Denison Forum – What we’re reading: “The Intolerance of Tolerance” by D. A. Carson

D. A. Carson, a distinguished theologian and author, got the idea for his book The Intolerance of Tolerance on the college lecture circuit.

Whenever he spoke on the subject, the crowds were large and the discussion lively. Eventually, as he continued to mull over the topic, he realized he had to put his thoughts into book form.

“It does not take much cultural awareness to see that the difficulties surrounding this subject are eating away at both Western Christianity and the fabric of Western culture,” he wrote.

In his view, a seemingly subtle shift in the way we define tolerance, from the old meaning of “accepting the existence of different views” to the new one of “accepting different views,” has had profound cultural implications.

“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,” he wrote. “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. We move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we move from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid. Thus we slide from the old tolerance to the new.”

And anyone who believes in absolute truth is considered intolerant.

Why Christians should read “The Intolerance of Tolerance”

You will gain a greater understanding of why biblical truth is under assault and be better equipped to defend it.

The big takeaway

In this era of moral relativism, when your truth is considered just as valid as mine, tolerance is regarded as the supreme virtue.

In their own words

“This older view of tolerance makes three assumptions: (1) there is objective truth out there, and it is our duty to pursue that truth; (2) the various parties in a dispute think that they know what the truth of the matter is, even though they disagree sharply, each party thinking the other is wrong; (3) nevertheless they hold that the best chance of uncovering the truth of the matter, or the best chance of persuading most people with reason and not with coercion, is by the unhindered exchange of ideas, no matter how wrongheaded some of those ideas seem.”

“The new tolerance argues that there is no one view that is exclusively true. Strong opinions are nothing more than strong preferences for a particular version of reality, each version equally true.”’’

“Christians do think that Jesus is the only way to God. But does that make them intolerant? In the former sense of ‘intolerant,’ not at all; the fact remains, however, that any sort of exclusive truth claim is widely viewed as a sign of gross intolerance. But the latter depends absolutely on the second meaning of ‘tolerance.’”

Read the first chapter

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