Darrow Miller and Friends

Love is Better than Tolerance

  1. Love is Better than Tolerance
  2. Love is Better than Tolerance, part 2

How is the Christ follower supposed to think about tolerance? Is tolerance a Christian virtue?

Gerasene demoniacMany people would say Yes, Jesus was tolerant. They might point to the story in Luke 8 about the demonized man in the country of the Gerasenes. Jesus cast out the demon and the man’s transformation spooked his neighbors, so they asked Jesus to leave. Which he did. Apparently without a word.

On another occasion Jesus rebuked James and John when they offered to call down fire on some Samaritans who “did not receive him” (see Luke 9:53-55).

If Jesus’ actions here are examples of tolerance, then yes, Jesus was tolerant. He did not advocate the use of force against those who rejected him.

Today, Jesus’ followers—especially evangelicals—are often perceived as intolerant. Many people would read the Luke 9 account and conclude that James and John were first-century evangelicals, intolerant and hateful. Jesus rebuked them, and Jesus would rebuke today’s intolerant (so-called) Christians, too.

Is tolerance a Christian virtue?

In other words, if Jesus was tolerant, surely tolerance is a Christian virtue. Right?

Before we can answer that, we need some semantic clarity. We need to wrestle with the question, What do we mean by “tolerance”? And our answer is heavily influenced by our worldview.

The Judeo-Christian ethic sees tolerance in the framework of absolute truth.  We tolerate individuals even if we disagree with their ideas. We treat people with respect even when we disagree with them. All this stems from the belief that there is such a thing as objective truth, and that all humans are God-image bearers who are able to pursue truth. It also reflects the high value Judeo-Christian thought places on human freedom.

This view is captured in Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language:

TOL’ERATEverb transitive [Latin tolero, from tollo, to lift.] To suffer to be or to be done without prohibition or hindrance; to allow or permit negatively, by not preventing; not to restrain; as, to tolerate opinions or practices. The protestant religion is tolerated in France, and the Roman Catholic in Great Britain.

Almost 200 years after Webster wrote that, William Ruger effectively restated it in a recent article at The Federalist, “Why Tolerance Is Different Than Acceptance.”

Toleration can best be understood (and is similarly defined by others) as not using force or advocating the use of force against those who hold ideas and beliefs or who engage in practices that one thinks are wrong but which do not violate the person, property, or liberty of others. This classical liberal type of toleration shows proper respect for people as reasoning beings able to reach their own conclusions about the nature of the world and the most appropriate way to live and organize their lives. Recognition of another person’s right to his own thoughts and beliefs is also an essential foundation of civil discourse.

What does tolerance mean in society?

The definitions above do not capture what the new atheistic paradigm means by tolerance. In this view there is no objective truth. In such a framework, all ideas are equally valid. If all ideas are equally valid, no one has the right to judge any view as invalid. Thus the only party not tolerated is the believer in absolute truth, which, by definition, distinguishes between truth and falsehood.

Cultural relativity is the hallmark of this approach to tolerance. In fact, as Allan Bloom pointed out in The Closing of the American Mind, such tolerance is the only remaining virtue in modern life. Anyone who argues for a position of moral and meta-physical absolutes is intolerant by definition.  Such a person is a threat to his tolerant neighbors and must himself be rejected. He must not be tolerated.

At this point free and open discussion in the pursuit of truth is replaced by power, i.e. the survival of the fittest. Because nothing is inherently evil, a relativist, by definition, is free to tolerate and even promote evil. (If you doubt that, think baka bazhi and please keep reading.)

ChestertonG.K. Chesterton wrote, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.” On the other hand, those who contend that evil is real are considered intolerant. There is an irony here.

A florist who says she cannot in good conscience provide wedding flowers for the ceremony of a homosexual couple is deemed intolerant. But those cultural relativists who condemn the florist are likely to turn a blind eye to Muslims who throw homosexuals off the roof to their death. More irony. And it gets worse.

But before we go there, another word about Jesus’ practice.

to be continued

  • Gary Brumbelow

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Gary is the Disciple Nations Alliance editorial manager. He manages Darrow Miller and Friends and serves as editor and co-writer on various book projects. For eight years Gary served as a cross-cultural church planting missionary among First Nations people of Canada. His career also includes 14 years as executive director of InterAct Ministries, an Oregon-based church-planting organization in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Gary is a graduate of Grace University, earned an MA from Wheaton College and a Graduate Studies Diploma from Western Seminary. He lives near Portland, Oregon with his wife, Valerie. They have two married sons and twelve grandchildren. In addition to his work with the DNA, Gary serves as the pastor of Troutdale Community Church.


  1. Jon

    November 11, 2015 - 8:40 pm


    The contemporary idea of “tolerance” leaves us all in a pickle where the pursuit of truth in a conversation is impossible!

    • admin

      November 12, 2015 - 1:05 pm

      Yes, Jon, well said. It’s another indication of the erosion of truth in a society deeply infected with materialistic evolutionism. As Christ followers we are called to speak truth, add beauty, and bring goodness to the world around us.

      Thanks for reading and responding.

      Gary Brumbelow