In many ways it seems as though the religious foundation of western culture is crumbling around us. A few years ago the statistical data pointed to the fact that, in America, they were more “nones,” or religiously unaffiliated people than ever before.* And the cultural hostility toward Christianity in particular seems to be ever increasing. Yet, Christianity still is the majority religion in America and western culture. Even on a global scale Christianity is still the dominant faith system, with Islam being a close second.** Even non-religious people are a shrinking minority on a global scale.*** This leaves us wondering where and how does Christianity still fit into the social fabric of our culture? This is what writer and leading Christian thinker, Rebecca McLaughlin discusses in her book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Crossway 2019).
In the book, McLaughlin encourages not only skeptics , but Christians as well, to take on twelve of the biggest facing Christianity today. Answers to each of these questions are pertinent to an apologetic of the faith in the twenty-first century. A few of them will very likely make the reader uncomfortable, which is likely McLaughlin’s point. She begins the book by tackling criticisms of Christianity, such as religion being a hindrance to society, the exclusivity of one true religion, religion’s hindrance of morality and its link to violence and conflict. Towards the end of the book she takes on more sensitive topics such as biblical manhood and womanhood, sexuality, and the Bible’s supposed approval of slavery. For the sake of brevity, this review will only interact with two of twelve questions addressed in the book.
The first issue that we will discuss in this review is the topic of religious activity in society. McLaughlin discusses this in her chapter titled “Aren’t We Better Off Without Religion?”. In is chapter she’s discusses the critique of the “new atheists”, think Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens among others, regarding the necessity of religion in modern society. Many who hold this worldview claim that religion is not only of no use for society, but is also detrimental to its modern advancement. McLaughlin points to current research that debunks this way of thinking. She discusses the fact that, religious people seem to be more healthy than non-religious people. Not only that, but research points to religious people seem to be more happy and generous with their resources than are their non-religious counterparts. While McLaughlin is very careful not to make a case for the prosperity gospel, she nonetheless makes a very appealing case for religions necessity in society. She is also careful to point out that this research does not necessarily confirm the existence of God or even the exclusivity of Christianity. However, she does emphatically make the point that religion is good for society, contrary to the beliefs of many the new atheist movement. Her conclusions are very compelling.
McLaughlin’s discussion of the biblical sexual ethic is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. She discusses this in a chapter titled, “Isn’t Christianity Homophobic?”. In this chapter she discusses the biblical sexual ethic, specifically discussing homosexuality. McLaughlin gets very personal in this chapter, in that she openly shares her ongoing struggle with same-sex attraction. However, she emphatically defends the biblical ethic of marriage between one man, and one woman, for life as she herself is now happily married to a man. Yet, she allows room for those who are struggling and seeking. Let me clarify. While she confirms and defends the biblical ethic for marriage, she acknowledges the fact that many people struggle with same-sex attraction. On the surface, it would be easy to misread and misunderstand what McLaughlin is saying in this chapter. She is not confirming nor condoning sexual relationships between same-sex couples, nor is she confirming or condoning same-sex marriage. Quite the opposite. These, she explicitly states, are outside of the biblical mandate for marriage and sexual ethics. However, she exhorts those who are struggling with same sex attraction to run to Jesus for help, as all sinners must do for salvation. She is careful not to push away those who struggle with this particular sin as is the tendency for many in the Church today. Many who struggle with same-sex attraction are put off by Christianity because of the traditional stance against homosexuality and the condemning nature with which Christians have done so in modern history.
I find her position on this topic to be biblical and very compelling. It is refreshing to read her unwavering apologetic for marriage, without driving away those who may be seeking Christ even in the midst of deep struggle. McLaughlin’s call for those struggling with homosexual temptation is to trust Christ and live in obedience to the biblical sexual ethic may look different for many people depending on their particular situation. She provides room for some to honor God through pursuing marriage with someone of the opposite sex. She also allows room for others who may not be called to marriage, to abstain from any form of sexual relationship. Lastly, McLaughlin makes the case for non-sexual same-sex friendships, which she points to as being necessary in the life of a follower of Christ. Yet, she is also cautious not to encourage this type of relationship to someone who struggles with homosexuality and is not yet ready to resist temptation. This chapter alone makes Confronting Christianity worth the read.
As mentioned above, time does not allow an extended discussion on the other ten questions raised in Confronting Christianity. However, a few of the others are worth a brief mention. McLaughlin does an excellent job of discussing a biblical view of diversity and unity across differences. She also discusses a biblical view of manhood and womanhood, where she confirms in the biblical model of male leadership in the home and church. Yet, she points out that Jesus and by extension his followers helped raise the status of women in ancient culture and modern culture. She also discusses the very uncomfortable issue of slavery in America and the ongoing struggle of race relations in the western church. Lastly she discusses a biblical understanding of heaven and hell. McLaughlin does an excellent job in her presentation of the material and provides a very approachable apologetics resource for contemporary issues that the church, particularly in the west, is facing in the twenty-first century. Her call is for the skeptic and believer alike to confront Christianity, and she raises the bet that it will come out standing in the end.
Confronting Christianity is the best practical apologetics books that is on the market today. McLaughlin doesn’t an excellent job of presenting the material is a very approachable manner. Yet, she has most definitely done her homework, providing thorough footnotes for the data she references in order to back up her conclusions. Much of what makes her writing so approachable, is not only her strong gift for language, but the fact that she weaves her personal testimony throughout the book. This provides more credibility the points she makes as she guides the reader through the book. For these reasons, I would highly recommend this book. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Confronting Christianity should be required reading for all believers in western culture. Not only because it’s that good, but because it is that important.
*Footnote cited in Confronting Christianity, pg. 20
**Footnote cited in Confronting Christianity, pg. 12
***Footnote cited in Confronting Christianity, pg. 13
For a list of additional Apologetics resources click here.
Editor’s Note: Reading for the Glory received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.