“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”
– G.K. Chesterton
On June 19, 2012 the Ontario legislature passed Bill 13 (the “anti-bullying” bill) into law, giving legal protection to the teaching and promotion of homosexuality and the newly defined concepts of gender and gender identity in Ontario schools. During open debate on the bill Cabinet Minister Glen Murray, after reading the section of the Catholic Catechism describing homosexuality as sin previously taught in Catholic schools declared: “I say to
you Bishops: ‘You’re not allowed to do that anymore.’” With a single stroke of legislation, the government placed a gag order on Christian beliefs about human sexuality, and did so all in the name of ‘tolerance’.
Faye Sonier of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada observed the irony:
“It’s unfortunate that a bill declared to promote tolerance in schools has been turned into a club of intolerance with which to beat back the lawful and respectful expression of Catholic (i.e. Christian) beliefs.”
How was such a feat accomplished? The short answer is by re-engineering social values through the careful redefinition of words. In this case it was through a redefinition of the word “tolerance”.
The New Tolerance:
Traditionally the word “tolerate” means “to put up with”. This means considering my viewpoint true and my opponents false, but still respecting that my opponent has the right to make a case for their view. Plainly put it means that we tolerate people, but not their ideas.
The “New Tolerance” however goes beyond tolerating people to insisting that we “should not even judge their viewpoints as wrong.” Consequently, little by little the meaning of tolerance has changed to acceptance or approval.
Today, fear of being labelled “intolerant” has virtually eliminated rational discussion on religious and moral matters in our society. Issues such as homosexuality, trans-gender identity, abortion and the redefinition of marriage (to name only a few) are no longer considered even open for public debate, much less public disapproval; such that voicing open dissent will result in your being branded intolerant or hateful.
In a campaign of reinventing words and re- engineering culture it is clear that the Christian church has lost the day. But how did this happen?
The Battle For ‘Truth’:
“What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires.”
– J. Gresham Machen
The 20th Century saw a seismic shift in thought as traditional ideas about truth were overturned. This “post-modern turn”, as some came to call it, rejected the modern iidea that truth is objectively real or “out there”, waiting to be discovered. Instead, as postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty puts it: “Truth is made rather than found.” Unfortunately many Christians uncritically accepted this postmodern re-visioning of truth, failing to see that its very assumptions are not only incompatible with, but antithetical to the gospel. Recent studies show how such uncritical accommodations are proving devastating to the church.
Albert Mohler lists five features of this “post- modern turn” concerning truth. Notice the real life responses (printed in italics) from young Canadian Christians when questioned in a 2012 study about their attitudes concerning Christian truth.
According to Mohler, this “post-modern turn” has resulted in:
1. The Death of the Meta-Narrative: Where absolute claims to universal truths are rejected.
“There is no right and wrong ever in anything, it’s what you believe in you as an individual and what you choose to do.” – Elsie
2. The Demise of the Text: Where the great texts of history don’t carry their own meaning, rather meaning is created by the reader.
“[Jesus’] life is meant to be interpreted in your own way .”– Stan
3. The Dominion of Therapy: Where truth is denied, the question shifts from “What is true?” to “What makes me feel good?”
“I think being Christian or having faith of any kind is more about what you personally believe and what you, how you live your life …You have to think about it and what works for me.” – Alvin
4. The Decline of Authority: Since liberation comes from creating our own truth, the authority of texts, authors, traditions, the Bible and especially God must
“To tell one religion they’re wrong and all of a sudden you’re right and glorified, you can’t do that.” – Suzanne
5. The Displacement of Morality: Without God the foundation for moral truth disappears and moral relativism rules.
“So I just really feel that, uh, you should do what’s comfortable for you, and do what you feel is right.” – Wayne
It is becoming clear that our post-modern culture’s re-conception of truth has shaped the minds of an emerging generation of Christian young people such that they don’t even know what the gospel is about anymore.
A Deceptive Liberation:
What is so deceptive about this “postmodern” vision of truth, and its “New Tolerance” offspring is that it supposedly liberates us from the “oppressive authority of absolute truth” by authoritatively imposing its own absolute. To say: “There are no absolute truths” is in fact an absolute claim about truth. It’s an inescapable fact that all truth claims rest upon some foundation of absolute authority, even claims that deny truth. As we’ve seen before, a simple way to expose this fact is to counter any truth claim with the question: “Says who?”
The “New Tolerance” and its promise of “inclusivity” then can only deliver on that promise if you subscribe to the authoritative viewpoint of its architects. If you don’t, you’d better watch out! The “New Tolerance” provides no pathway to a “live and let live” utopia. It merely supplies an effective verbal club with which to beat into silence anyone who would voice disapproval.
Responding to the New Tolerance:
What should Christians do when the culture we live in and long to reach has not only
rejected the content of the gospel, but the very concept of truth that makes that content
meaningful? How can we rebuild the house when not only are the walls torn down, but the very foundation removed? This turns out to be a very old question that God has already answered.
“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” Psalm 11:3-4
We must remember that the power of the gospel is its foundation of truth that rests upon the Lord Jesus Christ who actually (i.e. truthfully) sits enthroned over the world. (cf. Eph. 1:18-23) Because Jesus is true his gospel has power. It isn’t a question of “whose truth works better” (a very postmodern, therapeutic view of truth) but “whose truth is, well…TRUE?” We cannot proclaim the gospel while accommodating the postmodern assumption that truth has no foundation because the gospel proclaims that Christ IS the foundation. This is what prompted Paul to draw such a definitive line for the Corinthians:
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
(1 Cor. 3:11)
So, we need not make the mistake, as some have, of feeling the need to accommodate postmodern notions of truth and consequent views of ‘tolerance’ in proclaiming the gospel. Rather, we need to present people with the reality of Jesus.
Would The Real Jesus Please Stand Up:
In John 18:37, after his arrest Jesus is questioned by Pilate concerning his identity; a basic “who are you and why are you here?” To this, Jesus responds: “…for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” By these words Jesus forever anchors our understanding of truth.
The truth that Jesus has come to “testify to” is a binary matter; in other words an issue of either / or. EITHER you are with Jesus on the side of truth, OR you are not. There is no room for the “New Tolerance” on Jesus’ view. As John quotes him earlier in John 14:6, Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father accept through me.” Jesus presents a very exclusive truth claim. He is the only objectively real pathway to life. His claim is however absolutely inclusive because his offer is available to anyone who would repent, receive and follow him as “the Truth”.
Confronting the “New Tolerance”:
Since presenting truth necessarily entails confronting lies, we must also be bold to confront the lie of the “New Tolerance”. We may do so by exposing the myth of neutrality that attends its promise of ‘inclusivity’.
First of all the proposition: “all truth claims are equally valid” is a self defeating one since by its own definition it must necessarily include its opposite (i.e. “NOT all truth claims are equally valid”), which is of course absurd. So first of all the “New Tolerance” suffers a fatal logical flaw.
Second, point out to those who wield the “New Tolerance” club that the very act of doing so renders them intolerant. Saying “you can’t judge someone else’s beliefs as wrong because that’s being intolerant” is itself a judgement against my belief which by their own definition is intolerance. The question that follows then is: “What gives you the right?” The only answer left is a direct appeal to authority, the very thing “New Tolerance” subscribers wish to deny.
Since “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1) Christians may rest secure
in the knowledge that God remains the unmovable foundation for truth. Our culture’s prevailing attitudes regarding a new way of conceiving of truth with its utopian dream of a liberated and unified humanity is just shifting shadows. In short, the “New Tolerance” is nothing more than the “Old Lie” repackaged for a new generation being deceived by our adversary. May we not shrink back in fear, but boldly confront the lie with the gospel of Jesus Christ, “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim. 2:25)
1. Faye Sonier: “Ontario’s bullying response to bullying”, National Post, Sept 24, 2012.
2. J. P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle, (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 2007), 103.
3. R. Albert Mohler, “Truth and Contemporary Culture”, in What Ever Happened to Truth, ed. Andreas Kostenberger, (Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2005), 58.
4. Ibid, 59-63.
5. Hemorrhaging Faith: Why & When Canadian Young Adults Are Leaving, Staying & Returning to the Church., p. 73