Josh McDowell II
Bill Long 7/5/08
Returning to Brown
My doubts were temporarily put to rest as I returned to the academic grind back in Providence. I picked up a copy of Josh's Evidence that Demands a Verdict and decided I would try to use it in helping me craft one or two of my papers in the Fall. I recall that a term paper was assigned in my Old Testament introduction class. So, I chose to write an exposition of Genesis 15--an important text about God's covenant with Abraham. In this "first-ever" biblical exposition that I wrote, I saw myself as a cross between a serious scholar trying to examine the meaning of the passage and a defender of the faith against the "bad guys" of higher criticsm. I even went to my professor, Dr. Ernest Frerichs, and talked about how I wanted to do the paper.
There could not have been a more princely professor at the university than Prof. Frerichs. With a doctorate in OT from Boston University in the early 1950s, he had gone on archaeological digs with none other than William Foxwell Albright in Israel and in general seemed "up" on almost every subject of OT studies. But he combined this scholarly approach with a most endearing personal manner. He perceived that I was wrestling with how Christian faith was compatible with biblical criticism, and so he steered me in the direction of some more conservative commentators to see what I would do with them. In fact, some of the commentators he told me about were mentioned in Josh's book.
I was elated and turned out a 25-page paper on a passage of perhaps 10 verses from Gen. 15. The first 10 pages, I recall (I no longer have the paper), were my attempt to "defend" the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. They really were irrelevant pages, though my professor was kind enought to say that though I was slaying these dragons it might have been helpful had I focused more exclusively on the passage I was assigned. I figured, however, that I wanted to adopt a "Josh McDowell-style" of scholarship, which would be half defensive/half offensive, and that was that.
Then, as the Fall semester ended and I took Introduction to NT in the Spring, I turned again to Evidence that Demands a Verdict. This time, however, I didn't like what I saw. Perhaps I was maturing in just one semester of biblical study, but it seemed to me that his book was just a series of quotations, taken mostly out of context from hundreds of books, the purpose of which was to "catch" some scholar saying that something was reliable from the Bible and then put it together with other such comments to make it seem like everything in the Bible reeked with authenticity and accuracy. The more I used Evidence the more it seemed to me as a sort of "Bartlett's Quotations" on theology/apologetics, though without the literary beauty or compelling logic. I laid it to the side, and decided that I really wasn't a fan of Josh McDowell's. I might still listen to his tapes on occasion, but I had a vague feeling that he wasn't going to answer too many of my burning questions.
Returning to Josh in 2008
So, I left Josh aside for more than 35 years, while he was happily married to Dottie, producing four children (one website says "several"), and transforming lives all over the globe. Just today, I returned to him. It is funny for me that when I return to someone after that length of time, I immediately recognize what is "up." At age 19-20 I was blissfully unaware of the texts and subtexts of his message, thinking only that "God was blessing" him and that therefore I should join him as one of the blessings. But when I returned to him in 2008 and read some online things he has put out, I see him as a person who definitely wants to make sure that everyone thinks he is influential. Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism have a habit of creating men who, under the guise of being simple followers of Jesus, really are trying their darndest to build an earthly kingdom here under the guise of offering some crucial message to people in our day. Josh seems fully to have caught that disease and to be trapped in the image he has of himself. He is a person who has not just spoken to "millions." Now, like McDonald's hamburgers which have been served to ever-increasing billions, he has to date been heard by more than "ten million" people around the world. His books have been translated into dozens of languages, which is no mean accomplishment to be sure. But he probably doesn't know very many if any of those languages into which they have been translated.
But there are undercurrents of irony and even hypocrisy that I see in these "stars" of the Evangelical/Fundamentalist world. We have all witnessed it to some extent in the past few years, as megachurch pastors stumble over their unzipped flies. I noticed it a bit in Josh as I read about his address to a Liberty University ("LU") audience on "relationships." Josh began thinking and talking about sex for Christian audiences back in the 1970s. I think he realized that defense of the faith arguments were only of interest to about 10% of his audience, and that sex captivated almost everyone. Thus, he had to get in front of the train on that one. In speaking to a LU audience, he mentioned that if Hugh Hefner had had a good relationship with his father, he never would have started Playboy magazine. Sort of a variant on the argument he made 35 or so years before on the "moral problems" that lay behind people's apparently honest questions of the validity of the Christian faith. But then I noticed in more than one place about Josh that he didn't have a very good relationship with his own father--his dad had alcohol problems. I am never one to make light of substance abuse problems, especially as they are played out in the lives of innocent children. But couldn't one make a similar kind of point to Josh. "Maybe if you had a better relationship with your father, your life would have turned out better...." Maybe, in fact, he would have become a liberal... Josh's kind of unreflective and simplistic thinking borders on irony at best and hypocrisy at worst.
It dawned on me further, in 2008, that I am really not the intended audience for Josh and his musings. In fact, he is aiming at a certain culture and age-group---the vast array of young people around the world who want relatively easy answers to relatively difficult problems. I didn't understand this in 1971. I thought that since Josh was talking about God that everyone should be an eager listener. I have learned, since those days, that all of us have a narrowly-targeted audience for whatever we say and that our mistake comes in believing that a far larger swath of the world's people is or should be interested in our thoughts...
Finally, it dawned on me that Josh's kind of Fundamentalism or Evangelicalism is a sort of self-promoting, vicious-circle type of belief-system that builds itself up by quoting and footnoting itself and then justifying its message by claiming that its works are valid because they are footnoted. I close with a quotation from a review of Josh's recent edition of The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (1999 edition). By the way, Josh's web sites says that he has written either 77 or 90 or 100 books, but it appears that he actually writes very few of them (as the following quotation will show). Isn't that what the liberals do, too? That is, they have research assistants from whom they steal credit when they append their names to the work of their assistants?
But that isn't my point. The self-referential character of this kind of writing can be seen by the Amazon.com review page for New Evidence. At first it seemed so blatant as almost to be comical, but here it is. The first "reviewer" is actually an author (who is NOT Josh). He says:
"I was fortunate and blessed to be one of the researchers and writers for this edition of Josh McDowell's "Evidence that Demands a Verdict."
I thought to myself, 'Isn't this being a bit of a lowlife...reviewing your own work as if you are some kind of neutral observer for other readers?' But then, at the end of the "review" the author become more outrageous. Here is his final sentence:
"If you have been wanting a book that contains a storehouse of evidences and references to others in history who have defended the Christian faith, then this is one of the best single volume books available."
So, in this reviewer's humble opinion, a reviewer who happens to be the author of a book for which Josh takes credit, we have the unexpected note that it is "one of the best single volumes available."
It all kind of makes me a little ill. But who am I to object to the "ten million" people who have heard Josh and maybe have been "transformed" by him? Upon further thought, however, maybe this is just one person who has heard Josh 10,000,000 times and has written the review of Josh. I am feeling better already.