Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review: The Intolerance of Tolerance

By D. A. Carson

Is tolerance the highest ideal? What does tolerance mean and how can it be achieved? Can an evangelical Christian be tolerant?

Carson’s book deals with these questions as he probes western culture and its fixation on tolerance as the ideal that drives all social interaction. In his preface he states that there were two main incentives to writing this book. The first was the broad appeal and interactions in university settings when he lectured on this topic. The second was the overview that he had provided in his earlier book on culture, Christ and Culture Revisited. He wanted to explore the theme of tolerance and intolerance in more detail.

In the introduction Carson provides two similar but competing definitions for tolerance that become the basis for everything else that he says in the book. He calls these the old tolerance and the new. The old tolerance is defined as the belief that other opinions have a right to exist. The new tolerance is defined as the belief that all opinions are equally valid. He unpacks these ideas and demonstrates from interaction with many other authors that these two ideas undergird much of the confusion and ultimately disagreement that one encounters in trying to discuss differing belief systems.

The next few chapters cover how the shift in meaning of tolerance has occurred and then how it has been applied in today’s society. Carson demonstrates how the older idea of tolerance is vital to a free society, and how the newer definition is actually inconsistent and ultimately unsustainable. Truth claims by major religions including atheism, if taken seriously, all deny the idea of tolerance in the newer definition.

There is time spent on the interaction of evangelical Christianity with the culture at large and how the new tolerance seems to be intolerant of a serious Christianity. Many examples are given.

The final chapter outlines ten suggestions for Christians to interact with culture in a way that affects it in a positive direction. The suggestions are kind and compelling.

As always, I found Carson’s writing to be persuasive and thoughtful. He backs up claims with well documented sources and presents an articulate alternative to much of the rhetoric that has made up Evangelical interaction with culture over the last decades. I found this to be a book of ideas that are very helpful and I hope to implement his ‘Ten words’ for moving the discussion ahead.

[I received this book free from the publisher as a part of the LibraryThing Early Review Program.]

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