The other day, I posted “The Intolerance of Tolerance,” wherein D.A. Carson discusses the development and ramifications of the postmodern understanding of tolerance. Listening to his thoughtful and careful exposition set my mind to work, and I found with a number of questions.
Do we, particularly those of us who have been raised with a postmodern mindset, have a right understanding of what it means to be tolerant? And how is our understanding of tolerance affecting us spiritually?
Take the bookstore for example. When I go to Chapters, it’s always interesting to look at the titles in the Religion/Christianity section. There’s a very diverse selection of titles by a number of authors offering a variety of perspectives and positions. Naturally, some of these are very helpful and generally biblical, and others are anything but. (It’s fun to see Tim Keller and Bart Ehrman next to each on a bookshelf.) They run the full gamut. And, truthfully, I wouldn’t expect the mass market bookstore to have anything but this kind of mix, simply because they’re not catering to a specialty market.
Then there’s the specialty market—the Christian bookstores. What’s funny is I notice a lot of crossover between the mass market and the specialty. A lot of works that are really good and helpful, and others that are downright unbiblical.
A variety of books written by authors whose theological convictions differ on a variety of issues all together in one place, all professing to believe the same thing. Yet, sometimes, there are some pretty drastic differences—to the point that it’s entirely possible that they aren’t all talking about the same God and the same belief system at all.
One author says that the distinction between Creator and creation is being reconsidered. Another says that the Bible is a human product and should be treated as such. Another still tells readers of the great risk that God took when creating the world and everything in it—because He didn’t know what would happen(!)
Alongside them, you have an author who writes that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Another describes the other-ness of God—the distinction of Creator from His creation, His holiness, His omniscience, and omnipresence. And another still pastorally relays the many facets and sufficiency of the crucifixion to those who are broken, grieving, and altogether ravaged by sin.
While it’s not wrong to read opposing viewpoints (on the contrary, it is quite helpful at times), I’m a bit surprised at some of the content that historically evangelical publishers are offering. Authors who shred biblical Christianity in the name of recovering, rediscovering or reinterpreting it published alongside authors who firmly uphold those beliefs. From the outside at least, it appears to be nothing more than cashing in on controversy. And while making money is certainly not a bad thing (I make some, and would like to make more in the future), is it right for Christians to do so from work that dishonors Jesus?
The impression I get, ultimately, is that the postmodern view of tolerance encourages a lack of discernment.
There are always varying degrees of difference in interpretation and conviction on theological issues that do not put one outside the scope of orthodox belief. These are, generally, “in-house” debates; secondary issues like responsible alcohol consumption and the like… things that really don’t affect the meaning of the gospel and the centrality of Christ in Christian worship. When it comes to a secondary issue, I’d heartily recommend anyone and everyone to study and question those assumptions and convictions; to gain a solid understanding of the things you believe.
Then there are other issues—beliefs for which we must contend. A cursory reading of Scripture will point out some of the big ones: The divinity of Christ, the distinction between Creator and creation, the Resurrection, the virgin birth, penal substitutionary atonement, the reality of eternal punishment, the necessity of caring for the poor… you get the idea. With these, again, study well and gain a solid understanding of them and their importance to the Christian life. To study these doctrines and beliefs, to gain a solid grasp of them biblically, will only make us stronger in our faith.
But here’s my concern: We, myself especially, must be careful not use “tolerance” as a cover for a lack of discernment or an unwillingness to contend for primary issues. To lack discernment is simply to be foolish; it’s one of the effects of being given over to a depraved mind (Romans 1:18-31). And to fail to be discerning and be unwilling to appropriately “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) is absolutely devastating.
I guess the real question is, are we prepared to be discerning and not assume that everything with the label “Christian” is safe?
Are we willing to be intolerant of the right things?