[K:JNWTS 28/2 (September 2013): 49-50]

Book Review

D. A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance.  Grand Rapids , MI: Eerdmans, 2012. 186 pages. Paper. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6940-1. $16.00.

I was ordained to the gospel ministry on June 27, 1956. Within that first year, I was invited by the principal of the public school to conduct a baccalaureate service for the graduating seniors. It was to be held in the school auditorium. All were required to attend. I preached from Joshua on “Choose you this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15) with full implications about serving Jesus Christ, just as I would have done if I were preaching to the church. I received no criticism. 

Can you imagine that happening today? Not at all. Today, you cannot preach in the school or pray there in the name of Jesus. A student is criticized if he speaks of his experience of the Christian faith or makes mention of it in a term paper. The Koran is in the library, but not the Bible. Why the change? According to D. A. Carson, it is because of a new view of tolerance that has developed in our country.  And that is why he wrote this book.

In chapter 1, he tells us what he means by this new view. “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 leap from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid” (pp. 3-4). Chapter 1 goes on to elaborate on this definition with the brief history behind it.

Chapter 2 gives examples of this new view of tolerance in today’s world. Chapter 3 expands on the history of tolerance.

Chapter 4 deals with the inconsistency of the new tolerance in claiming toleration, but at the same time condemning those who claim that their view is the only truth. “We flip back and forth between the two uses of tolerance and fail to perceive that we have done so. What is worse, these two meanings of tolerance are not absolutely disjunctive: there is a nasty area of overlap that magnificently muddies the discussion” (p. 79).

Chapter 5 relates the discussion to the church and the claims of Christian truth.  Included in this discussion is the way some Christians have dumbed down the faith to accommodate others.

The purpose of chapter 6 is “to show how reflecting on a variety of moral issues shines a little more light on the issues of tolerance and intolerance” (p. 127). The main thesis is: “The new tolerance has been largely cut free from a well-articulated vision of truth and from binding culture-wide moral standards, and thus pretends to be the ultimate arbiter in both these realms” (pp. 127-28).

Chapter 7 relates this new view of tolerance to the state. It particularly deals with democracy and human rights.

Chapter 8 concludes with giving suggestions of what we as Christians can do to counteract this new view of tolerance.

Sad to say this is not an easy book to read. The line of argument does not flow.  It is interrupted by many illustrations, among other things. However, it is an important book. Might I say, it is a must read because it is dealing with a very contemporary issue facing the church. And Carson has very important things to say. 

—J. Peter Vosteen