Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Favorite Book of 2013

As I reflect on all that I read in 2013, by far the most helpful book, other than the Bible of course, was D.A. Carson’s The Intolerance of Tolerance. It is such a timely word for us who live in a culture where tolerance has become the highest virtue and is prized above truth. 

In the book, Carson distinguishes between what he calls the old tolerance and the new tolerance. The old tolerance is what gave us the form of religious liberty in America. The old tolerance values objective truth and understands that there will be disagreements between individuals who are seeking the truth. Yet people can tolerate one another with whom they disagree. For example, while I will disagree with a Mormon neighbor over who Jesus Christ is, we can still live peacefully together as neighbors and practice our freedom of religion. We do not have to worry about killing each other over our belief system, yet we can still disagree strongly with each other under the old tolerance. In other words, rivals can tolerate each other. 

The new tolerance, which is the cultural norm today, is much different. To summarize what Carson says about it: the new tolerance argues that no one view is exclusively true; the new tolerance avoids serious engagement over difficult moral issues, and yet most importantly (and inconsistently) it holds that anyone who attempts to arrive at truth and moral conviction is labeled intolerant and will not be tolerated. So those who claim that they are “tolerant” end up being the most intolerant by their own actions. Those who cry for tolerance become very intolerant if one does not agree with their view of the new tolerance, which downplays all truth claims and puts all beliefs on equal playing field.  Carson demonstrates in the book that the new tolerance is largely secular since that is considered the “neutral” position. 

I’ll share two quotes from the book that encourage Christians to engage the new tolerance. 

“So part of our task, whether in scholarly output or casual speech, is to call into question this delusional supposition that ours is the best society because it is becoming the most tolerant society. The petty gain in open-mindedness that we have achieved in recent decades cannot compare with the staggering losses in clarity as to what tolerance is, in understanding the non-negotiability of truth, in the moral blindness that is rocking our world--a blindness we barely detect” (p. 167 italics mine). 

And in the final pages Carson sums up the Christian’s responsibility in this, 

“Evangelize. Evangelize and plant churches. Evangelize and pray. Evangelize and live life in the light of the consummated kingdom for which we wait. Evangelize” (p173).

I love those two quotes because they capture the nature of Carson’s writing (for the record, I have probably read more from D.A. Carson than any other author in the past decade of my life): he is a well thought philosopher, yet also applies truth very practically and clearly as a lover of God’s Word. 

And he helps us think through the Christian's response to the new tolerance. It is not retreat of fear, nor buying into it full-throttle, but challenging it with obedience to the very command of our Savior, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20 ESV). 

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