Ask for Tolerance

Greg Strand – November 12, 2012 3 Comments

If there is any near universal virtue in the United States today it is tolerance. But it is a very different notion of tolerance from past days. Previously, in debates people would be intolerant of beliefs but tolerant of people. There was truth about which they were debating, but they were tolerant and civil to one another as they debated which belief was true.

Today this has reversed such that people are tolerant of beliefs, but intolerant of people. What one generally finds is that those who are the loudest and strongest proponents of tolerance are often the most intolerant when it comes to beliefs, particularly those who embrace beliefs in the form of absolute truth.

One last thought. The very notion of tolerance is predicated on differences, that is, if there were no differences of opinion, thought or belief, there would be no need for tolerance.

Below you will read a tip from apologist Greg Koukl, Stand to Reason, when encountering situations in which you, because of your beliefs, may be considered intolerant. He suggests using the claim of being intolerant in reverse, an insightful and wise response that addresses the possible accusation proactively rather than reactively.

If you’re placed in a situation where you suspect your convictions will be labeled intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental, turn the tables. When someone asks for your personal views about a moral issue—homosexuality, for example—preface your remarks with a question.

You say: “You know, this is actually a very personal question you’re asking, and I’d be glad to answer. But before I do, I want to know if you consider yourself a tolerant person or an intolerant person. Is it safe to give my opinion, or are you going to judge me for my point of view? Do you respect diverse ideas, or do you condemn others for convictions that differ from yours?” Let them answer. If they say they’re tolerant (which they probably will), then when you give your point of view it’s going to be very difficult for them to call you intolerant or judgmental without looking guilty, too.

This response capitalizes on the fact that there’s no morally neutral ground. Everybody has a point of view they think is right and everybody judges at some point or another. The Christian gets pigeon-holed as the judgmental one, but everyone else is judging, too. It’s an inescapable consequence of believing in any kind of morality.

Greg Koukl, “Ask for Tolerance,” Stand to ReasonBlog (September 20, 2012)

cf. D. A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012)

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

3 responses to Ask for Tolerance

  1. Well said, Greg. The landscape is shifting right beneath our feet. The Body of Christ, now more than ever, needs to engage in fervent prayer while examining its priorities more closely than ever before. In the last 25 years, it has become acceptable to be anything but Christian, talk about anything but Christ, pray to any God but the one true God and proselytize to any faith but ours.

    The church’s reaction to the election was typical of how we have allowed ourselves to polarize over issues and politics rather than the gospel. The few voices of reason, like the balanced, godly and bold perspectives you posted prior to election day, were sane cries for godly persepctive that were not generally heard in the pews. Your absolutely right, tolerance is the current cultural rage. The great irony here is that the culture wants to be tolerant of everything but Jesus Christ, His followers and their beliefs. Still, we can’t allow tolerance, or the lack of it to become the issue. The primary issue and calling of the church is proclamation of His word, pointing toward salivation by grace through Jesus Christ.

    Scripture warns of of times like these, I thank God the church has leaders that have a passion for equipping the church, teaching sound doctrine and maintaining the focus on Christ and His word! For such a time as this…

  2. Are we reaping the cultural fruit of Herbert Marcuse the Marxist “father of the new left” who wrote the 1965 essay on “Repressive Tolerance” In summary he advocated for a form of tolerance that is intolerant of right wing political movements. With the preponderance of leftist influence in universities his ideas appear to be effectively transmitted to our culture. I appreciate Koukl’s suggested response but when adrenaline makes the heart beat faster the head does not always engage in time to give an appropriate response. I guess that requires discipline and practice to overcome. Thanks for the post

  3. John, it is essential that we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully and fearlessly. And it is vital that that very gospel forms and shapes our lives so that our manner of life is worthy or consistent with the gospel (Phil. 1:27). Or stated negatively, we do not live inconsistently with that gospel (cf. Gal. 2:10-14).

    David, in essence what you spell out is the difference between “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16-26). The “discipline and practice” that you state is “required” is only possible by walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), being led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:18) and living by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). May we be being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

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