Most college students today accept the idea that some creative force is behind the existence of the universe. Yet, as Professor Daniel Liechty (Illinois State University) notes, “What is a debated topic is how you move from this rather impersonal force to the beliefs of a particular religious tradition, and especially whether in affirming the truth-reliability of one path, you must stand against the truth-reliability of all other paths.”
The new tension is not about belief in God but whether or not it is “safe” to believe in one absolute deity. The tyranny of tolerance has scared people into postures of neutrality. It feels safer to choose not to believe anything too conclusively but to hold all beliefs in their broadest terms. The by-product is a culture that has lost its ability to think, discuss and debate. “Whatever” has become the common response to beliefs in conflict.
Sadly, the true virtue of tolerance has been exchanged for a subtle and often not-so-subtle form of intolerance. Tolerance becomes virtuous when two people strongly disagree yet treat each other with respect. If all beliefs are equally true, there is nothing to tolerate or respect.
In an intolerant culture like our own, how should we think about Jesus statement, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father but through me” (John 14:6)? Should we change Jesus’ words and make him say, “I am a way, a truth, and a life. People can come to the father through me or any other means they desire.”
The tyranny of tolerance has forced many to believe that all religions lead to God in their own way. The cultural elites have said that no one can claim superiority of one religious belief over another because it’s all a matter of subjective opinion. “Religion,” they claim, “is not like science or history. It’s about feelings and personal experiences. We don’t need convictions about such things.”
This new teaching insists that as long as you are sincere in your efforts to serve God, it doesn’t matter what religion you follow. Yet those who handed Jesus over to be crucified sincerely thought they were serving God. Were they?
Pluralist John Hick, described today’s cultural environment accurately: “The present interpretation of the global religious situation aims to encourage each religious community to de-emphasize and eventually winnow out that aspect of its self understanding that entails a claim to unique superiority among the religions of the world.”
Is John Hick right?
Social etiquette requires acknowledgement of the independent validity of every faith. Those who attempt to convert people to their religious beliefs are being accused of religious chauvinism. It’s not enough to maintain (as we should) that each person is free to follow and express his or her own religion. Now we must treat each religious belief as equally valid and abandon, as unacceptably arrogant, any attempt to convert others to a different religious opinion.
Strangely this approach “… forecloses on open-mindedness in the same breath by which it extols the virtues of open-mindedness. Both the irony and tragedy of this fierce intolerance stem from the fact that it is done in the name of tolerance” (D.A. Carson).
The new mantra is: “No exceptions to tolerance will be tolerated”. Should we be surprised that those with a missionary faith feel a intimidated by this attitude? How can they obey Jesus’ call to, “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), without being considered rude and intrusive?
It’s tempting to feel marginalized but like the first followers of Christ, we must not compromise the message of salvation. In the fiercely pluralistic and polytheistic society of Rome, the apostles testified of Jesus that, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
This was not offered as a personal opinion among other equally valid options. This was proclaimed as a fact of both prophecy and history.
Given the prevailing distortions on tolerance and the misdirected attitude toward religious beliefs, it’s wise to emphasize the inclusive aspects of our message. The good news of salvation is meant for all people. At least seven truths related to the gospel apply to all people – without exception.
- God has demonstrated his love for all people (John 3:16).
- God desires the salvation of all people (I Timothy 2:3-4).
- God has made provision for the salvation of all people (I John 2:2).
- God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30).
- God will hold all people accountable for their response (Acts 17:31).
- God takes no pleasure in anyone’s rejection of his provision (Ezekiel 18:23,32).
- God will save all people who place faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16).