There are those people who seem to have been placed on earth for a brief, shining moment – to fulfill a purpose to which their entire life has been racing toward. Think Patton or even U.S. Grant, somewhat of a failure in life, save for his brutal military genius that preserved the Union.
Then there are those rare individuals who fulfill a special purpose almost the entire span of their time on our groaning planet.
Josh McDowell is just such a person. Perhaps the premier apologist of the last half-century, McDowell has been defending the Christian faith for a very long time, and doing it very effectively and elegantly.
Recently, McDowell revealed some chilling data that he’s gathered over the decades. In essence, even pastors have little understanding of the Christian faith and are unable to answer various questions, such as those about origins or predictive prophecy. In fact, the pulpits today are virtually emptied of apologetics teaching.
This makes McDowell and others like him supremely important. McDowell also has the distinction of having two classic books in the field, “More Than a Carpenter,” and “Evidence That Demands a Verdict.”
A slight aside: McDowell doesn’t rest on his laurels; he is always looking for innovative ways to reach the culture. His masterpiece on the spirituality of Oprah Winfrey, “‘O’ God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah’s Spirituality” – written with a great new apologist, Dave Sterrett – is a brilliantly packaged look at this dangerous media titan, who has infected the culture with pagan–New Age philosophies.
A more recent work, “Beyond Belief to Convictions,” is a book I wish more youth pastors would get and internalize. Today’s youth are smart but biblically illiterate and know virtually nothing about the Bible. Yet any cursory discussions with actual youth reveal that they are open to learning about it; again, Christian leaders have dropped the ball in this area.
“Beyond Belief” demonstrates conclusively that ideas and worldviews do matter: Youth are a staggering 225 percent more likely to be angry if they have distorted views about God and truth. They’re a mind-boggling 600 percent more likely to attempt suicide!
McDowell’s contention in this book is that it is more important to examine what youth might believe rather than what they might do. It’s a good point.
McDowell opens “Beyond Belief” utilizing one of his many talents: by painting a picture, a scene that conveys a truth.
Describing a probable scene in the Roman Coliseum during the time of Christian persecutions, McDowell states that those early Christians were faced with existential dangers, but that today’s youth also face dangers: “ethical and moral temptations, greater spiritual battles and more intense emotional and relational struggles than any other generation in history.”
Teen attitudes toward sex, lying and self are skewed due to an invasion of pagan philosophies that war with truth. McDowell so clearly understands the issues that he can cut through it all with wisdom:
“This book is a relational apologetic – rock-solid reasons to believe and a biblical blueprint for living out those beliefs in relationship with others,” he writes.
In other words, the Christian faith not only is defensible, but has real-world, practical application in every area.
McDowell spends a great deal of time discussing the person of Jesus Christ and how critical it is for youth (and people of all ages) to understand him for who he is. It is quite shocking to discover that few Christians can really articulate the importance of the Incarnation, but McDowell says that once an understanding is in place, there are “teachable moments” afterward.
For example, McDowell suggests we keep Christmas focused: When putting tree lights up, turn off the lights and say, “This represents that all of us are like empty bulbs without light or life.”
Turn them on and say, “This represents all those who make a relational connection to God because God is the one who gives life and light to all those who believe in Christ as their Savior.”
McDowell – so versatile in his presentations – also gets down into the trench of scholarship and proof. In Chapter 7, “Incarnation Celebration,” he discusses the challenge that the biblical documents are not accurate. This kind of charge is made by liberal scholars, who often have access to impressionable students.
It is in Part 4 that McDowell really gets to the heart of the “Beyond Belief” matter: the Resurrection.
As Paul wrote, if Jesus Christ did not rise bodily from the grave, thus defeating death, then our hope and faith are in vain. No one is better than Josh McDowell at explaining this critical truth.
With so many youth ministries emphasizing style over substance, it is critical that truth be communicated to this generation of young people. Once again, Josh McDowell leads the field. If you work with young people at all, or engage with folks of any age who are unsure about the Christian faith, get this book.
It’s “beyond belief.”