Being a Christian today is a lot like when someone calls you a name as a kid. You feel ashamed and put your head down and walk away. Getting called “bigoted,” “intolerant,” “unloving,” or “discriminatory” is just the adult version of playground name-calling. They might as well say, “You’re fat,” “You’re stupid,” “You’re ugly,” and “You’re dumb.” Plenty of Christians are wrestling with that dynamic these days, saying, “Hey, I just got called some really bad names and all these other kids were watching. I quit.”
Here are some of the “playground name-calling” words and phrases our focus groups used to describe Christians and what we believe:
- selective hearing
- psychologically manipulative
- indoctrinating kids too young to think for themselves oppression
- want to be told what to do
- blind acceptance
- weak personality
- closed minded
- a little too happy
- militant recruiting
- brainwashing extremists
- almost a gang
- creepy old white men
- organized religion
- turning into a monster
- whack job religion
As a Christian, this doesn’t sound very tolerant to me. How about you? And I think we have enough real-world evidence to question if the same kind of name-calling would have occurred if a group other than Christians were under discussion. But that has nothing to do with how you and I respond.
It’s all too easy for us to become defensive, but stop for a moment and think about Jesus. As soon as He shows up in Scripture, the name-calling begins. The town gossip is filled with awful, uncorroborated accusations like: His mom has slept with such a parade of men that Jesus’ paternity is a mystery. He’s a liar. He’s from a small, backwater town. He’s uneducated, His dad’s a blue-collar nobody who’s clearly a dope because he believes his wife’s crazy story about getting pregnant while still a virgin. Then, Jesus grows up and the religious people accuse Him of being an alcoholic who performs miraculous works by the power of Satan. Everybody gets a crack. But Jesus didn’t quit, and He never stopped loving.
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
On all matters, including tolerance and intolerance, Christians are to imitate God’s example. Speaking to a church in the ancient city of Ephesus, the apostle Paul commanded Christians to “always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (Eph. 4:2 NLT). And writing to a church in the ancient city of Colossae, Paul says, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:12–14 NLT).
In bringing up our faults and sins, the Bible demonstrates that there is in fact, black and white, right and wrong. But Jesus died that we might be forgiven and changed, so that we can in turn forgive others that they too might change. This is the old tolerance. It is a grander vision for society than the new tolerance, because it holds out hope of a change into something far better, a radical recreation the new tolerance does not hold as a virtue since it is unwilling to call someone out of wrong and into right. This is the vision of Jesus in calling you and me to love both our neighbor and our enemy. He knew we would not agree with everyone but needed to love everyone. This is made more di cult when we are mocked and maligned. But by God’s grace, not impossible.
FLEXIBILITY AND FREEDOM
As scholar Nancy Pearcey points out, the only way to counter the rampant negativity toward Christians is to craft a positive message. “How do we present Christianity in a way that shows that it has even higher ideals—that it is more inspiring, more humane, than any secular worldview?” she asks.4
I believe we need to demonstrate that Christianity is far more tolerant, flexible, and helpful than any other option. We should be con dent that while the Bible is admittedly inflexible on some things, it leaves significant room for culture and conscience. It gives immense latitude for group and individual freedoms.
Consider this: Christianity exists across innumerable cultures and languages and has done so for a few thousand years. The Bible is far and away the most translated book in the history of the world, with at least the New Testament available in nearly 1,500 languages and translations under way in more than 2,500 more.5
What makes this amazing cultural adaptability possible is that the Bible provides far more principles than details. The Bible tends to focus on a person’s heart and motives, giving commands that provide freedom fitted to various cultures. This is necessary because actions can have wildly different meanings in different cultures. Extending your right hand to someone is a common greeting in America, for example, but in cultures where you use your right hand to clean yourself in the bathroom, that would be the height of disrespect.
Christian missionaries working in various cultures refer to this as contextualization. They are keenly aware how complex it is to faithfully carry out biblical commands in differing cultures. Many would argue that Christianity is the most tolerant and adaptable of all religions in world history because it has entered more diverse cultures than any other institution— religious, political, or otherwise.
What about personal conscience? The Bible allows each individual to make personal decisions on many things, though not all things. This includes whether or not one marries (1 Cor. 7:25–28), whether or not one eats foods such as meat (1 Cor. 10:28), and what day one chooses to take as a Sabbath day (Rom. 14:5–6). In reality, the Bible leaves thousands of everyday decisions up to individuals.
A LOVING FATHER PUTS A FENCE UP
An analogy about God’s laws might help. I am a father. I love our five children. When our kids were small, we lived on a busy street. The first thing I did when we moved in was get a fence built. That fence provided boundaries for my children, and the reasoning behind the boundary was not restriction but affection. I was not trying to take anything good from my kids. I was attempting to keep bad things away.
As long as my children played within the boundaries of the fence they were free to play whatever games they wanted and do pretty much whatever they liked, as long as it was not dangerous or harmful.
In Christianity, God is also a Father. His principles for what we should do and not do are like pickets in a fence. God wants His kids to safely have fun in the enormous yard of life He has provided them to enjoy without hopping the fence and getting hurt. Admittedly, many Christians do a bad job talking about their Dad and their yard and their fun. They get obsessed with the fence. To the neighbor kids on the other side of the fence, they seem intolerant and unloving and not fun at all. And no one ever wants to come over and play with kids like that. But what if the neighborhood kids saw us having a blast? Not just because we’re safe, but because we’re free to run without fear. That’s what we’re after.
- Nancy Pearcey, “Sexual Identity in a Secular Age,” Summer in the City lecture series, Houston Baptist University, August 5, 2013.
- http://www.wycli e.org/about/Statistics.aspx
This series of 30 daily devotions are adapted from the first chapters of Pastor Mark Driscoll’s new book “Christians Might Be Crazy” available exclusively at markdriscoll.org for a tax-deductible gift to Mark Driscoll Ministries. For your gift of any amount, we will email you a digital copy of the book (available worldwide) and also send you a paperback copy of the book (U.S. residents only). Pastor Mark also has a corresponding six-part sermon series that you can find for free at markdriscoll.org or on the free Mark Driscoll Ministries app. Thank you in advance for your partnership which helps people learn that It’s All About Jesus! For our monthly partners who give a recurring gift each month, this premium content will be automatically sent.