toleranceIn Ecclesiastes 12:12 we read, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” The more I am around the publishing world I realize the truthfulness of these words.

I read a lot. Just last night my wife, who fully supports my reading disease, asked me to put the book down and walk away. It’s my fantasy to have many uninterrupted hours of reading. Yes, it’s a disease.

Even if you have the reading disease worse than me, it is still impossible to read every worthwhile book. Just devoting yourself to reading the works of: Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Owen, Barth, Machen, Solzhenitsyn, Lewis, Chesterton, Kierkegaard, MacDonald and Bunyan would take many years. If you read the works of all those dead people you would only see the tip of the iceberg of all the dead people you should read.

While you may be devoting your time to be “well read” among the gigantic list of dead people there is, in addition, at least one book coming out every week that you really should read. I occasionally have a desire to give up. Throw my arms up in the air and simply transfer all my hard fought reading time over to Netflix. To stop reading and start binging on endless seasons of Netflix offerings. My disease, however, prevents me from giving up. I find I’m a better father, husband, friend and leader when I keep my nose consistently in good books.

Harry S. Truman is known for saying, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Why all this focus on reading? Well, in an age of non-stop book releases it is more challenging than ever to know what books to read. You can devote 8 hours a day to reading worthless books and you will never run out.

This post could become a post about how to know what to read, perhaps that post will come one day. For the time being, however, I want to direct your attention to just one book. If you didn’t notice D.A. Carson’s book The Intolerance of Tolerance when it first came out a couple years ago I want to bring it to your attention.

I think the book is a pivotal work to make sure you are aware of the massive shift that has happened in Western culture around the topic of tolerance. Here’s just one paragraph to give you a taste:

This shift from “accepting the existence of different views” to “acceptance of different views,” from recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people, is subtle in form, but massive in substance. To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it. 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.

That paragraph should take your breath away. We have experienced a massive cultural shift. As Ambassador’s of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) it is important for us to understand our culture so we can best communicate Jesus to our culture. Paul knew the currents of Athenian thought in order to share Jesus to the elites on Mars Hill.

Reading at least the first half of Carson’s book is, in my 2-cent opinion, worth the time, effort and money.

    2 replies to "The Intolerance of Tolerance"

    • Howard Pepper

      Tim, Thanks for the alert re. this book. I haven’t read it… like you, I read during much of my discretionary time… usually 3-4 books going at once, always more to get to that I can’t. I was thoroughly steeped in Xn theology, Xn life books, apologetics, etc. thru Xn college, seminary and well beyond. My deeper study, particularly of the NT itself, eventually compelled me OUT of the Evangelical/orthodox paradigm…. There are better ways (particularly Process) to have coherence and grasp “the God who is there” (Yes, read lots of Schaeffer back then; nowadays, son Frank makes more sense.)

      Sounds like Carson is onto some things that are frequently confused by most, Christian or not. But I doubt I’ll be agreeing with his “solutions” (having read a little of him here and there).

      Sounds like he may be suggesting people are effectively trying to hold multiple contradictory views at one time. We are often muddled but we don’t actually do this. And to think we do is misguided. And no, those of us who have at least attempted to grow beyond “postmodernism”, to something like “integral” (cf. Wilber) do not see all views (paradigms, specific beliefs, etc.) as having equal value or truthfulness. However, we respect the distorting power we ALL carry, of personal bias, confirmation bias, “received” ways of seeing things, etc.

      All that being said, as to tolerance I hope he’s recognizing and affirming this: A person with a “tolerant” position toward conflicting viewpoints has a logical limit…. He or she cannot incorporate “intolerance” (however defined). For our terms to make linguistic sense, if tolerance takes in and includes intolerance, then it has negated itself and no longer exists. Same goes if the terms are “inclusivism” and “exclusivism”.

    • Tim Kimberley


      I think Carson would say this about the limits of the classical tolerance. Yes, you can have a new-style intolerant person in your circle of tolerance. They are free to exist. You are free to try to convince them that your view of reality should be their view of reality. You are tolerant of them personally and tolerant that they are free to hold to their new view of intolerance. You believe you are right so in community with them you can appropriately share your views. A tolerant person should not be a total fanatic. Churchill’s definition of a fanatic was a person who, “wouldn’t change their mind and couldn’t change the subject.” While being tolerant in community you are able to change the subject.

      I hope that helps,

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