Book Review: The Beauty of Intolerance by Josh and Sean McDowell

I think I made a grievous error in requesting this book for review. Like reading the Feminist Gospel (which I thought was going to be a positive message about feminism – equality of women – and the gospel of Jesus, I somehow mistakenly thought this wouldn’t actually be about how intolerance is beautiful. Is there no more irony in this world?)

Though there’s some really great stuff in here:

“What is more beautiful than God’s intolerance expressed in his moral outrage toward the tragedies of poverty, racism, sexual abuse, slavery, AIDS, bigotry, and other such evils?”

See, if this is what you are talking about, I can get behind it. But the narrators use the truth behind this ideal to extend it to areas that don’t fall into the same category. It’s a false analogy.

I don’t take a stand against books simply because I disagree with them. I take a stand against them because they spread untruths and are downright harmful. (This is my basis for morality.)

This book is chock full of false generalizations and straw men. The authors mis-characterize both the beliefs of those that follow the Bible (talking as if they are consistent from church to church) as well as those that don’t (suggesting that they make their morality up and accept every single belief system without critical thought). One only has to take a quick look at the Secular Humanist web page to gather that many people who reject a belief in God have a similar belief system to what Jesus taught. But the authors apparently couldn’t be bothered to do a bit of research.

This seems to be mainly a defense of those Christians who believe that homosexuality is immoral. Once again the authors leave out the fact that many, many Christians, churches, and even denominations disagree with their interpretation of the Bible here. They also throw consensual sex between adults and pornography in there, but it’s mostly about being gay.

The McDowells Tell Us the Truth™ 

It’s obvious where the authors are coming from.

“…you are no doubt perplexed by a new younger generation of teens and twentysomethings that seems comfortable with a value system and set of beliefs that are often contrary to biblical standards.

Right out of the gate, the show that they get to define their view of biblical standards; and by default they can assume that everyone else’s “biblical standards” are incorrect. Basically, these fundamentalists know that their value system is the right one, and all other value systems are faulty. Even though no one group of Christians agrees fully on their value systems, fundamentalists believe that they somehow have the correct value system locked down.

They do say:

“…we believe it is possible to truly love and accept people with whom we significantly disagree.

To which my 13-year-old daughter might reply, “But do you?”

The authors talk about “the biblical narrative about truth and the cultural narrative about truth.” In other words, the “correct” narrative about truth, and the “incorrect” narrative about truth. Once again, however, the authors ignore that fact that no two Christians agree with what that “correct” narrative is. I grew up in a church that taught that it was immoral to spread the idea that people could still do miracles today – since anyone doing so was obviously a liar, because miracles have ceased. A very close friend of mine grew up in a church that would reject anyone out if hand that *denied* the existence of miracles because it was obvious those were gifts from God.

They go on to say,

“[Today’s young people], like Renee, tend to confuse the difference between defining right and wrong for oneself and determining what is actually right and wrong. It is God’s character that determines what is morally right and wrong, and it is his Word that reveals that truth to us.”

Again, the authors suggest that they have insight to God’s will that other believers do not, allowing them to make absolute moral statements.

In the second to last chapter they consider the possibility that other Christians disagree with them. Of course it’s not that other Christians may be interpreting the Bible correctly, but that they have let doctrine of cultural tolerance creep in.

I like when they say,

“…injecting our own views into a passage, is something all of us are guilty of to greater or lesser degrees. Sometimes people misuse Bible verses just to make their own point or to justify their particular moral stance. It’s a pretty handy device for self-justification or rationalization. Ignore context and inject our own meaning into a text and we can make just about any point we want.”

Of course, these authors would never do that!

And basically they want people to see the Bible as a rulebook to live by. They don’t want to talk about it, but just have everyone agree with them and go on. To paraphrase someone they have already disparaged in their book, Rob Bell would place the importance on wrestling with the text, struggling and discussing it. But the McDowells don’t need to do that because they have it all figured it’d and are telling you how to believe.

And they talk about the difference between truth and belief. By this argument, everything they’ve shared in this book is *not* merely what they believe. It’s is absolute moral truth. Even though other Christians don’t see eye to eye. I’m not exactly sure how they know this. Either they are smarter than everyone else, or they had a direct revelation from God telling them they were right and everyone else wasn’t.

The McDowells Tell Us What Non-Christians Believe

The authors are dishonest about the cultural narrative here. It is much more complicated than “you are the creator of your own truth”. Most people rely on a morality that does not hurt other people. That’s much more constricting than “they just make it up as they go”.

They note that the cultural narrative is to “Recognize and respect that every individual’s values, truth claims, beliefs, and practices are equally valid.”

This is disingenuous, too. Most would ask – does this harm? If it harms other people, it’s not equally valid. This throws out a lot of the McDowells’s arguments. It’s less “anything goes” and more “anything goes if it doesn’t hurt anyone else”. Which may not be different to the McDowells, but seems different to me.

Some other ways they rephrase this falsehood:

“cultural tolerance means all truth is subjective”
“morality has no bounds”

“Real love isn’t an unlimited endorsement of just any behavior a person chooses to engage in.”

According to the authors, this cultural tolerances teaches that:

It’s not enough for the church to express love and respect toward those who believe and live contrary to biblical morality. To be truly tolerant (culturally tolerant), they and all Christians must agree that another person’s opposing position or behavior is right for him—and, in fact, praise him for it.

These sentences are so loaded I don’t know where to begin. First of all, I think everyone would agree that the former would be enough. But what church is this? Love and respect? That’s really all people want. And second, as far as the next sentence goes, who wants that? If you disagree with me, I want you to respect me – but I don’t want you to praise me for it, because that’s what I’ll have to do with you. These two sentences make no sense. And they are full of falsehoods.

And of course, without the Christian God, there is no morality. Is anyone else tired of this argument? And how can they claim slavery as an example of this when slaveowners used the Bible to defend it??

The McDowells Tell Us About the Gays (and the Oppression of Christians) 

They talk about the loss of morals in our world – unfortunately, they aren’t talking about that list above which we would all agree is immoral. It’s about what the authors particularly find immoral. Basically, this book is all about consensual sex between adults and homosexuality.

Is it ironic that on the same page that the authors state that gays are immoral, that they say that Christians are *not* anti-gay??

And then they cite the Idaho case against two ministers who were fined for refusing to perform a gay marriage ceremony. They leave out the important fact that if these two ministers were working for a church, they would not have been fined – any church can deny marriage to anyone they see fit. In fact, these ministers were running a for-profit business which doesn’t give them the leeway to decide who to serve and who not to serve. It’s this kind of inaccuracy that hurts those Christians actually doing good in the world.

They go on to suggest that their (the traditional) understanding of tolerance is:

Respecting and protecting the legitimate rights of others, even those with whom you disagree and those who are different from you. Essentially, traditional tolerance means “everyone has a right to his own opinion.” Yet when those opinions violate God’s moral law to the extent of hurting others, tolerance turns to intolerance

So – homosexuality is hurting these authors? I’m at a loss here.

And here’s another place that seems to indicate that Christians led the fight against slavery and for civil rights. Of course, no Christians fought for slavery and against civil rights. Right?

Another case they cite is some California Legislators that wrote a letter to the Archbishop requesting him to “remove the morality clauses from the Catholic high school teachers’ handbook.” They then state that “The morality clause included a stand against sex outside of marriage, pornography, and gay sex.”

Unfortunately, they left out some facts. Again. It might hurt their point if they put it in, but the handbook stated that the list above, along with masturbation, contraception , and artificial insemination were all “gravely evil”. Funny how they leave out so many key facts in these news stories.

The authors go on to state,

“…some of the most vocal advocates for tolerance are completely intolerant of those who express their belief in a biblical morality, especially if they do so in the public arena.”

The problem is with “those who express their belief in a biblical morality”. To many Christians, that means active discrimination against a minority. Whether it’s giving a Christian prayer in a public venue, being insensitive to the fact that not everyone there is Christian, or believing that a business shouldn’t serve someone based on their race – oh, wait, I mean on their sexual orientation. I couldn’t remember if this was 1955 or 2015.

And the chapter on true love seems to indicate that we don’t know that being gay is an unchanging characteristic. That’s wrong. Read about all the failed ex-gay ministries. About people who for years tried to change that basic part of them. And how (1) it doesn’t work and (2) almost always backfires.

Of course, then there’s the comparison of gays to alcoholics. That doesn’t seem intolerant at all. The gay people I know *love* that comparison. (Especially the gay Christians.)

And there’s so much in here that doesn’t make sense. Defending people who are discriminating against gays by saying they are losing their right to free speech and freedom of religion? Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech is not a defense against oppression and not letting other people have their civil rights!

And then after defending this kind of activity, they state,

“Christians should never refuse services to someone because they identify as gay or lesbian. Our actions are to be based on convictions, not hate.”

You keep contradicting yourselves.

The McDowells Tell Us Stuff That Doesn’t Make Sense

Of course they invoke ISIS. If this won’t get your anti-liberal fire going, what will?

And then they call Rob Bell a former mega-church pastor.

Really? I’ve never heard of Rob Bell described this way. They go all out in trying to discredit their detractors. ‘Uh, yeah – that Rob Bell, he’s just like Joel Osteen.’ Whatever.

They paraphrase Bell as saying, “the Bible is an antiquated book that the church must ignore or face irrelevance.” Wow. Another case of leaving out the facts. Do you know how much Rob Bell has written about the Bible? In a positive way? Apparently not. I would suggest he has more respect for it than you do.

They state,

“…the Bible can be trusted as a reliable historical document, and we have credible evidence to substantiate that reality.”

Which part? All of it? Some of it? You just said, “…the Bible contains poetry, psalms, apocalyptic literature, and parables…” Which is it?

Then they drop the bomb:

“Without Christ literally rising from the dead, his promise to give those who trust in him eternal life would be meaningless.”

Just like Tim Keller and N.T. Wright, shitty theology. If it didn’t happen exactly like I think it did, then this whole Jesus thing is pointless.

Of course, there’s nothing new here as he quotes the popular scriptures against homosexuals that many other scholarly Christians disagree with. And he states they are “unambiguous”. But I guess he gets his input from God and Christians who disagree are just led by culture. There are other books that treat this subject more fairly. Try “Torn” by Justin Lee, which I previously reviewed here, as well as “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines.

And the last half of this book is about taking a stand in this war against Satan. Because the gays and liberals are pushing their agenda of equal rights for all – not just rights for straight, white Christians; I guess this is what makes them bad.

It’s a pretty cool coincidence (and convenient) that anyone reading the Bible as condemning gay marriage is just reading what it says, but anyone that is reading the bible as not condemning it is reading their own belief system into it. Of course they just leave it there and never discuss why this is true based in the passages themselves. It’s enough to say God agrees with me and disagrees with everyone else.

In the end it ends up doing the same thing that it says it’s not doing – giving an outpouring of anti-gay rhetoric couched in the same old “love the sinner hate the sin (but not really)” talk. At least they know their audience.

They write this book because the believe they’re concern is for people to prevent them from “causing damage to themselves and others”.

I wrote this review for the same reason.

Thanks to NetGalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for a copy in return for an honest review.


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