Josh McDowell I
Bill Long 7/5/08
The Evangelist Who Demands a Verdict..
Every once in a while I open mental files from my past and spend an hour musing on how specific memories help define me in some small way. After examining them, I often write about them before carefully placing them back in my special places. Even if the memories aren't good or nurturing, they have contributed to making me who I am, and so I treasure them.
I am not at all sure what prompted me to return in my mind to Josh McDowell (1939- ), an evangelist and apologist with whom I crossed paths in my Evangelical days as an undergraduate student in the early 1970s. It may have been prompted by a conversation I had last night with two acquaintances, one of whom had been severely scarred by his religious upbringing. In any case, Josh McDowell was on my mind as I got up this a.m.
Meeting Josh--First Impressions
I became an Evangelical Christian late in the 1960s when I was a high school student in the SF Bay Area. I took my faith with me to college in 1970 at Brown University (Providence, RI), not realizing how out-of-place a CA Evangelical devotion would be in the heart of a liberal Ivy League university. But the few of us at Brown who were of like mind banded together and by the end of school year 1970-71 had asked Campus Crusade for Christ for staff help in getting a CCC chapter going at Brown. There was perhaps no more infelicitous marriage in recent religious history than Campus Crusade ("CCC"--an anti-intellectual, pro-jock and cheerleader, simple-minded evangelistic organization) and Brown University (a heady, liberal, 1/3 Jewish, politically-charged campus) in those days, but I was oblivous to the niceties of this kind of conflict because I felt at the time that God was strong enough to overcome all human obstacles in our path. Through my connection to CCC, starting in Fall 1971, I began to attend their events, use their literature and, most of all, hear their speakers.
On one occasion I heard Josh McDowell. He was touted to me as a sort of roving CCC "star," a person who roamed the world for Christ, giving compelling talks that led hundreds of smitten hearers to give up their intellectual doubts and come to Christ. It never struck me a little strange that an anti-intellectual movement would fall in love with this guy as an intellectual "star," a guy who only had a B.A. from a Christian University and a divinity degree from a Fundamentalist seminary in CA. I think I just wanted to buy into their program, and so I eagerly went along to hear Josh.
I met Josh, as I recall, at a Fall conference in New England in 1971. He burst onto the stage, telling us in joyful terms of his new wife Dottie (who dutifully stood when mentioned) and of his new writing efforts (I think he had just come out with the first edition of Evidence that Demands a Verdict). I could tell that he was used to mesmerizing audiences, as his quick delivery, alternating sardonic and earnest style, and humor quickly brought most people under his sway. I, too, wanted to go along, but he said two things that made me a little reluctant, even in my "ga-ga" phase, to buy into this guy.
First, he talked about Biblical criticism, known at the time as "higher criticism," and explicitly demeaned scholars in the field (mostly "liberals") as being "men on the periphery." I still remember him drawing a sort of circle with his arms, as if he was trying to show where the periphery was. I was just in the process of exploring religious studies as a major, and I was quite struck by the seriousness with which Biblical scholars took their work, even if I didn't understand what I thought was the "extreme Germanness" of it all. So, this bothered me a bit. Then, as he went on, he talked about "moral problems" that people have with Christian faith, and he uttered a line that also stuck with me. He said that almost everyone he met who claimed to have intellectual difficulties with Christianity really had some kind of secret undealt-with moral problem. Though I was still untutored in rhetoric and making winning arguments, it seemed to me that this was a sort of ad hominem abusive argument: you attack your opponent not because of his/her ideas, but because s/he must be hiding something and does not, in fact, have real intellectual difficulties with faith. If I had adopted his approach, I would have returned to my Jewish friends at Brown and secretly thought that all their yarmulkes and holidays/festivals and their attempt to take their religion seriously was indicative of some deep "moral problem" that they had. Maybe they just didn't find Chrisitanity that convincing....
I approached Josh after the talk, and tried to engage him on the point about biblical criticism. I was a novice at the time, and certainly couldn't compete with his seemingly dazzling display of facts and figures. I asked him about my professor's published interpretation of the Lucan birth narrative, and he dismissed it pretty out-of-hand, without giving either me or my professor the kind of hearing that I thought should be accorded. I wasn't necessarily put off by his nonchalance; I guess I felt that the great man (only in his early 30s at the time) had given me good answers and that I needed to think about what he said.
Doubts Grow About Josh
After the talk I was suprised to see one of the student leaders from CCC get on the stage. Josh had left, and this leader wanted to make an announcement. He was the perfect kind of person for a CCC leadership role--the quarterback of the football team at Boston University, a rah-rah handsome guy, a faithful "team" member with the CCC staff, etc. Sam was his name. Sam he was. Sam had an urgent announcement to make. It seemed that Josh was short of money. This was not money to pay for his trip to the conference but was money to live his life. Josh, Sam told us, wasn't always good at balancing his checkbook. We could understand, couldn't we? A sea of nodding heads emboldened Sam to continue. Could we give some money to help Josh out with his debts?, Sam wanted to know. Collection plates were passed around the vast auditorium as students opened their wallets and contributed to retiring Josh's debts. Make their newlywed experience more happy, I guess.
I thought this was unusual, but I still was going to suspend judgment. After all, people get into difficulty. But the thought did flash through my 19 year-old mind that if he was so valuable to CCC, why was he in such difficulty?
My next (and last) essay talks about how my doubts further grew about Josh.