11 September 2013

When Tolerance Is Valued over Truth

Dr. John MacArthur; photo courtesy of Grace to You
The visible church in our generation has become astonishingly tolerant of aberrant teaching and outlandish ideas—and frighteningly intolerant of sound teaching. The popular evangelical conception of "truth" has become almost completely subjective. Truth is viewed as fluid, always relative, never absolute. To suggest that any objective criterion might be used to distinguish truth from error is to be egregiously out of step with the spirit of the age. In some circles, Scripture itself has been ruled out as a reliable test of truth. After all, the Bible can be interpreted in so many different ways—who can say which interpretation is right? And many believe there is truth beyond the Bible.

All this relativity has had disastrous effects on the typical Christian's ability to discern truth from error, right from wrong, good from evil. The plainest teachings of the Bible are being questioned among people who declare themselves believers in the Bible. . . .

Even to suggest that a sorting between lies and truth is necessary is viewed by many as perilously intolerant. There is a notion abroad that any dispute over doctrine is inherently evil. Concern for orthodoxy is regarded as incompatible with Christian unity. Doctrine itself is labeled divisive and those who make doctrine an issue are branded uncharitable. No one is permitted to criticize anyone else's beliefs, no matter how unbiblical those beliefs seem to be. . . .

In the world of modern evangelicalism, it is allowable to advocate the most unconventional, unbiblical doctrines—as long as you afford everyone else the same privilege. About the only thing that is taboo nowadays is the intolerance of those who dare to point out others' errors. Anyone today who is bold enough to suggest that someone else's ideas or doctrines are unsound or unbiblical is dismissed at once as contentious, divisive, unloving, or unchristian. It is all right to espouse any view you wish, but it is not all right to criticize another person's views—no matter how patently unbiblical those views may be.

When tolerance is valued over truth, the cause of truth always suffers. Church history shows this to be so. Only when the people of God have mounted a hardy defense of truth and sound doctrine has the church flourished and grown strong. The Reformation, the Puritan era, and the Great Awakenings are all examples of this. The times of decline in the history of the church have always been marked by an undue emphasis on tolerance—which leads inevitably to carelessness, worldliness, doctrinal compromise, and great confusion in the church.

– John MacArthur, Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern, (Crossway Books: 1994), 19–22.

Further Reading
Doctrine Matters
John MacArthur on the New Birth
Ten Minutes with John MacArthur

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