Responding Biblically to a Tolerant World

It is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error. It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills.
Adrian Rogers


Key point: The church must repent of its worldly approach to tolerance and consistently exercise genuine love.


In a sermon he preached on February 28, 1999, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, long time pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, placed a spotlight on the one virtue that modern society upholds and seeks to demand of everyone—tolerance. Dr. Kennedy explained that the tolerance society now champions isn’t the same kind of tolerance Americans have practiced throughout the country’s history.

D. James Kennedy / D. James Kennedy Ministries
  • While tolerance used to mean exercising respect by putting up with a person or group with whom one disagreed, it now means
  • accepting and affirming all views as equal in value and as equally true. Moreover, it now means affirming all lifestyles as equally valid.

As we soon will see, the former definition of tolerance can be called negative tolerance, since it preserves differing or opposing opinions. The latter, more modern definition, can be called positive tolerance. Under positive tolerance, to fail to endorse the perspective of someone with whom we disagree is to be intolerant and bigoted.

But there’s a problem. The very people who advocate positive tolerance aren’t really tolerant of all views. In particular, they have a huge problem with the beliefs of biblical Christianity. Why? Because the tenets of biblical Christianity are absolute.

The very people who advocate positive tolerance are not really tolerant of all views. In particular, they have a huge problem with the beliefs of biblical Christianity. Why? Because the tenets of biblical Christianity are absolute.

In 1991, a very insightful Chuck Colson said,

A belief in tolerance is about as close as America comes to a national creed today. All lifestyles are equal. No one has the right to criticize. It’s the philosophy of the talk show hosts: Oprah, Donahue, Geraldo—keep an open mind, never judge anyone.

There is only one thing that is not tolerated—–and that is, people who are intolerant themselves, or rather, people who are labeled as intolerant. People with moral and religious convictions. These people are considered bigots.

How We Got Here—And Where “Here” Is

Returning to Dr. Kennedy’s sermon, we note that the new tolerance is a byproduct of the postmodern era. As Dr. Kennedy explained [minor edits made for clarity],

Postmodernism [the beginning of which is marked by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989] says that rationalism has failed. The modernist said, “Faith has failed. We must be rational.” The postmodernist has said “Reason has failed. We must resort to feeling.”

How often do you hear people say, “Well I feel that so-and-so. I feel that Washington, D.C. is the capital of this country”? I don’t feel that. I think it. But it’s always not “I think” but “I feel.” The only important thing is how they feel. And we have even invented a new civil right. And that is the civil right for my feelings not to be hurt.…

We cannot have anybody’s feelings hurt. And part of postmodernism is this universal individual. We don’t have countries, we don’t have anything except the individual. There’s no human race, there’s just the individual and his feelings, and they must not be offended.…

And so we have gone from a democracy, a government by the people—of the people, by the people, and for the people—to a government by the sovereign individual. Or should I say, more accurately, the sovereign individual’s feelings? And that brings us to the fact that there are not even any universal truths of any kind for people, and whatever truths we have are simply societal constructs that each community or society or nation has created and these do not apply beyond the borders of that culture.

This is why I have repeatedly said that tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society. When you have an immoral society that has blatantly, proudly violated all of the commandments of God, there’s one last virtue they insist upon—tolerance for their immorality. And they will not have you condemning what they have done as being wrong. And they’ve created a whole world construct in which it’s not, and in which they are no longer the criminal or the villain or the evil person, but you are. And so they call evil good and good evil (see Isaiah 5:20).

Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society.
—D. James Kennedy—

Charles Darwin

Also operative in this progression of ideas in history was the arrival of Darwinism on the world stage. Darwinism eliminated the “need” for God and absolute truth. The human individual became the measure or all things.

Even if you’ve been unfamiliar with the terms modernism and postmodernism, surely you’ve seen evidence of the grip of the new tolerance on American culture. Note carefully how accurate Dr. Kennedy is when he says that a new civil right has been established—the right not to have one’s feelings hurt, or we might call it the right not to be offended.

The new tolerance has ushered in a new civil right—the right not to be offended.
—D. James Kennedy—

The Biblical Response

Unfortunately, the new tolerance also has found its way into the church. One of the “Eight Menacing Trends in the American Evangelical Church” today is that “the church has equated loving people with not offending them.” Other trends on the list provide evidence as well.

Josh McDowell

How should followers of Jesus Christ live out their faith when the new tolerance confronts them from every side? Josh McDowell, a Christian apologist and an insightful analyst of cultural trends, provides the answer in a presentation he gave well over a decade ago1 to the staff of Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ).

Like Chuck Colson and D. James Kennedy, Josh expressed insights in his presentation that were ahead of the times.

Listen carefully to the following series of sound bites from Josh’s presentation. While you can listen here, you’ll be able to follow Josh’s progression of thought much more easily on this page, where a complete text of this 3½-minute compilation, along with the audio, is available.

  • Josh defines negative tolerance.
  • Josh defines positive tolerance.
  • Josh illustrates the difference between the two.
  • Josh points to the biblical response to a culture demanding positive tolerance.
  • Josh cites the importance of balancing truth and love.
  • Josh emphasizes that loving people will be costly.
  • Josh shows how genuine love relates directly to absolute truth and principles of right and wrong.

These insights are piercing. They also are sobering. They call on the church to repent of its soft approach to truth and to love authentically. This means exercising love by demonstrating compassion and by declaring truth—but we as Christians cannot do these things if we abandon a high view of God’s authority and the reliability of the Scriptures.

Francis Schaeffer was another Christian leader who read the culture clearly and accurately. In 1984 he wrote that easy Christianity is a thing of the past, and that

Francis Schaeffer

only a strong view of Scripture is sufficient to withstand the pressure of an all-pervasive culture built upon relativism and relativistic thinking.…Without a strong commitment to God’s absolutes, the early church could never have remained faithful in the face of the constant Roman harassment and persecution [it received]. And our situation today is remarkably similar as our own legal, moral, and social structure is based on an increasingly anti-Christian, secularist consensus.

Christian thinker and apologist Jonathan Morrow is dead on when he says, “Our culture desperately needs to hit the reset button when it comes to larger conversation about truth and tolerance.” For this to happen, the church must act as did the early Christians. If we identify ourselves with Jesus Christ, we no longer can continue to accommodate the culture by refusing to uphold the truth for fear of offending people.

Why? Because refusing to uphold the truth represents a failure to exercise genuine love!

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1Josh McDowell, “Tolerating the Intolerable,” Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk, aired on March 21 and March 22, 2013. I strongly encourage you to listen to both programs in their entirety. Mr. McDowell’s presentation had aired earlier on Focus on the Family. A CD copy of the Focus on the Family broadcast indicates that the program “last aired in October of 2002.” Josh’s website is www.josh.org.

Mr. McDowell’s talk © 2018 Josh McDowell Ministry. All rights reserved. No part of these Materials may be changed in any way or reproduced in any form without written permission from Josh McDowell Ministry, 2001 West Plano Parkway, Suite 2400, Plano, TX 75075. www.Josh.org. +1 972 907 1000. Used by Permission.

2Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, (Westchester, Illinois: 1984), 48-49.

 

A portion of this article is based on the content of “Discernment Needed, Part 2: Eight Menacing Trends in the American Evangelical Church,” which was originally published May 28, 2015.

Billy Graham’s Critical Hour of Decision—and How God Used It to Change the World

As you go through this world with all its storms and its trials…keep your eyes on the Bible, keep your eyes on Christ, and you won’t go wrong. Don’t you follow your feelings. You follow Christ.
Billy Graham (November 7, 1918–February 21, 2018)—

 

Billy Graham’s evangelistic ministry began in 1947. Although the man who would become the world’s best known evangelist had been the preacher at seven evangelistic campaigns prior to the crusade that began in September, 1949 in Los Angeles, it was during the Los Angeles campaign—his eighth—that the press took notice. When it did, Graham was thrust onto the national stage.

Interestingly, the series of meetings held just prior to those in Los Angeles didn’t go well at all, at least not according to human standards. That crusade was held in Altoona, Pennsylvania. On one hand, apathy seemed to prevail, just as it could in any city or town. On the other, various ministries in the area were competing with one another, and squabbles broke out over insignificant issues. Also, the larger religious community was polarized. Altoona was home to several advocates of a strong fundamentalist perspective, and tensions erupted between them and others on the opposite side of the theological spectrum. And as if all that weren’t enough, during one of Graham’s sermons, a woman in the choir with obvious mental problems yelled repeatedly—then she wouldn’t cooperate when members of the evangelistic team tried to calm her down. Billy Graham later wrote that after the services in Altoona, “I pondered whether God had really called me to evangelism after all.”1

Billy decided not to quit—not yet. Looking ahead to Los Angeles, Graham and his team evaluated the most common criticisms people had offered regarding evangelistic meetings. They took steps to address those issues, which included complaints about finances and concerns about a lack of follow-up for people who indicated they wanted to know Christ.

Two large circus tents were erected together as one in a parking lot in downtown LA. The resulting canvas arena could seat 6,000 people. The first service of what was originally planned as a three-week campaign was held on Sunday, September 25; but near the conclusion of the three-week period, several of the organizers asked Graham to extend the effort one more week. Billy agreed to do so after a well-known radio personality attended one of the services, came under great conviction, and committed his life to Christ.

William Randolph Hearst

During the fourth week, the news media took notice, which represented a sharp contrast from news reporters’ prior indifference to the crusade. William Randolph Hearst, an influential power broker in the newspaper industry, eyed the meetings and told reporters to “Puff Graham

The evangelistic services became the talk of the city. Stories of changed lives—including those of numerous well-known individuals—abounded. The tent was enlarged so it could hold up to 9,000. Yet as massive as it became, even this coliseum couldn’t accommodate everyone who attended. Loudspeakers had to be set up outside the tent for those who couldn’t get inside. The time was extended as well, until, eight weeks after it started, on Sunday, November 20, the last meeting of the Los Angeles crusade was held. Graham was thirty years old at the time. In these eight weeks, 350,000 people had flocked to hear him—and about 3,000 individuals made decisions for Christ. The Los Angeles crusade was a turning point for Graham and his ministry. As it turned out, it was a turning point for the nation and the world as well.

Billy Graham in 1954

An Even Bigger Story

Poster for a 1946 Youth for Christ Rally in Detroit that alluded to the European Tour

As newsworthy as the Los Angeles meetings were, perhaps the bigger story is what happened in Graham’s life between Altoona and Los Angeles. Billy Graham was struggling. Chuck Templeton, a close friend with whom he had ministered in England during an effort led by Youth for Christ several years earlier, had begun to doubt the trustworthiness of the Scriptures. Templeton was no lightweight. He had been pastor of one of the largest churches in Toronto. He was an unusually gifted communicator, and people had sensed God’s hand on him. In fact, before Chuck Templeton began vocalizing his doubts, many people who had heard both Templeton and Graham preach were especially impressed with Templeton. But now he’d resigned his church. He had become a student at Princeton Theological Seminary and was captivated by intellectual arguments against the trustworthiness of the Bible. One of Billy’s friends overheard Chuck say, “Poor Billy, I feel sorry for him. He and I are taking two different roads.”2

At that point, though, Graham was not on a path different from the one Templeton was traveling. Rather, he stood facing a fork in the road, struggling over which path to take. He never doubted Christ’s deity or God’s plan of salvation. Yet He agonized over whether or not the Scriptures could be trusted, whether or not they were fully reliable.

At the time of his struggle, Billy also was influenced by Miss Henrietta Mears, who was on the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California. Miss Mears had built a phenomenal Sunday school at her church. In the first three years of her leadership, the enrollment grew tenfold to 4,500. A sincere and humble lady with a positive, enthusiastic manner, Mears strongly believed in the authority and reliability of the Bible and encouraged Billy to do the same. But she didn’t do so with a blind eye to scholarship. Mears was familiar with the arguments being used to discredit the Bible.

Meanwhile, Templeton made no secret of his views: “Billy, you’re fifty years out of date. People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do. Your faith is too simple. Your language is out of date. You’re going to have to learn the new jargon if you’re going to be successful in your ministry.”3


Billy, you’re fifty years out of date. People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do. Your faith is too simple. Your language is out of date. You’re going to have to learn the new jargon if you’re going to be successful in your ministry.
—Charles Templeton, who, at one time, was thought to be more likely to influence the world for Christ than Billy Graham—


Billy Graham later recalled, “I ached as if I were on the rack, with Miss Mears stretching me one way and Chuck Templeton stretching me the other. Alone in my room one evening, I read every verse of Scripture I could think of that had to do with ‘thus saith the Lord.’”4 Among other things, he reflected on Jesus’ own attitude toward the Bible—one of wholehearted acceptance and affirmation. Billy knew that if he could not trust God’s Word, he would have to leave the ministry.

Finally, he took a walk. He’d become a Christian years before, but this also would be a critical hour of decision5 for him. He continued to struggle for a while, but at last he came to a point of surrender. He knelt and opened his Bible. It was too dark to read, so he prayed. He recalls that his prayer went something like this: “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising.”

Billy knew he needed to say more, and soon he felt liberated to say it: “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”6


Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.
—Billy Graham, in a prayer of commitment, at a critical hour of decision—


As he rose from his place of prayer, Graham later recalled, he felt God’s power as he had not felt it in many, many weeks. While he had numerous questions that remained unanswered, he now had chosen the path he would take. He writes, “In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.”7

The evangelistic campaign in Los Angeles would begin one month later. It would be a series of meetings that would set the stage for a ministry God would use to change the world. Yes, that’s how critical Billy Graham’s hour of decision was!

Setting the Record Straight

It’s important here for us to make four clarifications.

First, we do not mean to imply here that if an effort for God “flops,” it was because the person who was seeking to serve Him was having theological problems or struggles. Church history testifies that many initially apparent “flops” actually turned out to be tremendous successes when viewed long term. Yet it is undeniable that if a spokesman for God isn’t sure what he believes, God’s blessing on his efforts will be hindered.

Second, we also are not saying that a trust in God’s Word automatically will bear immediate abundant fruit, as was the case with the crusade in Los Angeles. Of course, God’s promise is sure:

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please.
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

Sometimes, however, fruit does not appear until many, many years after the seeds were planted.

A third thing we are not implying is that a person must or even should believe God’s Word in a total blind leap of faith, without any rational reasons for doing so. Faith in God’s Word is reasonable.


Faith in God’s Word is reasonable.


Lee Strobel

Just ask Lee Strobel, a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune who was an atheist. He became a Christian after he investigated the historicity and viability of Christianity. After becoming a believer, he wrote an entire book titled The Case for Faith.8

One final word of caution is in order. This is our fourth consideration. While faith is reasonable, we must never approach the Bible expecting all our questions to be answered. If the Bible really does have God as its ultimate author, as the Bible affirms (see 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21) and as Christians historically have believed, should we not expect that at least some parts of it will be beyond our comprehension? God, after all, is infinite, and we are finite. God has revealed Himself in ways we can understand, but part of the understanding we acquire when we learn about God includes the reasonable idea that we cannot fathom everything about Him and must exercise faith regarding what we don’t see or comprehend.

Let’s put it another way. If you had no unanswered questions about the Scriptures, you wouldn’t need to exercise faith. Keep in mind that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Why does God require faith? I believe at least part of the answer is that you can’t have any kind of meaningful, deep relationship with someone you don’t trust!


Why does God require faith? I believe at least part of the answer is that you can’t have any kind of meaningful, deep relationship with someone you don’t trust!


Have you trusted Christ as your Savior, as Billy Graham did when he was 15 years old? If not, you can do so today. Here’s how.

As a Christian, have you experienced doubts about God’s Word? Doubts and struggles occur at times in the Christian life, but we need to make sure we don’t respond to them in the end with unbelief, as Chuck Templeton did. Thus, a critical hour of decision like the one Billy Graham had may be necessary for you.

God can be trusted, and He honors those who put their faith in Him.

You can take that, my friends, to the bank!

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.


newsreel on the LA Crusade, 1949


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

top image: Billy Graham (right) with son Franklin in 1994

Los Angeles Crusade Poster, Billy Graham Library

credit for photo of Billy Graham in 1954

credit for photo of Lee Strobel

 

Notes:

1Billy Graham, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham, [New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997], 134

2Graham, 138.

3Graham.

4Graham.

5Hour of Decision would become the title of a weekly radio broadcast produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

6Graham, 139.

7Graham.

8Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2000).

 

Sources cited:

Graham, Billy. Just As I Am. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. Pages 98-100,133-143. All quotations in the account of Billy Graham’s struggle come from this work: pp. 134,138,139.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2000.

Additional sources used:

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Billy Graham: God’s Ambassador, (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1999), 45-54.

http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/exhibits/LA49/01readmore.html

http://articles.latimes.com/2007/sep/02/local/me-then2

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Templeton

Nature’s Testimony Is Only the Beginning

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.
—George Washington Carver1

The secret of my success? It is simple. It is found in the Bible, “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:6).
—George Washington Carver2

george_w_carver_-_nara_-_559197-tif

Part 4 is available here.

In the last four posts3 we have examined evidence from nature regarding humanity and human relationships, including marriage and the family. Nature’s testimony clearly upholds marriage as the lifelong commitment of one man and one woman. Their union forms a family; in fact, in each case it forms the specific family of which they and all the children born to them are a part. The family is the most basic unit society; thus, if the institutions of marriage and the family unravel, so does society. We see this happening today. Nature itself points to these truths, but its testimony is only a start. God has revealed Himself and His intentions for humanity even more fully in the Bible.

Just how do the testimony of nature and what we read in the Bible fit together? Francis Schaeffer offers an illustration that brilliantly answers this question.4 Here’s a summary of his analogy.

Francis-Schaeffer

Suppose we are walking through a forest, and we come upon a two-story cabin. We begin to explore the inside of the cabin, and on the first floor we find a table. On the table we discover the bottom portion of a book that has been ripped in two, leaving about one inch of type on each page. We can read what is printed on the bottom of these pages, but we cannot decipher the entire story, the complete message of the book’s author. Of course, no one among us ever would suggest that what we have has come into being by chance. An intelligent being is the clear source of the section of the book we are examining with great curiosity.

As we continue exploring, we go upstairs and find the top portion of the same book. We now can bring the two sections of the book together and at last can read the entire message of the author. We can understand the complete story he sought to convey when he wrote. Moreover, through the book, we can get to know the author. This is especially true because in the book, the author tells us about himself.

The bottom portion of the book—the section we discovered on the first floor—represents nature, the world around us, the cosmos, and the created order. The top section represents the Scriptures; in them nature is explained. As we read the top and bottom pages together, the bottom pages make much more sense. We note that what the bottom pages tell us coincides perfectly with all we learn from reading the top part of the book. We now understand not just “what,” but “why.” Our questions about life and nature are answered in the Bible—not exhaustively, but adequately. We learn why evil exists in the world. We can understand how nature reflects God’s perfect character, even though the world and even the universe have been marred and damaged by sin and evil. Furthermore, we read of God’s solution to the mess we’re in, and we discover that we can respond to Him in a personal way because He has revealed Himself personally to us. God didn’t just unveil Himself in nature and in the Bible; He also came and lived among us personally in and through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890

In Hebrews 1:1-4, the writer of Hebrews declared,

1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

These words remind us of what the apostle John said about Jesus in John 1:1,14: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus, of course, affirmed the teachings of Scripture in His public ministry (see Matt. 5:17-18). In turn, as the analogy we have cited so clearly illustrates, the Bible explains what nature reveals (see Ps. 19:1-4).


Even without the Bible or a specific knowledge of God’s revelation of Himself in Christ, people know enough about God from nature’s testimony to be “without excuse” (see Rom. 1:20).


Yet, even without the Bible or a specific knowledge of God’s revelation of Himself in Christ, people know enough about God from nature’s testimony to be “without excuse.” Paul wrote, “For since the creation of the world His [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they [the unrighteous, but by implication all people] are without excuse” (see Rom. 1:20).

Since nature, the Bible, and Jesus Christ come together to speak a clear and unified message, we do well to heed all they tell us, including what they have said about marriage.

Remember this about marriage: What nature reveals, the Bible explains, and Jesus affirmed.5

It can’t get any more reliable than that.

An epilogue to this series of articles is available here.

 

Copyright © 2015 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/georgewash106884.html

2http://poeministries.org/strength-for-today/the-secret-of-my-success-by-george-washington-carver

3The last four posts are:

4Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who is There: 30th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press 1998, 1982, 1968), 137-138.

5http://www.wordfoundations.com/2015/08/13/the-high-cost-of-denying-the-obvious-part-3/