Is Christianity Intolerant?

Dear friend,

One of the criticisms of Christianity I hear in our culture today is that Christians are intolerant people and Christianity is an intolerant religion. It seems that when this is said, the speaker is referring to one of two very different ideas:

  1. Christians are intolerant of sin and sinners, unwelcoming to those who don’t “measure up” to the standards which they themselves fail to live up to, and as a result, Christians are often labeled as hypocrites.

To this accusation, I fear a guilty plea is in order in many situations. In our desire to identify sin for what it is, Christians (including without a doubt myself) often act very judgmental and legalistically, pointing fingers and looking down our noses at “sinners” while trying to act very religious and holier-than-thou. This is not right and not a new situation, unfortunately. Jesus confronted the same thing with the religious leaders of his day, who couldn’t understand why he was hanging out with the sinners way back then. This is a good post for another time, but I would really like to address the more subtle reason that popular culture views Christianity as intolerant:

2. Christians have the “intolerant” view that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.

This logic has to be one of Satan’s most powerful tricks. Certainly it sounds sweet and nice to say that all religions are pretty much the same. It sounds great to say that everyone should just get along peacefully and be left to their own personal beliefs and it will all work out in the end. I must admit that it sounds like a wet blanket to say that there are ideas that are wrong and there is a single right answer. But my previous posts have covered the authority of the Bible and the fact that no one gets to heaven by being a good person – and the Bible tells us plainly that Jesus is the one way to salvation. (John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:11-12)

We’ve just finished commemorating Easter and remembered Jesus’ brutal death on the cross and his miraculous resurrection three days later. If all religions were basically the same and belief in Jesus Christ alone was not necessary, then why did Jesus have to suffer and die in such an agonizing way? If I have a deadly disease, and there is one pill that will cure it, I do not consider the doctor intolerant for prescribing me that one pill over all of the other possible medications in the world. People accuse Christianity of being intolerant not because it is, but because they are much happier and eager to believe whatever allows them to go on living as they want, another truth already pointed out in the Bible. (John 3:18-20)

I recently finished a commentary on the Gospel of John written by R.C. Sproul, a minister who is a favorite of mine. He had this to say about the perceived intolerance of Christianity:

Suppose there actually is a God in heaven, and suppose this God created the world and everything in it. Suppose that, in the process of making myriad species of birds, fish, and animals, He formed human beings in His image and gave them the most exalted position in all of creation. Suppose He said, “You will be holy, even as I am holy,” and gave them only one command to obey but fifteen minutes after He made them, these human beings revolted by doing the very thing he had commanded htem not to do. Suppose God then said, “I’m going to provide a way for you to escape My judgment,” and He then called Abraham out of paganism, brought him to Himself, and said, “I’m going to make you the father of a great nation.” Suppose that He blessed all the descendants of Abraham, expanded them into a whole nation, and said, “Through this nation I’m going to bless the whole world” but this nation repeatedly turned against Him. Suppose God sent prophets to these people to tell them to come back to Him, just as an unfaithful spouse returns to his or her partner but the people killed the prophets. Suppose God finally said, “I love you so much, even though you are a stiff-necked people, that I’m going to send My eternal, only begotten Son to you” but the people rose up against His Son and crucified Him. Suppose that God loved the people enough in all this that while they were in the very act of killing His Son, He transferred the sins of His people to His Son and said: “If you’ll put your trust in Him, if you’ll turn your gaze upon Jesus, you will not experience death. I’m going to give you eternal life with no pain, no tears, no evil, and no darkness.” If God were to do all that, would you have the insolence to say to Him, “God, You haven’t done enough for this world that hates You?”

Are you one who gets angry when he hears there is only one way to God? The question is not, “Why is there only one way?” but “Why is there even one way?” The answer to that question is that God loved the world enough to create a way. (R.C. Sproul, John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary))

Jesus Christ is not simply one of many ways to salvation. He is the only way. This is not, as today’s culture would have you believe, intolerant. It is, instead, extremely loving. I do no one any favors by allowing them to believe whatever they make up for themselves in order to avoid hurting their feelings when it is going to end up costing them their eternal destiny.

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