On the surface, the term "tolerance" seems to suggest a healthy dose of placidity. Most who hear it immediately think of a certain broad-mindedness, forebearance, and some would even go so far as to see this term as synonymous with benevolence and compassion. But for John Moeller, an evangelical follower of Jesus and chaplain for the Washington Nationals baseball franchise, the word "tolerance" is associated with a mor ominous concept: termination.
Last month, the the new D.C. based team suspended the volunteer chaplain, who is also employed as an FBI agent. Moeller was working under the auspices of Baseball Chapel, an evangelical group that provides unpaid Christian ministers to be available for spiritual guidance to professional baseball players. During the course of his service he found himself talking with outfielder Ryan Church about an ex-girlfriend who follows a religious faith that does not profess Jesus as Savior and Lord. Speaking of all non-Christians, Church wanted to know the truth...what did the Bible say happens to such people? "Are they doomed," he asked? His chaplain, backed by Scriptural teaching, merely gave an affirming nod.
A subsequent Washington Post article citing the above incident via an interview with Church was cause enough, in the mind of team president Tony Tavares, to suspend Moeller indefinitely and force an apology from his outfielder. It was a complaint by Rabbi Shmuel Hertzfeld, leader of an Orthodox Jewish congregation in the nation's capital, that resulted in this action. Urging the Nationals to distance themselves from the chaplain, Rabbi Hertzfeld, in vitriolic fashion, charged that "the locker room of the Nationals is being used to preach hatred." Welcome to the "new tolerance"
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was actually an "old" tolerance. In this by-gone age, the term "tolerance" was understood to be the concept that kept adherents of competing faiths from seeking to harm each other, and it fostered mutual respect for each one's right to believe, preach, and worship as one chose. The American ideal that undergirded this old tolerance was the understanding that "forced conversion," in the end, was no conversion at all. Bible-believing Christians both accept and embrace such a view of tolerance. American soldiers have shed blood on battlefields all over the world to ensure that the Muslim has the right to be a Muslim, a Jew has a right to be a Jew, a Hindu has a right to be a Hindu, and a Christian a right to be a Christian. Belief in this kind of tolerance does not neccesitate believing that each of these respective faiths has equal validity. It simply requires believing in the free moral agency of human beings, and respecting the choices they make by ensuring that they can worship as they choose, free of persecution or aggression.
But this older understanding has been trumped by a new notion that no religious expression or idea should ever claim superiority over another. Not only should one respect his neighbors "right to be wrong" with regard to religious faith, but the very idea that one's neighbor could be wrong is seen as "intolerant," arrogant, and even dangerous! The end result of this kind of thinking is not good for followers of Jesus. Those who insist on believing and proclaiming an exclusive Jesus will discover quickly that the new tolerance isn't so tolerant after all!
Tim Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, is quick to point out that this new tolerance is in itself an incipient form of exclusivism that in the end is more intolerant than the Christian faith it seeks to discredit. Keller states that the common objection to the exclusivity of Jesus is that no one should insist that their "god" is any better than any other "god" because all religions are equally valid. Keller responds by stating that those who make such naive assumptions are "assuming a very particular view of God and you are pushing it as better than the rest . . .To say 'all religions are equally valid' is itself a very white, Western view based in the European Enlightenment's idea of knowlege and values. Why should that view be privileged over anyone else's?" Hmmmm, I bet Tony Tavares hasn't thought about that one!
Add to this that if the new tolerance is truly going to have room enough for Christ-followers, it must refuse to silence the voices of exclusivity. Commenting on Moeller's firing, Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, saliently observed that "the worst this chaplian could be convicted of is ascribing to orthodox Christian faith, which is what I think you would want from a Christian chaplain." Regrettably, not all denominational leaders feel this way. Christopher Leighton, a Presbyterian minister who heads Baltimore Maryland's Institute for Christian and Jewish studies, says that although one must admit that the dominant tradition of Christianity was marked by exclusivity, many churches "have moved toward the view that God has a 'continuing covenant' with the Jews. . .this [denouncing the chaplain] is the work that really belonged to other Christians, to say this is an unacceptable understanding of our faith."
So, to say that those who die outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ spend eternity separated from God is now an "unacceptable understanding" of our faith?! Such a suggestion means that Jesus demonstrated a colossal ignorance of the faith He Himself founded! And what of the Apostle Paul, who in Acts 13 after being rejected in the synagogue said to his Jewish brothers "Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we are turning to the Gentiles." (13:46 ESV) So Paul taught that if you reject Jesus, you don't have eternal life, even if you are a Jew worshipping in a synagogue? If he had only heeded the wisdom of Christopher Leighton! Had he only understood that such teaching was "unacceptable."
Contrary to what Leighton and others like Rabbi Hurtzfeld I'm sure would contend, such belief rightly applied does not lead to "hatred." As an Evangelical, I understand the Hebraic roots of my faith. I would not have a Savior were it not for the descendants of Abraham! At the same time, my Bible teaches me that they who literally delivered my Messiah into the world themselves have no Messiah. And it is love, not hate, that compels me to tell them about Him, and to pray for the hastening of the mass-conversion of Jewish people that I believe the Bible predicts will come at the end of the age!
Not long ago, someone asked me "do you believe that because I'm ______ (the particular faith doesn' t matter) that I am doomed to an eternity of God's wrath?" But in the end, it really is irrelevant what I think about this individual, or what he thinks about me. The crucial issue is whether our respective beliefs are consistent with the revealed truth of God. So to those of you reading who would be tempted to accuse me of "intolerance" or a "judgemental attitude," let me lay your minds to rest by reminding you that ultimately, it isn't up to me who gets into heaven. But if we want to get there, and if we want to take others with us, we had better jettison this nonsensical notion of "tolerance" and pay close attention to the One who does decide such things!
John Hick, an avowed "pluralist," actually frames this debate properly. In his essay on salvation in a pluralistic world, he describes his own pilgrammage from exclusivism to pluralism. This road, he claims, had many stops in which key Christian doctrines, from the inerrancy of the Bible to the virgin birth to the atonement to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, were systematically rejected. Hick openly admits that in order to arrive at a view consistent with the "new tolerance," you must effectively gut the Apostolic witness of all its major pillars. On the other hand, Hick to this day continues to admit the following:
"For if Jesus was literally God incarnate, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity living a human life, so that the Christian religion was founded by a God-on-earth person, it is then very hard to escape from the fact that all mankind must be converted to the Christian faith."
This was a conclusion that, thankfully, John Moeller could not escape. And for that matter, neither can I!