Evangelism—sharing with others the good news of the cross of Jesus Christ—has certainly fallen out of fashion in the American church these days. It’s tough: with relativism the rule in our culture, anyone who claims to know The Truth is viewed by others as narrow-minded and uneducated. Or worst of all: Intolerant.
Tolerance. Now there’s a word that has undergone quite a transformation in my lifetime. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “tolerate” as:
1. To endure or resist the action of
2. To allow to be done
3. To put up with
And this is what tolerance meant during my formative years; I might think someone’s actions or beliefs were wrong, but I endured them, I allowed them, I put up with them.
But now “tolerance” has come to mean something completely beyond that. To be tolerant today means I can’t believe that someone else is wrong. I don’t have to simply endure or allow or put up with someone’s actions or beliefs; I have to agree with them, to validate them. Or else be considered intolerant.
I would go so far as to say that “tolerance”, in this latest incarnation, has become the highest value in our American culture. In its own way, “tolerance” has become the only Truth that must be applied to everyone. (Which is quite “intolerant”, by the way. I digress.)
But I believe that as followers of Jesus we have a higher calling: Love.
Again from Merriam-Webster, I mean this kind of love:
1. unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another
Your friend is riding a bike with you along a trail, and he chooses to dismiss the warning sign that says the bridge across the upcoming canyon is out. Do you tolerate his beliefs, his actions? Or in love do you do everything you can, at first verbally and then even physically, to stop him from continuing? What if he says, “Your interpretation of that sign is too narrow.” Or, “The words on the sign may work for you, but they’re not for me.” Or, “I know the people who wrote the sign, and they are a bunch of misogynistic, bigoted hypocrites.”
You know where I am going with this.
To my fellow Christ-followers: The first question we have to answer is, “Do we really believe that unless someone places their faith in the Christ of the cross, they will spend eternity separated from God in hell?” We may think we believe this…but do we? Really? I’m not sure I do most days.
But if we do, then: Are we doing everything in our power to winsomely, effectively, persuade those around us to consider the Truth of the gospel? Are we willing to be misunderstood, and possibly even hated, as we are viewed and judged through the tolerance lens of our culture, as we bring our message to others? Are we willing to answer the high call of Love? Too often I find myself giving in to fear of rejection by others, or worse yet, apathy, instead of manifesting “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.”
Listen to what Penn Jillette, of the famous Las Vegas duo “Penn and Teller”, has to say about this issue:
(Click here if the video doesn’t show up in your browser)