Trueman: We Are Intolerant Of The Wrong Things

In an age like ours, of course, where fuzzy boundaries, vagueness, doubt, and caution are supreme virtues, Machen’s thesis is likely to appear both arrogant and overstated. But, as Machen himself says in the opening paragraphs, “In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.” There is insight here. Before we see Machen as too intolerant, too much a man of a bygone age, let us reflect on the fact that we live in an age that is remarkably certain and intolerant on a whole host of fronts, from racism to poverty to cruelty against animals to homophobia. Regardless of where we come down on each of these issues, very few of us will be indifferent on them, or particularly laissez-faire towards those with whom we disagree on these matters.

Thus, it is not really that Machen is a man of a bygone, intolerant age which makes this little book so offensive to modern ears. We should not flatter our own enlightened times so easily, for it is not the reality of intolerance in itself that has changed. Rather, it is that we now have a different set of issues that arouse intolerance, and this change reflects not only shifting values in society but also in the church, to the extent that she no longer stands intolerantly for her truth as she once did. The question is thus not whether we are intolerant: we surely are. The question is rather: Are we intolerant of the right things? As the value of religious truth has become negligible, so the passions aroused by such in the wider world have died down. That we do not fight over these things is not a virtue; it is rather be a sign that we just do not care about them any more, and that is the result of the downgrading of the Bible in our thinking. We no longer look on it as a book of divine truth and thus of almost unbearable importance; it is now a ragbag of disparate religious reflections, or a collection of texts reflecting on religious psychology, or simply a cacophony of ancient near-eastern tribal mythology.

Carl Trueman, “The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read,” Themelios 33.2 (2008), 5.