Pushing a middle-aged body out the door for a daily walk comes with its challenges, especially when I step up the pace to a jog/trot on the final hill leading home. I’m learning, though, that this discipline offers benefits beyond cardiovascular fitness and tending to the needs of a demanding dog. The impact of my feet against the road and the weight-bearing physical activity is actually strengthening my bones.
The push and pull of muscle and mortal clay against the resistance of gravity, inertia, and the furry beast on the other end of the leash all work together in the formation of new bone tissue. Something similar happens to my faith when it bumps up against the hard surface of doubt and principled queries, and while I am no fan of confrontation, Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion lays down a foundation of sinewy truth that pushes back against the temptation of simplistic answers or the tendency toward complacent dismissal of thoughtful skepticism.
The truth is that Christianity will stand up to scrutiny, but Christians must also stand up and become informed adherents to our faith as we strive to love God fully–heart, soul, and mind. McLaughlin unpacks twelve questions, incubated in our post-Christian culture, to pound against the pavement of our well-loved orthodoxy:
1. Aren’t we better off without religion?
An honest glance into history’s rear view mirror can hardly miss the positive impact of Christianity upon human flourishing. Biblical principles dovetail with findings of modern psychology and if you scratch the surface of many ethical ideals, there’s a Christian principle waiting to be found.
2. Doesn’t Christianity crush diversity?
Actually, Christianity is the most “diverse, multiethnic, and multicultural movement in all of history.” (Loc 837)
3. How can you say there’s only one true faith?
We’ve confused respect for other people’s beliefs with respect for other people. McLaughlin asserts that challenging another person’s beliefs is actually a sign of of respect, and it is logically impossible for two diametrically opposed belief systems to be equally true. “Claiming that monotheism fits with an all-religions-are-one approach is like claiming someone can be in two places at one time: it’s possible, but only if you kill the person first and dismember the body!” (Loc 1069)
4. Doesn’t religion hinder morality?
If Christianity had to stand or fall based on the performance of Christ’s followers, it was doomed before it ever began! However, “to be a Christian is to acknowledge your utter moral failure and to throw yourself on the mercy of the only truly good man who ever lived.” (Loc 1369)
5. Doesn’t religion cause violence?
This question fails to take into consideration the breadth of religiously motivated violence beyond Christianity and the devastation that has been caused by non-religious (and anti-religious) ideologies bent on cementing their hold and wiping out their detractors.
6. How can you take the Bible literally?
It is more important to approach the Bible literately than literally, meaning that, just as with any other written text, it is necessary to read with genre in mind. I would not apply Shakespeare in the same way that I apply a recipe book, and I should not read Psalms or a parable in the way I read the Gospels or the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis.
7. Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?
Since Christians developed the scientific method and have been well-represented in scientific discovery throughout history, this misunderstanding is rooted in a deficient view of the purpose of science. “Christians and atheists are vulnerable to the same mistake: the idea that science will either prove or disprove theism. A more fruitful approach is to look at the world around us and ask ourselves, does this seem coherent with the possibility of God?” (Loc 2533)
8. Doesn’t Christianity denigrate women?
Criticism of the role of women in Christianity is often based in a poor reading of Paul’s epistles that equate his words with “traditional” gender roles and impose male “headship” in ways God did not intend. Having said that, biblical marriage is a metaphor soaked in mutual sacrifice and death to selfishness, and the role of Christian women in the New Testament church sets the bar high for us today to follow in the sandaled footsteps of our first-century sisters in Christ.
9. Isn’t Christianity homophobic?
Throwing baby and bath water out the window in one fell swoop, evangelicals have elevated marriage at the expense of what McLaughlin refers to as “one-body unity.” Since “we who are many are one body,” (I Corinthians 10:16-17) friendship is “not the consolation prize for those who fail to gain romantic love.” (Loc 3217) However, the Bible is also clear that Jesus preached a morality that was (and still is) offensive to heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.
10. Doesn’t the Bible condone slavery?
When the Bible describes a scene from history, it is often merely descriptive without being prescriptive. Having said that, slave terminology is used in the New Testament as a thing to be desired. Paul routinely rejects any higher title than “bond servant,” and when he refers to Onesimus, an actual slave who became a Christ follower, he calls him “a brother, beloved in the Lord.” It is a mistake to let the racism of white church leaders of the past define Christianity going forward.
11. How could a loving God allow so much suffering?
This may be the most difficult question McLaughlin tackles in her book because it’s one that we all encounter sooner or later, and it’s easy to fall into error in our efforts to “excuse” God for the problem of evil on a fallen planet. She bases her examination of suffering in the death of Lazarus and the crisis of faith this caused for Mary and Martha. Jesus self-identification as “the resurrection and the life” is a statement to the grieving sisters that “your greatest need is not to have your brother back again. It’s to have me.” Suffering sifts our desires, and the instinct that rises first is to push back. It is in this pushing back that relationship begins to take root.
12. How could a loving God send people to hell?
Neither heaven nor hell, in biblical terms, are geographic localities. While heaven is “shorthand for the full blessing of relationship with God,” hell is separation and rejection. The scandalous grace of God is all that stands between hell and every human rebel on the planet.
Perhaps you are one who bumps into a cocktail of these twelve questions on the daily. Or, maybe you (like me!) are happy for the insight they give, but are rarely pressed into a defensive stance. Thinking about what we believe helps to solidify our faith, strengthening the bones of belief as we resist the subtle slippage toward lazy theology. God is greatly glorified by a probing faith that puts truth on the table for a rigorous discussion that confronts doubt and comes away even stronger.
Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
Because confrontation strengthens the bones of our faith,
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