Book Review: The Intolerance of Tolerance

by Dave Jenkins

The Intolerance of Tolerance by D.A. Carson is a masterful exploration into one of the greatest cultural issues of our day— tolerance by one of the greatest Christian minds of our day. In post-modernism, tolerance—the affirming and celebrating of virtually any exercise of personal autonomy- is the prime value. The unforgiveable sin is being judgmental, that is, believing that an activity or lifestyle choice that does not hurt another person is wrong, immoral or sinful. A second related unforgiveable sin is claiming that what you believe is objectively true and thus binding on another person. A person who holds these beliefs is considered to be bigoted, narrow-minded, and arrogant, just as was true in Ancient Rome.

In our twenty-first century culture, Christians are be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). The Church has been charged with proclaiming the unchanging unadulterated truth of God’s Word to an adulterous, materialistic culture that lifts up itself in rebellion against the God who created them.

Debates about Christianity have shifted from whether it’s true to was anyone offended. The Gospel is offensive but the gospel messenger must be loving. The new tolerance which Dr. Carson rightly exposes in this book will help Christians to understand what this new tolerance is and why it insists that no one should hold firm convictions.

The Intolerance of Tolerance contains eight chapters where Dr. Carson lays out the changing face of tolerance, explains how we came to be where we are, gives a history of tolerance, exposes its inconsistency, how the Church has responded to the new tolerance, along with tolerance, democracy and majoritanism and concludes by providing ten ways forward towards a biblical view of tolerance. Throughout the book as is typical with Dr. Carson’s other books, he provides penetrating biblical-theological analysis along with keen cultural observation and practical implications for how the issue attacks Christianity.

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The heart of the book is about the notion of tolerance which is changing, and with it new definitions that shape tolerance.

Carson argues that, “Although a few things can be said in favor of the newer definition, the sad reality is that this new, contemporary tolerance is intrinsically intolerant. It is blind to its own shortcomings because it erroneously thinks it holds the moral high ground; it cannot be questioned because it has become part of the West’s plausibility structure. Worse, this new tolerance is socially dangerous and is certainly intellectually debilitating. Even the good that it wishes to achieve is better accomplished in other ways” (2).  The shift “from accepting the existing of different views” to “acceptance of different views,” from recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people is subtle in form but massive in substance. The 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 actual accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own” (3).

Understanding this issue is important because when people think of tolerance they think of the older definition of tolerance and not the new definition of tolerance…

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