Rebecca McLaughlin, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) About Christianity (Crossway, 2021)
I’m convinced that having the freedom to ask questions and explore tricky topics is vitally important to maintaining a strong faith. I’ve observed this among my peers. Many people in my generation who came to faith as children or young teenagers have since turned away from Christianity, or at least biblical Christianity, and questions have often been central to their journey. Many report that they weren’t encouraged to or even allowed to question anything about Christianity when they were younger, with the result being that when they grew up and became aware of the many questions that could be asked, their faith was shaken and they felt unable to work through those questions. Contrary to what we might often assume, helping young people to wrestle with big questions protects and strengthens their faith.
Helping young people to wrestle with big questions protects and strengthens their faith.
That’s why I was so excited to see the publication of Rebecca McLaughlin’s 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity. Like me, Rebecca recognises the importance of helping young people to question well: ‘Rather than protecting kids from divergent ideas, or urging them to affirm all beliefs equally, I want to equip them to have real conversations with real people who really think differently from them – and from me’ (p.16). And in this book, Rebecca offers this equipping on 10 key areas, covering within them a diverse range of topics including truth, morality, science, suffering, racism, abortion, sex, gender, and even the health benefits of the Christian life.
Rebecca writes with an incredible clarity, making great use of illustrations and real-life stories. There is also a lovely warmth to the way she writes – this isn’t a stuffy lecturer talking to their students with an air of superiority; this is a friend, sitting alongside, helping us to learn and explore. The book is pitched at pre-teens and teens, and I’m sure it would be of huge benefit to that audience, but it was also a really helpful and enjoyable read for this university-educated 30-year-old!
On sex and gender
10 Questions does a great job of handling two of the most difficult topics for young people today – sex and gender. Both chapters are impressive for the amount of ground they cover, without being too long or complex.
The chapter on sex and relationships covers the purpose of sex, same-sex relationships, singleness, friendship, pornography and more. Rebecca makes great use of her own story and the stories of some of her friends and does a great job of showing both the reasons for the Bible’s teaching and its plausibility.
The chapter on gender discusses feminism, women and Christianity, transgender experience, and what it means to be man or a woman. Rebecca is unflinching in outlining biblical truth, but mixes this with a wonderful pastoral sensitivity. At times I felt the handling of transgender was a little too simplistic – particularly as we know that trans-identification among teens is a complex matter, often likely to have many contributing factors which aren’t mentioned in the chapter. But, that may be an unfair criticism – it is still an excellent, accessible treatment on the topic. A great 101 for anyone, including teenagers.
A teenager's opinion
That’s my opinion. But I’m not the target audience. What do teenagers make of this book? I asked one teenager who had recently read the book to share her thoughts. Here’s what she said:
‘I started reading this book after a friend from school became interested in my personal opinions and Christian beliefs about sexuality. This book was recommended to me, and I found it very helpful. The chapter on sexuality gave the issue some context and frequently linked the ideas of sexuality to Jesus, the Bible and the Church in a way which was very helpful and was something I had been struggling to do when talking to my friend at school. This meant the book gave a broader sense of what Christianity is about whilst also addressing and answering many questions which both my friend and I had around what the Bible says about sexuality.
‘In chapter 7, ‘Why can’t we just agree that love is love?’, the book explored the idea that different types of love we see around us (such as parental love, romantic/sexual love and love between friends) act as windows into God’s love for us. It explained how God’s love could be greater than any love a parent could give us, how the relationship between a man and a woman in marriage provides a window into the relationship between God and the Church, and how God has given us amazing love between friends which is a window into how Jesus performed the greatest act of love that anyone could – laying down his life for us, even before we were his friends.
‘My friend really struggled with the idea that someone could happily live a life without any form of romantic relationship and how they could be happy whilst having to constantly repress any romantic or sexual desires they had because of what the Bible said. While this chapter didn’t allow her to understand fully, it did help her to understand a little better how someone could happily live this way because of the other relationships they could have and because God’s love surpasses any human love. It also explained to her a bit more the reasoning behind the idea that romantic and sexual relationships should only be between a man and a woman. The chapter showed that this isn’t just a rule made for the sake of it but because it is a window into God’s love and a picture which shows us more about him.’
Using this book
10 Questions would be a great book to give a teenager you know. It’s a book they could read on their own or a book you could both read and then discuss together. It would also be a great basis for a series of youth group talks or discussions.
Asking questions is so important, and this book is a great resource for both asking and answering some of the most important questions we all face.