HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!
I hope you had a great time over the Christmas and New Year break. Most of the writing I did over the holidays was with pen and paper! So I’m hoping to be able to read it all now…
While I try to work out my hieroglyphics and put a post together I’d like to introduce you to Sam Hailes. Sam is a Journalist based in Southampton. This is his review of Don Carson’s book The Intolerance of Tolerance
So! over to Sam…
Most will know DA Carson as a popular reformed theologian who writes on subjects like the love of God, the cross and how to read the Bible. But just when we think we’ve got Carson nailed down as a theologian who writes on theology, he surprises us. Not only is his latest topic unexpected but the title – The Intolerance of Tolerance is at best shocking and at worst, well, intolerant!
This is where Carson’s thesis begins: To be labeled ‘intolerant’ is a very bad thing indeed! This charge of intolerance is often thrown at people like Carson.
“Christians say salvation is only found through Jesus Christ. They’re intolerant of other people’s beliefs!” the secular world screams.
Before reading this book I disagreed that such a view of salvation was intolerant, but I would have been unsure of how to convince a secular audience that my view was not intolerant. I suspect I’m not the only one and that Carson was writing his book for people like me.
The theologian’s entire thesis is more or less delivered in his 17 page introduction. This is both a strength (brevity) and a weakness (what’s the point of the other 159 pages?)
The author describes two types of tolerance: The old and the new. The old form is to recognize and respect another’s view while not agreeing with it. Therefore I can respect my Muslim friend’s view that Mohammed is God’s prophet and not agree with it. But the new form of tolerance is very different. It moves from accepting the existence of other views, to accepting other views. Carson says this shift is “subtle in form but massive in substance”.
He continues: “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”. So when someone says of X, “He is a very tolerant person”, do they mean he respects my belief that salvation is through Christ alone (old tolerance) or he believes everything is equal and only tolerates the view that salvation is found in many places (new tolerance)?
Caron’s second chapter provides excellent examples that flesh out the tolerance debate. But I found his lengthy third chapter on the history of tolerance dull. In fact it was so dull I nearly gave up on the book altogether. Thankfully the second half of the book picked up and left me again astounded at Carson’s ability to think through and write so clearly and eloquently on what is a very tricky subject.
Best thought of as an attack on the new tolerance, Carson’s book is a must-read for anyone who has ever been labeled intolerant (in the new sense). As the Western world becomes more multicultural and diverse, it goes without saying that the importance of tolerance increases.
But in aiming for this high principle, will culture rightly uphold the old view of tolerance or adopt the new form? If culture continues to opt for the new tolerance, the notion of absolute truth will be eroded.
Carson is right to point out, as he does throughout the book, that truth and tolerance are linked. In writing on both of these subjects in such a clear manner, Carson has not just done the Christian church a favour, he’s helped people of all faith and none to use think clearly about subjects which impact all of society.
Reivew by Sam Hailes. Sam is a Journalist based in Southampton. He’s 23 and later this year is getting married. He blogs at holymansam.wordpress.com and tweets @samhailes.
The Intolerance of Tolerance by D. A. Carson
Publisher: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co (2009)