We all have a "tolerance level." When talking about engaging in cultural artifacts like movies, books, music, television, etc. this means that each individual can put up with a leveled amount of certain components (sex, language, gore, violence, and more) in a book, movie, television, music, and anything else. Some of you have a rather "low" tolerance level and, thus, can put up with only a little bit, if any at all, of these components. Others have a "high" tolerance level, which means you can put up with a large amount of these components. Some have such a high tolerance level that they do not mind any use, excessive or moderate, of these components. I must point out that these statement are not value statements. If you have a low tolerance for such things, that's perfectly fine. But equally fine are those who have a high tolerance level. Your tolerance level simply guides you and informs you when you are confronted with a cultural artifact.
Now when I say tolerance level, I do not mean acceptance level. This is key! Our American culture has made large strides to change the meaning of tolerance to be the same as acceptance. They are not the same! An acceptance level would be a value statement. It would mean that I could put some sort of morality spin on engagement with the culture. In other words, someone who has a low acceptance level could say they are "better" morally than someone who has a high acceptance level. After all, the one with the lower level avoids sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, right! If you think about it, many people in our society do this very thing. Many of them, sadly, are Christians. They denounce those who may watch a sophomoric comedy (like Jackass or The Simpsons) or those who watch movies of violence (like Saving Private Ryan or Saw). All the while, they set themselves up on a pedestal, because they "only" watch "Little House on the Prairie" or "Touched by an Angel." However, this is not what I mean by tolerance level. The classic example I have for tolerance is the crying baby. All of us have experienced a crying baby while we're trying to enjoy a nice quiet flight, car ride, or even church service. What do we do? Do we get up and yell at the baby? Do we tell ourselves that the crying does not bother us? No! We tolerate it. We may not like the baby crying or screaming, but we "look" past it. We don't let it affect us.
This is what I mean by tolerance levels. I, for example, have a rather high tolerance level. I can enjoy artifacts that have cursing, sex jokes, violence, and more. I can do this, not because I accept cursing, sex jokes, violence, and more, but because I can look past it. I don't let it affect me. To be clear, I'll say it once again, if you have a low tolerance level, that's fine too!
I must say, however, that we should all have a level of tolerance. In fact, we should all strive to improve our tolerance level. After all, a tolerance level allows you to meet sinners where they are in their life. Think about it. If you go to a football game at a friend's house, chances are you'll have to tolerate a bit of dirty language. If you talk to your friends at work, chances are you'll have to tolerate a bit (or a bunch) of gossip. If you talk to teenagers, chances are you'll have to tolerate a good bit of sexual innuendo. If I remember, Jesus did it too:
Luke 5:30-32: "But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belong to their sect complained to his disciples, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?' Jesus Answered them: 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'"
In Luke 19, the story of Zacchaeus testifies further (19:7-10): "All the people saw this (Jesus staying with Zacchaeus) and began to mutter, 'He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.' But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.' Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to see and to save what was lost."
These passages show, obviously, that Jesus hung out with people who didn't share his beliefs or morals. He ate dinner and spoke with them all the time. He tolerated their sins, but he didn't accept them. He makes it clear that the people sin and need to repent.
A friend of mine suggested that distinguishing between tolerance and acceptance has wide application. He used the so-called homosexuality debate as his example. Christians are often shy or scared about talking to people about homosexuality. The old adage of "Love the sinner, hate the sin," while true, is a bit outdated. It also assumes people know what sin is and accept it as a premise. However, in today's world, most people do not accept the concept of sin, even if they know what it means, which is rare. Therefore, he suggested, we must reevaluate our use of language. Though I certainly agree, I believe this should also be our approach to engaging our entertainment culture. Of course, we are not trying to witness to movies, television shows, books, etc., but we are trying to reach the people who watch and enjoy those things. The bottom line is that if we cannot tolerate the things we do not approve of, whether they are sins or not and whether they are in cultural artifacts or real-world relationships, then we lose an angle of approach towards evangelism.