Josh McDowell and the Christian Solutions That Really Aren’t (LSP #67)

Josh McDowell and the Christian Solutions That Really Aren’t (LSP #67) November 5, 2018

As Christianity continues to hemorrhage members, Christian leaders have swung into action with solutions. These solutions illustrate Christians’ dilemma like nothing else ever could. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the Christian solutions that really aren’t solutions at all.

(Roman Mager.)

My great thanks to (((Kevin))) for reminding me about this topic earlier in the comments!

Everyone, Meet Josh McDowell.

I don’t think Linda’s actually read any of these books herself. Click to embiggen. (Disqus.)

Totally-an-ex-atheist Josh McDowell might well be one of the most popular apologists working in the field today. To be sure, he’s the guy that Christians often shove first at ex-Christians and non-Christians (as Linda did, above) in hopes of (re-)convincing us that Christianity is both objectively true and relevant. Those two things are his thang.

Most of us likely know about his most popular book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. In it, he totally demonstrates that Christianity is based on objective truth, and that it has stood the test of time to reveal itself as a vibrant, relevant faith even today.


I’ll just leave this here.

He’s parlayed the roaring success of that book into a decades-spanning career as a speaker and author. Unfortunately, he’s amply demonstrated that his religion is untrue and irrelevant.

I wish it surprised me anymore that Christians lie and buy into lies as often as they do.

The Stated Goal.

Some 20 years ago, evangelical Christians enjoyed the very heights of dominance. But Josh McDowell felt troubled. He had noticed that young people seemed to be leaving his religion in increasing numbers.

OH NOES! SAY IT AIN’T SO, JOSH!

So he crafted a response:

kevin's scan of flyer from josh mcdowell
Click to embiggen Josh McDowell’s terrible flyer. (Original.)

It begins, “OUR YOUNG PEOPLE WANT WHAT IS REAL & RELEVANT” and it goes downhill immediately.

From there, it launches into a series of statistics that look beyond-ludicrous. Just for the record, I’ve never seen any credible or reputable surveys that reproduce figures anything close to these. On the right, you’ll note three sessions offered, and at the bottom, an assertion Josh McDowell thinks will ring true with his evangelical audience:

True Christianity is real and relevant to life. You can lead your child and young person to a face-to-face encounter with God that will forever transform their attitudes and actions.

And to this, I respond:

But the flyer got me thinking about this oh-so-comforting lie Christians tell themselves.

The Christian Myth of Truth and Relevance.

Josh McDowell alludes in this flyer to one of the primary myths in the evangelical tribe: that if Christians can only find some way to communicate that their worldview is both “real & relevant,” then people will both join up like crazy, and also never want to leave.

We find this myth everywhere in evangelicalism. It’s not a terrible idea. Generally speaking, I’ve identified both qualities as necessary for groups wishing to avoid becoming broken systems. They must base their working ideology in objective truth, and they must be groups that people find relevant and pleasant to be around. If they can’t manage one, then groups must go for absolute maximum broke on the other.

Christians, of course, fail miserably at both tasks. And they fail at ’em because they’ve so vastly redefined the words “truth” and “relevance.” They’ve wrung the lifeblood out of both words. And they did it precisely because they long ago became a broken system.

Their religion never contained objective truth. And it long ago stopped being relevant.

The Worst Thing in the World in Christian-Land.

You will rarely hear even a progressive Christian concede that by and large, Christianity contains no objective truths at all in its operational ideas, nor much relevance for the modern world.

You definitely won’t hear a lot of evangelicals saying anything like that. A Christianity conceded as non-truthful and irrelevant is one that loses 99% of its advertising power, and making such an admission would decimate evangelicals’ entitlement mentality.

That’s exactly why apologetics, as a field, seeks to make the religion sound like it is based in objective truth and completely relevant to humanity.

So Christian hucksters shill thousands upon thousands of blog posts, videos, and books insisting on these two points.

A Few Examples.

It won’t take long to see a few similarities in how Christian hucksters approach the idea of relevance and truth. These were chosen totally at random in a search:

  • A pastor over at Christianity Today offers a buzzword-loaded post about successful evangelism. Not a single one represents a single concrete suggestion except for one: occasionally sharing meals with the unwashed heathens in the neighborhood. He calls his nebulous strategies “authentic,” “relevant,” “accessible,” and “present.” He also never once offers any metrics demonstrating the effectiveness of his ideas.
  • Some guys at Crossway insist that Christians shouldn’t try to be relevant. They should instead seek to become “gospel centered,” at which point they’ll look SUPER-relevant. Mostly they’re just talking about Jesus Aura evangelism. They never explain how to become “gospel centered,” of course, nor how to tell if a church is doing that. Nor do they offer any solid numbers to demonstrate that their approach works better than others.
  • The people at McLean Bible Church feel very certain that tons of “secular” people in their state, in refusing to join Christianity, aren’t expressing a real rejection of their imaginary friend himself. Instead, these non-members are just expressing how irrelevant they think Christianity is to their lives. So this church’s members think they’ve hit on a way to show all those “secular” people that their religion is totally relevant to everyone. But they don’t actually offer any examples of this point.

Did you catch a common thread in these attempts?

The Trendline.

Christians will always take for granted that the religion is TRUE YES TRUE. So the “real” part of Josh McDowell’s “real & relevant” mini-list is always covered. Apologetics has focused for many years on using pseudoscience to try to demonstrate the Bible’s veracity; we’ll probably never be rid of this tosh.

Instead, Christians tend to concentrate on relevance. (They never define what the word means, of course.) They seek to find ways to communicate this quality to those they seek to recruit to their groups.

However, making a sale is only one part of the equation for them. They need Christians to not only buy into their ideas, but also to reject competing ideas.

So when you see Christian hucksters talking about a new-and-improved way to communicate relevance, they will offer their own ideas and also slam competing ideas.

And that’s what Josh McDowell’s still doing!

Anatomy of a Con Game.

As we look at the flyer, bear in mind that it was almost certainly handed out to Christian parents and youth-ministry workers. Presumably, these adults already work overtime to instill in children and teens an indoctrination that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Josh McDowell needs these adults to think that they are totally going about that task the wrong way. He in effect is heartily pecker-slapping whatever programs those adults are using now. And he needs those adults to turn instead to his programs.

Notice that he never says where he’s getting the numbers he cites? Another Christian huckster, the absolutely reprehensible wackadoodle loon Brace Barber, lets slip that these numbers–and even more ludicrous ones besides–come from a book McDowell co-wrote, The Last Christian Generation.

Now, I’m not so much concerned about the statistics about the total failure of evangelical indoctrination. Chances are good that McDowell understated that stuff. But McDowell decides that disbelief itself causes strikingly terrible things like suicide attempts and violent behavior.

Therefore, McDowell tells Christian adults, they all desperately need to attend his seminar to stop that stuff from happening. In his seminars, these adults will find out how to communicate the totally-for-realsies evidence for Christianity, as well as make kids see that this religion is super-relevant.

Otherwise, he implies, their kids will become drug-addled resentful and violent felons and THEN KILL THEMSELVES.

But, you know, no pressure or nothin’.

The Same Old Song.

As I look over his site, I see he’s still doing and saying the same horse-nuggets. He (and a small team of Christians writing blog posts for him) needs Christian adults to know these same things:

Their religion is based in reality; and

It is super-duper-relevant to everyone.

Once a huckster hits upon a winning sales pitch, he never lets it go.

And Yet Somehow…

The flyer is from around 2003. Josh McDowell’s been flinging poo at Christians for decades. And he’s got tons of pals in apologetics doing the same thing. Every few months, we hear about some new totally-OMG-for-realsies way to totally reverse Christianity’s decline. I write about it in purely mocking tones on the regular: ZOMG, you guys, this guy/gal is totally going to reverse the decline! These Christians have totally figured out the solution at last!

And then a year or two later, we discover that somehow the next Great Re-Re-Awakening has failed to materialize.

Josh McDowell’s had way longer than that to totally revolutionize Christianity. He’s been active, according to his Amazon biography page, since 1960. He claims to have written or co-written 150 books and to have given talks to over 25,000,000 people in his career.

In that time, Christianity has plummeted in both credibility and membership. I’ve yet to see a decent survey house announce that Christians have even hit bottom yet.

If Christians cared at all about effectiveness at their stated goals, apologetics as a field would not exist. Most especially, Josh McDowell would be a much-mocked footnote in the religion’s history books. He’s a laughable failure at his own stated goals.

But somehow he’s still got a career.

And that fact illuminates something interesting.

The Unstated Goal.

Christians desperately want to reverse their decline, yes. They desperately want a return to their previous dominance and power over their local communities.

They just don’t want those things enough to change anything they’re doing.

If it weren’t for “Christian love” exerting such a great deal of coercive power on people, the religion would have died out many centuries ago. And Christians never did figure out how to shift from being lords and masters to supplicants and salespeople. I’d go so far as to say that they deeply resent the very idea that they would ever even need to sell their religion and make themselves appealing groups to join.

 

Instead, they want their hucksters to tell them that they’re already doing everything perfectly. They just need to drill down harder and exert more control over their victims! If they can just Jesus harder, then they will regain their former glory.

The Last Thing They Want.

Christians don’t want “real & relevant.” That’s the last thing they want. If any of their leaders dare to tell them anything true, they react like enraged and rabid hounds.

Megapastor Andy Stanley knows what I’m talking about. He dared to suggest recently that fundagelicals should “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament. Though I stand on record as thinking he’s a horrible person with ridiculous ideas, he had a point there. In response, they’re still tearing him to pieces online. Even I felt sorry for the guy after seeing what they inflicted on him in retaliation for daring to imply even indirectly that they should pull away from their culture wars.

As for relevant, well, they’re using a definition of that word that is so egocentric that it collapsed in on itself years ago and is busily sucking in the Milky Way.

Josh McDowell makes it sound so simple to recapture fundagelicals’ long-lost glory–for a reason. He’s not really telling Christians how to keep their kids Christian for life. Rather, he’s selling Christianity to the adults. They’re the ones buying his crappy products and lie-filled books. They’re the ones who need to be persuaded!

And man alive, apologists are good at telling Christians exactly what they want to hear.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over the worst-of-the-worst apologetics. If you liked apologetics way back when, feel free to name your favorite–and if you’ve re-read it since then, what you think of it now! <3

NEXT UP: Some Christians expressed quite a lot of unhappiness with a recent post I wrote about their little hearts hurting over our non-belief. I thought I’d try to help them out in untangling their sadness. See you soon!


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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.

PS: I detoxed today by watching What We Do in the Shadows, and I can 100% assure you it is awesomesauce. I laughed the whole way through it.

PPS: American readers, please VOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOTE tomorrow.

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.
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