Blessed Are the Intolerant

Then it was Elijah’s turn. Stepping onto a large boulder, he slowly pivoted to gaze upon the prophets of Baal. Before him were 450 sweating, bleeding, exhausted leaders of the most prominent religion of that region and time.

Surprisingly, rather than calling down fire from heaven, rallying the Israelites around the true God, and eliminating the false teachers, Elijah said, “Gentlemen, I have come to realize that while we may have our differences, we have much to offer one another in our understanding of life. As a matter of fact, God has infused a great deal of truth into your religion, and it would be rather arrogant and unloving for me to claim otherwise. Let us unite around our common goals and demonstrate to the world that while we may have different traditions, we are all, every one of us, children of God.”

Few of us could imagine such an ending to the great encounter on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. But listening to some of the rhetoric swirling around Christian circles today, one gets the impression that perhaps Elijah got a little carried away. Couldn’t Elijah have made more progress with dialogue than the sword? Shouldn’t he have looked for common ground rather than differences and used loving affirmation rather than confrontation? Not if he wanted to be consistent with the will of God.

Today’s tolerant mood

No one today would advocate putting false teachers to death, an event unique even in the biblical record. However, the New Testament is abundantly clear that God’s people have nothing in common with the followers of false religions. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers…. What part has a believer with an unbeliever?…Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord’ ” (2 Cor. 6:14-15, 17).

Today almost any form of biblical separation has fallen on hard times, partially due to abuse but increasingly due to the tolerant mood of the moment. As a result, rather than seeing our divine mandate as taking the gospel to the lost and calling men and women out of the domain of darkness and into Christ’s Kingdom (Col. 1:13), many within the church spend their time trying to find common ground with those who teach falsehood. Some examples would be helpful.

Examples

Nanette Sawyer, in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, confesses, “I can say I am a Christian today because of a Hindu meditation master…. She taught me to meditate, to sit in silence and openness in the presence of God. She taught me to love God, which allowed me to experience God’s love for me.”1 She can be this enthusiastic over her Hindu teacher because she believes “all people are children of God.”2

In the same book, Samir Selmanovic asks, “Is our religion the only one that understands the true meaning of life? Or does God place his truth in others too?” His answer:

The gospel is not our gospel, but the gospel of the kingdom of God, and what belongs to the kingdom of God cannot be hijacked by Christianity…. To put it in different terms, there is no salvation outside of Christ, but there is salvation outside of Christianity. For the last two thousand years, Christianity has granted itself a special status among religions. An emerging generation of Christians is simply saying, “No more special treatment.”3

Last year Christianity Today published a revealing article titled “Muslim Followers of Jesus?” It debated the possibility that Muslims could remain in the Islamic religious community, follow Islamic customs, participate in Muslim prayers, study the Qur’an, and still see themselves as “Messianic Muslims.”4 While no solid conclusion was drawn, the author was sympathetic toward the possibility that one could, in fact, be a Christian Muslim.

Former Youth Specialties president, Mark Oestreicher, defines being a Christian more in terms of doing than believing:

I still believe salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. But does a little dose of Buddhism thrown into a belief system somehow kill off the Christian part, the Jesus-basics? My Buddhist cousin, except for her unfortunate inability to embrace Jesus, is a better “Christian” (based on Jesus’ descriptions of what a Christian does) than almost every Christian I know. If we were using Matthew 26 [sic] as a guide, she’d be a sheep; and almost every Christian I know personally would be a goat.5

Leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), such as Brigham Young University Professor Robert Millet, have been meeting with some key evangelicals, including Richard Moues, president of Fuller Seminary, for the last 10 years. At least 17 closed-door sessions have occurred since 2000 for the purpose of reconciling evangelicals and Mormons. In addition,

Hush-hush chats occurred between ranking LDS authorities and nationally prominent evangelicals in 2004, 2007, and earlier in 2009, though those familiar with the meetings won’t name names. Participants hope for a publicly known conference between leaders, perhaps as early as [2010]. Another prospect is a series of formal statements on agreements and differences along the lines of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, though that will require LDS officialdom’s sanction.6

Monism, paganism, pantheism, and other Eastern religious influences, formally embodied in the New Age Movement, have infiltrated evangelical circles without even being identified. So much so that Newsweek ran a celebrated article recently titled “We Are All Hindus Now.” The author stated that while 76 percent of Americans continue to identify themselves as Christians, recent polls “show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves [sic], each other, and eternity.”7

For example, Hindus believe there are many paths to God, while conservative Christians have been taught Jesus is the only way. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). But according to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, “65 percent of us believe that ‘many religions can lead to eternal life’—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone.”8

Why we’re losing

It would seem that conservative Christians are rapidly losing the ideology wars. I believe this is because we often do not have a biblical worldview ourselves. Having raised the last two generations of believers on the back of entertainment instead of solid teaching of the Word, we have not equipped them to grapple with the Scriptures and the opposing philosophies and religions that surround us. In order to begin to correct these deficits, we must return to a serious commitment in our churches of proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

(This article is available in print in the July/August edition of Israel My Glory. We appreciate FOI for bringing it to our attention.)

Notes

1 Nanette Sawyer, “What Would Huckleberry Do?” An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, ed. Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 44.

2 Ibid., 45.

3 Samir Selmanovic, “The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness,” An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, 194-5.

4 Joseph Cumming, “Muslim Followers of Jesus?” Christianity Today (December 2009), 32-35.

5 Mark Oestreicher, cited in Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 53.

6 Richard Ostling, “Most Improbable Dialogue,” Christianity Today (November 2009) http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/november/11.23.html.

7 Lisa Miller, “We Are All Hindus Now,” Newsweek (August 15,2009) http://www.newsweek.com/id/212155.

8 Ibid.


Gary Gilley has served as Senior Pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois for over 33 years. He is also the author of several books and is the book review editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology. He received his BA from Moody Bible Institute and MBS and ThD degrees from Cambridge Graduate School. He is the Book Review Editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology, a board member of Brazil Gospel Fellowship Mission, Personal Freedom Outreach and New Tribes Mission. He and his wife Marsha have two adult sons and four grandchildren.

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Rob Fall's picture

Considering the exclusive nature of the Greek definite article, my paraphrased response is:
"What part of I am the only way, the only truth, the only light. No man cometh to the father but by me, don't you understand?"

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

JobK's picture

1. No one wants anyone to go to hell/the lake of fire. It was perhaps easier to consign people to the lake of fire before media exposed us to so many religions and cultures and took us out of a more narrow way of thinking. So, you either have to affirm the idea that people in other religions are going to the lake of fire when so many of them have lived and died without ever having heard the Name of Jesus Christ - which so many people regard as unfair, never having been given a chance to avoid such a horrible fate - or you have to affirm that there is more than one path to heaven. And if there is more than one path to heaven, then it means that other religions have virtue, wisdom, even saving faith. Stating that you believe that a person can go to heaven by following Islam and then forbid the practice of Islam is hypocritical. Theologically, if it is OK for the goose, then it has to be good for the gander. Even claiming that Christianity represents "a better way" would be false. Better for who, in what way, and why? Christianity then becomes a tradition, a lifestyle choice, and not one that seems very cool or exciting either, especially if one has been brought up seeing Christianity as superstitious, backwards and hateful - excuse me, intolerant - but other religions as more enlightened and progressive, not to mention way cooler because (pick your favorite politician/activist/professor/Hollywood entertainer/athlete) practices it.

2. Related to 1, there is the Roman Catholicism question. If evangelicals and Catholics can be together, why not evangelicals and Buddhists? We can really no longer come out and say anymore that Catholicism is a false religion and be accepted in "mainstream" Christianity in the age of Billy Graham (and the religious right) and what have you, so that makes it extremely difficult to say that about anybody else, including Mormons (first Mitt Romney in 2008, now Glenn Beck thanks to Fox News).

The fact that everyone wants to believe that only really-really-really-really bad people are going to hell (basically Adolph Hitler and maybe 5 or 10 other guys throughout history) makes it really hard to be a "hellfire and brimstone" preacher anymore. Who wants to hear it? Again, it is a lot easier to endure those doctrines if your worldview is that of a "Christian nation", but if you are considering the vast majority of the people living on the planet and who have ever lived ... it is not something that people are going to want to think about, from their friends and neighbors to folks living in Tibet or wherever. And since the "hellfire and brimstone" preaching (not to mention "hellfire and brimstone evangelism", as preachers can't and aren't Biblically mandated to do it all) is occurring less, well then that creates an environment where it is easier for alternative religious ideas to flourish ... the absence of opposition.

Evangelical scholar Clark Pinnock predicted such a thing in "Four Views On Hell" which came out way back in 1994. He stated that he adopted the annihilationist view of John Stott, Greg Boyd, J.I. Packer and people like that because the traditional doctrines would drive people to pluralism. Looks like Pinnock was right, as he is now a pluralist himself.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Job, I think you're right that it's harder than it used to be to proclaim the exclusivity of the gospel. Maybe it's because the information/communication age has shrunk the world so much in our perception and it's more painful to embrace "faith alone in Jesus alone" because we are more aware of how many that leaves out. As a kid surrounded pretty much by Christians all the time, the doctrine of wrath and eternal hell was easy (once it no longer posed a threat to me personally!). As I grew older and met more "good people" who reject the gospel... well, there is now a personal cost to believing this.
I believe it anyway. I don't have any choice (I'd as soon deny that water is wet). But it is not so easy now.

There are many forces at work in this global coming together, but I do think "feeling bad for the lost" is a factor for many.

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Glad to see an article from "Israel My Glory" on the site. I believe this is the best magazone available to believers. I have the current issue in my hand and here's a powerful observation from Elwood McQuaid:

Quote:
In 1563 the landmark book by John foxe, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, was published. The accounts of atrocities that assailed faithful Christians from the early days of the church mezmerized readers. So compelling was the impact of the book that one writer commented, "We can understand the deep impression that the book produced; and how it served to mold national character [in Britian ]."

The question begs to be answered is this one; Given the extent to which Christian suffering today equals or, indeed, exceeds that chronicled by John Foxe, can it even be hinted that anything is being achieved that will "mold national character"? Or even affect the character and conduct of a few?

No matter how many words are written laying out the facts and extent of suffering, words and statistics apparently are not enough to make the case and bring the Western church of Jesus Christ to its knees.

JobK's picture

Pastor Joe Roof wrote:
Glad to see an article from "Israel My Glory" on the site. I believe this is the best magazone available to believers. I have the current issue in my hand and here's a powerful observation from Elwood McQuaid:
Quote:
In 1563 the landmark book by John foxe, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, was published. The accounts of atrocities that assailed faithful Christians from the early days of the church mezmerized readers. So compelling was the impact of the book that one writer commented, "We can understand the deep impression that the book produced; and how it served to mold national character [in Britian ]."

The question begs to be answered is this one; Given the extent to which Christian suffering today equals or, indeed, exceeds that chronicled by John Foxe, can it even be hinted that anything is being achieved that will "mold national character"? Or even affect the character and conduct of a few?

No matter how many words are written laying out the facts and extent of suffering, words and statistics apparently are not enough to make the case and bring the Western church of Jesus Christ to its knees.

Elwood McQuaid? The guy who spends more time bashing Christians who dare disagree with dispensationalism in his column in the Jerusalem Post than he does telling Jews that their religion is just as false and that they are just as lost as the Palestinian Muslims that McQuaid ... well let's just say that he is open in his preference for Jews over Palestinian Muslims. Anyone who is more hesitant to say John 14:6 around Jews than they are anyone else because of their dispensational-political views is part of the problem, not the solution. (And yes, I say the same about Reformed people who are way too tolerant of Catholics.)

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Well, I'd like to see that and make my own evaluation.... but I don't read the Jerusalem Post usually. Got a link?
I have a hard time believing that he has any hesitation to teach the gospel to Jews, and an even harder time believing it would be "because of his dispensational-political views."
But we're getting off topic a good bit. Preference for Jews over Palestinian Muslims? I'll just say that there are many reasons to go that route that have nothing to do with Dispensationalism... but this is a debate for different thread.

JobK's picture

It is their set-aside for Zionist Christians. McQuaid and Earl Cox were regular contributors, although it does not seem as if they have been writing much lately, and it looks like they columns have been moved to the "blog" section. The Jerusalem Post is a paper by Jews for Jews, and McQuaid respects their ground rules. So, you frequently see him and the other Christian Zionists on there going after Christians who fail to zealously support Israel, but nothing about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

http://www.jpost.com/ChristianInIsrael/Home.aspx ]http://www.jpost.com/ChristianInIsrael/Home.aspx

Here are search results though.

http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/SearchResults.aspx?q=elwood%20mcquaid ]http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/SearchResults.aspx?q=elwood%20mcquaid

And I did not mean to make blanket indictments of dispensationalism.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Read all of Elwood McQuaid before misrepresenting him. His greatest concern in life is for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is also deeply concerned about the anti-Israel sentiment that is growing in our world. That's all it is about.

dmicah's picture

The allure of tolerance is the plethora of spiritual options. It's like a "choose your own truth adventure" graphic novel. Why be satisfied with limitations? Isn't God bigger than that? Seems like a certain serpent used a similar line of logic on a couple of folk who should have known better. We're still falling into the same trap.
So I can't agree that we are "losing the ideology wars" as if tolerance is suddenly a new thing. This battle has been raging since the beginning of time. We should simply recognize that our Adversary is trying to execute upon his plan and that this will ultimately lead to one religion/one government mindset which Jesus will return to conquer.

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