An important opening question. Did you know that Corona Beer sales have dropped by 55% in the United States? In New Zealand, sales are up for the same brew because some of us see it as a temporary vaccine to the virus of the same name. It’s a great theory and we are sticking to it.
In truth, my world has been in turmoil this last few weeks. The marriage of our middle son and then the immediate death of our friend and the inheriting of her two children. Then, yet another wedding chucked in for good measure, and to top the week off, just as we were managing our four cases of that jolly Corona Virus, it turned up again FROM AUSTRALIA. Mindu, it’s probably payback for all the fun we’ve had watching them fighting over toilet paper in supermarkets. As always, leadership is about balancing facts and perception, so we are making changes to the way we celebrate Eucharist, offer the peace to one another, and, most difficult of all, stopping kids fishing their dropped wafers out of the chalice when we don’t know where those grubby little fingers have been. Whoever said worship was mundane?
I think Rebecca McLaughlin’s book Confronting Christianity is missing the crucial 13th question, “Why are Christians terrified of their Mortality”. I know the public quest to protect ourselves and others from the viral transmission is about the greater good, but the reality is, no one wants to die, especially a nasty sort of death with writhing and pain etc. But we are not physically immortal – we have no theology for that – likewise, we have deeply held sense of unjustifiable fairness about the number of days we should have – preferably lots.
The spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen wrote:
‘Much violence in our society is based on the illusion of immortality, which is the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not a gift to be shared. When the elderly no longer can bring us in contact with our own ageing, we quickly start playing dangerous power games to uphold the illusion of being ageless and immortal. Then, not only will the wisdom of the elderly remain hidden from us, but the elderly themselves will lose their own deepest understanding of life. For who can remain a teacher when there are no students willing to learn?
What Brene Brown achieves in pointing to the healthy power of psycho-social vulnerability, Henri Nouwen does by reminding us of our mortality and frailty.
Though McLaughlin offers twelve difficult questions for Christians to engage with regarding their faith and how they are viewed by the culture, none of it struck me as entirely new. I guess I’ve been around a while. However, what this book does in a unique way, is to turn the same questions around on the culture which enjoys attacking Christianity in these twelve areas. And that was unexpected and refreshing. I think that twist of outcomes is because McLaughlin is both British with a PhD from Cambridge and has also chosen to put aside her same-sex attractions and is in a contented marriage to a man and has 2 daughters. It seems her journey to faith was heavily influenced by these elements of her life and obviously speaks to how she answers questions on Atheism, Diversity, One True Religion, Morality, Violence, Literalness of the Scripture, Science, Women, Homosexuality, Slavery, Suffering, and Hell. McLaughlin wrestles with these issues head-on and without apology. However, there is an intelligent delicacy to the way she accomplishes this.
If I were to pick a favourite chapter it would be her approach to a loving God allowing suffering. Everyone has experienced grief and pain, and she adroitly uses the story of Jesus and Lazarus to show us the reality of suffering and our relationship to God. Alongside suffering, However, there are a number of other pertinent points as McLaughlin reminds us of the diversity of Christianity and its global reach. It is too easy to see it as an American institution and miss out on a lot when our perspective originates from there alone. Likewise, she refuses to let readers take the easy way out of truth by conspiring with the idea that all faith paths are true. Rather she calls us to respect others as thinking human beings who have thought about their beliefs.
I finally got to the end of the book with mixed feelings. Like Harry the apologist, I’ve read a lot of apologetics books and I think the issue was how McLaughlin presented the information in a different way than I am used to. That, of course, caused me to see the questions in a different way, which is probably a good thing. Though she has a crisp perspective, the book is not as easy to read as say Tim Keller’s book, The Reason for God and it felt like she was writing this book for her academic friends. Also, it felt little bit like a dictionary of Christian issues because each of the chapters could be books in their own right.
I guess the book feels honest without glossing over the failures of Christian history, but it proportionately provides evidence to the contrary. In truth, it is a book I need to return to with more focus.
 Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity (Illinois: Crossway, 2019).
 Henri J. M. Nouwen, You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2017).
 McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity. loc 3998ff
 Ibid. loc 627 chapter 2
 Ibid. loc 904ff
 Ibid. loc 967ff
McLaughlin, Rebecca. Confronting Christianity. Illinois: Crossway, 2019.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2017.