Book Review: The Secular Creed – Engaging Five Contemporary Claims

Written by Rebecca McLaughlin

Review by Susan Geddes

In this slim, 107 pages, book, Rebecca McLaughlin tackles head on five contemporary claims that challenge us as Christian believers today.  Every generation has its “hot potato” issues and the culture wars that rage around us now can feel particularly challenging, striking as they do at how we interact with the people we live alongside and their priorities and beliefs around identity and sexuality but also their passion for justice and equality. 

Rebecca disentangles this complex and contradictory set of beliefs – a “secular creed” centred on diversity, equality, and personal freedom – and she does so with both confidence and grace, teasing out the elements we cannot endorse from those that call us to love as Christ did, always pointing towards Jesus and His sacrificial love.  Reading this book has given me renewed conviction, compassion and hope.

We are all familiar with the mantras and statements of belief: “Black lives matter”; “Love is love”; “The gay rights movement is the new civil rights movement”; “Women’s rights are human rights”; “Transgender women are women” (these are chapter titles in the book.)  It can appear that these statements (and other new ones are regularly emerging) are inextricably linked and that we face an all or nothing choice between “smug conservatism and acquiescent liberalism” (John Dickson), while feeling that a watching world views us as uncaring, hateful and out of touch.  Or perhaps we are simply perplexed by those issues which seem so important to people and which we do not really know how to answer in a way that honours God while still valuing and accepting people.  Rebecca shows us another way – a higher and harder calling than that of the culture.

This book, although slim, is a complete resource on the subject; it has been described as “a discipleship book, not just an apologetics book” (Christine Caine.)  In a sense, the “heavy lifting” of thinking through the issues has been done for us. There is a balance of solid biblical framework and understanding of the culture and of history, as well as people’s own stories; she is also uniquely qualified by her personal story and experiences to speak into the issues. 

She points out first that

"the tangling of ideas in the secular creed has been driven not only by sin in the world out there, but also by sin in the church in here."

Christians have often failed to live up to biblical standards of fellowship across racial divides, to work for equality between men and women and care for the vulnerable. Yet the moral beliefs underneath this creed have come through Christianity – it is Jesus who broke down every racial and cultural barrier and it is in the early church that we see the Greco-Roman culture turned on its head: “our basic moral beliefs about human equality came to us from Christianity, but … they have been deliberately rebranded as secular” (Tom Holland, Dominion). 

When a post second world war declaration of universal human rights was being established, she explains, it had to work in different cultures including those where Christianity was not dominant, and so the spiritual element was abandoned.  Without Christianity however, there is no moral foundation.

One particularly striking point for me is in the chapter “Love is love”, where Rebecca describes the image of marriage as a signpost.  Marriage is the original diversity and new life is created across this difference, but that is not the end of the story, only the beginning.  She uses the imagery of photographic “negatives” to explain how:

“Too often, when Christians look at what the Bible has to say about sexuality, we only see the negatives. We see the sexual boundaries we can’t cross, and we clutch the little monochrome of human marriage to our hearts as if it were the ultimate thing. We miss that in the Bible this tiny negative is developed into a stunning, wall-sized print”

Jesus is the bridegroom, come to win His people back, and 

“the cross is the dark room in which the image is developed.”

Marriage between a man and a woman points us to the wonderful picture Christ and His church.  But it is not the only picture of God’s love for us: the church is a family knit together in love and in this wider family there is precious and deep love for all – regardless of age, marital status or attraction.  

Many tough questions are embraced; What about intersex people?  How do we handle the outworking of practical discipleship when a same sex couple, already married with children, come to Christ?  Why does Christianity seem to subjugate women?  What about choice, when a woman’s life is at risk?   Does the Bible speak today to those who are confused about gender?  Every question I have ever heard is addressed, as well as some I hadn’t. 

The final chapter is poignantly entitled “a call to loving arms”. Engaging with the prevailing culture can feel like a battle, but the beautiful double meaning here sets our course and priorities.  We must repent of where we have stayed silent over racial injustice; how we have been guilty of homophobia and distrust of same-sex attracted believers; where we have not followed Jesus’ example in His treatment of women; when we have not tried to understand people who are genuinely confused over gender.  So, although the Black Lives Matter organisation comes as a package deal alongside LGBT+ identity, we can still affirm that “black lives matter” because they matter to Jesus.  We can speak up for women’s rights while valuing unborn lives.  We will view people who feel alienated from their sex with compassion and the “hope of a new reality.” (p.103)

All this can feel like a step backwards and perhaps even a distraction to preaching the Gospel.  But Jesus calls us to make disciples, and as people who have trusted Him for salvation we must walk in His ways, which also means seeking justice for the poor and marginalised:

This action may not always be received as love. God's rule over our lives is heresy to modern, self-determining ears. But we must speak the truth with tenderness and not let our sin take the wheel.

The weapon we have in all of this is love – Jesus’ eternal, sacrificial and unwavering love.

Photo by Alexandra Fuller on Unsplash

Article published October 28th 2022