A major buzzword in today’s world is “tolerance.” Whether this is because of or the cause of the increase in spirituality among people today is a matter of debate. The important fact is that people see religion as intolerant, stifling, and rigid, whereas they see spirituality as loving, liberating, and liberal. If churches expect to continue to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20), they must recognize this problem of perception and how it effects what people want and expect out of their walk with God.
The basic reason for extolling tolerance as the supreme virtue is well intentioned for most people. Religion divides, and much blood has been shed, and still more suffering meted out, over religious differences. Whether the battles have been between different religions (i.e., the Crusades) or between different denominations of the same faith (i.e., the Thirty Years’ War), or even between friends and family members, it is impossible to deny that people have been hurt by theological disagreements. If, then, we could only learn to tolerate one another’s differences, what a better world this could be!
If advocates of tolerance stopped there, we could agree with them whole heartedly. Unfortunately, the tolerance of today has turned into its own exclusivist religion and is being used as a hammer against anyone who dares disagree. The moment someone (usually a Christian) stands up and says, “Jesus is the only way to heaven!” they are mocked and attacked for their intolerance. Who, after all, are Christians to say that we have an exclusive monopoly on Truth?
Has it ever crossed the minds of these people that when they claim Christianity is intolerant, they are only showing their own intolerance? Indeed, “tolerance only tolerates tolerance.” Even in its more subtle form, when these people claim that it is arrogant for the Christian to claim they have a monopoly on truth, they are actually making their own truth claim. In saying that there are many ways to God, they are saying that the Christian claim is false that there is only one way to God—through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
If we are to share the Gospel effectively in this world, Christians must be equipped to be able to lovingly and gently point out the contradiction in the world’s thinking. It is the nature of truth that it calls false that which contradicts it. If there are many ways, it is false that there is only one way. All people, then, make exclusive claims every single time they make a statement about the way reality really is. Non-Christian exclusivist statements are no more tolerant or inclusive than Isaiah’s claim that his was the One True God: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isa. 46:9, NIV). Advocates of tolerance, then, cannot rightly accuse Christians of arrogance when we merely repeat the claim of Jesus Himself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV).