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More Than A Carpenter Book Review

            Josh McDowell’s book proves to be a very well written, concise explanation of the case for Christianity. From biblical testimony to the nature of science to copies of the Bible to the death of Christ to the actions of the Apostles to the conversion of Saul to the perpetuation of the gospel to the fulfillment of prophecy to the nature of God to personal experience, Josh McDowell seems to leave no stone left unturned in demonstrating the overwhelming evidence for the truth of the gospels.

            Josh McDowell’s first chapter gives the case for the Jesus claim of being God. He begins by pointing to Jesus’ name. Jesus Christ means “the Lord saves” and “anointed one”, which by itself points to Jesus’ authority.(11) Jesus is directly called God (Titus 2:13) and is given the characteristics that only God has: self-existence (John 1:4; 14:6), omnipresence (Matthew 28:20, 18:20), omniscience (John 4:16; 6:64; Matthew 17:22-27), omnipotence (Revelation 1:8; Luke 4:39-55; 7:14, 15; Matthew 8:26, 27); and possessing eternal life (1 John 5:11, 12, 20; John 1:4).(11) Afterwards, the author points to the confessions of devout Jews: Peter, Martha, Nathanael, Stephen, and Thomas.(12-14) Now, the author does make the mistake here of attributing Luke 3:22 to John the Baptist rather than Luke, but that does not at all diminish from his apologetic on the deity of Christ.(13)  The author then points to the reaction of the Jews to his message such as in the case of John 5:18 (15) and points to the language being used to describe Jesus’ connection with God by referring to A.T. Robertson’s writings (16). He then points out Jesus’ forgiveness of sins which is something only God can do.(18-19) He concludes the chapter with the evidence in Jesus’ trial: Jesus’ testimony and the nature of the trial.(20-23) This was a very strong way to start the book.

            In chapter two, McDowell goes further than who Christ claimed He was and gives evidence that Jesus is in fact Lord. To do this he comes up with three scenarios: Jesus was the Lord, a liar, or a lunatic. The author makes it clear that it is not possible to think of Him as simply a good teacher, as many do today; He can only be one of those three options.(26) The author first points to a vague argument on the beneficial effects of Jesus teaching.(28) He then points to Jesus consistent behavior, fulfilled predictions, intelligence, sacrificing of His life, and location of ministry to argue against Jesus being a liar.(29-30) He then points to the lack of evidence for insanity, Jesus healing power on the psyche, and intelligence to argue for Jesus not being crazy.(31-33) This chapter is a weak one for McDowell; he relies on quotes rather than explaining his points in detail so as to rely on emotion more than logic. His basis for the chapter is quite strong though; Jesus being just a “good man” or a “good teacher” is not a logical choice.

            In chapter three, McDowell argues that science cannot disprove Christianity. This is easily the weakest chapter for McDowell as he finds himself outside his manner of expertise, as he is not a scientist (36). McDowell does this due to his narrow view of science. McDowell claims that just because an event is not reproducible (such as having lunch on a specific day) that that event cannot be proven scientifically.(38) Science is not just the proving of a principle based on repeated experimentation (the theoretical aspect of science) but is based on the application of that principle to various situations (the practical aspect of science). It is thus ridiculous to claim that you cannot prove scientifically that you ate lunch on a specific day of the week. If you had video from a camera with a timestamp that recorded a student eating, would it not be scientific to conclude that the student ate there on that day at that time? It would of course be; repeated experimentation has shown cameras record accurate visual representation of events. Obviously, science is not perfect; someone could have edited in a timestamp, but that does not neglect that the conclusion was arrived at scientifically. McDowell also shows ignorance by trying to separate legal proofs from science.(39) A legal prove is scientific, it is comparing repeated observation of the world to give a conclusion of what happened during a specific event. Does McDowell not realize why scientists testify in the courtroom? Legal proofs are based on science. This is obviously due to a conception of science as something done by professors in lab coats, when science is done by everyone everyday without realizing it. I have a hypothesis that leaving for class 6-7 minutes before the hour instead of  7-8 minutes before the hour will increase my chances of being late by over 100%, so I test over a long enough period to conclude that this is true (that it is not due to some other coincidental event). Since this chapter relies on a straw man argument against science, I will not address it further.

            In chapter 4, McDowell argues for the accuracy of modern copies of the Bible, which much of the other arguments are based on. He points out that papyri archaeology shows less time of verbal transmission before being written down.(42-46) He then points to evidence of the precise nature of Jewish writing.(45) The author then mentions the number of manuscripts of the New Testament compared to those required to be considered historically accurate by scholars (47-49) as well as the amount of criticism of the New Testament to conclude that the New Testament is historically accurate (49). He mentions that the authors of 2 Peter, Luke, 1 John, and John at least claim to be witnesses to the events of Jesus life, putting them in a position to be reliable sources.(50-51)  The author then points to the success of appealing to common knowledge in the gospels.(51-53) He then mentions a quote that describes the lack of censorship in the gospels as evidence of  their truthfulness.(53)  The author then quotes two external sources close to the manner who testify to the accuracy of the gospels (55-56) and goes on to say that archaeology provides evidence of the accuracy of the gospels (56-57). This chapter is another strong one for McDowell, as he finds himself back in familiar waters.

            In chapter 5, McDowell uses the willingness of the Apostles to die as strong evidence for the truth of the gospels. He points out that all the apostles except John died as martyrs, while John died a natural death.(61) When asked what makes this different from other people who have died for a lie, he says “Yes, a lot of people have died for a lie, but they thought it was the truth”.(61-62) First, since, the Apostles were eyewitnesses of the events of the gospels, they knew what the truth was.(62) Second, the change in the skepticism of the Apostles after the resurrection cannot be adequately explained without the resurrection.(64) Third, the boldness of the Apostles after the resurrection cannot be adequately explained without the resurrection.(66) McDowell puts out another strong chapter in his book as he ends it with, “I believe I can trust their [the apostles] testimony more than that of most people I meet today, people who are not willing to walk across the street for what they believe, let alone die for it” (70).

            In chapter 6, McDowell does a quick proof of Christianity, which is related to chapter 5. His argument can be summarized as the Apostles did not have any possible motive to spread the gospel if it was a lie.(76)

            In chapter 7, McDowell argues for Christianity based on the 360-degree change seen in Saul’s life after his conversion. He argues Saul’s change in character,(83) change in his relationship with the followers of Christ,(83) change in message,(83-84) and change in mission (84) point to the truth of Christianity.

            In chapter 8, McDowell argues for Christianity based on the perpetuation of the gospel story of the resurrection. His quoting of Paul Althaus summarizes his argument, “…[the resurrection] could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned” (91).

            In chapter 9, McDowell argues for the Christianity based on the fulfillment of prophecy by Jesus Christ.(101) McDowell argues against accusations that it was a coincidence with the published probability that there is at most a 1 in 10 to the 17th power of it being a coincidence (108) and argues against the accusation that they were self-fulfilling prophecies on Jesus part by pointing out that many of the prophecies of Jesus were beyond his control (109).

            In chapter 10, McDowell argues for Christianity based on the nature of God. He uses a very effective anecdote to illustrate this; he tells the story of a judge whose daughter was guilty of speeding, so he took off his robe and paid her fine as a parent.(114-115) McDowell stated that he couldn’t simply forgive her of the sin and be a righteous judge: he needed to pay the fine.(115)

            In chapter 11, McDowell ends the book by arguing for Christianity from personal experience, including his own.  McDowell’s dad testified to this when he said to McDowell, “…if God can do in my life what I’ve seen him do in yours, then I want to give him the opportunity” (127).

            Had I not been a Christian already, I do not understand how I could not be convinced of the truth of the gospels after reading McDowell’s book. He never fails in his ability to use powerful language, compile research from a broad range of sources, and put together a coherent and compelling argument. McDowell’s book has weaknesses, however. The greatest of these are the vagueness of his arguments due to his obvious desire to keep the book relatively concise like in Chapter 4 where he fails to give a single example of archaeology as external evidence; the lack of clarity at places of his arguments due to his reliance on quotes from others to speak for themselves like in Chapter 2; his lack of references for key points such as how the Apostles died in Chapter 5; and his reliance on a straw man argument to dismiss science in Chapter 3. I of course already mentioned my problem with chapter 3 at length in the paragraph on it, so it would be correct to say that I felt this was the least persuasive argument. There were so many compelling arguments it would be hard to claim any one was the most persuasive, but I found Chapter 8 to be, because you can still try to claim that some strange, unknown madness took place, prophecy is being misinterpreted, the Bible is a misinterpretation of the nature of God, and that the changes in peoples’ lives are just the placebo effect, but you cannot deny that the story of the Resurrection would have been disproven quickly if it were not true.

 

©2008 Jorge Eduardo Fernandez