Friday, June 28, 2019

Review: Confronting Christianity

Confronting Christianity
I got a free review copy of Confronting Christianity. It's hard for me to pass up a free apologetics book, but before I pass it on to you, I want to know if it's really got anything to offer that every other apologetics book doesn't have. I think this one does.

First, the author, Rebecca McLaughlin, holds a PhD in renaissance literature from Cambridge University. No offense is intended to the other authors in the field, but she writes really well. The book is a pleasure to read.

Second, this is an "issue" book rather than a fundamentals book. So she addresses the questions that are getting flung in Christians' faces these days. Namely:

Chapter 1: Aren’t we better off without religion?
Chapter 2: Doesn’t Christianity crush diversity?
Chapter 3: How can you say there is only one true faith?
Chapter 4: Doesn’t religion hinder morality?
Chapter 5: Doesn’t religion cause violence?
Chapter 6: How can you take the Bible literally?
Chapter 7: Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?
Chapter 8: Doesn’t Christianity denigrate women?
Chapter 9: Isn’t Christianity homophobic?
Chapter 10: Doesn’t the Bible condone slavery?
Chapter 11: How could a loving God allow so much suffering?
Chapter 12: How could a loving God send people to hell?
She answers these questions using, variously, social science data, personal experience, history, philosophy, and theology. She also speaks "from the other side" on some of these issues. Does Christianity subjugate women? Isn't it nice when it's a woman saying "no?" Is Christianity homophobic? She's open about her own struggles with that world while answering the question in the negative.

All of the chapters aren't equally strong, but by and large she gives good answers to these questions in a gracious and eloquence manner.

My goal is to present my kids with a small apologetics library when I send them off to college. This book is a strong contender for that shelf. I think it will do well on yours, too. I enthusiastically recommend it.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Pleading for Sodom

Smite button
Is God a monster?

There are those in our society that look at the acts of judgment in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) and conclude that only a truly evil being would do things like that. Now some of that is simply people disliking the idea of anyone being held accountable for their actions, but I think we've done God a disservice in the way we teach some passages of the Bible.

Take the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. We know how God told Abraham that he was going to destroy the cities. Abe, being a stand up guy, immediately starts dickering with God to save them. He gets him to say he'd spare the cities if he could find 50 righteous people in them. Slowly he whittles him down to 10 — if he finds 10 righteous people, he won't kill everyone. God knows they're not there, but he makes this agreement to make Abraham feel better about God's justice.

For all that I'm being a bit flippant in that retelling, I have always heard that story presented as Abraham slowly working God down to a mere 10 righteous people. In our imaginations, we hear God's reply as "Sure, fine, if there are 10 I won't destroy the city. Leave me alone already."

But what in that story makes it seem like God is making Abraham work for it?

Let's look at some other passages in the Bible that touch on this theme.

In Ezekiel, God corrects Israel's understanding of how divine justice works. The son is not killed for the father's sin, nor is the righteous for the sinner's. In fact, even the sinner, if he turns from his wicked ways, will live: "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?" declares the Sovereign Lord. "Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" (18:23).

Consider the story of Jonah. We focus more on the prophet who ran rather than doing what he was told. But what he was told to do was remarkable. He was sent to preach judgment and repentance to the people of Nineveh. Jonah didn't want to go because he knew God is prone to forgiving sinners. God's reply is telling: "Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left?" (4:11).

Remember the story of Jesus expounding on how terrible Israel and her leaders had become. He lists seven "woes", enumerating their sins. Then hear his voice crack as he says, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing" (Matt 23:37).

Finally, Luke tells us that after Christ's "Triumphal Entry," he stopped to consider the city that was about to reject him:

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (19:41-44)

Our God takes no pleasure in meeting out punishment. He would prefer that people repent.

So let's take that reminder back into the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Hear Abraham ask God to spare the city for the sake of 50, and there's no reason why we should think God hesitated at all. Abraham, knowing Sodom's reputation, wisely lowered his request to 45, then 40, and works his way down to 10.

Then hear God's reply: "Oh, Abraham, if only there were 10 righteous people in that city."

God is holy. God is just. God will judge wickedness. But he does not do it with a smile on his face. We should take care that we do not present him as rubbing his hands in glee. His love is holy. His justice is loving. The God who leaves the 99 does not delight in bringing punishment.


Yeah, but what about the Canaanites? Here's a great article from Stand to Reason on that topic.