Those Messy Gray Areas
* Daniel Taylor's article on tolerance ["Are You Tolerant? (Should You Be?)," Jan. 11] recalled a line from Oswald Chambers: "There never was a more inconsistent Being on this earth than Our Lord, but He was never inconsistent to His Father. The one consistency of the saint is not to a principle, but to the Divine life." The easy answer to tolerance is to see issues in black and white. Taylor's admonition to practice unconditional love often leads us into the messy gray areas where it turns out we find the face of Christ as we serve our brothers and sisters. And that love is never understood by either side as the Cross demonstrates; but take heart, the One who died on the cross understands and empowers.

Bob Martin
Walnut Creek, Calif.

We must be mindful of the fact that we are Christ's witness in our society. If every Christian were to demonstrate the love of Christ, to every sinner, the often flippant use of the word intolerant would become powerless in silencing the voices of many thoughtful Christians. Let us not become accepting of sin, but in all cases certain to temper our outrage with love.

Joseph C. Wise
Milligan College
Milligan College, Tenn.

It is amazing that the misunderstood and ambiguous charge of "intolerance" can compel so many to oppose Christianity. Taylor correctly showed that we have two weapons against tolerance. One is education. If national discussion of tolerance could be brought about, many would recognize its self-contradictory nature and flee from it. Our other weapon is love. Christians need less hating of sin and more loving the sinner. By showing Christ's love to homosexuals or abortionists we will enact more moral change than a thousand social agendas will.

Jonathan M. Friz
St. Louis, Mo.

* This issue is not as easy to sort out as those on the extremes seem to find it to be. Taylor's pointing us in the direction of Jesus' example is wholly appropriate and proper.

Those who were the target of Jesus' most virulent condemnation were not the most obvious and notorious sinners. They were the biblicists who rightly knew and taught reverence and obedience to Scripture, but whose self-righteous judgment had no mercy. As Eugene Peterson interprets Matthew 7:4-5, "Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor."

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Ron Schooler
Los Angeles, Calif.

* The answer to the question depends upon how one defines tolerant. In some of the categories that appear on your cover, the proponents of those items claim to be seeking "tolerance," but what they are really looking for is affirmation. Anything less, they call "intolerance." For them to consider one "tolerant," an endorsement is usually required.

Christians are seen as "intolerant" unless they agree with homosexuality, abortion, divorce, and so on. Such is cultural surrender, not "tolerance." The meaning of tolerant has been changed right under our noses.

David Block
Carrollton, Tex.

* I agree wholeheartedly that Christians in our culture (myself included) too often lack a real love for those with whom we disagree, and that lovelessness sabotages an otherwise effective witness of God's people to effect change.

Having said that, I was bothered by the tone of the article in one respect. Taylor argues that "the single most enlightening story for thinking about God's attitude toward tolerance is the gospel story of the woman caught in adultery." The problem is that this woman was truly broken and repentant. In many, many other situations where our Lord confronted sin and evil (exhibiting his lack of tolerance), He used words like "you hypocrites"; "you blind guides (and fools)"; "you snakes … you brood of vipers." The point is: While loving the sinner, God's law is inviolable, and his truth never changes. It's not us judging sin; God has already judged it.

David P. Clarke
Norfolk, Va.

Taylor asks, "How differently would conservative Christianity be perceived today if we had been the first and most passionate of those offering practical help to aids sufferers?" Well, look no further than New York City, where the Catholic church is the number one organization caring for aids victims; the annual "Gay Pride" parade marches past Saint Patrick's Cathedral so that the marchers can demonstrate their hatred of the church—and they do so in ways that would have outraged the news media if they were a Christian group marching past an abortion clinic.

Don Schenk
Allentown, Pa.

* Bravo on shifting the debate from tolerance/intolerance to the balance of sin and love. A couple of comments: (1) Why is it that Christians seem to be the least "tolerant" of people who sin in areas where they are the least tempted to sin themselves (homosexuality, abortion) but are more tolerant of people who sin in areas where they are more likely to be tempted themselves (gossip, pride, etc.)? (2) In order to appear less intolerant, some Christians have resorted to evangelizing with the appeal that you should become a Christian because "Christianity is good for you" rather than because "it is the truth." Since Christianity can lead to suffering and persecution, we are giving people an excuse to reject the truth as a "lie" because it was not "good" as promised.

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Gerald Nanninga
New Hope, Minn.

Nothing like showing two men kissing on page 44 in your article on tolerance. Spare me! In so doing, you forced me, against my will, to tolerate, in a Christian magazine, a graphic representation of a sin. Is this not what the world asks me to do every day? Be separate from the world!

John Taft
Teaneck, N.J.

Several readers wrote to express their discomfort with (and even intolerance of) that photograph. Their reaction showed how much more powerful than words visual representations can be. We apologize for upsetting some readers. Our hope was that seeing, rather than merely reading about, immoral activities would help us face and deal with the "tolerance" issues that our culture confronts us with.

Of Burning Coals and Hugs
After I finished "It's Hard to Hug a Bully," by Barbara Brown Taylor [Jan. 11], I decided to comment. The author quotes from Romans 12:20 (also Prov. 25: 21-22) about feeding one's hungry enemy. She interprets "heaping coals" as a negatively aggressive act, hurtful to the enemy. It is my understanding that Paul's statement, "In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head," is consistent with the act of feeding, and with the following verse (Rom. 12:21): "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." The people of Jesus' locale and time needed to keep cooking and heating fires going, since it was difficult to start a fire. If it did go out, they would carry baskets or bowls on their heads to collect coals from their neighbors. Thus, giving burning coals to an enemy would be like feeding him. Like the fat little one-year old, hugging his bully friend!

Betty Gregory
East Rockaway, N.Y.

* What a great article! It seems I have always understood what Paul meant, but I lacked the ability to see how to do it—I suppose because I have never been able to live this way myself, nor have I seen it modeled often. Now I have a fresh new perspective and a wonderful slice of truth to carve out for this church family.

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Pastor Eddie Thompson
Fairview Baptist Church
Apex, N.C.

The Old Testament's Real People
* Philip Yancey's article ["The Bible Jesus Read," Jan. 11] is penetrating. I preach from the Old Testament frequently because of the impact it has on the New Testament. The Old Testament is chock-full of real people who struggled with sin; many overcame by God's grace. I look forward to reading Yancey's latest book.

Rev. John Higgins
Bridgeport, Ill.

Yancey's article on the Old Testament was provocative and informative. His description of the OT as "The Bible Jesus Read," however, is misleading. Jesus never enjoyed the luxury of having a neatly defined, closed canon of Scripture because the Judaism of his day had not yet determined what that Canon was. The schools of the great rabbis Hillel and Shammai could not agree whether the Book of Ecclesiastes "defiled the hands," (i.e., was so holy that one must wash hands after touching the scroll). The Pharisees argued amongst themselves whether doctrinal problems found in Ezekiel, Song of Songs, Proverbs, and Esther were so serious that these documents should be "stored away." And as late as a.d. 90, influential rabbis gathered in the city of Jamnia to determine, among other things, whether Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs defiled the hands or should be stored away.

The earliest Christians, for their part, had an expansive view of Scripture that encompassed much more than the documents that eventually became our OT. It is also clear that there was no consensus amongst the church fathers on the official contents of the OT.

Steve Baughman
San Francisco, Calif.

* I so much appreciated the quality of the article that I used it for teaching my senior high Bible class. (Not that I would expect any less from Philip Yancey. I have been impressed with Yancey ever since I read his book What's So Amazing About Grace.) I am afraid many of us in fundamental circles have forgotten that there is a wonderful part of our Bibles called the Old Testament and that, though perhaps a bit more difficult to understand in places, holds rich treasures of God's marvelous grace and goodness.

Tim Quinn
Bloomingdale, Mich.

What Does Fat Mean?
Thanks to Virginia Stem Owens for her courageous and provocative article on the "Fatted Faithful" [Jan. 11]. Her insights provide a spotlight (or in this case should we say floodlight?) on a broad subject.

One caveat should be made, however, about her concern that the "fat" that has melted away from modern translations of the Hebrew Bible may reflect "changes in our economy and our cultural attitudes." This trend is probably not due to any concern for modern cultural correctness but rather for the continuing concern for accuracy in communication of the original ancient text. After all, the Hebrew text does not use fat or prosperous but words that can mean either (or both) depending on context and usage. For modern readers, the word fat usually connotes obesity—which is not necessarily "wealth." Her own example of the "fat cat" amply illustrates that a very lean and gaunt ceo could carry this nonliteral label, but this is a specialized use within a specific expression. Most modern Bible readers would confuse biblical "fat" with modern obesity. The OT does not seem to carry our modern concern for "overweight," which after all varies greatly among different cultures.

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Readers who take literally the literal rendering "the liberal soul shall be made fat" (Prov. 11:25) could draw some conclusions far removed from the intended meaning of the original statement!

Larry L. Walker
Jonesborough, Tenn.

"Chicken Little" Mentality?
* Thanks for the informative article "Y2K: A Secular Apocalypse?" [Jan. 11]. I'm amused by the "Chicken Little" mentality of many Christians today. Some believers seem to need an annual dose of bogeyman to scare the daylights out of them. If it's not the New Age movement, then it must be the "secular humanists." Now comes along (God help us!) Y2K. When I first became a believer in 1949, Christians were afraid those newly invented computers would work too well and spew out 666, the Antichrist. Now Christians are afraid the computers won't work well enough, so we all might end up having to pump our own water, or walk to work like our grandparents did. This survivalist mentality is not productive, even if it is profitable for some. Telling people to grab their gold, groceries, guns, Gospels, and head for the hills is hardly my understanding of the Great Commission.

Ivan A. Rogers
Urbandale, Iowa

Grace-filled Wisdom
Thanks for your review of The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard [Books, Jan. 11]. I have been struck by the grace-filled wisdom and theology of this teacher and author ever since reading his two other books and hearing a tape series, "The Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven," which focuses on the Good News Jesus taught concerning God's kingdom. The Divine Conspiracy is largely a discription of what that kind of discipleship means. It would be hard to summarize briefly what makes Willard's teaching so vital to Christians and to the whole church at this present time.

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Wyman T. Kurtz
Chicago, Ill.

Serving and Idol?
I was gratified to see Gilbert Meilaender's article "Biotech Babies" [Dec. 7], with its conclusion that the child is a gift, not an entitlement, and that breaking the life-giving/love-giving connection is fraught with problems that threaten our grasp of this scriptural reality. At least, the purpose of these techniques is to ensure a living child as the "product," even if a few "spares" must be eliminated along the way. But what are we to make of embryos specifically cloned or donated to provide stem cells, having first been mutilated so that they cannot receive nutrition and continue their development? Our resemblance to the Old Testament idol which required children to sate its desires seems to increase apace.

Carol E. Bishop
Long Beach, Calif.

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