In a relatively free and open society, the best forms of tolerance those that are open to and tolerant of people, even when there are strong disagreements with their ideas. … Today, however, tolerance in many Western societies increasingly focuses on ideas, not on people” (Carson in Gagging of God, p. 19, cited by Walton, Genesis, NIVAC, p. 242).This is a knife that cuts both ways. For some, criticism of an idea is tantamount to criticizing the person who holds the idea. This seems to assume that people are equal with ideas, and that if a person holds an idea, we must treat both person and idea with equal respect. It fails to recognize that some ideas are stupid, or at best silly. The person should be treated with respect, but the idea should be properly criticized, and soundly rejected when it is bad. Those listening in must not mistake criticism of an idea with criticism of a person.
For others, acceptance of a person means acceptance of their ideas. For instance, reaching out in friendship to a person who participates in homosexual behavior is seen as accepting the idea of homosexuality. Again, this is a fail to separate the person from their ideas. We should not hesitate to reach out to those who differ with us, but nor we should be mistaken as agreeing with a bad idea simply because we reach to someone who holds it.
The fact is that we can defend certain beliefs without defaming or castigating those who have come to different conclusions with integrity. Failing to exercise the grace that we should naturally extend to fellow Christians, we have adopted a Reformation zeal concerning issues that come nowhere near the significance of the battles fought by Calvin and Luther, while we comfortably make our beds amidst the cultural landmines that are exploding all around us (p. 245).This could easily be mistaken as a call for reductionism, or ecumenism. It should be neither. The fact that not all doctrines of Scripture are equally clear or equally core does not mean that they are unimportant, but it increases the possibility that good men can differ with legitimacy and integrity. We should not treat battles over church polity, for instance, with the same zeal that we would a battle over justification. In fact, it is probably overstepping the boundaries to call church polity a legitimate battle in evangelicalism.
Nor is it a call (from me) to tolerate false doctrine and impious living. There is much of both that deserves biblical critique and confrontation, and biblical separation.
The reality is that it can become to easy to focus on the intramural battles of sectarian theology while ignoring the fact that the world is blowing up around us, often while we participate right along with it. This, therefore, is call to discernment. Pick the right battles, and fight with the proper tactics for the opponent at hand.