January 26, 2016

Choosing Truth over Tolerance

Post by Brittany Tedesco

Bust of Aristotle.

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it," said Aristotle. This brilliant Greek philosopher enjoyed the challenge of discerning truth from error. No doubt he was often in the center of rigorous debate—of people trying to make the case that their way was the right way. But Aristotle knew that not all ideas were equal. Some were good or correct, others were bad or faulty. His statement indicates tolerance—he didn't wish to silence a person with whom he disagreed, but he wouldn't necessarily agree with their point of view.

Tolerance has, today, taken on a new meaning. In his book The Intolerance of Tolerance, D. A. Carson makes the case that tolerance used to mean accepting the existence of differing views. Today, it means accepting all views as equally valid.

This new definition of tolerance, Carson writes, is "socially dangerous" and "intellectually debilitating." It shuts down the exchange of ideas. In today's post-modern world, where all beliefs are equal in value, it's considered quite offensive to try and convince someone that what you believe is the truth.

An intolerant person, therefore, is anyone who might actually question this notion that all worldviews and beliefs are equal in value.

So where does this leave the Christian? Where does it leave an organization like Christian Aid Mission that seeks to establish a witness for Christ among every tongue, tribe, and nation?

Ashaninka children.

We know where it leaves us. We're labeled intolerant because we believe that not all views are equal, that objective truth exists, and that the people of the world should be presented with the truth to draw their own conclusions.

Our goal isn't to convert everyone. Our goal is provide every people group with access to the truth. Terms like "unreached" and "unengaged" people groups refer to the access they have to the gospel.

"While an individual can't be more or less lost (you either know Jesus or you don't), an individual can have more or less access to the gospel," a staff writer for Radical, a nonprofit started by David Platt, president of IMB (International Mission Board), wrote in blog post.

According to the Joshua Project, an unreached people group is defined as one in which "there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize the people group without outside assistance." Most missions organizations agree that a people group can be categorized as unreached if the evangelical community is under 2% of the population. Thousands of unreached people groups exist in our world, the highest concentration of which is in North India.

People of Papua.

Unreached people have very limited access to the gospel, but a subset of unreached people that we call "unengaged" have no access.

"There's only one thing worse than being lost; that's being lost and having no one trying to find you," wrote David Platt.

Many of these unengaged people groups live in total isolation from the rest of society—some have never even had contact with other people. The majority of these isolated people live in the Amazon Basin and New Guinea, a South Pacific island divided into West Papua, which is part of Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, a country of its own.

Papua New Guinea is one of the most ethnically and linguistically complex places on earth, inhabited by about 1,000 people groups who speak more than 800 languages. In 2010, only about 210 of these languages had a New Testament.

But while we're trying to reach these isolated people groups with the gospel, others are doing their best to keep them isolated.

Organizations like Survival International, Cultural Survival, and FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation in Brazil, work to prevent outsiders from intruding on the territory of isolated people groups.

I understand why these organizations exist. Various indigenous peoples have suffered egregious human rights abuses from parties who've invaded and confiscated their land or resources, treating them as obstacles to be exterminated.

The problem is that these organizations don't discriminate between those who would seek to harm, exploit, steal from, or use these tribes, and those who only wish to present them with a message—with access to truth. They want to block all outsiders.

These organizations claim to offer these tribes "self-determination," or the ability to determine their own futures. Are they really doing this? It seems to me that they've already determined the future of these tribes by trying to block them from access to the gospel—which, to them, is no better than the tribes' current belief systems. Why disrupt their way of thinking to present an opposing view, they ask, why not just be "tolerant"?

Native Tribal family.

I'm all about letting people determine their own futures. I'd just like them to be able to do it accurately by being able to either accept or reject the truth.

An indigenous ministry we support in South Asia is sharing the gospel with a people group called the Kutia Kond in a mountainous region where they've lived for centuries. "There is still illiteracy, spirit worship, and superstition reigning here," wrote the ministry leader. He asked one of the Kutia Kond men who accepted the gospel why he became a follower of Christ.

The man replied, "We are happy to know this faith in Jesus Christ. In the past our life was full of sadness and sorrow because of sickness and poverty, no joy and happiness. Since we believed Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He has been good to us in every manner."

Tribal believers are gathering in a small church constructed from tree branches and plastered in mud. The pole to which they used to tie a buffalo each year as a sacrifice to the earth goddess now displays a cross, the symbol of the final sacrifice that secured their salvation.

They were presented with truth and they made their choice.

Advocates of today's tolerance will find this offensive. Presenting a tribe with God's Word is nothing more than an intrusion into their culture; an imposition of a belief system no better than their own.

Women in traditional native dress.

In his book Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism, Douglas Groothius describes the postmodern mindset of tolerance: "When all values are constructed, no hierarchy of objective values is possible, no guiding ideal is available, and no taboos intrude; there are only experiments, amusements, and diversions."

Despite a climate that is becoming ever more antagonistic toward the idea that truth exists, the message of truth continues to march forward. Unengaged people groups are hearing the gospel for the first time at a staggering rate.

Christian Aid Mission participates in a global network called Finishing the Task, which focuses on reaching the last remaining unreached, unengaged people groups with the gospel. When this network began in 2005, 3,000 unengaged people groups existed. Today, that number is around 1,500. New engagements are occurring at a rate of 300 per year. Over 90 percent of these engagements are due to indigenous missionaries.

We can't know how many of these newly "engaged" people will accept the truth, we can only provide them with access to the truth. And until all peoples are given access to the truth, we intolerant folk will press on.