Book Review: The New Tolerance, Part 1

By | July 31, 2014

The New Tolerance is a book written by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler about fifteen years ago. The book is a bit of a challenge to review in that there are several different messages being communicated on various levels. Overall, I consider the book political even though it doesn’t promote any political action. The reason is that it’s basically an outcry against liberal ideas with the desire to uphold conservative values in our society. I think the authors demonstrate a significant lack of understanding of the position they’re arguing against.

The stated topic of the book is “new tolerance”. However, in my mind, this really isn’t the primary message. The entire book is written in an alarmist tone. Virtually everything is wrapped in fear inducing rhetoric: “There’s this monster (liberalism) out there that’s going to destroy you and most of all your kids!” I can’t take a book seriously which takes this tone. In my mind, if you have a valid point, make your argument and let it stand on it’s own. Resorting to fear mongering seems manipulative and communicates to me that the people behind it aren’t confident enough in their ideas to let them stand on their own.

I think the real reason behind this book may be hidden in the final chapter: “Fewer and fewer people are asking questions that can be answered with evidential apologetics… in our postmodern, relativistic culture, an emphasis on ‘what is true’ has decreases and an interest in ‘what works’ has increased.” (p. 198) Let me unpack this. McDowell has made a name for himself in the area of apologetics—using arguments in attempt to prove the validity of Christianity. As time has progressed, he has recognized this approach isn’t working as well as it used to. So he—along with many in the same camp—are struggling to adjust to postmodernism. As with a number of other conservatives, the authors seem to be critical of postmodernism more than they are ready and able to adapt to it. In reality, they do show a certain amount of adaptation, though at the same time, much of the content of this book demonstrates to me that they still haven’t entirely “gotten it” either.

“The New Tolerance” is roughly broken up into two parts. In chapters 1-5, the authors attempt to describe the “new tolerance” and how dangerous and scary it is in their minds. Chapter 6 functions as a transition as well as a thesis for the remainder of the book. In my opinion, chapter 6 is the only truly worthwhile part of the book. In chapters 7-10, the authors contrast liberal verses conservative viewpoints (though not using those terms) on education, government, culture, and church. (I was particularly frustrated by their demonstrated lack of understanding of art.) At the end of each section in these chapters are ideas on loving others, which is the solution the authors propose to the increasing momentum of the “new tolerance”. The contrast between the criticism and call to love in this book caused me to have a realization which I’ve written about in the post Evangelicalism’s PR Problem: Private Love, Public Condemnation.

I continue my review in part 2.

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