Josh McDowell is a noted apologist, lecturer, author and co-author of more than sixty books, and host to his own nationally broadcast radio program. His best-selling Evidence That Demands a Verdict volumes have sold more than 8 million copies and have been translated into more than twenty-two languages. He has lectured at more than 700 university and college campuses, reaching more than 7 million students in eighty-four countries. He has recently revised and updated the Evidence volumes.
SBC LIFE How long ago did you write Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and what was your motivation?
McDowell I finished it in 1971, and I've updated it five times since. I set out to write a book against Christianity. I'd met some students and professors in the university that absolutely irritated me because they loved me so much. I asked them what changed their lives, and they said, Jesus Christ. That ticked me off, so I decided to write a book to refute it. In the process, I gradually found my emotions and my attitude shifting. Then one day while I was sitting in a library in London, England, it was just like a voice spoke to me and said, "Josh, you don't have a leg to stand on." From that moment on, tremendous doubts about my agnosticism started to creep in. The Holy Spirit brought me to the point that by the time I returned to the United States I was convinced intellectually that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, that the Bible was reliable, and that it was God's Word.
I struggled. I couldn't sleep. Finally I placed my trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. Within a year and a half my entire life was changed. Then I spent thirteen years doing the opposite, writing a book to show why I believed. That's all recorded in the front of the New Evidence.
SBC LIFE How much new material is in the New Evidence?
McDowell Probably 40 to 45 percent of it is new. The problem was there was so much new evidence I had to prune the old evidence and re-context it.
SBC LIFE What are some of the examples of the new evidences that emerge in this book?
McDowell Some of the new evidence is not so much historical, as philosophical. I felt I had to add a whole section on truth. When I first wrote Evidence that wasn't even an issue. Today it is because almost everyone looks at truth as personal perspective. If you do that, you gut Christianity. That's probably the freshest information in there. But there's also the manuscript material. When you check out any historical document to see if it's historically accurate, reliable, and has been transmitted faithfully, you have to check the existing number of manuscripts. The rule of thumb is, the more manuscripts you have, the easier it is to reconstruct the autographa, the original, and check out any errors or discrepancies. In secular literature, for example, take Thucidites. Many people consider him one of the most accurate historians of antiquity, but there are only eight manuscripts of all of his works. Everything else has been lost. With Herodotus, a fifth century B.C. Greek historian, we only have eight manuscripts. We only have forty-nine of Aristotle's Poetics. With Caesar's commentary on the Gallic Wars, we have only twenty manuscripts. But with the new evidence, I can document about 27,000 copies of New Testament manuscripts. It is phenomenal! Most people don't even know they exist. The second largest number of manuscripts in all of history is the Iliad by Homer, with 643.
Furthermore, you could take every Bible and manuscript in the world and destroy it, and with material from within 200 to 250 years of Christ, closer than anyone else in history, I can reconstruct all but eleven verses of the entire New Testament without any manuscripts, transcripts, or Bibles. When the early church fathers and scholars gave talks and wrote, they quoted Scripture. I was able to document 89,000 quotations of just the New Testament in the early church fathers. With those you can reconstruct all but eleven verses.
SBC LIFE How do you answer the anti-scholastic Christian who says, "I don't believe in apologetics. We just need to walk by faith?"
McDowell I deal with that right in the introduction. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth," not "Ignore it." He didn't say, "You shall depend on your feelings, and your feelings will set you free." He said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." The Bible also says, "Study to show yourself approved unto God." It's critical to understand that no one is saved by faith. That's one of the greatest heresies taught today. If you could be saved by faith, you wouldn't need Jesus. All you'd have to do is build up your faith, and you'd be saved. We're saved by grace through faith in Jesus. If you remove Christ, your faith is in vain.
Most people today think you're saved by faith because today's post-modern culture teaches that your faith, or your belief, creates the truth. For example, I held up the Bible and asked one student, "Do you believe this is the Word of God?"
"Do you believe it's true?"
"Do you believe it's historically accurate and reliable?"
And I asked, "Why?" Not one person in five years has answered that question correctly. The next morning he came to me while I was with about fifteen youth pastors and sponsors, and he yelled out, "I know the answer!"
I said, "What's the question?"
"Why is the Bible true?" I got all excited. I thought, finally after five years somebody's sat down and thought it through. He said, "Because I believe."
I said, "Come again."
He said, "Because I believe."
I said, "It's true because you believe?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "Well is it true for your friends at school?"
"Well no, not unless they believe."
And I said, "The difference between you and me is, to you it's true because you believe it. To me, I believe it because it's true." He had beliefs. I have convictions.
That's where culture is today. Faith creates.
SBC LIFE That leads us to the matter of post-modernism. Why did you include that?
McDowell It's one of the reasons why I had to rewrite Evidence that Demands a Verdict. It was becoming obsolete. The evidence is still evidence and true, but our culture has shifted from modernism, which says the mind can discover truth apart from yourself, to post-modernism, which says there is no truth apart from yourself – your emotions and perspective create truth. Post-modernism permeates every segment of culture today.
Post-modernism leads to phrases like, "Look, you need to determine what is right for you and what is wrong for you, but don't you impose your values on me. You need to give me the freedom to determine what is right for me and what is wrong for me, and let me live it out unhindered." Or if you suggest Jesus is the truth, a post-modernist, will sincerely respond, "Oh, that's wonderful for you! If that's true for you, that's great, but it's not true for me."
I also had to include a section on mysticism because once you deny objective truth then the next logical step is mysticism. The inner self, feelings, you become the determinant of truth. You see this with our young people today. The average high school and college students will consider the smorgasbord of religions and say, "Well, I look at all the different religions and take out what I like."
SBC LIFE Are there good features in post-modernism that will improve the mental landscape or the psychic landscape for Christian thinkers?
McDowell I think there are. First of all, it poses a challenge that will bring many young thinkers to the forefront. Post-modernism is very specific about how our perception determines reality. And it's healthy to think that through and to realize that perception changes but truth remains the same. Also, post-modernism can help heighten the church's awareness of human emotions. If there's one thing that we have not studied in the evangelical world, it's human emotions. I think this will force many people to do that, and that could be very healthy.
SBC LIFE What has happened in the church since you first wrote Evidence That Demands a Verdict? What is the state of Christianity in America in your opinion?
McDowell We've created two generations, parents and youth, who have beliefs. For the most part many of their beliefs are accurate, but they don't have convictions. The difference is this: a belief becomes a conviction when you can logically think it through to the conclusion of why you believe it. Until you can do that, you only have beliefs. The Bible is quite clear, "Be ready always to give an answer for the hope (or the belief) that is in you." I would say 98 percent of believers today cannot do that, and the Christian church and message is being attacked with diversity, inclusion, and tolerance more than ever before.
SBC LIFE Josh, if the Lord tarries, what developments do you anticipate in coming days regarding this hostility that is growing? Do you expect this to stay on the trend line?
McDowell We haven't even begun to see anything yet. Already the Christian, especially the evangelical, has become the heretic in society. Pretty soon you're really going to see a clamp down. You will see a stronger emphasis, not on freedom of religion, but freedom from religion, from religious propaganda. Already you're seeing Christians more than anyone else in culture labeled as bigots because the new definition of bigot is anyone who believes in a moral hierarchy. We're guilty because we believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and life. We're just beginning to see the negativism of culture coming down on us. My fear is we won't endure, but I'm going to do everything I can to reverse that.
SBC LIFE What would you say to a pastor who has an hour or two hours a week with people? If you could say, "Preachers, do this and you will change your people's lives," what would you say?
McDowell I would say, "Do everything you can to work on your relationship with your wife, and to spend time with your children." If a pastor does not do that, he's going to bomb out in the ministry. And then I would tell him to look at every truth in the context of relationships. Ask how this truth impacts a person's relationship with God? With Jesus? With his wife? With his children? With her husband? With the lost? With the church? Everything, all truth. When a pastor starts to do that, he will see results.
SBC LIFE What are the main challenges or issues that we have not discussed for our society and for Christianity in America?
McDowell First, I would say parenting. Research shows that kids learn spirituality not in church, not in the youth group, not from the youth pastor or the pastor, but from mom and dad. I am convinced the number one responsibility of the youth worker is to help parents to relate to their own kids. We've ignored that. We're just getting ready to launch a tour called, The Disconnected Generation: How to Save Your Children from Destruction, and it's to help parents, especially fathers, to emotionally connect with their children. You could almost call this generation "The Disconnected Generation." So parenting is certainly a key issue.
Secondly, we have separated truth from relationships. In the '20s and '30s, during the old liberal debate, the liberals went south with relationships and the evangelicals went north with truth. We separated truth from the context of relationships. We need a big marriage now. We've got to bring relationships and truth back together again, which is biblical. That's difficult to do because the moment you start talking about it, people call you a liberal. But I think that's probably the second biggest challenge in the church today.