The Intolerance of Tolerance

One of the court cases that has been in the news recently revolves around tolerance, Ashers bakery and a cake. A customer asked for a cake that was clearly supporting homosexual marriage and the baker refused to make the cake; that was back in 2014.

Along the way the Ashers and other evangelical Christians have been called monsters, old-fashioned and intolerant, but what do people mean when they speak about intolerance? Our world, or at least the West, seems to be absolutely obsessed with tolerance but the irony in this is that we, as a society, are not tolerant at all.

Carson has written a great book on tolerance and what it means and it really helped me put words to the situation that I see unfolding before our very eyes. The Intolerance of Tolerance, is a helpful book that will give you insight into what people mean by intolerance and it helps you argue for true tolerance.

I always find it interesting to learn new words and to see how the meanings or definitions of words change, for example gay used to mean happy, but today people use the word mostly to refer to homosexuality. One of the interesting changes that I have found is the word tolerance, and Carson unpacks the change of this word and the implications of that.

Today the word tolerance suggests, in the minds of some, that there must be no disagreement and that if you do not agree with someone, their worldview or their religion then you are being intolerant. However, true tolerance assumes that there will be disagreements. If we lose the true meaning of tolerance then we will begin to fear disagreeing with someone else. The beauty of tolerance is that we can discuss things with people and disagree, yet still tolerate each other.

This new ‘meaning’ of tolerance has gone to the point where you are expected to see every view as being right and valid, Carson says…

“Intolerance is no longer a refusal to allow contrary opinions to say their
piece in public, but must be understood to be any questioning or
contradicting the view that all opinions are equal in value, that all
worldviews have equal worth, that all stances are equally valid.”

Because of this view and new meaning of the words tolerant and intolerance, Christians are deemed intolerant so how should we respond? Carson dedicates a chapter to this and he begins by setting up the consequences of what it would take for us to be seen as tolerant by the world…

“If [Christians] are judged intolerant in the new sense,
the price of escaping the charge is too high to pay:
it would mean abandoning Christ.”

Carson ends his book with ten suggestions for Christians to adopt if we are to live in this world and combat this new kind of so called ‘tolerance’.

As with many of Carson’s books this will not be a stroll in the park, he is summarising academic debates and philosophy, therefore, this book is a bit more academic than other books that I review. However, it is still at the accessible level (or else I wouldn’t be able to read it!) and is a great read for Christians and for people who are wondering why the world is changing the way it is.

Our world has become so comfortable that we no longer like or want to put up with anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. But the truth is that the message of Jesus Christ will make you feel uncomfortable! The Bible calls you a sinner and a person who is at odds with God, but it also goes on to explain God’s great plan of redemption that runs right from start to finish.

Therefore, I happily want to be deemed ‘intolerable’ but I pray that it is for the right reason and that is that I represent Jesus in all areas of my life. I pray the same for you!

Rating 4/5
You can buy the book here: The Intolerance of Tolerance

The author: D.A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is a founding member and currently president of The Gospel Coalition, and is the author of many good books.

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