Responding to the Intolerance of Tolerance

It has been well-documented by others that what’s called “tolerance” these days is actually a form of intolerance. (See D. A. Carson’s excellent book, “The Intolerance of Tolerance”.) The word “tolerance” has been highjacked by our culture and totally turned for a use completely antithetical to its definiton. 

You see this in calls to accept everyone – except the Christian point of view, especially in the area of sexuality and marital relationships. That we cannot tolerate. That we call – under the rubric of modern “tolerance” – “hate”. Thus the tolerance of our day is actually a required assimilation. You either submit and assimilate into our value system, or you are not tolerated – you are called hateful. 

The great irony is that the historic definition of tolerance – again, by definition – implied some sort of difference, some disagreement between the two parties. And it implied that that difference will remain, into the future. It will not change. Therefore, it needs be tolerated. That is the definition of the word. 

But again, the word has been turned, transmutated into a zombie of its former self, in the interest of the ironically and increasingly totalitarian tendencies of our age. 

All of this is fairly clear. The question is why, and what to do about it? 

Why did this change in the word come about? I would argue, as would many others, that it did not happen by a simple mistake in linguistics. Something deeper is happening in the hearts of people. And it stems from where true tolerance comes from in the first place. 

The only way that people in the world know true tolerance is by grasping the infinite patience of God, who, “in his divine forbearance . . . had passed over former sins.” (Rom. 4:25) God is the Tolerant One, each moment showing infinite tolerance to mankind, by giving us another day. Tolerance is a Christian virtue. And Christians can walk in tolerance with those very different from them, as they remember not only the tolerance of God toward them, in their prior unbelief, but also in the understanding that God is the One who saves, who gives faith as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). Our connection to this God and faith in this gospel is what enables Christians to approximate the perfect tolerance of God.  

Which then points to the solution. Intolerant “tolerance” is not, at bottom, an educational issue, although that would help. What is necessary is straight-up gospel preaching, and knowing this God. Totalitarian “tolerance” exists because connection to the God of the Bible doesn’t.