Monday, March 26, 2012

"Intolerance of Tolerance"

Recently, Dr Albert Mohler interviewed D.A.Carson on his new book entitled, "The Intolerance of Tolerance" published by Eerdmans in Jan 2012. The key idea in the book and the interview is that modernism has redefined the meaning of what tolerance is. It is not longer allowing one to stand for what one believes, but to bow down to the modernist expectation of keeping one's views to themselves, and not to rock the boat of existing paradigms. In every culture, there is a strain of intolerance, even secular circles. For example, anyone who makes a stand against homosexuality, will be branded 'intolerant.' New media and many public figures will on the one hand trumpet 'tolerance' for all, but on the other hand, be very quick to lambast and criticize anybody for taking a stand against the gay agenda. One is no longer allowed to tell another person that he/she is wrong. Carson adds that in a culture where:

"And they could say the same to me. So, tolerance did not mean that everybody was pretending to say the same thing; it meant that there were no public coercive powers that were exerted to force people to be in line as to what they thought and what they taught in public. But for all kinds of complex reasons, increasingly tolerance means that in a variety of domains you mustn’t say that somebody else is wrong. You might even go so far as to say that they’re all equally right, and if you criticize anybody for anything, then you are intrinsically intolerant. Now that’s a massive change and it becomes actually publically dishonest."

So, Carson is pointing out that the very people that champions tolerance for all, turn out to be intolerant toward certain people, especially Christians, or anyone speaking out against certain popular positions. Carson's new book is not new on this subject. Several years ago, Josh McDowell has already identified the cultural movement that we are in right now. In "The New Tolerance," McDowell and Hostetler list the two different understanding of tolerance.

#1: Traditional: "to recognize and respect other positions without necessarily sharing them."

#2 - New: "truth is relative to the community in which a person participates. And since there are many human communities, there are necessarily many different truths." (Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, A New Tolerance, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1998, 18)

The difference between the two comes out strongly in the modern era. While in the past, the word 'tolerance' keeps disagreements at a healthy distance, the new tolerance essentially compromises any idea of an absolute truth.

Carson brings this idea farther, saying that even those standing up for truth are being crushed by the oppressive worldview to conform to the new tolerance. This view is in itself bigotry. He goes on to make this statement:

"The greatest intolerance we need to fear is the intolerance of the one who believes that we have this best of imaginable news and it is not our obligation to share it with everyone." (DA Carson)

Agreeing but in a different way, McDowell and Hostetler proposes 5 ways to implement a 'new apologetic' that can enable Christians to shine as stars in such an 'intolerant culture.'

  1. Develop Community: so that people know without a doubt that we have a vested interest in the betterment of everyone in it, rather than only one faith group
  2. Show Compassion: so that people know that Christians truly care for people.
  3. Protect Creation: so that Christians gain credibility with an increasingly environmentally conscious generation
  4. Foster Good Family: so that Christians can magnify Christ's goodness through strong marriages and family relationships
  5. Compelling Personal Testimony: so that people can recognize that the Christian witness is real in the lives of real people.

For me, a new society that depends on tolerance to live on is basically building relationships on sand. Tolerance about everything means we stand for nothing. The battleground is not tolerance or intolerance per se. The battleground is truth, and we need to be able to continually engage one another to distill truth in all positions. After all, truth in itself has no error. All errors have in themselves a bit of truth here and there. Do we tolerate errors? No. That is why Christians are called to press on to proclaim the truth on two fronts. Be open to correction, but at the same time, affirm the truth of the gospel, but always doing them in gentleness and humility.


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