SEAN: Dad, what is tolerance and how should it properly be defined?
JOSH: A traditional definition has been to respect and honor another person’s beliefs and values without endorsing them or accepting them. In other words, tolerance involves loving someone with whom you may totally disagree. A number of years ago it switched. Now tolerance, which we call “cultural tolerance” in our book The Beauty of Intolerance, is defined as all values, beliefs, and lifestyles being equal. And if you dare say to say a belief or lifestyle is greater or less than another, you are labeled a bigot and intolerant for making a moral judgment.
SEAN: Should Christians be tolerant or intolerant?
JOSH: If we mean the traditional definition of tolerance, then yes. But if mean cultural tolerance, then no. I think today’s cultural definition of tolerance is one of the most evil things taught in the world today. You diminish a person’s value when you tolerate them according to today’s definition. Cultural tolerance diminishes truth and the value of life. If you’re truly tolerant, according to today’s definition, then why even pursue truth? Why would you ever try to convince someone if all values, beliefs, and lifestyles are equal?
SEAN: Do you think this new cultural view of tolerance has infested the church? And if so can you give me an example of where you’ve seen that?
JOSH: Absolutely. Along with the Barna Research Group, we commissioned the most extensive study ever done on pornography and the church. It is called The Porn Phenomenon. It revealed that when they talk about pornography, 90% of teens and 96% of young adults say they do so in a neutral, accepting, or encouraging way. This is full-blown tolerance. Only one in 20 young adults and one in 10 teens say their friends think viewing pornography is a bad thing. Even in the church, many young people have bought right into cultural tolerance.
SEAN: What’s one helpful thing people need to know to respond to the growth and influence of cultural tolerance?
JOSH: Yes, consistently speak truth in love. Cultural tolerance is ultimately unlivable. We really can’t tolerate all behaviors, and a society that shuts down vibrant disagreement and robust debate, as proponents of cultural tolerance want to do, will ultimately crumble. When people claim to be tolerant, I like to ask them if they are willing to tolerate the intolerant? Of course, if they are truly tolerant, then they will have to say yes. And if they say no, then it reveals the inconsistency of their worldview.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.