Tuesday, October 17, 2006


In an interview with Christianity Today (Jan 2003 Greg Barnes) John Stott clearly defined tolerance and proselytism as it relates to the evangelistic/missionary impulse of the church.

CT: Our Critics Accuse Us Of Intolerance And Proselytism.

STOTT: Much of our debate is conducted in what might be called "conditions of low visibility," because we do not always pause to define our terms. This is evidently so in relation to these two words.

Tolerance is one of today's most coveted virtues. But there are at least three different kinds of tolerance.
First, there is legal tolerance: fighting for the equal rights before the law of all ethnic and religious minorities. Christians should be in the forefront of this campaign. Second, there is social tolerance, going out of our way to make friends with adherents of other faiths, since they are God's creation who bear his image. Third, there is intellectual tolerance. This is to cultivate a mind so broad and open as to accommodate all views and reject none. This is to forget G. K. Chesterton's bon mot that "the purpose of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." To open the mind so wide as to keep nothing in it or out of it is not a virtue; it is the vice of the feebleminded.

The other word we need to define is proselytism. To proselytize and to evangelize are not synonymous. The best way to distinguish them is to understand proselytism as "unworthy witness." The World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church produced a helpful study document in 1970 titled Common Witness and Proselytism. It identified three aspects of proselytism. Proselytism takes place (1) whenever our motives are unworthy (when our concern is for our glory rather than God's), (2) whenever our methods are unworthy (when we resort to any kind of "physical coercion, moral constraint, or psychological pressure"), and (3) whenever our message is unworthy (whenever we deliberately misrepresent other people's beliefs).

In contrast, to evangelize is (in the words of the Manila Manifesto) "to make an open and honest statement of the gospel, which leaves the hearers entirely free to make up their own minds about it. We wish to be sensitive to those of other faiths, and we reject any approach that seeks to force conversion on them."


Unknown said...

None better to quote than John Stott. Prayers for you in your work...

Bolivian Beat said...

thanks for your comment samlcarr.

Religious freedom is important. People should have the right to choose a religion over and above their previous religious beliefs. This is important because in some countries this freedom is denied.