Christians are called to be missionaries to their world, and that means learning the language and thought forms of the people we want to reach. In America, we don't need to learn a new language, but we do have to understand the thought forms of our culture in order to communicate effectively.
The most significant change in modern times is a divided view of truth-which means that challenges to Christianity come in two different forms. On one side, there's postmodern relativism, where nothing is true or false, right or wrong. In the typical public school classroom today, English teachers have tossed out their red pencils, as though correct spelling or grammar were nothing but social constructs imposed by those in power. Postmodern categories are applied especially to areas like morality and religion, reducing them to nothing but subjective personal experience or quaint ethnic customs.
Paradoxically, however, if you go down the hallway to the science classroom, you'll find that the ideal of objective truth still reigns supreme. Darwinian evolution is not open to question, and students are not invited to judge for themselves whether it is true or not. Evolution is treated as public knowledge that all are expected to accept, regardless of their private beliefs. The reason for this sharp contrast is a split in the concept of truth itself. The influential apologist Francis Schaeffer used the imagery of two stories in a building: Truth has been divided into a "lower story;" where concepts are rational and verifiable, over an "upper story" of noncognitive experience, which is the locus of personal meaning. Sociologists describe it as the fact/value split. The "fact" realm includes whatever qualifies as public knowledge-scientific, objective, and rational. The "value" realm includes religion, morality, the arts, and humanities, which have been reduced to merely private, subjective experience.
To communicate effectively in the public arena, Christians need to realize that nonbelievers are constantly filtering what we say through the fact/value grid. When we state a position on an issue like abortion or homosexuality, we intend to state an objective moral standard-but they think we're merely expressing a subjective emotional response. We talk about a moral truth important to the health of society-but they say we're just making a political power grab.
The "tolerance" of which you speak in your question applies only to the value realm (the upper story), where there is no objective truth that could possibly function as a standard for judging ideas right or wrong. Thus "tolerance" has become a cover-up term for postmodern relativism. If you question Darwinian evolution, however, you quickly discover that there is no tolerance for dissent in the fact realm (the lower story), because there we are talking about what really happened and not just people's private beliefs.
The reason postmodernists find Christians so irritating is that we keep violating the rules by speaking of our beliefs in terms of real, objective truth. This is regarded as a category mistake.
That's why our message won't even make sense to people unless we first challenge the split view of truth itself. Biblical Christianity makes cognitive claims about the entire scope of reality, not only the spiritual realm but also the physical cosmos, historical events, and human nature. It is not merely our subjective experience.
A primary reason secularists are gentler in their treatment of other religions is that most seem odd and foreign, so that Americans are prone to regard them as merely ethnic and cultural customs. As a result, they pose no threat to the secularist agenda. The reason Christianity is dangerous is that a good number of Americans actually believe it, and offer its teachings on human nature, the family, the state, and so on, as a basis for civil society. Clearly, their views must be debunked as irrational superstition.
The reason all religions are treated as equivalent is that, in the fact/value dichotomy, none of them is about truth anyway. Their actual content does not matter. The postmodernist "knows" they are merely private, upper-story experiences or noncognitive cultural rituals. Christians need to argue that genuine pluralism does not mean reducing all views to relativistic equivalence. It means respecting those who make genuine truth claims, and giving them a voice in the public debate. Once someone has accepted the fact/value split, then all values are relative. With no objective standard, all that's left is one person imposing his or her private prejudices on others, which is by definition oppressive.
What's more, if values are nothing but what I personally value, then to attack my values is to attack me. Thus when Christians make public moral statements, they are interpreted as making a personal attack. It's like saying I dislike the shape of your nose.
In this intellectual climate, Christians can no longer simply assert specific rules of biblical morality. We have to defend the very concept of moral truth (an oxymoron today). We have to engage in apologetics to show people that they themselves cannot really live according to the relativism they embrace. Like everyone else, they irresistibly and unavoidably make moral judgments that they believe are grounded in reality in some way. That's part of what it means to be human. And if a person's philosophy gives no basis for human nature, then there's something wrong with his philosophy.
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