Title: Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion
Author: Rebecca McLaughlin
“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”
With that quote from Eugene Ionesco in mind, I’m excited to recommend Rebecca McLaughlin’s most recent offering, Confronting Christianity. McLaughlin, who holds a PhD from Cambridge and a theology degree, tackles a dozen of the toughest questions levelled against the Christian faith — and does so perceptively and honestly.
Sometimes, I struggle to know the best way to format these book reviews, but here, I’d simply like to provide a paragraph each for several of my favourite chapters, with some of my favourite quotes and ideas from the book mixed in.
However, as always, I’d highly encourage you to dig in and read or listen to the book yourself!
Tragically, many associate Christianity with Western ideas, harsh colonialisation, and/or white supremacy. But Confronting Christianity reminds us that these are pretty much the opposite of what the faith historically has been about.
Open the Bible and you’ll see a faith that tore down racial boundaries, scandalised the status quo with spiritual equality, and thrived in cultures all over the world. “American churches often fail to live up to the ideals of biblical diversity” (p. 44), but the author makes a case for why our faith is still “the most diverse, multiethnic, and multicultural movement in all of history” (p.45).
As someone who loves science, I appreciated this chapter. McLaughlin gives a nice overview of the relationship between faith and science, reminding us that not only have many of science’s pioneers been Christians, but there are believers today who are expanding our knowledge of the natural world.
A rational God made this vast and incredible universe — and He’s given us the ability to explore and discern it.
This is a terrific chapter. We’ve all met alarmingly patriarchal, chauvinistic Christians who have an imbalanced view of men and women. But consider Jesus: He had the power to calm storms, but the tenderness to care for children and welcome the weak. Stated simply, He was the ultimate man (p. 143).
Consider the early Christian church too: it was likely majority female (p. 144). And consider Ephesians 5: yes, Paul calls wives to submit to their husbands, but in the same breath tells husbands, “Love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
“How did Christ love the church?” McLaughlin asks. “By dying on the cross; by giving Himself, naked and bleeding, to suffer for her; by putting her needs above His own; by sacrificing everything for her” (p. 140).
Chapter nine is my favourite of the entire book. Here, McLaughlin shares her story of same-sex attraction, of falling in love with other girls and praying that her desires would go away (p. 153). She suggests that even though God calls us to limit sexual intimacy to heterosexual marriage, other types of love and friendship are not lesser things.
Whether you’re married or single, we all have loves and temptations that are off-limits, but remember, sex is not the highest type of love. According to Jesus, who was never married, sacrificial love is (p. 157). “Blue-blood heterosexuality is not the goal of the Christian life: Jesus is” (p. 153).
This chapter explores “the hardest question in this book”, McLaughlin states. She begins by considering the popular views of Sam Harris, who says there is no free will, and that we are not independent, free agents, but rather the product of our circumstances. But if no one deserves judgement, McLaughlin wonders, then “then no act of moral courage is real either” (p. 211). If the Boston bombers were the helpless products of their backgrounds and don’t deserve punishment, then heroes likes Harriet Tubman and Rachel Denhollander can’t be praised either.
But then McLaughlin turns our attention to the cross, where we see Jesus, “Not the passive victim of God’s wrath. He is God Himself. … Jesus is both executioner and condemned” (p. 217). Justice and forgiveness kissed. We’re all vastly more sinful than we realise, but here’s the scandal of grace: though sin deserves punishment, though we’re broken and bruised, everyone who comes to Christ can be forgiven and healed (p. 221).
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