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The Myth of the Tolerant God

[COMMENT:  Sent by email.    An excellent essay on the sinful side of tolerance.  But needs some help to stay on track.  Which I try to provide in with addendas in the text below.   We must learn what Biblical pluralism is, and how it is to be the basis for evangelism and living together in a mixed society.  It is the foundation of our very Biblical Constitutional order.   God puts truth ahead of Himself, and thus makes pursuit of truth the Royal Road to Himself (see Elijah on Mount Carmel - I King 18).   We must do the same.      E. Fox]

by Dean Waldt

If there is an absolute value in the relativistic world of  post-modern Western culture, it is tolerance. Political correctness,  medical ethics, and public policy are gauged by the polestar of  tolerance. People say tolerance is an absolute virtue, which, in the  realm of theology, must make it an attribute of God. Yes, God must be  eternally and infinitely tolerant, because tolerance is an expression of  love, and we all know the Bible tells us that God is love.

Since everyone accepts that God is love, the thinking goes  that God must be the most tolerant of all. Just look at the tolerance of  Jesus! The Pharisees did not tolerate the tax collectors and sinners,  but Jesus regularly ate dinner with them. Jesus was hospitable. Thus,  people surmise, for us to be otherwise would be to reject the example of  Jesus and follow in the footsteps of the Pharisees.

To be enlightened, in today's common thinking, we  must tolerate nearly everyone and respect their individual choices,  provided those choices do not harm others. Even when other persons are  harmed, personal choices are entitled to great deference and respect. In  some cases, were told we must recognize that even the  definition of who is a person is a matter of personal  choice. Tolerance and the worship of personal autonomy personal  choice are inextricably intertwined.

To tolerate someone is to allow the other person to exist unmolested, to abide them, to peacefully co-exist with them. It is the  moral equivalent of detente. You don't have to agree with  or even like the other person. You simply must respect personal choices,  on the one hand, and refrain from imposing your personal choices, on the  other. If you fail to do the former, you are considered intolerant,  perhaps the only true sin which remains in our culture. If you fail to  do the latter, you are thought a bigot. If you seek to convince a group  of people that their collective personal choice is morally wrong and  that your personal choice is morally right, you are at best insensitive  and unloving, and quite often you are cast as an oppressor.

It gets worse: If you claim divine endorsement of your personal choice, you get pegged as a fundamentalist. This is very bad. Fundamentalists are seen as dangerous, because they truly believe their  personal choice is absolutely true and that God agrees with them. This  necessarily means that all others are absolutely wrong and that God  disagrees with them. In fact, God may even disapprove of and (dare we speak it?) condemn and judge the personal  choices of others. To tell someone their personal choice is the subject  of God's condemnation is definitely considered an act of  intellectual or spiritual violence. Some have declared this tantamount  to assault or, if the victim is a woman, even rape.

Fundamentalists are dangerous people, we're told,  the only intolerable people in our culture of tolerance. They are the  only ones with whom the god of tolerance is displeased.

Right? Wrong!

A pernicious lie

All of this should sound familiar. How often it is preached  from our pulpits, taught in our seminary classrooms, and read in  publications funded with our denominational dollars! In its own way, it  sounds right, because it resonates with our culture. We learn at an  early age to prize our individual freedom and to protect it against  unwelcome incursions.

However, as Christians we see in all of this a pernicious  lie. It is based on a premise that originates not from divine  inspiration, but from precisely the opposite.

The popular virtue of tolerance the absolute value of a relativistic  culture is founded upon the absorption of truth into the  individual. Truth is no longer conceived as an outward objective  reality. After all, people say, who can  really know what is truth? What authority can we call upon to verify the  truth? Only the naive and uninitiated believe that Jesus loves them  because the Bible tells them so. We have moved beyond that  children's song to understand that one must engage the Bible to  listen for God's truth for us.

[We have indeed

moved beyond a simplistic reading of the Bible.  A thing is in the Bible because it is true, not true because itis in the Bible.  And the Bible itself requires a worldview assessment before we can reasonably affirm the Bible as an authority.   That is, we must show at least that we live in a cosmos in which a personal God is our Creator.  On the alternative view, that of evolution, a Bible makes no sense because there is no creator.  The Bible must "defend itself" like any other asserter of truth.  The Bible must be shown to be telling the truth using any relevant testing (historical, logical, etc.) which we can devise.  E. Fox] 

When truth is absorbed into the individual, it becomes  ultimately subjective. Truth becomes a matter of opinion, merely a  personal choice. Therefore, when I reject a person's truth, I am  seen as rejecting the person. When I try to convert a person from their  truth to my truth, I have become an oppressor, and the other person has  become a victim. In a world of only personal truth, truth cannot bind us  together as a church. Personal truth has no adhesive properties to bind  together individual Christians into the temple of God. But without  truth, what can bind us together? Our culture provides the answer:  tolerance, the ultimate attribute of their loving god. It is tolerance that unites us and inclusiveness that exhibits our tolerance, they  reckon. God would be pleased if, of course, such a god of tolerance were to exist.

Is God tolerant?

Is the true God tolerant, as our culture defines that term?

Not according to the Word of God. The tolerant god is a  myth. It is an idol crafted by human hands in the image of individual  autonomy and personal choice, the same virtues the  serpent suggested to Eve as a preferable alternative to servitude to  God. Indeed, in some theological circles, Eve's choice has made her a heroine for rejecting the patriarchal oppression of a God who  would impose his truth on her right to choose. As our culture defines  the term, the God of the Bible is not tolerant. That is why God must be re-imagined.

But it is the essence of the sin of the Garden to re-imagine  God into the mythical tolerant god rather than challenge and alter our  own definition of tolerance to conform to the revealed truth of God.

[Exactly right.  The Image of God is the heart of Biblical religion.  Not that we should not explore with our own imaginations, but we cannot rewrite the Image of God to fit our preferences.  God is Himself, and will define Himself.  E. Fox] 

Tolerance as a concept is skewed in a church captured by its culture,  because it is defined without the Cross. The Cross is foolishness to  those who are perishing, but to those who are called, it is the power of  God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24). 

We live in a world supposedly without sin, because people  can no longer define it. One person's sin is another's  personal choice the liberating choice if you believe the  serpent's promise from the Father of Lies. God requires nothing  and gives everything. God only blesses and never curses. This god is a  myth.

The real God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,  the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the God who  flooded the earth (Gen 6:3), rained fire on Sodom (Gen 19:3), and sent  Assyria and Babylon to chastise his own people (Isa 3). He is the God  who told Eve the truth: If you sin, you die (Gen 3:3  nasb). This is the true God who became incarnate and gave his life as a  ransom for many (Mt 20:28). It was this Holy Father who sent his Son  into his own creation to die on a cross. God made him who knew no sin to  become sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of  God in him (2 Cor 5:21). The real God canceled out his own decree of  judgment against us by nailing it to the cross of his only begotten Son,  the Lamb of God, who paid the price we could not pay for a debt he did  not owe (Col 2:14).

That is real love. The tolerant God who demands nothing and  gives everything and calls it love is a worthless lie in the light of  the Cross. Love is the Cross. For those who worship the tolerant god,  the Cross is offensive. It is a stumbling block.

Tolerance as God sees it

Is God tolerant in any sense at all? Yes! Did we draw breath  this morning? So did faithful Christians, honest pagans, and despicable  terrorists, murderers, and rapists all around the world. The rain falls  on the just and the unjust as the gift of life is renewed each day (Mt  5:45).

Where is the judgment of this holy God? It is delayed for  one purpose: to provide an opportunity for repentance and faith. Justice  delayed is not justice denied. It is the merciful tolerance of the one  true God.

Paul warns the Romans not to think lightly of the riches of  God's kindness and tolerance and patience (Rom 2:4). The  kindness of God should lead us to repentance. That God allows rebellious  sinners any opportunity to repent and be saved from the just wages of  sin is an act of supreme tolerance.

However, much of the so-called church today takes  God's kindness lightly, using it as license rather than as an  opportunity to repent. They sin that grace may abound (Rom 6:1). But, we  hear from God, do not be deceived. God is not mocked. Each person will  reap what he or she sows (Gal 6:7). The true God is mercifully tolerant  for a season, pending a final judgment to come.

God's inclusiveness

Just as tolerance is skewed without the Cross, so inclusion  gets redefined as the universal acceptance by God of all our personal  choices, as long as they are grounded in love. But Jesus Christ did not  come to tell us we are just fine the way we are.  The essence of the Gospel is Repent and believe!

Is God inclusive at all? Yes, indeed! God actually so loved  the world that he sent his only begotten Son that whoever believes in  him will not perish, but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). The offer is  extended to all and accepted by few. Broad is the path that  leads to destruction and narrow is the gate to life (Mt 7:14).

 How seldom we hear the rest of Jesus' words to  Nicodemus in John 3:  he who does not believe is  judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only  begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into  the world and men loved darkness rather than the Light, because their  deeds were evil (Jn 3:18a 19 nasb).

Jesus told us that some invited guests will never sit down  to dinner (Lk 14:24), that some will be cast into outer darkness (Mt  8:12), that wheat will be harvested and tares will be burned in the fire  (Mt 13:41). God issues an all-inclusive call to repentance and faith in  Jesus Christ, but true faith in Christ involves death to sin and a life  of obedience to God (Rom 6:11). Thus, if we say we have fellowship with  him and yet walk in darkness we lie, and the truth is not in us (1 Jn 1:6).

This is the inclusiveness of God. God is under no obligation  to save anyone. Yet our gracious and merciful God offers salvation to  all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

Unity that is God's unity

Unity founded on diversity is the final lie spun off the  myth of the tolerant god who is not there. If all our personal choices  are endorsed by a wholly acceptant god, each of us then, as  self-contained units of divinity, can join together into a coalition of  personal choices called the church.

Certainly this, too, is a lie, for the Church of Jesus  Christ is composed of repentant sinners who have cast themselves on the  mercy and grace of God through faith in the One who bore the penalty for  their sins on the Cross and rose again to give them new life, a life  enslaved to righteousness by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit  (Rom 6:22).

The true unity of the Bride of Christ is founded not on  diversity, but on the common bond of the Truth that makes us free (Jn  8:32). Christ is the cornerstone of the Church, and the teachings of the  prophets and apostles the Word of God is its foundation  (Eph 2:20). Unity means unity in truth, standing firm in one Spirit,  with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Phil 1:27).

As with tolerance and inclusiveness, the true meaning of  unity is only grasped at the foot of the Cross. We are unified in this  and by this alone: That we are those who have been washed by the blood  of the Lamb, wretched sinners saved by grace alone through faith alone,  falling on our faces in worship and thankful praise to our only Savior  and our acknowledged Lord, Jesus Christ.

If we would be unified as the church, we must bow together at the foot of the Cross. There alone is the Truth that makes us free. Not free to make our personal choices and create our personal truth;  free to live in obedience to God, slaves of righteousness who are free  at last.

"For there will come a time when they will not endure sound  teaching  and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in  all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."(2 Tim 4:35 NASB)

[This article is excellent, but needs a deeper understanding of Biblical pluralism.  See articles -- 4 Levels of Christian Unity,  and  Honest Pluralism (see part 4 of "Victim or Victor?"). ]

Dean Waldt is a practicing attorney and also a parish associate at Faith United Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey.

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Date Posted -  05/15/2009   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012