One memorable day back in 1976, Josh McDowell (M.Div. ’66) sat down with a pot of coffee, some free time and a simple mission: write about his reasons for believing Christianity to be true.
Little did he know that within two days, he’d have a pile of handwritten pages that would become one of the most significant Christian books in modern history.
“I just sat down, took some legal pads and started writing on what I would say if someone asked me what I believed,” McDowell said. “And just as fast as I could write — in about 48 hours — I was done, never dreaming that it would become the first Christian book translated into more than 100 languages.”
Indeed, since its release more than 30 years ago, McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter has become one of the most recognizable tools in Christian evangelism and apologetics, with a staggering 15 million copies sold around the world. Prominent Christian pastors and authors such as Mark Driscoll and Lee Strobel cite it as instrumental in their own faith journeys. And McDowell’s personal record of the thousands of testimonies detailing how the book has helped to lead people to Christ fills nearly 600 pages, front and back.
Now, hoping to reach the next generation with the book’s powerful message about Jesus’ divinity and resurrection, McDowell has teamed up with his son and fellow Biola graduate, Sean (’98, M.A. ’03), to give it a modern makeover.
Released in May by Tyndale House, the updated version is filled with revised content intended to better connect with today’s readers and better respond to today’s challenges to faith. Some revisions are minor, including new anecdotes that involve events and inventions that have come along since the late ’70s, like Google, 9/11 or The Passion of the Christ. Others are more significant, such as a new chapter written by Sean that responds to the popularity of the so-called “New Atheism.”
One significant change involved placing more of the story of Josh’s journey from skepticism to faith at the book’s beginning, rather than opening the book directly with an argument for Jesus’ divinity. The change was part of an overall strategy to gear the book toward a generation that values personal narratives over claims about objective truth, Josh said.
“Before, if it was true, then it worked; today, if it works, then it’s true,” he said. “Culture has shifted so that truth is personal, not objective. ‘If it’s true for you, wonderful, but it’s not true for me,’ is one of the biggest phrases today.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the book shies away from arguing that Christianity is objectively true; quite the contrary. Now, as then, the book sets out to demonstrate from historical evidence that Jesus is divine, that Scripture is reliable and that the resurrection actually happened — all in the course of about 170 easy-to-read pages.
Sean, who has authored and edited several books on Christian apologetics (including a few others with his father), credits the book’s enduring success in part to the way it compellingly presents “the facts” of Christianity while also showing how his father’s life was personally transformed.
“One of the things that’s made More Than a Carpenter powerful is that it’s not just a list of evidences for the historical Jesus,” he said. “When he tells stories about having an alcoholic father or being sexually abused and then shows how Jesus is the answer to that, I think that’s an apologetic that’s really effective today. … It’s couched in a story and a drama that makes it come alive.”
For Sean, who was just an infant when the book was originally released, the prospect of working as a father-son team to update a modern classic was an exciting one, he said.
“Going back to grade school, I remember people saying, ‘I read this book and it led me to Christ,’” Sean said. “Pretty much my whole life I’ve had this sense that it’s just a special tool that God has used.”
The McDowells trust that the book, in its new version, will continue to be a useful tool; this spring, Tyndale, Josh McDowell Ministry and the Christian Booksellers Association is teaming up to launch “Reclaiming Easter 2010,” a major outreach campaign centered around the book. Local churches will be equipped with video clips, sermons and copies of the book, as well as packets to hang on doors throughout their neighborhoods — all with a focus on the truth and significance of the resurrection, Josh said.
In the meantime, the McDowell duo is hard at work on other joint writing projects, with four revisions and new books in process. The most significant of those, Josh said, will be an examination of “the 12 basic truths that the apostles taught that turned the world upside down,” put into modern language with present-day applications. “It’s going to be huge,” he said.
No word on whether they plan to finish in 48 hours.