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Josh McDowell: The Truth of the Bible Doesn’t Change But Its Critics Do

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Since its initial release in 1972, evangelist Josh McDowell’s watershed book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, has sold more than one million copies and has been translated into 42 different languages.  Subsequently, it was named one of the 13 most influential books of the last 50 years on Christian thought by World Magazine.  Needless to say, this is a book with staying power.

Encouraged and strengthened by the faith of millions around the world who have read it, McDowell has teamed up with his son, Dr. Sean McDowell to craft an updated and expanded version of Evidence That Demands a Verdict for the next generation.

I recently spoke with the venerable and always affable McDowell to discuss why Evidence That Demands a Verdict has stood the test of time, how our culture has shifted since the original publication of the book, and new evidence to support the Resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Josh, let’s roll the clock back.  Why did you write Evidence in the first place?

Well, actually I set out to write the book to rebuke Christianity. When I went to the college, I was bitterI was madI was hurt. My father was a town drunk, and that brings a lot of shame to a family. And when he literally wasn’t trying to kill my mother, I was trying to kill him. And then from six to 13 years of age, every single week I was (sexually molested) by a man (who worked on our farm). And my parents wouldn’t stop it;, they just wouldn’t believe it. That just about eradicated any significance in my life. So, when I went to a university I was hurt., I was mad. And I saw this group of eight students and two professors whose lives were really different. So I asked them one day. ‘Why are you so different than the other students, the leaders, the professors?’ This one young lady looked at me and just said two words: “Jesus Christ.”  I said, “Oh, for God sakes, please don’t give me that garbage,” and I lit into them. Then they challenged me to intellectually examine the Bible as being true, and reliable, and Jesus Christ being the Messiah, the Son of God. I thought that it was all a joke, but they made me so mad. What they were doing was right. I was the problem. I said, “Okay, I’ll accept your challenge, but I’m not going to do it to prove anything. I’m going to do it to refute you,” and so I set out to write Evidence That Demands a Verdict against the Christian faith and spent a lot of money travelling through England, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Middle East gathering evidence. And I returned to London overnight before flying back to Michigan. I sat there in a museum library, and I just said, “It’s true,” and it ended up bringing me to Christ. So instead of refuting it, I ended up spending 13 years documenting why it’s true. That’s how Evidence came into being.

A lot has changed culturally since this book was originally published 45 years ago.  I’m sure many questions in Evidence are addressed differently than they were in the early 1970s. How has our culture changed and shifted? 

There have been other editions but this one is a complete rewrite. It’s 70% different. We did this for two reasons: One, you struck on it, the questions being asked now, many of them are different than the questions I was asked years ago, because truth never changes, but it’s critics do. I felt we had to do a complete rewrite to be able to address relevant questions today. For example, we have an entire chapter on truth. What is truth? Can you know truth? Is truth objective? Thirty-five years ago that wasn’t a question. Today it’s a huge question. We deal with another chapter that deals with intellectual skepticism.  You might ask why would you do that? Because of the Internet. With the incredible abundance of data flowing, instead of adding to a certainty, it’s added to a tremendous skepticism. How do you know that it’s true? There’s so much out there. Tomorrow they could find something else. So I felt we had to deal with that cultural issue to make evidence reliable. And then the chapter that’s worth the entire book. Is Christianity a copycat religion? One of the biggest accusations about Christians today is that there’s nothing unique about Christianity; it was taken from other religions, the Greek Gods, the Roman God’s, everything else. You hear that December 25th was borrowed, and Easter was borrowed. I determined that we had to answer that specifically with solid documentation, and we did. We actually showed that it was the other religions that were copycats, not Christianity. That’s why we have a new book. Plus, there’s so much new evidence.

You have been using the word “we” in our conversation.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that for the update of Evidence, your son Sean collaborated on the book.  What was the experience of collaborating with him like?

First of all, I had him collaborate with me because he’s so smart. I stand in awe of him. They used to introduce Sean as Josh McDowell’s son, now they introduce Sean – “His dad is Josh McDowell,” which I love. But seriously, I needed two generations, and I needed someone brilliant in apologetics -- which he has his PhD in.  I could not have come up with the book that we have today without him. I just couldn’t have. Plus, we had 16 scholars and 30 graduate students work with us for two years on this. Sean and I wanted people to pick it up the book and say, “I can trust this, and it’s all documented.”  Working with Sean on this was an absolute thrill, to be able to do this with your son and to learn from your son. If I ever thought I knew it all on apologetics, all I have to do is spend an hour with Sean. As long as I do what he says we get along. (laughs)

From your standpoint, what is the number one question people face today in their unwillingness or willingness to believe in God?

The number-one question is probably not so much “is it true?” but “is it good?” Is Christianity good? And they have all heard about the crusades and everything else, but they haven’t heard of the true nutshell of Christianity, the true foundation. They don’t care if it’s true if they don’t think it’s good. If they think it’s good, then they want to know it’s true. That’s why this book is centered on the context of my own personal story. Of having been (sexually molested) for seven years, an alcoholic father, and just feeling like all life was over. I would say that’s probably not the biggest question; it’s the biggest heartfelt need of an individual.

Without a doubt, the number one question in this book relates to not only the historical existence of Jesus but most importantly the details of His resurrection. Is there anything new to report?

(Emphatically) There are so many new secular sources that we document. But what really adds to this influence is the incredible, abundant evidence from the reliability of the New Testament documents where most of our information about the Resurrection comes from. That is what reinforces almost everything on the Resurrection. Also, we have a whole section of the book on eyewitness accounts. The value of eyewitness accounts: why are they so important? Today, almost none of the skeptics or the atheists would doubt the emptiness of the tomb.  We document that. Thirty or 40 years ago every one doubted the emptiness of the tomb. Now they don’t.  And the question is how did it become empty? And we take each side and document what could have happened. There’s two ways: a natural way, where somebody stole his body and took him out, or a supernatural way -- He was raised from the dead by his own power. We go through each one of those.  I will let you figure out which side wins.

Final question for you, after people have read the newly updated Evidence That Demands a Verdict, what is your greatest hope for the book?

Very simple: it is true.
 

For more information on Evidence That Demands a Verdict please visit: ReadEvidence.com

Photo Credit: Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell

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