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Podcast: Preparing Our Kids for a Post-Christian World (Rebecca McLaughlin)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Equipping Our Kids to Live as Christians

In this episode, Rebecca McLaughlin discusses what it looks like for parents to prepare their teens for a life in a post-Christian world. She reflects on kids’ propensity to ask hard questions and why that’s a good thing, highlights some of the key challenges to a Christian worldview facing young people today, and offers advice on how to protect teens from harmful influences while at the same time encouraging them to form their own opinions and convictions.

10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity

Rebecca McLaughlin

Rebecca McLaughlin uses teen-friendly illustrations and biblical truth to address 10 questions teens face about the Christian worldview, challenging young people to think deeply about hard topics and stand for truth in a secular age.

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Topics Addressed in This Interview:

01:47 - Our Current Cultural Context

Matt Tully
Rebecca, thank you so much for joining me today on The Crossway Podcast.

Rebecca McLaughlin
It’s a pleasure to be here.

Matt Tully
Today we’re going to talk about what it looks like to raise kids in our world today. A world that, at least in the West particularly, has often been described as increasingly post-Christian. There’s a lot to that and you have a lot of thoughts on the way that the Western world is characterized with relation to Christianity and religion; but before we jump into all of that, could you share a little bit about your own family and your own kids?

Rebecca McLaughlin
Sure. When I’m asked about raising kids, I feel a bit like someone who is stopped halfway through a marathon and asked, What’s it like to run a marathon? I only know ages 0–10 so far. My eldest daughter is 10, I have a second daughter who is 8, and then Luke—who has just turned 2—was a surprise to everyone other than me and my husband Brian. People thought that we were done, and we didn’t think that we were. So he’s been a delight and an awful lot of work.

Matt Tully
You say you only have kids ages 0–10, but so much has happened in the last 10 years, culturally speaking, in our world, and especially in the US. That leads to my first question: As you think about what it was like to grow up as a kid—obviously, you grew up in the UK and most of our listeners grew up in the US—but even with that difference in background, what do you think has changed since you were a kid vs. where we’re at today? And I also want to know what you think is the same as well.

Rebecca McLaughlin
I think a lot of that, as you point out, depends on where you grew up. I grew up in London in a, broadly speaking, Christian home, but most of my friends from school were not believers and the high school I went to was a very academic, very secular high school despite being dedicated to the apostle Paul. It was called St. Paul’s Girls School, and we sang hymns in the morning assembly, which was usually me singing very loudly while 650 other girls kind of muttered into their hymn books. So I guess I grew up with the expectation that being a Bible-believing Christian was a very odd thing to be amongst my peers and that I would need to explain my faith to friends. From an early age I wanted friends to become followers of Jesus as well, and so I would talk to them about all sorts of hard questions and challenges that were keeping them from considering that. It’s absolutely the case that some cultural tides have shifted. My husband grew up in Oklahoma City, for example, and so he had a very different experience than I did growing up. There have clearly been some significant changes in terms of public opinion on questions, for example, about gay marriage, an increasing amount of questions around gender and transgender identities. So there are real shifts that have happened in the past 10 or 20 years. But there’s also, at least in my experience, quite a lot of continuity that I felt from the first. For example, being a Christian amongst many non-believers, knowing that I had very different ideas about the world than they did, and I still feel that way today. One of the interesting things to me, processing with my husband who grew up in Oklahoma, when he moved to Cambridge in the UK as a grad student, he was both kind of unsettled and encouraged by his experience because on the one hand, in the climate where he had grown up, even if people didn’t go to church themselves, they kind of thought well of you if you did and respected that. He moved to a city where going to church as a serious Christian was considered truly weird. But he also found that when he did go to church, everyone there really was there because they love Jesus, not because this is what people in this place tend to do. In some ways, he found that more encouraging than a cultural environment where a lot of people, honestly, probably thought they were Christians whether or not they knew who Jesus was and were really trying to follow him.

Matt Tully
I think that’s a good point. I’ve heard people describe the difference between Europe as a general place compared to the US, with Europe being a few years ahead of the US in some ways and in some of those trends. In the last 10 years there’s been a lot of change in the US, maybe a winnowing of that cultural Christianity that used to be the norm, and we’re catching up to places like the UK.

Rebecca McLaughlin
I think as I reflect on what it means to raise my own kids and to be part of the broader Christian community here raising our children as a church, I strongly believe that the Christian ideal is not the nuclear family; it’s actually the local church as the primary family unit for Christians. So I always want to think based within my own biological family, but also more broadly than that in our local context. I think there’s a mistake that we can sometimes make as Christian adults which is to think that our job is to protect kids from the hard and difficult challenges that they may face in terms of being a Christian among a less Christian peer group and that we need to make sure they’re not exposed to dangerous ideas that might conflict with what we’re telling them at home. I actually don’t think it’s our job to protect them. I think it’s our job to equip them, which is a very different thing. I’m just reading through the Harry Potter series again with my kids and we’ve just finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where Dumbledore’s army is formed. And Dumbledore’s army is this group of school kids who take it upon themselves to learn defense against the Dark Arts because they know there are real threats out there, and other people might consider them too young. In fact, they’re being told by the school authorities at the time that they’re too young to be doing any of this. But they know that they’re not and they need to get involved in it. I think just as we hear very clearly from Jesus that if we don’t have faith like a little child we can’t enter the kingdom of God, we really need to recognize the faith of even small children. I think also we need to recognize the role of small children in witnessing to their friends and in speaking for Christ in their social contexts, even young as they are. To me, the best way that I can prepare my children for life as an adult Christian is to actually equip them for life as child Christian, to give them appropriate apologetic tools when talking with friends, ways of sharing the gospel, and telling them from the first that they’re not necessarily in the majority and they can’t expect everyone to agree with them. This doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t truly Lord of all and that what we’re talking about at home is just somehow our own family’s thing, but because I want them to go on as they’ve started and to be properly equipped to share the gospel with friends from the first and on to hard questions from the first.

09:35 - Discerning the Timing of Age-Appropriate Discussions

Matt Tully
I think a lot of parents wrestle with the tension of on the one hand, we want to protect our kids from things that are truly dangerous to them and that could, in some way, lead them astray and influence them in ways that they’re not prepared for. But on the other hand, as you’re saying, we don’t want to shelter our kids so much that it’s actually counterproductive and creates this stunted faith that they don’t really understand or own themselves. How do you think about that? Have there been issues or topics with your kids that you have decided to hold off on raising with them, or that you have been very judicious in how you discuss them with them because they’re too young or just not ready for some reason?

Rebecca McLaughlin
I think the issue that I’ve only recently started talking to my girls about—they’re 10 and 8; my 2-year-old is not yet at a comprehension level to grapple with any of these things—but with my 10 and 8-year-old, until recently I had not told them about abortion, simply because it’s just so intuitively troubling to a child as an idea. We have started having some more of those conversations as we drive down the street and we pass yard signs that have the 2020 creed of “Black Lives Matter; Love Is Love; Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” etc. What I’ve wanted to do is rather than sort of ignore those signs or tell the girls that it’s all too grown up for them to engage with, I’ve actually wanted to work through each of those things and say, Okay, this is what we as Christians strongly affirm. We strongly affirm that black lives absolutely matter because they matter to Jesus. But then I need to work through the other lines in that statement and say, Okay, what does “Love Is Love” mean in our culture today? What are we trying to say there? When people say “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” what do they actually mean by that? So I’ve started with them talking about some of those more troubling ideas in order to answer their questions more fully about what’s going on in the world. So that’s something I’ve held off on. When it comes to the cluster of ideas that I think Christians often feel least comfortable talking with their kids about, which are questions around sexuality, I’ve actually tried to talk to my kids about those really from the first. One big reason for that is that if we don’t talk to our kids about sex in a more holistic way, firstly, we can’t read the Bible with them. So many times as I read through the Scriptures with my kids, they say, Mommy, what’s a prostitute? Okay, I have to explain what that is for them to understand the situation. But also, and more positively, because if—as I truly believe the whole point of God creating us male and female and of there being such a thing as sexuality and there being such a thing as marriage—if the whole point of that is for us to get a glimpse of what it means for Jesus to love his people, then I’m actually robbing my kids of some of the basic building blocks of a theological understanding of the world if I don’t talk to them in age-appropriate terms about what sex is. So I’ve intentionally done that, just as in the Scriptures we see God portrayed as Father and my kids have a category for what that means because they have a dad—and thank God they have a really good dad. So I also want them to know what it means when the Bible talks about God in the Old Testament as husband to Israel and when Jesus declares that he’s the bridegroom in the Gospels and when Paul tells us that marriage is a model of Jesus and the church in Ephesians 5. I want them to know what this means and I want them, before they have awkward or intriguing conversations with friends on the playground about sex, I want them to know what this is really about at a fundamental creational level and for that to be the center from which we then explore all the complex questions around what do Christians believe about appropriate sexual behavior vs. not. So, I guess in some ways, it might be slightly counter-cultural from a Christian perspective, but I haven’t wanted to protect my kids from a good thing that God has created and that he has created in order for us to understand more about him, and in age-appropriate ways I’ve wanted to talk to them about those things from an early age.

Matt Tully
That raises an interesting distinction that I think some Christian parents maybe wrestle with in that they would be all for presenting a biblical worldview on these issues—let’s take sexuality as the example here. Yes, let’s teach our children what the Bible says about these things and what God’s vision for these things is, but the issue is that it’s a little bit more tricky when it comes to then also presenting or talking about, from a Christian perspective, distortions of that biblical picture that we get of what this is supposed to look like. How do you think about the role of a Christian parent teaching positively what Scripture says about some of these issues and God’s design for these things vs. laying out all the cards on the table? I think that’s one way that these issues are discussed—your job is to present your kids with all of the options and then they can pick and choose what they think is best for them. That’s the way it’s sometimes presented. How do you think about that question? Even the idea of indoctrination: the idea of teaching our kids what to believe, what’s right and wrong.

Rebecca McLaughlin
I think for me, the two go hand in hand. Before I would have any conversation with my kids about why gay marriage is not something that Christians can affirm for themselves, I need them to understand what marriage, Scripturally and theologically, is. My kids are in a really good local public school, and they’re having a really fantastic multicultural experience. A lot of their friends, like me, are immigrants, many of them coming from all different parts of the world, and it’s actually lovely to see the number of Christians that God has placed in their sphere, often from a place like Ethiopia and Eritrea and people whose parents have immigrated from China, etc. So, there’s so many wonderful things about them being in this public school setting. They also have gay teachers and friends whose families will be raising them with other ideas than we have about these questions. If I’m not talking to my kids about the “Love Is Love” sign, they’re only hearing from other people. I’m not actually protecting them from anything. All I’m doing is letting other people form their ideas rather than me being a part of that conversation. I think it’s also important to recognize that from around 8- or 9-years-old, I was becoming aware that I was attracted to women. People will develop at different stages in terms of their patterns of attraction, and obviously, kids mature at very different ages, so I’m not saying my experience is necessarily normative. But, as my kids go through puberty, I want them to understand the kinds of things that others might be experiencing, but also the kinds of things they might be experiencing. I don’t want them to feel like, Oh my goodness, I have no category for what I’m feeling or how I’m experiencing the world. Whatever their patterns of attraction, I want them to know that they are known and loved by Jesus, first and foremost, and also by me and by their dad. I want them to know that all of us, as Christians, need to learn to say no to many of our desires in all sorts of areas of life as followers of Jesus. I want them to have that kind of mental, theological, and emotional equipment before they need it. I don’t want to be talking to my 16-year-old when she says that for the last five years she’s been struggling with attraction to her best friend and she didn’t feel like she could tell me. I would much rather be on the front end of that conversation. And equally, I don’t want to be having a conversation with my 16-year-old about an ongoing pornography addiction because I had never had those conversations with them earlier. I guess I see this as all part of a broader fabric of wanting to equip my kids with what they need before they need it, rather than afterwards; and for the gospel to always be central to that. I think, again, that’s a mistake we can sometimes make in thinking about whether it’s discussing these issues with our kids or even with non-Christians friends well: I want the gospel to be central, so I don’t want to get drawn into conversations about sexuality. As far as I can see from the Scriptures, the gospel is right at the center of an understanding of sexuality. So, if we’re having those conversations correctly, they should be pointing us to Jesus and the church.

20:08 - Kids Ask the Hardest Questions

Matt Tully
It seems like one of the big things you’re emphasizing is just the importance of being proactive with our kids rather than purely reactive on some of these issues, even though it might feel uncomfortable at times. We might not exactly know how to have a particular conversation. I think that gets to the broader thing that I know I’m finding with my young kids is just that they often know more than you think they know. They’re exposed to things that you didn’t realize, and I think that only increases as they get older and have friend groups. One of the things you say in your book is that kids ask the hardest questions of all oftentimes. Can you unpack that? What do you mean by that?

Rebecca McLaughlin
We have a practice as a family of doing family Bible time every evening. In the course of that we walk through a book of the Bible little piece by little piece. We had a particularly challenging conversation the other day because we were in Exodus 21. Not long after the ten commandments, God gives his people laws about slavery. I personally had really wrestled with this passage and I had taken some time in advance before walking through it with my kids to just wrestle with it myself. At the end of a long and interesting conversation, my 10-year-old said, Why didn’t God just say, in big capital, italic letters, no slavery? So, she has exactly the same questions that my peers have and that I might have. My 8-year-old will frequently ask, How do we know the Bible is true? Where did the Bible come from? How do we know that Jesus didn’t make it so that it didn’t hurt when he was on the cross? How do we know that he didn’t do a miracle so that he wasn’t actually in pain? Which is not a question I have heard from somebody before. Sometimes they ask questions a little bit counter to our intuitions. It’s never occurred to me to ask that particular question, and it probably wouldn’t occur to an adult friend of mine to ask that particular question, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not a valid question. It’s something we need to talk through because kids don’t make all the assumptions that we make necessarily. They’ll often ask questions in different and sometimes more difficult ways, and it’s important for us to be able to engage in those conversations.

Matt Tully
I’ve often found even with my young kids—my two oldest are 7 and 5—that even at those young ages they’re sometimes asking questions where there’s a logic to them and there’s even an honesty to them that is maybe lacking in the way that adults might think about things or even be willing to ask things. That question about Jesus on the cross feeling pain, that intuitively understands something about how he’s so different from us and how he could do that, and it tries to get into something that would invalidate in some way that experience that he had in a way that maybe the rest of us are kind of happy just to not ask.

Rebecca McLaughlin
I think what’s wonderful as well is the more that we have these kinds of conversations with our kids even at a young age, the more they’re able to process theologically for themselves. I remember a delightful conversation I had with my 10-year-old when she was about 5. We were driving down the street and she said, Mommy, could Jesus make it so that one side of the street jumped up and the other side jumped up and it walked like it had legs? I said, Yes, darling. Jesus can do anything. And she said, Jesus can do anything except break his promises. I said, Yeah! You’re absolutely right. I was wrong to say that. Indeed, Jesus cannot break his promises to us. Just to see her start to process with the theological equipment she’s been given from the Scriptures and the conversations with me and her dad, and for her to be able to piece things together and say, Wow, Jesus could do this extraordinary thing that I’ve just thought up here, but I also need to reckon in the fact that God is always faithful. How does that play into this situation? I find even a depth of theological insight that kids can have. In another car ride conversation we were talking about the song “Blessed Be Your Name.” They asked me where the song came from, and I said, It’s actually from the book of Job. They said, What’s the book of Job? I gave them a two-minute sketch of the story of Job and I said, What do you think we learn from the book of Job? My daughter, who was 6 at the time, said, That God is God, and we are not. I thought, Wow! That’s an excellent summary of the book of Job: God is God, and we are not. So, I think we need to take our kids more seriously in many ways, and I think we need to recognize the society in which we live where kids are given very little responsibility and where they are protected—even as I say this, I recognize how privileged I am that I can say this about my children when there are many children across the US who don’t have any of these sorts of protections. But we can at least attempt to protect our kids from the idea of death, for example. My kids have only recently known people who they were close to who have died. In most cultures and in most parts of history, no child would get to the age of 5 without having known numerous people they really loved who died. We think that death is much too frightening an idea for kids to really be able to grapple with. Well, I don’t know that it is. If we don’t talk to our kids about death, how can we explain the gospel to them? I would tend to err on the side of talking more and seeing it less as a process of protection and more as a process of equipping.

26:22 - The Church’s Role in Shaping Young People

Matt Tully
That is a good segue into the question of what role does the local church play in shaping young people today? We talked a lot about how parents—biological or otherwise—have a front-lines role to play in shaping their children and preparing them for the world, but what role can the church, and others in that community, play in this conversation?

Rebecca McLaughlin
I think there we can make two mistakes. The first mistake we can make is to say, When I take my kids to church on a Sunday and I hand them off to children’s church, that is the primary place where they’re going to be getting spiritual input and instruction. As a parent, I’ve done my job if I’ve taken them to church and I’ve sort of released them to the children’s or youth minister. In fact, I think from the Scriptures we see parents have a massive responsibility to raise our children in the Lord. That often looks messy. As I said, we have a 10-, 8-, and 2-year-old and when the 2-year-old joins in with family Bible time, which sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t, it can be real chaos. My husband was playing our little song for Bible time the other day and he said that Luke was just shouting and shouting in the background. He stopped playing and he turned around and said, Luke, can you stop shouting? And the girls said to him, Daddy, he’s singing! He had not even realized that this little 2-year-old was actually singing his heart out (really badly) to the right song, but was in the wrong verse. He was trying. So, it doesn’t look Instagram worthy, but there’s a lot that we need to be doing in the context of our day-to-day interactions with our children as parents that is shaping them in the Lord. I think the other mistake we can make is to say, It’s really only our job to raise them in the Lord. No one else in our community makes a difference in that. I think one of the ways in which the global pandemic is painful is that it’s shut down some of these things, or forced us to have to think in different ways about them. We host a community group, which is predominantly single people, and one of the things I love about that is that our kids get to frequently interact with proper, grown up, single Christians. I want them to grow up with a real vision for what that looks like. I never want them to think that I’ll only be proud of them if they get married and have children; I never want them to think that single-heartedly serving the Lord as a single person is, in any sense, second best. I can’t model that to them. I can say it to them, but they can’t see it in me. They can see it in the friends in our community group. They can also see a racial and cultural diversity amongst our Christian community. That is something which, in many people’s minds, is sort of a modern, progressive idea. Actually, no. It’s a biblical idea. It’s Jesus who calls people from every tribe and tongue and nation to worship him. We see even from day one as the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost, people from all sorts of countries and backgrounds—including Egypt and Libya and Iran—becoming believers from the very first. So this multiethnic, multicultural vision of Christian community is something which, thank God where I live, people are from all sorts of places and backgrounds so that my kids get to glimpse a little bit of what that looks like. I think they need to know that they are brothers and sisters with their peers at church and that the other adults in the church are their uncles and aunts, spiritually speaking, and there’s so much that both at this stage, and even more so as they grow older, that they can learn from our friends that they can’t learn from me and Brian. There’s a massively formative role that other folks can play in their lives alongside what we can do for them as parents.

30:42 - Dealing with Fear of Culture

Matt Tully
Taking a broader step back, in my experience, a lot of good parents—solid Christians who know their Bibles and who are plugged in to a local church and are seeking to be intentional with their kids—they nevertheless would have to admit that as they look at the future and they look at the way the world is changing and the way the world has changed and the ways that it’s the same as it’s always been, the thought of raising their kids in our world—in a culture that seems increasingly hostile to the teachings of the Bible and a Christian worldview—makes them pretty afraid, if they’re being honest. What would you say to the person listening right now who, if they were being honest, would have to say they feel that way—they feel afraid?

Rebecca McLaughlin
I absolutely hear that, and I don’t want to minimize that sense. I think often people have a fear that there’s such a strong cultural tide that nothing they can say to their kids is going to make any difference. I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think it’s true from the Scriptures, and I don’t think it’s true from current data. There’s a survey put out by the Pew Forum a few years ago which was looking at the generational carry over from parents to children. To be fair, they’re looking at data now, so this was from the last generation; but I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be that different in this next generation. They looked at people who were raised Catholic in America, people who were raised Protestant in America, and people who were raised non-religious in America. What they found was that people raised Catholic had a 60% chance of still identifying as Catholic as adults. So, 40% of people raised Catholic no longer identified as Catholic as adults. Probably nobody is surprised by that. They found that among Protestants, 80% who were raised Protestant still identified as Protestant as adults. Again, this isn’t charting church attendance or other things that might be a better indicator of serious faith, but just to kind of compare like with like. Then they looked at people raised non-religious. People raised non-religious had a 60% chance of still identifying as non-religious as adults. So actually, the same retention rate as Catholics, which didn’t sound too great, is the retention rate for non-religious people in America. There’s a growing body of evidence—being led, actually, by the folks over at the Harvard School of Public Health (not far from where I am right now)—that there are significant mental and physical health benefits to regular religious participation. A recent study showed that women who go to church once a week or more are five times less likely to kill themselves compared to women who never attend. There’s recent research on deaths from despair—which include suicide, drug abuse, and alcohol-related deaths—and there’s a significant differential between people who are regularly engaged in religious community and people who are not when it comes to all of those things. The reality is—and even atheist sociologist psychologists will acknowledge this—the reality is that we humans tend to flourish when we believe that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves and when we’re connected to something much bigger than ourselves and when we are in a regular religious community. This idea that my generation was raised on—that the world would just be better off without religion, and if we could just shed all of this religious stuff, we would all emerge as these properly virtuous, modern, scientifically literate people—I think one of the big shocks to the secular system is how untrue that seems to be. A significant portion of those—going back to that Pew Survey—who were raised in non-religious homes actually become religious as adults, and they tend to become Christians. Whereas we can see in the news this talk of like a category of nuns who would check no if given a census form that asked Which religion are you affiliated with? That category has grown substantially. It’s a very unstable category. There’s a lot of switching in and switching out. And especially generationally, there’s a lot of switching in and switching out. I was talking to a sociologist a couple of years ago and she was saying it’s actually quite hard to find three generations of non-religious folk in America. Should we have the concern that we could raise kids who end up walking away from Christianity? Yes. Should our neighbors—who are nice, convinced, secular, liberal atheist folk—have the concern that they might raise kids who end up becoming Christians? Also yes.

35:44 - Challenges to the Christian Worldview

Matt Tully
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges to the Christian faith—and maybe more generally, a Christian biblical worldview—facing young people today?

Rebecca McLaughlin
I think one of the big challenges we have is this idea that’s deep in people’s brains that Christianity is, at heart, a white Western religion. There may be other people who also are Christian, but there is some sort of center of gravity that is allied with one particular culture, one particular racial background. I think especially as our society is grappling more and more with the history of systemic racism in America and things that maybe some folks hoped had been figured out years ago really had not been figured out, and so I think there’s so much turmoil and confusion in society more broadly, and increasingly a younger generation of people are rightly recognizing the need for racial justice and seeing the ways in which Christians have been complicit in racism for centuries and for decades can feel like a strong motivator to abandoning Christianity. I actually think that whereas that data is present and important, we also need to see the much bigger picture, which is showing us from the Scriptures that Christianity has always been multiracial, multicultural, multiethnic. There have been individual black believers that we see from the very first in the book of Acts and the idea of love across racial and cultural and ethnic differences is not something that’s really kind of a secular, progressive idea. It’s actually a Christian idea. It’s actually something that Jesus gave to us in the first place. So I think that, as with many other questions, is one where if you look from a distance it can look like a defeat of Christianity. But actually, if you look more closely, there’s a reason to believe. And if we look globally, we see that Christianity is the most diverse belief system in the world by a long shot. It’s not only the largest but it’s the most racially, culturally, ethnically, sociologically diverse. If we look at America, we also find that black Americans are significantly more likely to identify as Christians than their white peers and far more likely to go to church regularly and read the Bible, etc. Sinful racism has sadly infected many white churches historically, and the idea that we should draw from that is not that we should therefore throw Christianity out. I think we need to listen more carefully to the voices of faithful black believers. But I do think that’s a very important question and one that both we and our kids will be grappling with. I think science continues to be an important question for kids to be equipped when it comes to, again, recognizing that rather than belonging to atheism, that the modern scientific project was, from the first, a Christian project. Not an alternative hypothesis to believing in a crazy God, but actually that the folks who first came up with what we now call modern science did so because they believed in the God of the Bible, and there are many leading scientists today in all sorts of disciplines (that have supposedly discredited Christianity) who are actually very serious Christians too. And then I think there’s a whole set of ideas around gender and sexuality. I’ve touched on some of them, but I think one that’s going to be increasingly pertinent in the coming year is questions around transgender identities and what does it mean for me to say I am a woman or for you to say I am a man. I think what’s interesting here is that there’s actually a lot of ideological conflict going on between secular folk on these questions in a way that when the pressing issue was around gay marriage, there was actually relatively little conflict within the communities of secular liberal folk. Actually, the transgender movement has a very different feel because traditional feminists are raising real concerns about some of the ways in which transgender thinking is playing out. Traditional gay and lesbian advocates as well have been raising some real concerns about that, so I think it’s going to be an interesting few years for all of us regardless of what beliefs we bring to these questions in the first place. But I think in order to equip our children well, we need them both to see that male and female are biological, and more importantly, theological categories that the Bible gives us; and we need them to see why. Again, as far as I can see from the Scriptures, it’s very much connected to the picture of Jesus and the church and we need to teach that to our kids. I think we also need to recognize the ways in which we can buy into cultural stereotypes as if they were scriptural truths and how, as Christians, we’ve had a history of doing that to where we can make somebody feel alienated from their biological sex, not because there’s necessarily any reason for them to be, but because we’ve put some extra non-biblical clothing around the idea of what it means to be a man or a woman. So I think we need to look carefully at that and see where we are teaching our children things that are actually biblical and where we are teaching them things that we’ve just sort of inherited from the previous generation or two and that we’re clinging onto as if they were bilblical, but they’re not. So I think there’s going to be some important introspection that we can do there alongside our children. But I don’t think we’re going to come out of that saying male and female aren’t real theological categories because I think we see Scripturally they absolutely are. But we’ll maybe understand what those things mean in a more biblically grounded way.

42:23 - Will Christianity Withstand the Influence of Culture?

Matt Tully
You mention the issue of race, the issue of science in general, religious faith, and the ways that it seems we’re hardwired as humans for faith in certain respects and the data that would suggest that. But it does seem like one of the biggest cultural flashpoints in the US right now is related to sexuality and gender. As you said, it’s a very complicated, multi-faceted conversation that there’s a lot of different sides to, so to speak. When I think about the way that our culture engages on these issues and the messages that are coming at children in particular, whether it’s movies or music or social media or even schools today, it seems like there’s a big effort, a big push to normalize a lot of these ideas and behaviors among young people in particular. People have talked about a growing secular orthodoxy in relation to some of these issues, and young people are the primary target in a lot of ways for that new orthodoxy. As you think about this issue in particular, how do you think about raising children in light of just the push towards normalization that we see in different spheres all around us?

Rebecca McLaughlin
I think, as with every other way in which being a Christian puts you out of joint with those around you, that Christianity was built for this actually. We tend to think that the complex, sexual, ethical questions that arise today are things that maybe started in the 60s and have become much more pronounced now. In some sort of localized way you can say that that’s true. But if you go back to the first century, and you look at what the prevailing cultural norms were then, at least for men, one of the big Christian revolutions started by Jesus was actually treating women as equal to men. That wasn’t an assumption that the Greco-Roman world was making. I think we need to recognize that Christianity was not born into a world where marriage was one man and one woman for life. It was born into a world where it was perfectly normal and acceptable for a man to sleep with women he wasn’t married to, men he wasn’t married to, male or female slaves, children. The sexual abuse of children in the Greco-Roman world is horrific and eye opening. You think of the emperor Nero who, admittedly, was completely crazy and I’m not saying he represented the norms of his day, but he dressed up as a woman and married another man at one point. This was at the time that the New Testament was being written. So I think we can take courage from the fact that actually the first Christians lived in a world where they weren’t normal for keeping to Christian sexual ethics. And many of them had actually come fresh out of that world Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians. He lists a number of things that would mean you didn’t inherit the kingdom of God, and he’s including homosexual relationships. And then he says, and this is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of Jesus. We don’t need to see ourselves as sort of needing some kind of broad protection from a cultural majority that will be on our side. We need to be followers of Jesus who are reaching out to those around us who could be in all sorts of lifestyles or situations or attractional patterns or ways of being that may not fit with being a follower of Jesus, and we need to invite them in. I think of Jesus telling the religious people of his day, Look, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of you. I think we need to recognize that Jesus isn’t intimidated by today’s cultural trends, nor is he asking us to go and shout loudly against all those folks out there. He’s actually asking us to go and call out for those folks out there and to welcome them in. I think that’s the posture that we need for our kids to have. We don’t need to be afraid of anything other than stopping following Jesus. That’s the only thing we really need to be afraid of for ourselves. We don’t need to be afraid of the big, bad world out there. That’s the world for which Jesus came to die, and so we need to humbly recognize, as Paul did, that we are the foremost of sinners, that Jesus came into the world to save people as bad as us, and to have that humble posture as we go out into the world and invite others to find their hope in him.


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