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Is the Christian faith tolerant?

A couple of years ago, I gave a short talk to the Nottingham Theology Network, part of UCCF’s work with students, on the question of tolerance. Having wondered how much I knew about the subject, I came to realise that it touches on some central issues of faith and mission. It is fascinating to see how, even in the last couple of years since I spoke on this, it continues to be a pressing cultural and theological issue.

First, it is interesting to note that the subject of tolerance—in particular, how tolerant can we be of people with different views—has concerned people from the very beginning of Christian faith. This is perhaps best captured in the two, apparently contradictory, sayings of Jesus:

Whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9.40)

Whoever is not with me is against me. (Matt 12.30)

In fact, these two statements are in different contexts and address different issues—the first on how wide we should see the scope of Jesus’ ministry, the second on how we respond to those who explicitly oppose the purposes of Jesus. But together they suggest that different levels of tolerance are appropriate in different situations. In the writings of Paul, we continue to see the issue of tolerance reappearing, often in the context of the relation between Jewish and Gentile believers (for example in 1 Cor 8 and Romans 14). But alongside some wide latitude in variations in practice, Paul has some very clear boundaries on both belief and behaviour. Clearly, for Paul, there are things we should tolerate and other things we should not. But it interesting that questions of tolerance arise both in relation to ethical questions but also in relation to questions of knowledge, understanding and certainty—what we might call epistemic questions.

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When is God ‘coming on the clouds’?

Quite early on in Revelation (1.7) we find the phrase ‘I am coming with the clouds’, and it is striking that the near universal view of commentators on this verse is that it is a reference to the return of Jesus to earth, as promised in Acts 1 and elsewhere. (Note that the New Testament never uses the now-popular phrase ‘second coming’ of Jesus, since this pairs the future with his ‘first coming’ in the incarnation, whereas the NT always pairs his return with his departure, as in ‘he will return in the same way you have seen him go’ in Acts 1.11).

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Do we need to ‘interpret’ the Bible?

Some years ago a well-known Christian leader, minister of a large and influential church, proclaimed: I don’t interpret the Bible. I just tell you what it says. How you react to that statement will say quite a lot about your attitude to the Bible, its interpretation, and the role of ministry. On the one hand, […]

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Do we worship Jesus or the Bible?

You don’t have to be involved in a debate about some contentious issue, and what the Bible might say about it, for too long before someone chimes up: Sounds to me like your worship the Bible! Shouldn’t Christians worship Jesus? The accusation is that, if you focus on what the Bible says, you are making […]

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More Perfect Union? another view (ii)

Here is the second part of Martin Davie’s review of Alan Wilson’s More Perfect Union? Martin was for several years Theological Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity of the Church of England and Theological Consultant to the House of Bishops. Part one can be found here. Strand 4 – interpreting the key biblical texts. Moving on to what […]

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More Perfect Union? another view (i)

Here follows a really clear and careful review of Alan Wilson’s More Perfect Union? by Martin Davie. Martin was for several years Theological Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity of the Church of England and Theological Consultant to the House of Bishops. He offers a comprehensive analysis, and his comments on the nature of marriage, and whether […]

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Is Christianity tolerant?

I recently gave a short talk to the Nottingham Theology Network, part of UCCF’s work with students, on the question of tolerance. Having wondered how much I knew about the subject, I came to realise that it touches on some central issues of faith and mission. Here are my assorted reflections. First, it is interesting […]

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Do we need to ‘interpret’ the Bible?

Some years ago a well-known Christian leader, minister of a large and influential church, proclaimed: I don’t interpret the Bible. I just tell you what it says. How you react to that statement will say quite a lot about your attitude to the Bible, its interpretation, and the role of ministry. On the one hand, […]

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The real problem for the NHS

Today sees publication of the Keogh report highlighting unusually high mortality in 14 hospital trusts, 11 of which are now going into ‘special measures.’ This has initiated the usual blame-game amongst politicians, in particular the Coalition blaming inadequate management by the previous Labour government. It has also prompted promises of new management, and review of […]

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The Hidden Issue Behind the Debate on Women Bishops

The General Synod of the Church of England will again this month be discussing a proposal for the introduction of legislation to allow the appointment of women bishops. (Yes, you have to say it that carefully…). There will no doubt be much press coverage and publicity by all sides of the debate. But not many […]

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