The Church’s Tolerance in an Intolerant World 4

Tolerance1.        The Church’s Relationship to the World

2.        The Characteristics of Tolerance

3.        The Changes in Tolerance

4.        Some history explaining how these changes in tolerance came about

4.1      The Pre-Modern period was before the Enlightenment (1700’s)

Faith and Reason were held together so that Scripture was understood to be revelation from God in words that have real meaning. We believe in the God who speaks and acts from outside the system into the system by His Word. Our reasoning is from the Scripture, not against it.

4.2      The Modern period began with the Enlightenment

Now human Reason becomes the starting point for all philosophy and science and religion – apart from any possible revelation from God. Rationalism became god with its scientific method as the key approach to truth. This enshrined an ever-growing divide between Faith and Reason.

Back in 1968 Francis Schaeffer summed it up, “All the new theology and mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of content-full communication. You can bear ‘witness’ to it, but you cannot discuss it. Rationality and faith are out of contact with each other.”[1]

1 Corinthians 14:15 gives us the principle that heart/spirit and mind are not to be separated. Faith and reason must be held together. Unfortunately, it was not only the philosophical and scientific worlds that divorced them from each other, the church did as well.

The part of the church that kept faith against reason felt they had to make a “leap of faith”[2] out of reason. This led to “charismania” and has grown more and more irrational as a badge of faith. The part of the church that kept reason against faith became the Liberals. They denied the miraculous, the atonement and the inspiration of Scripture. They held on to a cross that was only an example of sacrificial love and reduced Jesus’ teachings to the ethics of loving your neighbour.

It was out of this divide between faith and reason that Fundamentalism grew in order to defend biblical Christianity. The question was, “What must you believe and cannot deny to truly be a Christian?” The originators were not all Reformed, but held to the inerrancy of Scripture as divine revelation, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, Trinity, two natures of Christ, bodily resurrection, etc. They started Bible Conferences to preach on and defend these fundamental truths against Liberalism.

But Fundamentalism went bad.[3] Growing up in a church environment where most preaching is “against” things produces a generation of fighters. Fundamentalists began to define themselves by what they were against becoming more cranky, fault-finding and isolationist. Separation from anyone who had anything to do with liberals became doctrine. More “fundamentals” got added over time to the point of Pharisaical externalism and legalism.

In the name of holiness and not being liberal, contact with the world was lost. To get back in touch with the world, many churches turned to marketing techniques, surveying unbelievers to find out what they wanted in church, seeker-sensitive services designed to attract and entertain the lost – basically bringing the world into the church. All of this became very program-oriented instead of going back to Scripture.

4.3      The Post-Modern period is a reaction against Modernism, Fundamentalism (gone bad) and Rationalism.

Today the search for truth and certainty is all but abandoned in favour of mere personal preferences. There is no possibility of meaningful revelation from God – no absolutes. The unbelieving world holds to reason without meaning or just as easily joins the church in leaps of faith into mysticism.

This has brought about several influences and patterns of thinking in the culture which have driven the re-defining of tolerance both in the world and in the church. Let’s look at just one of them.

5.        The Influences of Post-Modernism upon Culture

5.1      Truth Claims

No objective truth because no certainty; no certainty because not omniscient. A false dilemma is set up between omniscience and uncertainty. But just because we do not know everything does not mean we cannot know anything. We can know truth with certainty even though we cannot know truth comprehensively. Post-modernism denies this adopting a position of relativism (what’s true for you may not be true for me) making everything a matter of personal perception, preference or cultural tradition.

John 17:8 states that Jesus revealed God in a way that gave certainty of knowledge to the disciples. Of course, it was not fully, infinite, comprehensive knowledge – but it was certain. Certainty is possible without omniscience.

Post-modernism also denies the truth of a meta-narrative – an over-arching story that explains everything else. There is no universal truth that gives meaning to all the particulars. There is no real, objective world-view. The quest for knowledge and meaning used to be like a series of circles. One philosopher would draw a circle of ultimate truth and use that to explain the world. The next philosopher would come along and cross out that circle, drawing a new circle of his own, and so on. Today the very idea that such a circle can be drawn is denied. There is no more search for a unified field of truth and any claim to one (like Christianity) is suspect.

Post-modernism has done away with the idea of a UNIverse and replaced it with the idea of a MULTIverse. There is no universal truth we are searching for (or have revealed to us), only a bunch of random things and ideas and perspectives. The only universal truth is that there is no universal truth!

If there is no meta-narrative (like biblical theology and the history of redemption – God’s plan), then all we have is our own personal narrative. My own story becomes my own universe. So rather than debates about what is true, we just share human interest stories. It is all about what I make of my individual experience, not what God has revealed. But Scripture gives us a meta-narrative that reveals ultimate truth. I am living in God’s story with objective reality (a biblical world-view) and a belief-system that explains and gives meaning to everything.

[1] Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1982), 64.

[2] The phrase was coined by Soren Kierkegaard

[3] I am no doubt over-simplifying here just to give the flow of things.