I thought this paragraph by C. Kavin Rowe was excellent and it needed to be shared:
We should say it straightforwardly: in a crucial way, the vision of Acts is profoundly intolerant. The God of Israel is “Lord of heaven and earth, the Maker of the world and everything in it”; he commands “everyone, everywhere to repent.” Jesus is “the Lord of all.” “There is no other name under heaven by which human beings can be saved.” “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” “I wish you all might become as I am.” Examples abound. In Acts, such claims obviously bear no resemblance to theological thought experiments; they are, rather, the expression of the hope for a universal conversion to the Way, the community of “Christians” that lives out these claims in a total pattern of life (World Upside Down, p. 170).
Rowe is not saying that the church should abuse and coerce people into being Christians. Anyone who has read the Book of Acts knows this is not how the narrative works. Rather, he argues that every society defines tolerance within an already established structure of what can and cannot be considered tolerance or intolerance. In the Graeco-Roman culture there was much tolerance for many gods, but when it came to some new religions, or expressions of Judaism at given points and places, or the early Christian movement this pagan culture of “tolerance” could be quickly “intolerant.”
Christians don’t have to bludgeon people to death with our dogma, but it is quite evidence that Christians do make a fairly outlandish “truth claim” when we say, “Jesus is Lord.” What is crucial is that final line: we must not limit our religion to theory or “theological thought experiments.” Rather, we must be “live out” our allegiance to Christ. As Christians we know that this doesn’t mean violence or manipulation, but rather service to the world, honest proclamation of the Gospel, love toward God and neighbor. We should be quite intolerant of anyone who says we should live any other way.
‘Tolerance’ and ‘Intolerance’ as English words are often contextualized and politicized. For example, western democracies often use ‘intolerance’ against the Christian notion that there is an objective basis to truth, that diversity of perspective only means many truth models are competing for acceptance but that only one is correct. The claim of ‘intolerance’ stems from the Christian dogma that the ‘law of excluded middle’ holds such that contradictory truth claims cannot all be ‘true’.
To a Christian, the truth claim ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ means that the truth Christ taught isn’t just true according to our perspective but is wholly true in some objective sense. This means that if the ‘truth claims taught by ‘ Mohammad’, or ‘Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha’, ‘Joseph Smith’, and ‘L. Ron. Hubbard’ contradict those taught by Christ they must contain error and thus be false. Popular (or is that political) use of ‘tolerance’ and ‘intolerance’ is built of avoiding the idea someone’s view might be wrong, even if objectively is discarded to sustain this ideal.
Here’s the irony though, and I think your post suggests hints at it – to be truly either ‘tolerant’ or ‘intolerant’, there must be an objective basis against which ideas are judged since tolerance implies graciousness (against some standard), and intolerance implies ingraciousness (against the same standard). If there is no objective truth, and every view is equally valid, how there there be such things as ‘tolerant’ and ‘intolerant’ since every view is of equal worth, equally true, and any standard for judging the worthiness of a view – devoid. They are words without meaning.
For them to have meaning, there must be objectivity and also permissive attitudes toward those things that fall short. In that sense if Acts is intolerant, it is because there is no permissive attitude towards those things that fall short of the author’s presupposed standard. If the author’s presupposed standard is ‘holiness’ or ‘righteousness’ and God does not tolerate sin – then yes, Acts is intolerant (and that it is shows the author is reflecting a perspective shared by God).
However the accusation that ‘Acts is intolerant’ is levelled against the book by one who does not share the same (objective) sense as the author of Acts it is a meaningless accusation, since all perspectives, even the one in Acts, is valid OR the accuser accepts the same objective standard for the sake of criticizing the views of book but then denies it for everything else.
Yes, Rowe does a fine job of outlining how tolerance can exist within a culture but not independent of one. It is quite insightful. He notes that tolerance doesn’t mean “anything goes.” Even those who are the loudest about tolerance know that someone like Hitler should not be tolerated or that racism is intolerable. So when we discuss tolerance we do so within boundaries that exist already, even if we are not aware of those boundaries.
By the same token, it sounds like this “Lord of all” will *tolerate* being Lord of just about anything!
Indeed, God is patient with us!
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