In 2013 a nationwide phone-poll research study was commissioned by now shuttered Mars Hill Church. 913 thousand calls were dialed, 70 thousand conversations occurred and of that, one thousand, twelve minute individual interviews were conducted. This data, taken from the age ranges of 18 to 44, told us that the number one objection if Christianity is that, “it is intolerant”. Significant information from the culture in which we live in, but what is the definition of tolerance? Are we talking about the same concept of toleration of others?
Dictionary from 1828 Webster’s dictionary: TOL’ERANCE, [L. tolerantia, from tolero, to bear.] The power or capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring
Dictionary.com 2013: tol·er·ance, 1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry. 2. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own. 3. interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint. 4. the act or capacity of enduring; endurance
• In our modern culture, we have modified the definition of tolerance.
By the definitions above, somewhere the meaning of tolerance has changed. In my own Christian walk, I have always felt this tension, but never understood where it originated. As Christians, the Bible tells to “love our neighbor, as we love ourselves” (Mark 12:31). We our told in our churches, to “go out, and be disciples for Christ” (Matthew 28) and to love people and share the way we view the world, but when we do our culture pushes back. We are told we are wrong, old fashioned, uneducated. Even worse, we are called hateful, raciest and bigoted. Why is this case?
I would argue that it is the changed definition of tolerance (or intolerance) that is a critical diversion of two completely opposing worldviews. As Christians, we are sharing our faith with the assumption that the receiver will understand our message. We take for granted that when sharing the way we view the world; it is received, mentally processed and understood. This is assuming too much.
On one hand, a non-Christian views the world as “getting better”. This view could be traced back to the Enlightenment age, when human achievement through scientific discovery pushed the boundaries of authority. The non-Christian might feel that with further education and self-discovery the world we live in and how we treat one another will continue to improve over the course of time. However, Christians do not view the world under these enlightenment knowledge conditions. Our view can be traced back to Genesis 3 and the “fall of man”. We view that the world is not getting better, but worse. Stated in a theological term, a “total depravity” that stems from a heart that is separated from God. This Christian doctrine of the fall of humankind understands the Bible teaches, as a consequence all people born into the world are morally bankrupt, imprisoned to sin and is, apart from God’s grace unable to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation.
“10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Romans 3:10-11)
• So where does this new definition of tolerance leave us?
It leaves us with two people, who are literally facing completely opposite directions on how the world works, and how we are to interact with it. Two completely different belief systems, that each seem outlandish and unbelievable to the other. When we share beliefs or worldviews we are assuming the other person views the world as we see it, or at least, close to it. We are not even in the same ballpark!
So, if we are viewing humanity completely differently, where does the tolerance come in? The definition of tolerance, as discussed above, has changed from “capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring”, with someone who has a different viewpoint to “affirming someone” who has a different viewpoint.” When we tolerate we endure, we love, we have patience, we have steadfastness, and sufferance with their opposing viewpoint.
The tolerance definition has moved to full affirmation of the opposing view; anything less you will appear intolerant of the opposing viewpoint. This makes no sense, and goes against the very meaning of the word tolerance. Unfortunately, in our modern culture we now must believe in everything, (or affirm) every belief or run the risk of being labeled hateful, raciest or bigoted. This leaves little room for the Christian to share their worldview of the redeeming offer of salvation in Jesus Christ and further exacerbates the privatization of faith from the public square.
Of course, isn’t the non-Christian being “intolerant” of the Christian worldview? The answer would be yes! It would be a self-refuting statement. A self-refuting statement is defined; “a statement is one that fails to meet its own standard, as an example, I cannot speak a word in English.” Other examples of self-refuting statements are; “You shouldn’t try to convert people.” The non-theist is trying to convert you to their point of view. “It is arrogant to claim to have the truth.” The non-theist is making the claim that they have the truth. “You should be tolerant of all views.” Again, the non-theist is claiming that all views are acceptable, but showing no tolerance to your opposing view. Exactly who are the intolerant groups here?
• What does this mean for me?
As the Bible teaches us throughout Christianity’s history culture has made every attempt to push it to the sidelines. Repeatedly, the truth of the word never fades, never changes, and never fails us as the enduring truth. Christians must continue to lovingly share the gospel, and actively live out their faith, to do anything less is dishonest to ourselves and goes against the gospel. Christians must push back against culture and treat everyone with love and respect. This does NOT mean we should be tolerant of sinful deeds, elicit behavior, or activities that are not grounded in a biblical understanding of the world we all live in. On the other hand, it does mean that we are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) in a world that is desperately searching for meaning and understanding of human nature. The gospel is Jesus Christ is that coherent and tolerant worldview to answer society’s inquiries about itself.