In the public square Christianity is increasingly labelled as intolerant. Part of the reason for this is that a subtle shift has taken place in the way ‘tolerance’ is understood and defined. Whereas tolerance once meant ‘accepting the existence of different views’, now it is increasingly being understood as the ‘acceptance of different views’.
As Don Carson rightly points out, ‘To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it. The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own’.
Of course, the new tolerance is itself intolerant because it cannot and will not tolerate any worldview that doesn’t accept all other worldviews as equally true. It’s not surprising then, with this new tolerance gaining wider acceptance, that Christianity is increasingly labelled as intolerant. After all, Jesus did say to his disciples “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14: 6). However, in the context of John’s Gospel Jesus’ words aren’t meant to confront the faulty, relativistic worldview that lies behind the new tolerance, but comfort troubled and anxious disciples. According to Jesus he is the only way to God because he is the only one who speaks and embodies the truth about God, he is the only one who has the very life of God in himself, and he is the only one who has dealt with the problem of sin and death and the devil, so as to bring sinful people back to God. Certainly Jesus’ words do confront the new tolerance, but are they true? If our answer to that question is ‘yes’, then Jesus’ words aren’t simply an apologetic against a faulty worldview, but a comfort to troubled and anxious disciples as they keep proclaiming the truth about him and maintain their trust in him in the midst of a hostile world.
Let’s continue to make Jesus known.