By James Bishop| Josh McDowell, a former skeptic of Christianity, is a well-known Christian apologist, evangelist, and writer. He is also a dedicated author having penned some 115 books with the most well-known one being Evidence That Demands a Verdict (1). He has also written other books on presenting reasons for belief in Jesus and God including More Than a Carpenter, A Ready Defense and Right from Wrong.
He also has his own ministry in Plano, Texas, that employs a staff of 75 people with affiliate offices located throughout the USA. He has traveled across the USA to give presentations and talks on apologetics. He has also visited other countries including my own, South Africa, and Australia.
While at college McDowell was not a believer in Christianity or any religion, and in fact was rather skeptical of religious belief (2). At that time he decided to write a paper that would examine the historical evidence of the Christian faith in order to disprove it. The motivation for this was that he was challenged by a group of on campus Christians, of whom had become friends, to examine the Christian religion:
“They challenged me to make rigorous, intellectual examinations of the claims of Jesus Christ – that He is God’s Son; that He inhabited a human body and lived among real men and women; that He died on the cross for the sins of humanity; that He was buried and was resurrected three days later; and that He is still alive and can change a person’s life even today.”
So, quite confident in his skepticism McDowell accepted their challenge but “mostly out of spite to prove them wrong. I was convinced the Christian story would not stand up to evidence. I was a prelaw student, and I knew something about evidence. I decided to start with the Bible. I knew that if I could uncover indisputable evidence that the Bible is an unreliable record, the whole of Christianity would crumble.”
In truth he viewed Christianity for “unthinking weaklings, not for intellectuals,” and surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to knock down intellectually.
McDowell took the challenge very seriously and spent months in research, “I even dropped out of school for a time to study in the historically rich libraries of Europe.” And that was when he witnessed the evidence in favour of Christianity rather than against it, “I found evidence. Evidence in abundance. Evidence I would not have believed with my own eyes. Finally I could come to only one conclusion:
If I were to remain intellectually honest, I had to admit that the Old and New Testament documents were some of the most reliable writings in all of antiquity.
And if they were reliable, what about this man Jesus, whom I had dismissed as a mere carpenter?” He thus had to “admit that Jesus Christ was more than a carpenter. He was all He claimed to be.”
Penny Woods of Josh McDowell Ministry fills us in some more (3). She says that McDowell was “looking for meaning and purpose in life. He had tried religion when he was young but could not find the answers he was searching for. What he did not know until he was in college was that it is a relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than religion, which gives meaning and purpose to life…. [he] set out to prove Christianity false.
Instead of being able to do that, he came to the following three conclusions: Jesus Christ was who He said He was, there is historic evidence for the reliability of Scripture, and the Resurrection of Christ took place.”
But even though McDowell realized that Jesus must have been who he said he was (the divine Son of God), and that he was historically resurrected from the dead as a demonstrative act of God, he did not immediately become a Christian. Rather it took him some time to make this life changing transition,
“You would think that after examining the evidence, I would have immediately jumped on board and become a Christian. But in spite of the abundant evidence, I felt a strong reluctance to make the plunge. My mind was convinced of the truth. I had to admit that Jesus Christ must be exactly who He claimed to be.”
Thus, McDowell identifies two major reasons for this lack of commitment: “pleasure and pride.” He felt that becoming a Christian meant he would have to give up the “good life.” He also felt embarrassed to admit, especially to his friends, that he had been wrong in his skepticism for all those years. However, in those weeks he experienced a good deal of inner conflict, “I was a walking battlefield. My mind was telling me that Christianity was true, but my will was resisting it with all the energy it could muster.”
McDowell struggled with these thoughts for several longs months and converted a year later. If one were to ask him how he became a Christian, especially outside of the realm of the evidence for the resurrection, he would highlight the dramatic transformation in his personal life,
“It is this transformation that assures me of the validity of my conversion. That night I prayed four things to establish a relationship with the resurrected, living Christ, and I am grateful that this prayer has been answered… The change was not immediate, but it was real. In six to eighteen months, my life was changed. One change was relief from my restlessness. Another area that began to change was my bad temper. Finding my faith in Christ has been a process, beginning with hard-nosed research and growing into the experience of a changed life.”
Speaking for myself, I really like this story. For one, I think it takes the wind out of the sails for those who believe and promote the notion that evidence and reason points against mere Christianity. If that were so we wouldn’t find so many educated skeptics coming to faith, but we find that many do (I’ve reviewed over four dozen so far with more tom come).
However, although I have read some of McDowell’s work, and do find myself disagreeing with some of his interpretation of the Bible, I am hugely grateful to him for where I find myself now. The first book I ever read on apologetics was one of his own, The Evidence for the Resurrection, that I purchased from a little hidden away Christian bookstore just down the road from my university campus in Cape Town.
That book, as simple as it now seems to me (after all, it was a book geared towards beginners and seekers as I myself was at the time – it didn’t go deep into historical criteria and matters of philosophy), stands in as a major why I am a Christian.