Do Apologetics Still Work?
Sean McDowell on why More Than a Carpenter was updated for a new generation
Editor's Note: The re-released version of More Than a Carpenter is now available. This version includes a new chapter by Sean McDowell, son of Josh McDowell, that addresses questions posed by The New Atheists plus thought-provoking questions and a more interactive design. (The New Atheists is a grass-roots group, which denies God and claims that faith and fact cannot coincide. The trend has grown from bestselling books like God is Not Great, The God Delusion, and Letter to a Christian Nation.)
CCCi.org: Why re-release More Than a Carpenter after 32 years?
Sean: Many people have written off apologetics as no longer relevant in our so-called "postmodern world," but nothing could be further from the truth. This generation has been dubbed solely relational, but rationality is also important in reaching and equipping them.
CCCi.org: Can you site a specific example of why apologetics is still relevant today?
Sean: When Lee Strobel wrote The Case for Christ, he was told by a well-known theologian that no one would read his book since our culture is "postmodern." Now, 10 years later, Strobel told me in an interview that more people ages 16 to 24 have contacted him as a result of becoming a Christian through his book than any other age group.
CCCi.org: How did you prepare for writing the new chapter and the updates?
Sean: It took quite awhile to research the new chapter because I wanted to carefully read all the books by the New Atheists, as well as recent criticisms of the New Atheists by Christians.
I talked with a lot of experts, and did quite a bit of extensive research to ensure the updates were as accurate and relevant as possible.
CCCi.org: One theologian I spoke to mentioned apologetics has changed since 1977 (when More Than a Carpenter was first released). Would you agree with that statement? If so, how has it changed?
Sean: Yes and no. People will always be people. It's part of human nature to desire truth and to make sense of our world. Sound arguments will always be part of persuading people.
One difference today is that, with the advent of the Internet, people are exposed to far more ideas and counter-examples than in 1977. Thus, people can more easily find objections to the evidence for Christianity.
CCCi.org: What other differences do you see?
Sean: I also think that we have an emotionally starved/wounded generation, and so effective apologetics must involve emotional healing. It's hard for people to digest truth about God when there are emotional hurts in their lives.
For example, if a young person has a broken relationship with his or her father; it's awfully difficult to grasp the idea of a loving Heavenly Father, even if logical arguments are persuasive.
In this updated version of More Than a Carpenter, my dad shares his story of being sexually abused as a child and how God helped him experience forgiveness. His willingness to share this part of his life will give many people hope and encouragement that God can heal them too.
CCCi.org: Can you explain the difference between the old version and the new version?
Sean: The book has been such a smashing success that we feared making substantial changes to the format, content or length. Part of my job was to go through the entire book and incorporate responses to popular objections that have come up over the past few years.
For example, The Da Vinci Code raised some issues related to the deity of Jesus that we felt it was important to answer. We also responded to recent objections against the reliability of the Scriptures, and the resurrection of Jesus.
In addition to writing a new chapter on The Challenge of the New Atheism, I have added call-outs on many of the pages. Some of these call-outs include discussion questions to engage the reader to become more aware of what they stand for.
Other call-outs reflect more of a highlight of my dad's thoughts at the time he was discovering that Jesus is More Than a Carpenter.
CCCi.org: How do you see this tool being used?
Sean: One of the unique things about More Than a Carpenter is that it is effective for evangelism and for discipleship. It's truly amazing how many people have come to trust Christ as a result of reading it.
We hope that people will use it as a giveaway for seekers who are open to the claims of Christ.
CCCi.org: Yet your target audience is more than just non-believers, but new Christians and Christians who want to be grounded in their faith?
Sean: Most books only succeed when they have a clear target audience in mind. More Than a Carpenter has been able to transcend a few different categories.
As a whole, Christians today are biblically illiterate. More Than a Carpenter very effectively takes some complex theological issues (e.g. propitiation) and makes them understandable, interesting and relevant to everyday life.
We envision churches, schools and families using it as a resource to equip Christians to go deeper in their faith and effectively evangelize.
Sean McDowell serves as the head of the Bible Department at Capistrano Valley Christian Schools in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. He teaches courses on apologetics and theology. Sean obtained a double Master's degree from Talbot Theological Seminary in theology and philosophy while graduating summa cum laude. He is an author of 5 books. Sean and his wife, Stephanie have 2 children.