Ep. 33: The Roots of an Evangelist: Josh McDowell’s Origin Story

The Audio

Show Notes

The stats wouldn’t have predicted Josh McDowell would turn out to be one of the world’s most famous evangelists. Josh’s early life seemed headed for destruction. His dad was drunk just about 24/7 and a man who lived in Josh’s childhood home repeatedly sexually assaulted Josh for much of his young life. That is, until Josh violently threatened him to never touch him again.

Josh’s anger being used as a tool to attempt to bring some order to the chaos of his home was a recurring theme. When Josh’s dad would hit Josh’s mom, Josh would fight him. He’d even tie up his dad in the barn to keep him from embarrassing the family when guests came over. In frustration he even swore off his belief in a good, loving God.

It’s perhaps no surprise that when Josh came of age and enrolled at community college, Josh became antagonistic to a group of Christian students that attempted to love him. The group’s joy and kindness frustrated Josh and he set out to disprove their belief using all the tools of modern academia.

Josh even saved up and flew himself to the other side of the world to study in Europe’s great libraries. He had hoped to disprove the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Instead, he wound up believing the truth that it had indeed happened as described in the pages of scripture.

Josh surrendered to Christ in the months that followed that epiphany and God began to move in His life powerfully. After being discipled by a local pastor for some time, he was encouraged to confront his dad and forgive him. Hesitantly, Josh followed through with setting up a time to meet with his dad. When he did, all that came out of his mouth was “I love you.”

Those words had a profound effect on teh senior McDowell, and he ended up giving his life to Christ sometime later. The change in him was so radical that his small town immediately took notice and, before too long, others came to Christ.

Josh’s mom passed away and he never got to speak to her about Christ. Then, a few years into his walk with Jesus, Josh’s dad passed away. This left Josh without family and pondering the state of his mother’s soul.

One day, he was praying and asking God to show him whether his mom had ever surrendered her life to him. Josh thought this prayer would likely never be answered, but 90 minutes later, as he walked a pier not far from his seminary campus in California, he ran into a sweet older lady fishing on the doc.

The lady struck up conversation and mentioned that she had family in the same town in Michigan Josh was from. It turned out that this lady was Josh’s aunt, his mom’s sister. Finding out that this woman was very dedicated to God, he asked if his mom had ever given her life to Christ. His aunt told him the incredible story of her and Josh’s mom giving their lives to Christ at a tent revival meeting as teenagers. The Lord had brought them together that day, thousands of miles from Josh’s home, in order to answer Josh’s prayer for assurance as well as to address Josh’s lack of family.

Listen to the full story as well as hear Josh’s parenting and discipleship advice in this week’s episode. Audio above!

  • Josh shared on his 7 keys to effective parenting with Justin (link below).
  • Josh's real name is "Jos" but when he was a school athlete, someone printed it "Josh" in that paper and it stuck.
  • Josh shared about his great wife and the advice his mother-in-law gave for raising great children.
  • Even though Josh has written over 150 books, Josh said he'd be fine if he never wrote another one again because each one "guts you."