently. Carson said: ”In the new view of tolerance, however, I have no strong views and you have no strong views. That makes us both tolerant persons. If I have strong views and articulate them, I am, by definition, intolerant. Under the new definition, no place is allowed for a group to claim it is right. The church that takes this stance is no longer perceived as standing for something and thus in some sense heroic, but is merely bigoted, narrow, right-wing, antiquarian.”
By today’s standard it really is not enough to tolerate the differing beliefs of another, I must affirm the “rightness” of their beliefs. To something or someone is wrong is intolerant. Of course, we find this especially true when the subject is some controversial issue like homosexuality. In such cases, Christians are “judged” (which seems somewhat intolerant to me) as “intolerant” and admonished to be more merciful and loving. Strong views – and even worse, the characterization of any behavior as sin – are discouraged in most strident terms. Recently, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Franklin Graham have come under attack for daring to portray Islam in what the White House considers a “politically incorrect” manner. Falwell called Muhammad a “terrorist,” while Robertson referred to him as “a robber and a brigand.” Franklin Graham had the audacity to characterize the religion of Islam as “very evil and wicked.”
The problem is that the message of Christianity is intolerant in terms of the current definition. What could be more “narrow-minded” than to say that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven? The message that we are called to proclaim includes a prophetic announcement, which addresses men with the truth of their own sinfulness. As John Piper remarked in an article for World magazine that for the church to refrain from declaring the universality of Christ’s claims is an act of “provincial cowardice.” From the perspective of the “new gospel of tolerance” the message that Jesus Christ is Lord, and calls all men to submit to His authority, is the most extreme form of intolerance. Regarding the viewpoint of our secularized culture, Piper stated, “What could be more arrogant than to think that the infinite variety of need in all the cultural groups of the world could be met by a single Savior!”
[What is equally disturbing is the results of a recent survey published in U.S. News and World Report, which found that only 19% of self described Christians believed that their own faith was “the only true religion.”]
The challenge for the church in this hour is to rise up and preach lovingly, accurately, consistently, and prophetically to the culture. In these times, and the days ahead, courage is required. The message of God’s Kingdom pierces the heart of sinful man and inevitable causes us to be viewed as enemies of those opposing God’s truth. We cannot compromise our message in the face of those who would accuse us of intolerance. We must not “wilt” before those opposing the message of God’s truth, and give way to the fear of men. This may very well be why the Book of the Revelation – which pictures God’s people living in a hostile cultural environment, emphasizes overcoming (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5,12, 21, 21:7). It is worthy of our notice that in Revelation 21:8, that cowardice is considered to be as wicked as witchcraft, idolatry, and murder – in fact, it heads the list.
The issue all of us must face in light of the current climate is this: Are we willing to stand with Christ?