“Everything about Jesus’ teaching indicates that when it comes to people who differ with you, there is every reason to say that Jesus teaches not just civility, but love.”
About 10 months ago I wrote a blog on tolerance and the Christian life. I re-read it today, because I recently listened to a sermon that addressed the issue of tolerance and intolerance in Christianity. The message was from Timothy Keller, and it was an exposition of Matthew 7:13-27 called “Authentic Christianity.” In one point he took up the subject of tolerance and how it should look in the Christian life.
Should Christians be tolerant? Yes and no. We should live in love, but there are certain things (truth claims that oppose Christianity) that are impossible for us to tolerate. Keller delineated four different kinds of tolerance, three that Christians should possess, and one that is absolutely unfeasible for Christians.
We must make a distinction between these levels of tolerance. I’m taking some liberties to fill them out a bit more than Keller did in his sermon, but my attempt is to simply elaborate on thoughts his message evoked in my mind. We must understand these issues as Christians seeking to live with a distinctly redemptive character and attitude as we encounter those in our world who disagree with us. As Tullian Tchividjian says, “As Christians we make a difference in the world by living different.”
Four types of tolerance:
1) Social Tolerance: Tolerating people on a social level.
Christians should have this. Think about Jesus. He did not break into bars or hostels with guns blazing, seeking to demolish anyone who disagreed with His claim to be God. He walked in love, building redemptive bridges to broken and hurting people.
2) Relational Tolerance: Showing respect for others and authentically listening to people no matter where they land theologically.
Christians should be courteous. We should be people who are willing to hear others’ opinions and to engage in civil dialogue about the truth. We have nothing to fear from questions. We can’t shy away from critical thinking. Remember, Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” If He is the truth, and He is, honest questions find their answer in Him. We should encourage these questions. And we should study God’s word daily so that we can give clear answers about the truth.
3) Legal Tolerance: Allowing people to practice their beliefs freely.
Of all these types of tolerance, we should be most thankful for this as Christians. For those of us who live inAmerica, this is one of the great gifts we were given by our Founding Fathers. If you look back through history you’ll find many examples of legal tolerance not being granted to individuals seeking to practice their beliefs authentically and peacefully. We should be thankful for legal tolerance, not that we need it to survive (Christian history shows that true Christianity thrives under persecution), but that we have it to enjoy.
Christians should practice social, relational, and legal tolerance. The final type of tolerance however, is one we cannot truly give while remaining true to our faith.
4) Theological tolerance: tolerating the idea that “all religions are the same” or “all roads go to the top.”
This is absolutely impossible for Christians. We cannot faithfully practice true Christianity while exhibiting theological (or intellectual) tolerance. Why? Look at a few things Jesus said:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Immediately following Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension his disciples rightly taught:
“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
This may not be an easy pose to strike, yet Christians must remain theologically intolerant while practicing social, relational and legal tolerance for others. When Christians arrive at this place of delicate balance we will truly exemplify the Spirit of Jesus in our culture, full of grace and truth.