At a special event & live recording celebrating the 5-Year Anniversary of the Think Biblically podcast, Sean & Scott sit down with Josh McDowell to discuss his decades of legacy in reaching the world for Christ.

Episode Transcript

Sean McDowell: What can we learn from somebody who has been faithfully in ministry for six plus decades? What are some of the biggest issues facing the Church today? And in our cultural moment, how can we effectively reach people for Christ? Well we're glad you're with us because here on The Think Biblically Podcast brought to you by Biola University, we have a special episode tonight and it's special in one sense because we're celebrating our fifth year as a podcast, which is pretty amazing to think about, Scott. But it's also kind of special because we brought back our first guest, didn't we?

Scott Rae: We're going full circle. I remember after we interviewed Josh for the first time, for the very first episode, he said, "If your ratings fall off, then call me back." And five years later, we called him back.

Sean McDowell: There you go.

Scott Rae: And our ratings have not fallen off one bit, but I'm sure we're going to go now to 110,000 downloads a month by virtue of having you on with us.

Josh McDowell: Or you'll go to 90.

Scott Rae: That's a possibility, too.

Sean McDowell: Yeah. We feel like we're returning the favor now, flip the script. But Dad, we're honored that you're with us and my first question is, it was fun to put this together watching your ministry, but also just seeing you as your son. And I thought about, you've been doing ministry 60 plus years, you've had 100, 200 debates, a hundred and some books, done humanitarian aid projects. You've spoken at over 1200 universities to more people live than anyone in history. I'd love to hear over this time just one or two stories or experiences that just rise to the top. One of your favorite, one of the most significant. Maybe it was the debate with Deedat, maybe it's humanitarian aid. I don't want to put things in your mouth, but the kinds of opportunities now looking back you'd say, "That was just significant and I'm honored and amazed God used me to do that."

Josh McDowell: I would say one of the not just significant but impactful was when, even though I got a lot of criticism for it at that time, when I launched the Why Wait campaign. And it was revolutionary because at that time you just didn't talk about sex publicly, especially in the church or a church camp, whatever. And I remember youth pastors would say, "Oh, I don't know what's going to happen." They knew how the kids were going to respond. It was the parents they were worried about. I think the launching of the Why Wait campaign, which went global, was one of the most significant contributions the Lord allowed us in our ministry to do.

And then probably the second greatest thing was asking your mother to marry me. And I'm dead serious on that. She is so wise. Well, you know that. She is so wise, so insightful and she tempered me. She caused me to be more relational. Through her I learned to relax more when I talked about love and relationships and sex and all. And I don't think the Lord would've given me the impact that he's allowed me to have If I'd married a woman not quite like your mom. And every day I just pinch myself that I'm married to that woman. I never thought it could happen, that for 50 some years you could remain so in love. I think the key is respect even more than love, that you could so respect each other over the years.

Scott Rae: Josh, one of the things I've appreciated about your ministry over all these years is how you've talked about how you've learned, how you continue to learn and to read and to study and how you've grown over the years and how you have matured in your approach to communication and to ministry. If you were starting over today as a 25 year old and as a communicator, what would you do differently today than you did when you first started out?

Josh McDowell: It probably wouldn't be easy for me to answer because back when I was 23, 24, 25, I wanted to go into law, that was my heartbeat. And God called me out of it to Talbot Seminary. And I remember making a choice, I don't know what you would call it, that I wanted to live my life, have a ministry that when I'm 50, 60, 70 years old there's nothing I'd want to do different. Because everyone I listened, "Oh, if I had to do it over again, I would do this and I would do that and everything." That's all I heard when I was in seminary at Talbot right here. And so I decided I'm going to try to live my life without regrets. And so I can't think of too much. Right now I can't think of anything I would do differently, especially the results of it. So I'm going to back away from that question. I couldn't tell you what I would do differently.

Scott Rae: Fair enough because I think that's a significant part of that goal, to live life without regrets and to be thoughtful, think through how you're going to do things and not have regrets looking back. I commend you for that.

Sean McDowell: People will sometimes use the word prophetic when talking about you. They'll say, "Well Josh is a prophet." And I've heard you say many times, you'll say, "I'm not a prophet. I just study and study and look at culture and try to see trends." So when it came to sexuality, you were ahead of the curve in the Church. When it came to tolerance in the '90s, ahead of the curve in the Church. As you look at trends right now, I know things are changing more quickly than they maybe did in the past.

Josh McDowell: Because of the cell phone.

Sean McDowell: Because of the smartphone information. What trends do you see that are here that concern you or some that are maybe coming down the road, so to speak, that we should have on our radar?

Josh McDowell: I believe in the next 8, 10, 12 years, you're going to see the Church, church as a whole, gosh, I hate to say this, move away from objectivity to more subjectivity, that which is relevant at the time. And I say that because as I read people and pastors, I listen to a lot of people talk, that's how I catch the trend going. And I don't think it's a healthy trend, but a lot of people go too much over in the objective. And I've learned one principle that's true in life, balance is almost always biblical. And if it's biblical, it's balanced. It really is. It's not to the extremes, it's the balance in life. And I think that's key in ministry.

Scott Rae: Can I follow up on that for a moment?

Sean McDowell: Yeah, go ahead.

Scott Rae: I just got to unpack that a little bit further. What are some examples that cause you to see this shift away from objective truth to truth being more subjective in the Church today?

Josh McDowell: I think it's been rather easy. I read all the time. I listen, I feel I've wasted an hour if I go jogging and I'm not listening and-

Scott Rae: We have a great podcast you could be listening to.

Josh McDowell: That's really objective. But as I've listened to the different speakers, everything, the programs, it's just gradually shifting away from that which is true objectively. And I think when that happens, it's very easy for an individual, a church or a group to get away from the gospel. The gospel is very objective. I think some of the areas where we need to be key on the evidence and evidence always points to objectivity is the resurrection, the deity of Christ, the prophecies fulfilled in the Old Testament, in the New Testament. I believe more today schools like Biola, Talbot, Moody, et cetera, they really need to make sure they've got the objectivity in their teachings, what it goes back to. The resurrection was an event in history, in three days that tomb was empty. But have the evidence for it. Have the evidence for it.

Sean McDowell: All right. This question is related to being married 51 years. You referenced earlier how significant it is to be married to-

Josh McDowell: Dottie.

Sean McDowell: ... my mom. But what does it take, especially from a broken home and not having an example, to stay married and faithful to somebody half a century plus when the culture is saying subjectivity, do whatever feels good, et cetera?

Josh McDowell: Plagiarize, there's probably no one in life that-

Scott Rae: Spell that out just a little bit, would you?

Josh McDowell: There's probably no one in life that has plagiarized more than I have. I literally had a discussion with myself on that years ago. And when I go to church, Christian conferences, seminars at church for example, I would watch the pastor, how he related to his wife, his children. I'd watch the businessmen there, couples, families. In fact, I remember going out in the foyer and I would get close to people to listen to their conversations, how a man talked to his wife and everything and I think that significantly helped me. And then there was a man, you knew him very well. He was next to you, my closest, dearest, most precious friend. And you know who I'm talking about, Dick Day. And Dick, everybody in life needs a Dick Day in their life, I think. He was about 10 years older than me. I admired him, I respected him and yet he wasn't perfect. I mean he had his challenges with his own kids, but I learned about raising children and everything from Dick and Charlotte. And I learned about relationships, I learned about the priority of the gospel. I learned about is your life contributing to the kingdom or are you taking from the kingdom? And so I would say most of the things in my life was because the relationships that I had.

Sean McDowell: That's what you meant in plagiarizing, not your books, just for the record.

Josh McDowell: No. Well, I think just maybe one of them. No.

Sean McDowell: He's kidding.

Scott Rae: I think your Talbot faculty would like to know about that too.

Sean McDowell: Exactly.

Josh McDowell: A kid in Russia took Evidence Demands a Verdict in Russia, took my name off it, put his name on it and sold over 100,000 copies.

Sean McDowell: Are you serious? I've never heard that before.

Josh McDowell: I'm dead serious. I'm dead serious. I don't mind, and I mean I give the money away anyway. I've never seen a dollar from my books. But at least the gospel got out.

Sean McDowell: There you go. You and Dick Day first met in the late '60s at Talbot School of Theology and were best friends for decades. The example of somebody. So I'm benefiting from him pouring into your life and modeling that and your grandkids are.

Josh McDowell: Well, what is interesting, I don't think any two men could love each other more than Dick and I loved each other. I got accused of being gay, everything. They said, "Nobody can love a man that much without being gay." And I said, "You've got to be kidding. Do you have a warped sense of humor with that?"

Sean McDowell: Done the same with David and Jonathan and those arguments don't carry any weight. There's powerful brotherly love in the scriptures.

Scott Rae: Let me follow up on the marriage part if I might. You spent a lot of your ministry years on the road, traveled.

Josh McDowell: All of my ministry years I spent on the road.

Scott Rae: Yeah. I mean, as I say, from what Sean described your schedule just to make it here, you haven't slowed down hardly at all. How have you been able to keep your marriage together so successfully while being on the road so much of your professional life?

Josh McDowell: Well, probably the basic principle, and I got to say this right because people misunderstand it. Never, never, ever put your ministry before, never put your ministry before your marriage. Never. And what I've learned, I never wanted to put my ministry before my marriage because my marriage is my first ministry. And so what I do with Campus Crusade and everything else, all the speaking, my entire life has been secondary. But of course I'm married to the most fantastic woman. I really am. It is just, I'm humbled. I pinch myself that for 51 years I've been married to Dottie. And so it's easy to not put the ministry before my marriage.

Scott Rae: Let me ask you another question that's again a little bit more on the personal side, if I might. Over the last decade or so, we've seen so many public Christian leaders fall from grace and it's been for a variety of different reasons.

Josh McDowell: It hurts, doesn't it?

Scott Rae: It does. It's very painful to think about. But I think what I'm encouraged about is that your name is not on the list of people who have fallen. How do you account for that over the 60 plus years of ministry? And I'm sure countless opportunities to fall from grace, but how have you remained faithful to your message, your ministry, and to your marriage?

Josh McDowell: God has called me first to be married to Dottie before he has called me into the ministry. So for me, one, it's a priority relationship. Second, I really want, and a lot of times I failed, my life in ministry to coincide with God's desires. And I know my love for Dottie and everything is right in the center of God's desires for me even more than ministry. Because if Dottie and I lost our marriage and our love and everything for each other, my ministry would be gone. It would be. But that's not why I love her. But it's priority.

And then never ever quit working on your marriage. Never stop. I always think of new ways I can tell Dottie I love her, everything else. And so always work on your marriage, learn from others, watch others, reading the books. I still read books on marriage. Not a lot now, but every once in a while I hear a book, people are saying, "Boy, that's a great book and everything." And I thought they were talking about one of mine and I found out they weren't. And so I would get that book and read it. Yeah.

Scott Rae: Very good.

Josh McDowell: The other, I can't mention this one because Dottie said, "Don't you talk about..."

Sean McDowell: Don't do it, Dad.

Josh McDowell: I'm not going to.

Sean McDowell: Just let me just stop you right there.

Josh McDowell: I can do it but [inaudible 00:17:20].

Scott Rae: Next question really quickly. Go for it.

Sean McDowell: Perhaps the most famous Biola graduation speech of all time, 1998, my senior year, you were speaking. You told me I'd be surprised but I didn't expect this level of surprise.

Scott Rae: And as a faculty member sitting through it, it was awesome.

Sean McDowell: You were there as a faculty member.

Josh McDowell: Were you there?

Scott Rae: I was. It was fabulous.

Josh McDowell: You still remember every word of it, don't you?

Scott Rae: I do.

Sean McDowell: Do you really remember word for word? I've never asked you this. Let's go. You said you heard it. What is it?

Scott Rae: Never ever, ever stop loving God and loving your spouse.

Josh McDowell: Yep.

Scott Rae: You said it three times.

Josh McDowell: I left out the God part, but everything else was right along with it. It sounded better the way you said it.

Scott Rae: I felt like that was kind of important.

Josh McDowell: That sounded a lot better the way you say it. More spiritual, godly man.

Scott Rae: It was close enough.

Sean McDowell: So that was pretty good. And I remember, because I've had people quote this to me, "Never stop pursuing an intimate, loving relationship with your spouse and spend time with your kids."

Josh McDowell: I repeated it three times.

Sean McDowell: You said it three times and sat down. And I was surprised and Clyde Cook was the president. He goes, "Well, I'm glad we're paying Josh by the word."

Josh McDowell: I don't think they gave me an honorarium after that one.

Scott Rae: Well, yeah.

Josh McDowell: But it's been quoted more than any speech in the history of Biola.

Scott Rae: Oh it's the most memorable graduation I've ever been to.

Sean McDowell: I had a high school friend BYU, his wife goes, "Hey, was this you who gave this speech?" And she recited it. I was like, "No, that was my dad at my graduation." She remembered it. But I bring that up because you said one of the ways you stayed faithful is to love your wife, my mom, and you spent time with us as kids. You did that.

Josh McDowell: I had people come up to me and say, "That was horrible. You're just lazy, aren't you?" I said, "Well, I just gave the speech. It's going to be quoted more than any other speech." But I said, "I spent about $800 on that talk," and I tried to find out what is a one thing that's going to derail their ministry, their life and their marriage. And I found out the thing that would derail their ministry and everything is their marriage. So that's when I came up with never ever, ever, ever stop pursuing a loving, intimate relationship with your wife, repeated it three times and sat down. And I got the point across because that's the number one thing that's derailing people.

Scott Rae: Yeah, all the faculty were cheering you on.

Sean McDowell: Yep.

Josh McDowell: Yeah, they were great.

Scott Rae: That's right.

Sean McDowell: And apart for being short, everyone was looking around like, "That was awesome. Your dad killed it."

Scott Rae: That's right.

Sean McDowell: And I was like, "I know, he did." Hey Dad, a question for you. You study the next generation, Gen-Zers are now probably around junior high, maybe 12 and up to like 25. So the early name right now is Gen Alpha. They'll probably be a new name in due time. I've only really seen a couple handful studies.

Scott Rae: The Gen [inaudible 00:20:32].

Sean McDowell: Yeah, could be. I've only seen a few studies about this generation because it's hard to ask eight year olds what they think about things. But do you have any sense of some of the unique traits, unique characteristics, unique challenges that this generation, say, those who are 1 to 11 right now might face? What might be unique about them? For example, I know one thing they'll be is the first majority non-white generation, Gen Z was the last, that's a factor. How digital they will be, et cetera, but do you have any thoughts on Gen Alpha?

Josh McDowell: Yes. I've already stated some of it tonight. I think you will find them more subjective than any other generation. That's the context they're growing up in, that's the emphasis of many parents and everything without them realizing it. And I would bet everything I had that they'll become a lot more subjective. Then I believe you're going to see, not a rebellion, what would you call it? A reaction. And it's going to start shifting. I really do. A lot of it would depend upon the Church.

Sean McDowell: When you say subjective, do you mean feeling oriented, self focused because they've been told it's all about you in a sense? Tell me what you mean by that.

Josh McDowell: Feelings.

Sean McDowell: Okay.

Josh McDowell: They become more, "I feel that's true. I feel that, I feel this." And we're definitely going to be going there, I have no question about that, but I think, I'm not sure how long it'll last because it'll fail. It will fail and people will be miserable. I think it all comes back to the Church, I really do. And if the Church produces healthy marriages, healthy families, it can be one of the greatest things that could happen in America. And I think we would see... Actually, I think it could almost call it a nationwide revival if the Church does its job. And I got a lot of confidence in the Church.

Scott Rae: Let me pursue that a little bit further. You've talked about some things that you're worried about the Church going forward. What are some things that encourage you about what the Church is doing and what gives you hope for the future of the Church from where you sit today?

Josh McDowell: It's kind of difficult for me to answer that one because I don't like saying anything unless I've got pretty good convictions about it and can back it up. And right now, I don't know if I could back it up, but I believe because the Church is here to stay, and I think you look at history, I don't know how many times the Church has rebounded, they really have. I'm proud of the Church. I'm proud of the pastors that we have and I really think it'll be repeated that the Church is going to rebound and take the country with it. I really do because God is in control.

But America would probably pass away, as not the most powerful nation right away, but the most influential nation I think would start changing. I really do. And there's several reasons for that. One is America's had a lot of influence over the years for one reason, all the movies. I mean, what about 95, 97% of all the movies in the world come out of Hollywood, America, American culture, American tremendous influence, and then television. But now I think what's going to cause a shift is one of the most powerful items of technology ever, a smartphone. I think more and more people from other countries, other cultures, that now they can transmit their culture, they can transmit their ideas, but they couldn't before. And I think that's going to... There's some great cultures out there. I mean, I think America's a great culture, but there's some great cultures out there that are going to rise at the top. And my only hope is that they'll have a positive influence in a world with that. I hope so.

Scott Rae: Now I think, just to be clear, we're not equating the flourishing of any particular country with the progress of the kingdom of God. Those are two completely separate things. And I know you're not-

Josh McDowell: I sure hope they are.

Scott Rae: Yeah-

Josh McDowell: There's definitely...

Scott Rae: And as much as we want America to continue to flourish-

Josh McDowell: I'm not talking about flourishing, just spiritually, I'm talking about financially, political, influence, military, everything.

Scott Rae: Culture.

Josh McDowell: And because of this smartphone, more and more people are exposed to other cultures and the good in other cultures. And that's going to rise to the forefront, it really will. It already is, it already is.

Sean McDowell: Dad, I get one last question for you. It's possible you answered this, but you could reiterate it. We've got a lot of students here at Biola that not only listen to the podcast, students at Talbot, grad students that do, but some here in person listening while we record this. What encouragement would you give to a young person today just to be faithful, to live a life of influence in light of this cultural moment? What encouragement would you give to young person who says, "Hey man, you've been doing this a long time, give me some words of wisdom"?

Josh McDowell: The number one thing I would say, because it's the number one thing I do say, is no matter what kind of relationship you have with your mom and dad, do everything within your power to develop a healthy relationship with your mom and dad because if you do, you will never ever regret it. But if you don't, you will probably grow up regretting, "I wish I would've done more. I wish I would've done this," whatever, because I'm convinced, I think I can prove it statistically in research that the healthier relationship you have with your parents, the healthier life is going to be when you live it out. It really is. I wish more parents took more seriously the impact they have upon children.

But I mean, my dad was drunk all the time. My mother, I think drove him to drink. My mother weighed 346 pounds and she was only 5'9". And so she could throw my dad around. I remember in the kitchen throwing him against the wall, everything. And I think my mother humiliated my dad and drove him to drink. But my mother was a good woman. But she sure had her negative parts. And so the better the relationship of a child with their parents, the healthier their life is going to be and the greater the impact. And you got to remember, parents are not perfect. Some of them not even clear to being perfect, but they're still the parents that God chose for you. And I would do everything I could to have a good relationship with my mom and dad.

Scott Rae: I appreciate your vulnerability on that. That's rich, thank you.

Josh McDowell: But I wish to God every day I'd had a loving, close, meaningful, intimate relationship with my mom and dad and I didn't. I don't think a day goes by I don't think about it. And I mean, my one brother sued my parents for everything they had, took everything and he probably deserved it. But my other sister ran away from home. My other sister killed herself and my other brother left and I still don't know where he is. He's two years older than me and I have no idea. I've gone on the internet and everything trying to find him and I can't. It wasn't a very healthy family.

But where I was fortunate, I had a Dick Day in my life and I married the right woman. I married the right woman. If I had married anyone that wasn't quite like Dottie, I wouldn't be married right now, I'd be divorced. And I wouldn't... I mean, God has allowed me to have a global ministry and impact in people's lives and I couldn't have had that without being married to someone like Dottie. And I love it, her kids call her my shining star.

Scott Rae: Hear, hear.

Josh McDowell: Yeah. I call her my boss. No, I don't. No, I don't. I always do what she says because she makes so much sense.

Scott Rae: There you go.

Josh McDowell: Bugs me sometimes.

Sean McDowell: Well, I had some more-

Josh McDowell: You said that was the last question.

Sean McDowell: I did. I was about to say, I had some more questions for you, but that felt like a mic drop moment. You brought it full circle back to mom, full circle back to the impact Dick Day had on your life. So Dad, thanks for coming back. We'll have you in five more years. We'll do it again.

Josh McDowell: When do I pick up the check?

Sean McDowell: We'll just keep on going.

Josh McDowell: When you leave without a check, the longer it takes to get to you, the smaller it is.

Scott Rae: Josh, this was called Singing for Your Supper tonight.

Josh McDowell: Oh, okay.

Sean McDowell: Exactly.

Josh McDowell: Yep, all right. I'll write that one out-

Sean McDowell: Cut his mic, cut his mic.

Josh McDowell: That's 10% for this year.

Scott Rae: That's it.

Sean McDowell: All right, Dad, thanks.

Josh McDowell: I don't care what others say, you two are okay.

Sean McDowell: We appreciate that. Well, you can hear the applause in the background. Thanks, Dad, that was wonderful. If you want to hear more of his story, check out his book and video, Undaunted, tells his life. I think you'll enjoy that. This has been brought to you by the Think Biblically Podcast from Biola University Talbot School of Theology. Check out for more episodes. If you enjoyed today's podcast, or even if you didn't enjoy today's podcast, please give us a rating on your podcast app and consider sharing it with a friend. Thanks so much. And remember, think biblically about everything.