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Review of Josh McDowell’s, “The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict”

The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict

A Brief Review

Josh McDowell does a helpful service to Christians everywhere in this updated volume.  In four main parts, 1-The Case for the Bible, 2-The Case for Jesus, 3-The Case for and against Christianity, and 4-Truth or Consequences, McDowell gives compelling evidence for the credibility and the rationality of the Christian faith.  Christians need not be unprepared for giving defense for the hope that is within them (1 Peter 3:15) with reference to giving answer to the historicity and the logic of the Christian faith.

Christians increasingly recognize the value of Christian apologetics (defending the Christian faith with sound arguments, in distinction from apologizing for it) as a necessary tool for answering questions of both Christians and nonChristians alike.  However, apologetics is only a beginning.

As helpful and necessary as Christian apologetics is, including this work by McDowell, it is not the Gospel.    It is only the Gospel through which God creates saving faith in the heart, not apologetics, nor the will of man, as we shall see (Romans 10:17).[1] The reader is to be aware of this as he begins study of this book.

The reader should also be aware that Josh McDowell comes from a certain Christian background, one quite different from confessional Lutheranism.  As such, he has a different confession concerning faith (what it is) and conversion, Law and Gospel distinctives, and the means of Grace (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), to name a few.  The following are some of those differences that more readily show themselves…

Speaking about faith and conversion, McDowell writes in the forward, “Not all—not even the majority—of these whom I have spoken accepted Him (Jesus) as their Savior and Lord.  This is not because they were unable to believe—they were simply unwilling to believe” (italics his).

On the same page, he writes, “The majority of people in most cultures do not need to be convinced of His (Jesus’) deity, nor of their need of Him as Savior.  Rather, they need to be told how to receive Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord” (xii).

In saying that the majority of people he has spoken with were unable to believe, McDowell emphasizes man’s willingness or unwillingness to believe.  The how of receiving Jesus as Savior thus becomes a matter of man’s decision rather than the gift of God given through Word and Sacrament (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).  McDowell supports this testimony by using his father and himself as examples in the section entitled, “He Changed My Life” (see esp. xxv-xxvii).[2]

Christian faith is not of the will.  It is the result of God’s law convincing and convicting of sin, putting the sinner to death as damnable before God; and then the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, giving new life and peace with God (Romans 5:1ff; 8:1ff); and believing the same, saying “for me” Christ died, with confidence according to God’s promise.

Christian faith is not a matter of “making a decision for Christ.”  We cannot! (Genesis 8:21; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Psalm 14:1; 130:3; Matthew 15:18-19; Romans 3:10, 23; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9-10).  Faith is the gift of God (Romans 10:17).  Faith takes God at His Word, denies oneself (Matthew 16:21-26), and believes God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:18-20).  Faith does not place any confidence in self, but in Christ alone—in Christ and in His Word and in His Work (Luke 18:9-14; Romans 4:2-25; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

Inherent in such a discussion is the power (the efficacy, effectiveness) of God’s Word.  By placing emphasis on man’s decision and will, McDowell, knowingly or unknowingly, teaches wrongly about the power of God’s Word, not man’s, to change the sinner.  God’s Word will not return to the Lord void (Genesis 1:3ff; Isaiah 55:10-11; John 6:63-69).  It will humble the exalted and exalt the humbled (Luke 18:14).  God’s Word hardens the self-righteous and gives peace to those trusting God’s salvation in Christ.

McDowell also minimizes Christ and His work in converting the soul.  By impressing upon the sinner the need “to choose,” McDowell lessens Christ and praises man’s ability.  This is not an insignificant point!

Closely connected to McDowell’s emphasis on the human will and “making a decision” are the Four Spiritual Laws[3] as described in the last section of the book (p757ff).  With Law Four, McDowell, Campus Crusade for Christ, and all who use such “Laws” place the decision on the sinner, ultimately, for salvation.  If such is not the case, why such an emphasis?  However, it is not the sinner who chooses God, but God who chooses (and desires to save, 1 Timothy 2:4) the sinner (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; John 15:16, 19).  God is the One who seeks (Luke 15).  Only in Christ is salvation certain and secure, not because of one’s decision, but because of Christ!

When McDowell speaks of “receiving” Christ, he means to say, “choosing Christ.”  Grammatically and in common usage, to receive something does not mean to choose it.  “Receiving” is a passive word, whereas “choosing” is an active one.  What McDowell is speaking about is a contradiction in terms.  According to McDowell, prayer is “talking with God.”  This is a correct definition.  Prayer is what the Christian does, having confidence in the Lord that He will hear and answer.

Yet McDowell contradicts himself when he says that prayer is “talking with God,” on the one hand, something in which we are active, and then goes on to say that “we receive Christ,” something in which we are passive, “through prayer.”  Receiving means “to be passive.”  Choosing or deciding means “to be active.”  So which is it?  Is it through what God does that we “receive” Christ, or is it through what we do, through prayer, that Christ becomes our Savior?

According to Holy Scripture, we received Christ through what God does.  See John 1:11-13; 3:3-8; Ephesians 2:1-10, etc. Receiving Christ is only what we passively do.  It is God who gives.  It is we who benefit from His gifts as He gives them to us.  Faith and salvation are not even remotely our work (Ephesians 2:1ff).  Our own decisions or choices before God do not save.  Only Christ does.  McDowell here does not write clearly according to Scripture.

Another area in which the emphasis on man’s will shows itself is in quotes like the following and others like it:

“You can laugh and Christianity.  You can mock and ridicule it.  But it worksIf you trust Christ, start watching your attitudes and actions—Jesus Christ is in the business of changing lives.

Christianity is not something to be shoved down your throat or forced upon you.  You have your life to live and I have mine.  All I can do is tell you what I have learned and experienced.  After that, what you do with Christ is your decision.” (xxvii) [Italics mine, for emphasis]

According to the above, McDowell would have the reader believe that he has the ability to decide for or against God.  But the Lord speaks of “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:14), and “being” called children of God (passive; Romans 6:1ff; Galatians 3:26-27; 1 John 3:1[4]; note the verbs).

Christ is not an option (John 3:17-19; 8:23-24, 42-43).  Nor is Christ better than any other.  Rather, He is the Savior; the only One.  There is no other (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

McDowell would also have the reader believe that Christianity is right because it works.  Christianity, however, is right because it is the truth.   Practically speaking, Christians live under the cross.  They live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Therefore, whether Christianity seems to work, or not, Christianity remains true just the same, because it is of God, and Christ is the Church’s Head (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18).  McDowell’s testimony is only human testimony.  But God’s Word is God’s testimony and not man’s.  Man’s word will change others little, but God’s Word is “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12).

Apart from McDowell’s errors concerning man’s will, faith, conversion, and Scripture, the general content of this book is worthy of study.  If one be able to set aside the former, one will greatly benefit from the latter.  McDowell’s personal doctrinal positions aside, and that of Campus Crusade for Christ, this work is a valuable contribution to the apologetic task (John 5:25).[5]

[1] McDowell also notes that apologetics is ‘not the end’ when he writes, “The presentation of evidence (apologetics) should never be used as a substitute for sharing the Word of God” (xv).

[2] The prayer of McDowell’s father (xxvii, last paragraph of first column) is a clear example, not of faith, but of faithlessness, for the writer of Hebrews writes, “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  Also, St. James writes, Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).  That McDowell’s father did not pray in faith is clear from his use of the words “if God can do…,” “If you’re really God,” (implied– “if…Jesus died on the cross) “If Jesus can do…”  The prayer of faith does not pray with such uncertainty and doubt, but with confidence, not because of another’s experience, but because of God’s Word and promise.  See also Mark 9:24; Luke 17:5-6; John 14:1.  Also, note that the father had said, “I want to give God the opportunity.”  Is it we that give God ‘opportunity?’  God, rather, is the one who is, does, and says without our permission.  (Romans 9:14-33)

[3] McDowell’s and Campus Crusade for Christ’s use of Law here is telling.  Essentially, what saves is not the Gospel, but rather, the law.  The “Four Spiritual Laws” are just that—Laws.

[4] We do not become children of God by “decision.”  Nor do “birth” ourselves into the kingdom.  God gives life to that which was dead.

[5] Other works by Josh McDowell include, A Ready Defense and More than a Carpenter.

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