Thursday, September 17, 2020

Small Group Discussion Guide for "Confronting Christianity" by Rebecca McLaughlin

Recently, several of our small groups from church read together Confronting Christianity:12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin to great enjoyment and profit. McLaughlin's refreshing approach to Christian apologetics seems to me to be exactly what is needed in our day. She doesn't shrink from the hard questions but instead shows how each one is also actually an opportunity for Christianity to shine.

I looked around for a discussion guide but couldn't find one, so I created our own. Feel free to use what follows as the basis for your own group's conversation around this incredibly helpful book. 

[A free PDF version is also available for download here.]

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Small Group Discussion Questions 

Confronting Christianity: 
12 Hard Questions for the 
World’s Largest Religion


Discussion Guide Prepared by Matthew C. Mitchell

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 1: Aren’t We Better Off Without Religion?

1. What signs in our culture would indicate that many people are asking the question, “Aren’t We Better Off Without Religion?” What evidence might they cite for the answer, “Yes?”

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. What is Rebecca McLaughlin’s answer to the title question? How does she arrive at it? What did you find surprising about her approach?

4. Re-read the Scripture passages McLaughlin references in the second half of the chapter (Acts 20:35, 1 Tim 6:10, Colossians 3:22-24, Philippians 4:12-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Hebrews 12:1-2, Luke 11:4). What did each one contribute to her argument?

5. What questions did this chapter raise that you would like to think about more and discuss?


Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 2: Doesn’t Christianity Crush Diversity?

1. Why might detractors of Christianity ask the title question of chapter 2? Why might Christianity be assumed to be a “Western religion?” What sort of bad things have been done in history that would feed the narrative that Christianity crushes diversity?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. What is Rebecca McLaughlin’s answer to the title question? How does she arrive at it? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. What does the Bible say about diversity? Review passages that McLaughlin references including Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 2:5-11, Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, James 2:8-9, Acts 8:26-40, and Revelation 7:9-10. 

5. What are the benefits of diversity? What are the weaknesses or limitations of diversity? How can we be more biblical in our approaches to diversity? How can we show skeptics the beauty of biblical diversity? What questions does the chapter raise for you that you’d like to explore further?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 3: How Can You Say There’s Only One True Faith?

1. Why do people feel the title question of chapter 3?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. To answer the big question of chapter 3, McLaughlin retells the old story about the blind men describing the elephant. She says it corrects our arrogance and encourages humility but also creates at least seven problems. What are they and what points did she make about each one? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. Why do you think there isn’t as much Scripture quoted in chapter 3 as the previous two chapters. What did the author draw from Mark 2:1-12, John 11:25-26, and Matthew 28:18-20.

5. Do you feel ready to answer this question next time it comes up? What questions does the chapter raise for you that you’d like to explore further?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 4: Doesn’t Religion Hinder Morality?

1. The title question of chapter 4 seems counterintuitive to many of us who have been shaped by  Christianity. Why are people genuinely asking it today?
2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. What is McLaughlin’s argument to answer the question in the negative? What do you make of her points? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. McLaughlin does not quote Scripture in chapter 4. What Scripture do you think relates to subject at hand?

5. Do you feel ready now to address this question with skeptics? If not, what else do you feel you need to be ready?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 5: Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?

1. What did Bertrand Russell believe about the “dragon of religion?” What are some of the “famous and forgotten instances of religiously motivated violence” McLaughlin reviews that would give rise to the title question for chapter 5?

2. Before reading chapter 5, how would you answer its daunting question? What argument(s) would you make? In what ways is this chapter similar to the previous one?

3. How does McLaughlin approach the question herself? How does she understand, analyze, and evaluate the Crusades, Buddhism, Communism, and then Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust? What does each part of the chapter contribute to the whole? How do thinkers such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King figure into the story? Why does she discuss democracy in this chapter? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her arguments?

4. In chapter 5, McLaughlin references Matthew 5:39, Luke 22:50-51, Matthew 5:44, Luke 23:34, Luke 4:18, Acts 4:32-35, Matthew 25:41-45, and 1 John 1:8. What do these Scriptures say that applies directly to the discussion at hand?

5. McLaughlin ends this chapter by considering the violence of the Cross of Christ. What truth does Jesus’s dreadful crucifixion and victorious resurrection speak to the title question? Are you ready to talk about it with others?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 6: How Can You Take the Bible Literally?

1. Has anyone ever asked you, “How can you take the Bible literally?” Why do you think they wondered? A big part of the question is the definition of “literal.” What do you think it means?
2. Before reading this chapter, how would you (or did you) answer the title question? What arguments would you advance?

3. How does McLaughlin answer the title question? How does figurative language figure in? What do you think about her thoughts on (a) contradictions, (b) non-canonical “gospels,” and (c) the trustworthiness of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. Because it’s about how to interpret the Bible, this chapter references many passages of Scripture. Which ones were the most interesting to you? Why? What Scriptures would you direct someone to for understanding how literally (or not literally) to take the Bible?

5. Now if someone asks you, “How can you take the Bible literally?” what are you planning to say?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 7: Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?

1. What are some reasons science and Christianity are perceived as enemies?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What tack would you take with a questioner?

3. How does McLaughlin go about answering the title question? What did you find surprising, helpful, interesting, and/or difficult about her approach? What is science good for? For what is science inadequate? What is the true history of Christianity and science? What do you think is the future of that relationship? 

4. Aside from Genesis 3:19 (pg. 120), chapter 7 does not have any Scripture quoted in it. What Scripture do you think relates to subject at hand? 

5. Do you feel ready now to address this question with skeptics? If not, what else do you feel you need to be prepared?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 8: Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women?
1. Unlike with many of her others, McLaughlin does not start this chapter by directly raising the title question or helping readers to feel the weight of it. Instead, she begins with an illustration from Harry Potter. Why do you think she made that authorial choice? What might her starting point teach us about apologetics?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What approach would you take with a skeptical conversation partner?

3. McLaughlin’s approach begins with an overview of gender in the Scriptures, following the overarching storyline of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Israel, Christ, Church, New Creation (pgs. 132-145). At each step she highlights God’s often counter-intuitive messages about women. She then turns to social science data and interacts with our current cultural context (pgs. 146-149). The chapter culminates with some relevant thoughts on abortion (pgs. 149-152). What did you learn from her exploration of these topics?

4. This chapter is replete with Scripture. What did you receive from reading passages such as Isaiah 49:15, Genesis 2:18-24, Genesis 3:16, Isaiah 54:5, Luke 7:36-50, Luke 10:38-42, Ephesians 5:22-31,  Revelation 19:7-9, Revelation 21:1-2? What other Scripture might you include as particularly relevant to the conversation?

5. What is your “readiness quotient” for talking about this with a skeptical friend? How can we bring more light than heat to this important discussion? McLaughlin’s biological and biographical profile makes her a unique conversation partner and gives her certain advantages. What advantages does your unique God-given background provide you for having productive conversations with unbelieving friends?
      
 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 9: Isn’t Christianity Homophobic?
1. McLaughlin says that “this chapter may be the most controversial yet” (pg. 154). Why is that? In what ways have you felt the burden of the title question in your lifetime and in engagement with your particular cultural context? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered its central question?

2. As with the previous chapter on gender, McLaughlin’s biographical profile makes her a unique conversation partner and gives her certain advantages in talking with hostile skeptics on this issue. How can we leverage people’s testimonies as we engage in these important conversations?

3. McLaughlin takes the discussion in directions that may have been unexpected. What did she argue that was surprising or provocative to you? What was the most helpful?

4. This chapter engaged with the Scriptures you might predict (ex. Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Matthew 19:3-12, 1 Timothy 1:9-16, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:26-27) but also many Scriptures that you might not have picked out (ex. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 12:12, 12:26, 1 Thessalonians 2:7, John 15:13, Matthew 22:30). How do both of these sets of Scripture, properly situated in their contexts, contribute to our understanding of the main question? What other Scripture passages might you include in as particularly relevant to the conversation?

5. This is clearly not just a controversial subject but also a complicated one. Are you prepared to talk about this with someone who asks you the title question? Why or why not? What do you still need to think out for yourself? How can we help each other be ready to discuss this with others?
    
 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 10: Doesn’t Christianity Condone Slavery?
1. Why is this chapter in this book? Why does the issue of slavery call for a chapter-length discussion in a book about hard questions facing the Christian faith today? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered the title question?

2. How did McLaughlin answer the question? What nuances does she bring to the discussion? What part(s) of the question did she treat as simple, and what did she treat as complex? What ironies did she surface? We have often seen her steer a topic in unexpected directions. Did she surprise you? How so?

3. The Bible has a lot to say about slavery in both the Old and New Testaments. How did Scripture inform McLaughlin’s answer to the title question? What was the most helpful and/or challenging thing you learned from surveying the biblical data? Are there additional Scripture passages you think should be included in the discussion?

4. What is the role of history in McLaughlin’s answer? Are there any missing important historical considerations that need added into the conversation?

5. Could you give an “elevator speech” (a concise speech deliverable in a short time on the essence of a matter) answer to this question now that you’ve read the chapter? Why or why not?
    
 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 11: How Could a Loving God Allow So Much Suffering?
1. The need for this chapter is obvious to all but the most blindly optimistic. McLaughlin calls it, “the question that haunts us all at one time or another” and points out that, “For many, this question torpedoes the Christian faith.” What has been your own story of wrestling with the relationship between Christianity and the existence of suffering? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered the title question?

2. Yet, again, McLaughlin turns the discussion in potentially unexpected directions. Without discounting the awfulness of suffering or offering facile solutions, she agrees with her friend whose son was brain damaged in a sports accident, “People often think that the reality of suffering is an embarrassment to the Christian faith. But I think suffering is the greatest apologetic for Christianity there is.” How does McLaughlin get to this surprising conclusion? Through what stops along the path does she progress to reach that destination? 

3. McLaughlin emphasizes the difference between Christianity’s ideas on this subject and the comparative ideas of other world religions (esp. Buddhism) and other world views (esp. atheism). How do these comparisons help us to evaluate answers to the question at hand?

4. Woven throughout this chapter is the story of the raising of Lazarus in John chapter 11. How does this story contribute to our understanding of the relation between Christianity and suffering (and even death)? What other Scripture might inform our answers to the main question?

5. What might you say now to a skeptical friend when they confront you with this question? Would your approach be different if they were currently going through a painful experience than if they were just asking it in the abstract? Why or why not?  

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 12: How Could a Loving God Send People to Hell?
1. Why is it that “We twenty-first century Westerners hate judgment” (pg. 209)? If we hate the very idea of judgment, we will find the reality of hell, “the most difficult thing Christians are called to believe” (pg. 210). What thoughts and feelings does the title question raise within you? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered its central question? Why does McLaughlin believe this is the “hardest question in the this book” (pg. 210)?

2. By this point in our reading of Confronting Christianity, we have probably come to expect the unexpected. How does McLaughlin go about answering the key question of this chapter? How does she make her case that judgment could be good and even great? How does she interact with science, reason, philosophy, and current events to reach counterintuitive conclusions? What are the most compelling and thought-provoking  ideas she shares in this chapter? What leaves you still scratching your head?

3. What is the role of Scripture in this chapter? McLaughlin weaves into this chapter the story of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus’ feelings about the “cup” of God’s wrath (Luke 22:42-44, and see footnote 16 on page 216), God’s name as revealed to Hagar (Genesis 16:13), and the paradoxical combination of the Lamb who has wrath (Revelation 6:16-17). What does each Scripture employed contribute to the picture of God that McLaughlin is painting for us? What other Scripture might you want to bring into the discussion?

4. In this final chapter, McLaughlin pulls various threads together from throughout the rest of the book. How does this chapter serve to unify and cap the argument of Confronting Christianity? What questions did this chapter raise that you would like to think about more and discuss?

5. Do you feel more prepared to engage with skeptics on these crucial questions? Why or why not?


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