Josh McDowell’s Book on Fundamentalist Apologetics Comes of Age

Like many in my generation, I grew up with a copy of Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict (henceforth, Evidence) on the bookshelf. Over the years, I frequently consulted Evidence to quell doubts and provide ammunition to fire back at the skeptics on topics like evolution and the authorship of Daniel.

Apparently, a lot of people had Evidence on their shelf because the original 1972 edition was revised in 1979 and again in 1999 (xvii). Now that we have a third extensive revision, one that adds Josh McDowell’s son Sean as a coauthor, I thought it time to return to Evidence for a closer look at the latest edition. Henceforth in this review, I will refer to McDowell and McDowell as M&M.

I have titled this review “Fundamentalist Apologetics Comes of Age”. That title reflects two facts. First, Evidence has indeed come of age in the sense that it reflects an advanced state of development: this is a massive book (798 pages plus a 74-page introduction) and it covers a dizzying array of topics in an accessible and engaging manner. For that, it should be lauded.

That said, the reader should also be aware that Evidence continues to exhibit the characteristics of Protestant fundamentalism. For some people, that may be a boon to be celebrated. But for others, it is an unfortunate fact, one that significantly qualifies the book’s otherwise laudable achievements.

Apologetics Come of Age

Let’s start with the positives. As an apologetic work approaching nine hundred pages, it should be no surprise that Evidence covers an enormous range of material. Following an extensive seventy-page introduction, the main text includes four parts: Part I: Evidence for the Bible; Part II: Evidence for Jesus; Part III: Evidence for the Old Testament; Part IV: Evidence for Truth.

But before launching into some plaudits, I must say that I find this structure deeply idiosyncratic. To begin with, the introduction includes not only a personal testimony and an introduction to the field of apologetics, but also a section defending the existence of God. On the contrary, I would think a defense of the existence of God (i.e. theistic apologetics) properly belongs as the first major section of the text proper. After all, a defense of God’s existence is not prolegomenal to Christian apologetics: rather, it is a critical part of the apologist’s work.

Meanwhile, Part IV includes foundational material on topics such as the nature of truth and the concept of knowledge which arguably do belong in the prolegomena of the introduction: after all, every subsequent argument depends on a concept of truth and the accessibility of rational belief and knowledge.

I also find the text’s treatment of key biblical issues as idiosyncratic, but since those further points are indicative of the fundamentalist biblicism of the text I will return to discuss them below.

But now it’s back to the good news. And let me begin with the fact that the book is, for the most part, very readable. This is a feat in itself because Evidence has always been distinguished by a large number of extended quotations from other sources. In my experience with earlier editions of the book, that rendered the text better suited as a reference work for various topics rather than a unified book that one might read straight through. But that was not my experience with this latest edition. Indeed, at times I found this latest edition of Evidence to rise to the level of a bonafide page-turner. Hats off to M&M for that!

One of the great attractions of the book is that it boasts an encyclopedic breadth of various apologetic topics and persons. For example, it includes an excellent survey of the biblical manuscript evidence, succinct rebuttals to leading skeptics like Richard Carrier (280-84) and Bart Ehrman (Appendix), and concise summaries of controversies both recent (e.g. the Talpiot Tomb: 293-300) and old (the mystery religions).

While we’re on the topic of mystery religions, I especially appreciated M&M’s treatment of this old canard. According to this old objection, core Christian claims of Christ’s death and resurrection are anticipated in so-called mystery religions of dying and rising gods. Hence, Christianity is best explained as a further development of these venerable legendary motifs.

In reply, M&M first point out that evidence for the mystery religions is all second-century and thus after Christ. As a result, if there is influence here, it flows from Christian belief and practice to that of the mystery religions.

Further, even if the mystery religions did precede Christ, that hardly shows they explain Christ’s death and resurrection. To make the point, M&M give an analogy. In 1898 a novel was published about a passenger ship called the Titan which sinks in the Atlantic. The novel famously bears several uncanny parallels with the later sinking of the Titanic. But nobody would think that provides a reason to question the historicity of the latter event (311).

Finally, M&M cite Tolkien’s argument that anticipations of death and resurrection could be interpreted by the Christian in terms of general revelation as “God … using the images of their ‘mythopoeia’ [story-making] to express fragments of his eternal truth.” (314) Indeed! And so, in a few pages, they offer a succinct and satisfying rebuttal to a bad (but persistent) argument against Christianity.

This mystery religions example illustrates the strength of Evidence: generally brief, clear, and reliable summaries of various arguments and responses to various objections (exceptions will be noted below, however). Among the many other topics treated we find a helpful summary of cosmic fine-tuning (lxvi-lxx), a quick refutation of the miracles of Apollonius (350-1), a survey of first-principles that one can know by rational intuition (626-30), and a summary of the Moorean shift as a fitting rebuttal to skepticism (659-60). And of course, that is but a brief sampling of the extensive list of topics addressed.

And here’s the really amazing thing. This eight-hundred-page encyclopedic survey of apologetic topics is currently a mere $20 for hardback at Amazon.com. Even more incredibly, as I write, the Kindle version is $2.42. In other words, you can have all this on your smartphone for less than a Starbucks latte!

With that in mind, I don’t mind saying that despite the significant caveats that I will summarize below, Evidence is surely one of the biggest bargains in Christendom. Everything that I’ve said thus far is sufficient reason for you to buy the book, period.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Christian Post, Randal Rauser