I know I’m a little late to this, but I just finished Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Crossway, 2019), which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s similar in both style and content to Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God, which is the last book I read in my current research project on apologetics.
Confronting Christianity tackles a wide variety of issues, from classical objections like “how could a loving God allow so much suffering?” (chapter 11) to the most immediately pressing questions of contemporary Western culture like “doesn’t Christianity denigrate women?” (chapter 8) and “Isn’t Christianity homophobic?” (chapter 9). This breadth of focus is impressive—you find yourself learning about historical controversies like Galileo (112-114) and the Crusades (79), contemporary moral debates concerning abortion (149-152) and sexuality (155-74), and deep philosophical topics like the argument for God from the applicability of math to the world (129-30) or the Buddhist view of suffering (195-97).
Not many people could write a book that engages all these various topics in an informed and compelling way, but McLaughlin has done it. The book gives the feel of coming from a lifetime of thinking and interacting with skeptics, not just a particular season of research. Its also clearly and deftly written, with footnotes ranging from secular thinkers like Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt to personal anecdotes, interesting polling and statistics, and engagement with classical literature (her PhD is in Renaissance literature).
Above all the book gives a sense of the beauty of Christianity behind its caricatures. Modern values that are often set in tension with Christianity—for example, freedom, or equality, or diversity, or science—are instead seen as friends of Christianity, values that Christianity promotes and encourages. For example, in response to the concern that Christianity crushes diversity in chapter 2, she argues, “if you care about diversity, don’t dismiss Christianity: it is the most diverse, multiethnic, and multicultural movement in all of history” (45).
I highly recommend this book to skeptic and believer alike. Here are a few favorite quotes. On the charge that religion is inherently destructive:
“To say that religion is bad for you is like saying, ‘drugs are bad for you,’ without distinguishing cocaine from life-saving medication” (21).
On whether religion hinders morality:
“Values that many of us in the West today consider to be universal and independent of religious thought turn out not to have sprung from the ground during the Enlightenment but to have grown from the gradual spread and influence of Christian beliefs” (63).
On dealing with how science relates to Genesis 1-3:
“God could have begun the Bible with a detailed scientific description of the universe, just as I could tuck my kids in bed at night and tell them that they are mammals whose genetic identity arises from a combination of my DNA and that of their other progenitor…. But right now, it’s more important for my children to know that I am their mother and I love them” (121).
On gender issues:
“Viewed closely, Ephesians 5 is a withering critique of common conceptions of ‘traditional’ gender roles that have often amounted to privilege men and patronizing women. In the drama of marriage, the wife’s needs come first, and the husband’s drive to prioritize himself is cut down with the brutal axe of the gospel. This is no return to Victorian values. Rather, it is a call to pay attention to the character of Christ (142-43).
On whether Christianity is homophobic:
“Rather than seeing sexual and romantic love as the high point on a scale where friendship laps at the low-water mark, the Bible invites us to pursue human love in different forms, governed by different boundaries. The same Scriptures that say no to same-sex sexual intimacy say a massive yes to intimacy of other kinds” (159, italics original).
From the chapter on slavery in the Bible:
“The white church must face its moral failures: many Christians have sinned with respect to slavery, and many white Christians have sinned against black victims of that oppressive and dehumanizing institution. But we must also ask, how many generations of faithful black believers do there need to be in America before we stop associating Christianity with white slave-owners and start listening to the voices of black believers that echo down to us through the blood-stained centuries?” (192).
On hope amidst suffering:
“From an atheist perspective, not only is there no hope of a better end to the story; there is no ultimate story. There is nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. From a Christian perspective, there is not only hope for a better end; there is intimacy now with the One whose resurrected hands still bear the scars of the nails that pinned him to his cross” (205).