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Josh McDowell: Making the Bible Come Alive for Contemporary Culture

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

In December 2013, well-known evangelist Josh McDowell assembled a group of nearly 300 international scholars to identify rare 2,000 year-old Egyptian artifacts that he had acquired.  His hope was to find fragments of ancient Scriptural writings that would help him to offer the Church and skeptics more tangible facts to prove the authenticity of the Bible.

This all-star team of scholars concluded that at least six of the manuscripts McDowell had procured were likely the earliest known Coptic papyrus of key passages from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as portions of Galatians and Jeremiah.

From these findings, McDowell has written God Breathed: The Undeniable Power and Reliability of Scripture. In it, the veteran apologist seeks to convince people that they can trust the Bible and the evidence for its authenticity is undeniable.

I recently sat down with McDowell to discuss his findings, peruse through some of the artifacts he made available to me, and how people of faith can make the Scriptures come alive for contemporary culture.

You have now written 149 books over a 50-year span.  For your latest you could have written about anything but you chose to take an archeological pursuit.  What was the catalyst for you to write God Breathed?

When I set out to write my first book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict against Christianity, I knew I had to refute the manuscripts and the scrolls.  I set out to say that they weren’t reliable, they weren’t accurate. So I traveled throughout the United States, England, Germany, France, Switzerland and the Middle East to do that, and I went back through England on the way home, and I was sitting in a library and I just said, “It’s true. It’s true.” I ended up coming to Christ. So I prayed that someday I could have artifacts like the ones that I saw that God used to show me the truth, that I could use them to show others the truth of God’s Word, that it’s historically accurate and reliable. So about four and a half years ago, that prayer came to fruition. Considering where the culture is today, the millennials and younger are looking for something they can put their hands on, something physical that’s solid. So, I was able to broker for a number of incredible artifacts. And it was a crapshoot. When I bought these I didn’t know if there was anything in them or not.  Fortunately, I did have something.

So what I wanted to do was take these artifacts and bridge it to the heart in relationships. How do these affect your life, the truth of these manuscript scrolls, everything? And so I said I want to write a book that will take these artifacts and bridge these principles into where you live in real life. And you know, it’s working.

In preparing to do this interview I discovered that you are calling this book your most convincing apologetic message that you have ever put together. This is 50 years of ministry we are talking about.  Why do you think this, Josh?

Because—I’ve done this my whole life, but I had never done it so focused as in God Breathed. All truth was given for relationships, all truth. The relationship with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the husband and the wife, the wife and the husband, parents with their children, children with their parents, with the lost, the believers, everything. And so this is kind of the pinnacle of all my work brought together and how it affects relationships, how it affects how you live, because I think this book almost more than anything will help parents pass their faith onto their children in the culture of the 21st century.

You have said publicly that the Internet will play a very large role in spreading the message of Jesus Christ in coming years.  Yet, you have just written a book that keys in on the importance of ancient scrolls.  This polarity in your message is quite fascinating.

Well, it is, and that’s why this book is able to bridge that. But truth is given for relationships, and that’s what I’ve done in God-Breathed.

Building off of this, a recent study indicates the number of people who believe the Bible is “just another book” has nearly doubled in the last three years from 10 to 20 percent.  Why do you think that is?

I think one of the biggest reasons is because of lack of knowledge. Believers are not making it known. You see, we teach what you need to believe. We’re so pure on “you’ve got to believe this and this, and you’ve got to be pre, post, middle, millennium, blah, blah, blah.” But we don’t teach why. And what we have right now is an entire generation all over the world of believers who have a belief system but they don’t have convictions. I can almost never find a believer who can give me an intelligent reason of why they believe the Bible’s true.  This includes pastors. That won’t survive in the 21st century, not with the Internet that is taking these intricate issues of faith all the way down to 9, 10, 11 year olds. We have got to raise children with convictions now, and we’re not. With a belief, you know what you believe. With a conviction you know what you believe, you know why you believe it, and third, you experience it. If you don’t experience it then it’s not a conviction. If 74% of evangelical Christians can say the only way you know something’s true: if it works; and we failed to do that. And what my goal is in starting with this book and the way I use the artifacts, when I speak around the country is to start getting people to understand why do I believe the Bible’s true.  When people are challenged they give some of the most superficial answers and people reject them.  But now, through the Internet, they know the questions to ask, but Christians don’t know the answers to give.

Based on what you just said, how can we make the Bible come alive for contemporary culture?

Very simple: you’ve got to live it. I don’t care how much you teach truth, I don’t care how well you preach it or anything else. If you don’t live it and model it, they will not believe it and they shouldn’t. If they don’t see it they don’t believe it. You see, the older generation, 35 and older, truth is objective and it’s external. You discover truth. For those about 35 and under you don’t discover truth, you create truth. All truth is perspective of personal opinion. The adult culture will say, well, if it’s true, it will work. That’s ridiculous to the youth culture. The youth culture right in the church says, “If it works it is true.” And how is this played out? Say, hypocrisy. Let’s say a church leader makes a decision and commits sexual immorality—and don’t let anyone off the hook, you make a decision to do it. It’s usually the result of a lot of small decisions that leads to it. The adults will say he’s not living the truth. Why? Because if it’s true it will work. Is the problem with truth? No, they’re not living it. A young person doesn’t look at it that way, not all of them. But the majority will look at it this way: it’s not true. What? Whatever the pastor preaches. Why? It doesn’t work. It’s a whole different culture, and this is why the number-one thing is you need to live it. And I will put it this way: you’ve got to make your life make people thirsty for the truth.

These artifacts that you have acquired date back to around 300 A.D.  They consist of scrolls, manuscripts, and a few archaeological objects.  Conversely, you have had a team of 274 different experts examine them to determine that they are indeed authentic.  With that said, based on what you have found what do you believe to be the true purpose of the Bible?

In Exodus 3:14 it says “His name is jealous,” and a lot of people say I can’t serve a jealous God, but what it is saying there, He’s saying He’s a jealous God because He does not want to share you with anyone else. He desires a relationship, that’s what it’s saying. The purpose of God in the Scriptures is that we might know Him and have a relationship with Him, from Genesis to Revelation, that we might know Him with confidence. You say, well, I take it by faith, but in the Scriptures faith is an intelligent faith. 2 Timothy 2:15: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” John 8:32: “You should know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It’s an intelligent faith, and what I’ve been trying to do my whole life is to help nonbelievers come to understand that Christianity is an intelligent faith and help believers as much to understand that, because the more they understand that, the more you’re going to understand the Bible.

What’s a good, simple way for people to test the historical reliability of the Bible?

Place your trust in Christ and then by faith, through the Holy Spirit, live out the dictates of Scripture and see what happens.  The other is this: compare it with any other literature of integrity. The more I do that the more I come out with greater conviction, respect for the Scriptures, whether it is the Old Testament or the New Testament.

As an author, what’s your greatest hope for God Breathed? What would you like to see happen after people read this book?

I would like to see a significant number of people and pastors coming to understand the “whys” of their faith, not just the “what.” Why is it true, how do you know it’s true? That is one of my desires. And this is just one of a number of ways we’re approaching this. We’ve got to. With the Internet we can no longer get away with just teaching our beliefs, we’ve got to teach convictions. My gift to the Church is to help pastors, lay leaders, parents, mom, dad, Sunday school teachers, youth pastors to teach the truth of Scriptures in the light of convictions: why do you believe it’s true.

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