Famed author and evangelist Josh McDowell's decades-long career in ministry has enabled him to reach scores of people across the globe, with the preacher's personal story of evolving from staunch skeptic to charismatic leader offering a captivating lens into individual transformation.
McDowell, 75, whose new book "God-Breathed" promises to teach readers "how the living, breathing word of God speaks directly to [their lives]," told The Church Boys podcast this week about how he went from a college student on a mission to disprove Christianity to an evangelist who is bent on saving souls.
"When I was in university, I set out to write my first book … to silence the Christian students and professors," McDowell said.
Listen to him share his conversion story below:
McDowell shared how his life was nearly destroyed after he was molested for years as a child by a male farmhand, with the experience profoundly impacting his worldview. Eventually, he abandoned religion entirely.
Flash-forward and it was during his college years that he was an agnostic who found himself perplexed by a group of people who seemed different from the others he had encountered.
"I asked them, 'Why are you so different. What changed your life?' he recalled asking members of this group.
But when they told him that it was their faith in Jesus that differentiated them from others, McDowell said that he scoffed.
"I just laughed at them," he recalled. "I thought, 'You've got to be kidding.'"
It wasn't long before these Christians challenged him to intellectually examine scripture and the idea that Jesus could be God's son. McDowell gladly set out on that mission, traveling abroad to examine biblical manuscripts in an effort to disprove the central premises of Christianity.
In the end, though, something else entirely happened. Rather than corroborating his own personal dismissal of the faith, he found himself conceding that there were some truths that he couldn't simply ignore.
"Intellectually, I concluded that I could trust the Bible and I concluded that Jesus Christ not only claimed to be God — but there was sufficient evidence to support his claims of being God," McDowell said.
And that knowledge eventually led him to make a decision that transformed his life.
"It was a Saturday night in my dorm room. I had tried so hard to refute Christianity and I couldn't." he said. "I leaned back in my chair and I realized that if I were the only person alive, Jesus would have still died for me. That is what took me from the evidence into a relationship."
Over the next six months, McDowell said that his entire life was transformed.
"It was kind of gradually building up like a frog in a kettle," he said. "I realized it's true and I realized if it is, then what does it say about me and what I need to do?"
After becoming a Christian, McDowell went on to launch Josh McDowell Ministries and has authored over 100 books during his decades-long pastoral career.
Over the years, he's seen many people go through similar personal transformations, and he's aware of the cultural challenges facing Christians today. At the root of some of the challenges churches face in the modern era is the Internet — a tool that McDowell said he actually enjoys.
"How do you worship God without an iPad?" he quipped, going on to share one of the challenges it has spawned. "The Internet has exposed Christians … to arguments and issues about the reliability of the Bible, Jesus, the resurrection — everything — that most people never even thought of until the last few years of university."
McDowell said that young kids are now confronted with these questions, which is unprecedented.
In turn, he said that churches will need to start ministering to younger people to help reinforce the reliability of scripture — a dynamic that he said is actually not all that bad, as it will lead people to learn more about the faith they embrace at an earlier age.
"I think the church as a whole, we've blown it. I don't think we've raised true disciples of Jesus who not only believe it, but they live it and, again, I think this is healthy," McDowell said. "It's going to force the church all over the world to start creating true disciples of Christ who not only know what they believe, but they know why they believe it."
McDowell encouraged Christians to listen to nonbelievers' stories and to be prepared to answer their questions. He's also encouraging readers to delve into his latest book "God-Breathed" to help them process what he says is the overwhelming evidence for scriptural authority.
"There's such a new discovery of biblical evidence. It's like a tsunami," he said. "[The purpose of the book is to] share with people the incredible discoveries being made and how significant they are."