Review: The Intolerance of Tolerance

Every committed follower of Christ will at one time or another find himself engaged in a conversation with someone who holds to a different perspective on matters of doctrine and practice. The nature of the Christian life and witness ensures this. But increasingly in the West Christian ideas, truth claims, and Christians themselves are being publicly and viciously reproached under the guise of tolerance. That such animosity exists comes as no surprise to those who have been Christians for any length of time. And what we are experiencing in America does not hold a candle to the reproach that many followers of Jesus are facing in other parts of the world. But what does catch Christians off guard is the fact that such vitriolic sentiment is spilled in the name of tolerance. Without knowing how or when it seems that “tolerance” has undergone a shift of meaning in the wider culture that has left many followers of Christ unsure of how to proceed. It feels as if someone pulled the carpet out from under us and we are left to wonder at how to handle the massively intolerant criticism against our supposed intolerance. Especially when everyone else seems to walk on eggshells around the views of most other religions and perspectives.

In his new book The Intolerance of Tolerance, D. A. Carson adeptly, thoughtfully, and historically works through the changing face of the definition of tolerance. He examines the older definition of tolerance and the history of how it came to function in the modern world. For those interested in history and how that history has shaped our modern understanding chapter three will surely be worth the price of the book. But this book is not merely a nostalgic longing for the “good ol’e days.” Carson recognizes and points out the errors of that kind of yesteryear. If anything Carson points out how the “good ol’e days” are less golden and more a bit of “potted history” (I love these little Carsonisms).

But what makes this book golden is that rather than getting caught up in the past Carson plunges forward illuminating our present along the way. He pointedly makes his case for the inconsistency of our time giving numerous examples of how tolerance only seems to function in favor of those who are least tolerant. This is true of course as it pertains to the intolerance of Christians and their beliefs. If, as Carson points out early on, that the assertion of the United Nations that “Tolerance…involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism” is more than a little dogmatic and absolute then it is no wonder that Christianity – which is exclusive in it’s truth claims – often finds itself the target of such tolerant intolerance.

But this book is not a complaint about how Christians don’t get a fair shake in the wider culture. This book is about the need for a fresh articulation of what tolerance ought to mean and how it ought to function in a society that is more diverse than any on earth. Toward that end Carson offers ten insights that will help Christians interact with a society whose definition of tolerance assumes that all viewpoints are equally valid – except for the ones that claim to alone be true.

This book is not long (only 175 pages) but it is well worth the price. It is not necessarily an easy book to read but gold is worth the effort it takes to mine it. This is an immensely helpful book that will simultaneously help you better understand the age in which we live as well as how to be a faithful witness in this age.

There are some great reviews of this book:

You can buy the book here.

For Christ and His Kingdom!

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