A Fresh Take on Apologetics
It was challenging to find a non-Christian review of McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion. While I did not do an exhaustive search, I landed upon Mark Ward’s review. Ward initially approached McLaughlin’s work, thinking it was written from a non-Christian perspective. He quickly became impressed with her grounded (an evangelical upbringing along with her Ph.D. in literature from Cambridge) evidence-based findings that were honed through her frontline fieldwork with the Veritas Forum. He contends that her work is robust while also being accessible to a lay audience. Ward recognized the deep well McLaughlin drew from in her Veritas work. He compares the freshness of her arguments to his first impressions from reading Tim Keller’s work. He views McLaughlin in need of further and more robust development of her contentions, particularly in her need for more substantive biblical treatment. I found his criticism counterintuitive as from Confronting Christianity’s dedication to “Natasha,” McLaughlin intended this book to be read by, ”fiercely intelligent friends who disagree with me.” Perhaps Ward was speaking more from his own apologetic bias rather than considering the context of McLaughlin’s work and her intended readers.
I am embarrassed to admit that I am not a fan of reading or practicing apologetics. They seem to strike me as debate or courtroom argument focused. My perspective is probably more a product of my light exposure to this field and my disinterest in dogmatic approaches to introducing people to the person of Jesus. I found McLaughlin’s work refreshing and very thought-provoking, and I consider myself a believer and a practitioner of the world’s largest religion for the past forty-five years. I was quite taken with her passion, joy, and scholarship (as is often stated by US observers, a British accent tends to make one even more compelling) from a May 6, 2019 interview. She is an inspiring female communicator who utilizes her theological undergirding (theological degree from Oak Hill College in London) along with her great love of and use of the power of words.
I found her chapter “Isn’t Christianity Homophobic?” most intriguing. Perhaps because she spoke from a female perspective or as one who has unrequited (that is, not acted upon) same-sex attraction for most of her life and to this day, her construct struck me as innovative and credible. She seemed to make the hard question moot as she instead turned the focus from one’s sexuality or sexual attraction to instead subordinating all things to Jesus. Her quote, “ …because blue-blooded heterosexuality is not the goal of the Christian life, Jesus is.” startled me by challenging my bias that heterosexuality is the preferred sexual state for Christians. McLaughlin challenged me to concede; it is not one’s sexuality (even for heterosexuals like me) to be focused upon as the preferred “status,” but only Jesus. That is, throughout all of our lives, all believers must submit their sexuality to Jesus, not just those who currently find themselves outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage relationships. I found McLaughlin’s declaration that, on the one hand, “sexual intimacy belongs exclusively to heterosexual marriage” while, on the other hand, “the one-body reality of gospel partnership (is) best experienced in same-sex friendships” quite a provocative statement. While I am sure many detractors will vigorously criticize the first part of this statement (which I find a bit curious as this work is directed towards intelligent friends who do not agree with her), the second part of this statement arrested my attention. I wonder if this might speak to the often chuckled about differences between men and women and the unrealistic expectations we put on exclusively trying to meet each other’s holistic needs within heterosexual marriage. Perhaps, this would also speak to the implied hierarchy within the Church of married couples having superior relationships/friendships within the body of Christ compared to those who are unmarried? McLaughlin contends, “Understanding the different kinds of boundaries that operate in marriage and in friendship will help us understand the purpose of each.” That is, opposite-sex marriage is exclusively set apart for sexual intimacy, and this irrefutable wall “cuts off the possibility of sex with anyone else.” This boundary is intended to constrict even the leanings of every Christian. That is, we are always called to sacrifice even our desires to Christ. However, the boundary for friendship, while barring sex, creates space for intimacy with many different people (of all genders?) who touch our lives in diverse and varied ways.
McLaughlin has accomplished a remarkable task of relocating the seeming intent of the original hard question beyond a preferred sexual status, towards intimate non-sexual friendships. She contends while the New Testament consistently does not support homosexual relationships, neither is there any place for a “them and us” attitude in the Church. That is, there is no place for a dislike or prejudice against homosexual people, the very definition of a homophobic attitude. Therefore, McLaughlin reminds us that Jesus launched the Church with Christians who had histories of sexual desires and sin, including homosexual desires and sin. I appreciate McLaughlin’s fresh approach in writing this book and will return to it often for her “fresh” and innovative insights.
 Mark Ward, “Review: Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion”, May 28, 2019, By Faith We Understand, https://byfaithweunderstand.com/2019/05/28/mclaughlinrebeccaconfrontingchristianity12hardquestionsfortheworldslargestreligion/
 Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019) 7.
 McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity, 154.
 McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity, 156.
 McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity, 157.
 McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity, 166-167.
3 responses to “A Fresh Take on Apologetics”
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Great reflection Harry. Don’t be embarrased about steering clear of reading apologetics, personally I would rather ride my motorbike. The writer is rather inspiring to read and because i skimmed it through i will need to return to it again. Your reading of her perspectives on sexuality does grasp her perspective well. Like you, i was intrugued to read her arguments regarding Christianity, but then turn them on wider society. Glad you found the book useful.
“I am embarrassed to admit that I am not a fan of reading or practicing apologetics. They seem to strike me as debate or courtroom argument focused.”
I wish we could all be okay being a bit more needy of each others discernment of Scripture, take a deep breath, listen, and pray about what we’ve heard to be more of what Jesus wants us to be for the sake of others.
Good post Harry.
Thanks, Harry for your sharing on how you feel about apologetics. It’s hard to express the gospel of Christ through the scripture to people who have read and never understand without going the apologetic way. With the bible full of what one would call contradictions and am happy the way Mclaughlin handled such selected verses which some critics would use the same to discredit the scriptures and apologetics helps to correct the misconception.
I was also encouraged by her argument on sexuality and how we worship the Lord and how the Lord looks at us with our sinful nature.