This popular apologetics work, originally published in 1977, is undoubtedly known by many of you. You may have read it years ago when you were in college. However, my review is of the 2009 edition written by Josh McDowell and his son Sean. It’s somewhat different than the first edition. One of the best additions is the chapter on new atheism, which attempts to answer some of the more recent skeptics such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins.
According to the book’s cover, over 15 million copies are in print. Its popularity is undoubtedly due to its clarity and the overwhelming number of evidences that McDowell has amassed to affirm that Jesus Christ was more than a carpenter – that He is indeed God’s Son sent into the world to be our Savior. In its thirteen chapters (168 pages), McDowell gives many different types of evidence, but the three most important in my estimation are his evidence for the reliability of the Bible, the historical evidence for the resurrection, and the great number of fulfilled prophecies in Scripture.
To keep the book from being just a collection of evidences borrowed from other writers, McDowell begins and ends the book by sharing how he himself was a skeptic when he started college but finally came to believe in Jesus during his college years. After his intellectual questions were satisfied, he eventually (not immediately) accepted Him as Lord and Savior. Beginning at that point, McDowell’s life was radically changed. His personal testimony is extremely compelling.
In my opinion, this is a good book to give to someone who is genuinely investigating Christianity, as well as to a new Christian who needs more substantial evidence to back up what he has come to believe. It could also serve as the basis of a thirteen-week discussion in a Sunday School class or a Bible study group. Finally, it can be helpful to Christians like you and me as we seek to be informed witnesses of Jesus Christ.
I personally found helpful the chapter on “What about Science.” Many skeptics doubt Christianity on alleged scientific grounds. McDowell admits that we can’t “prove” Christianity using scientific methods. He writes, “We cannot scientifically prove anything about any person or event in history, but that doesn’t mean that proof is impossible. We need to understand the difference between scientific proof and what I call legal-historical proof.” He goes on to explain that this is the kind of proof used in the courtroom. It includes three kinds of testimony: oral testimony, written testimony, and exhibits, such as a gun, a bullet, or a notebook.
Chapter 5, “The Challenge of the New Atheism,” is one of the longest chapters in the book and is new to this edition. It was apparently written primarily by Josh’s son Sean. I see this chapter as very important because in my experience in recent years, there is an increasing number of people who would call themselves atheists or agnostics. In an article I recently read, Michael Lipka wrote: “Religious ‘nones’ – a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is ‘nothing in particular’ – now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population.”
McDowell contends that the new atheism is not really all that different than the old atheism, but “the New Atheists unmercifully attack the evils of religion and the character of the biblical God. Morality can exists independently of God, they loudly proclaim.” Of course, the author disagrees with this affirmation. “Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously said that without God all is permissible.” McDowell goes on to develop his response to the new atheists in this chapter. I invite you to read it for yourself.
Let me conclude with some thoughts about apologetics in general. There are two basic kinds of apologetics – evidentialism and presuppositionalism:
Evidential apologetics or evidentialism, such as that of McDowell, Lee Strobell, John Warwick Montgomery, Gary R. Habermas, and others, is an approach to Christian apologetics that emphasizes the use of evidence to demonstrate that God exists. The evidence is supposed to be evidence that both the believer and the nonbeliever share – that is to say one need not presuppose God’s existence.
Presuppositional apologetics or presuppoitionalism is a school of Christian apologetics, developed by Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul, Greg Bahnsen, and others. It believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. (An ultimate presupposition is a belief over which no other takes precedence.)
Ultimately we can convince NO ONE to believe in Jesus Christ by our intellectual arguments or by our probing questions. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, I believe that the tools given to us by both kinds of apologetics (evidentialism and presuppositionalism) are good to have in our toolbox as twenty-first-century witnesses for Christ.