FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Stepping Into the Light

with Josh McDowell | July 9, 2013
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After an abusive and horrendously difficult childhood, Josh was bitter and doubtful about Christianity. Who could blame him. But God was about to change his life, and his beliefs, in an amazing way. Josh McDowell tells how he set out to prove that Christianity was a hoax, and instead came into a relationship with the living God.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • After an abusive and horrendously difficult childhood, Josh was bitter and doubtful about Christianity. Who could blame him. But God was about to change his life, and his beliefs, in an amazing way. Josh McDowell tells how he set out to prove that Christianity was a hoax, and instead came into a relationship with the living God.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

McDowell tells how he set out to prove that Christianity was a hoax, and instead came into a relationship with the living God.

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Stepping Into the Light

With Josh McDowell
July 09, 2013
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Bob: Josh McDowell will never forget the first time, after he had come to faith in Christ, when he talked to his father.

Josh: I drove to Battle Creek, Michigan, to a diner. I went there to tell my dad how much I hated him—as a new Christian, even—how I never wanted to see him again. We sat there. He was with his girlfriend because my mother had died. I just started to tell him—and out of mouth came—it’s like it just happened today—out of my mouth came, “Dad, I love you.” Oh, my gosh! I really don’t know who was most surprised—him hearing it or me saying it—but it changed me. 

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Josh McDowell joins us today to tell us how God led him on the path of transformation—the path that took him to Jesus. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. If I came to you and said: “I know a young man—15 years old, grew up in a family where Dad was an alcoholic—was physically abusive to his mom—Mom was overweight. This young man was preyed upon by a family friend who regularly abused him, sexually; and that’s been his life, up until this point.” If I told you that’s what had been his background, what would you think is ahead for that young man? 

Dennis: Well, I think he’s going to come to a true crossroads of dealing with the person of Jesus Christ in his life. He’s going to have to decide, “Am I going to believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be?” and that the Heavenly Father loved that young man enough to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross on his behalf. Then, at that point, if he meets Christ, I think he’s got hope for dealing with the heart issues that accompany with all that you described.

Bob: It’s not like he meets Christ, and all of those issues vanish, and everything is now fine; but now, you have a resource for being able to heal and to deal with your past history; right?

Dennis: Exactly. We have a friend with us, in the studio. He’s been on FamilyLife Today on numerous occasions. He’s a good friend. We sat in on some meetings together at Cru® down in Orlando—

Josh: Some? A whole lot! [Laughter]

Bob: Did you write notes back and forth to each other?

Dennis: We email each other.

Bob: In the middle of the meetings?

Dennis: Nobody knows; but we’re emailing each other, slipping little notes. I’m a big fan of Josh McDowell. Josh, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Josh: Oh, it’s so good to be back. And you’ve got to understand, I’m one of the biggest fans of Dennis Rainey—

Dennis: Yes.

Josh: —too. [Laughter]

Dennis: Yes.

Josh: We could always tell how boring the meetings were by how many emails and notes we were sending each other. [Laughter] And I’ve got a stack of them!

Dennis: Well, the life that Bob just described—Josh, was your life. And yet, as a college freshman, you were kind of known as a skeptic—a doubter about the Christian faith. Yet, God began to break through. Share with our listeners how, as a young man, you came to that fork in the road with the person of Jesus Christ.

Josh: There were several events. I sat out to write my book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, against Christianity. I was angry. I was bitter. I’d carried a lot of it around in my life. When I was 11 years old, my oldest brother, Wilmot—I was the baby; he was the oldest—worked on the farm. He took my parents to a court of law and sued them for everything they had. Can you imagine a son doing this to his parents? Now, I was 11 years old. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew there were problems.

I found out, later, in the settlement of the lawsuit—one thing my brother got, among many things—was a new home my folks had built on the farm for workers. He announced to my parents he was going to move it. My parents went to him and said: “Don’t. We need it. We’ll buy the land. We’ll buy the house. We’ll give you the money;” but my father had so wounded and hurt my brother that my brother said, “No, we’re going to move it.”

Well, when they announced that, in two weeks from that Saturday, they were going to move it, I couldn’t sleep for two weeks. Come on! How do you pick up a big house and move it? And they were going to move it about a half mile down into Union City, Michigan, where it is now. So, for two weeks, I couldn’t sleep. That Saturday, I got up extra early, and got my chores done, and took a good shower, put on my best work clothes. And at 11 years old, I ran out of the back of the house.

To the left of the house, you could look up this knoll—probably about half of a football field—and there was the house. I looked up there, and there was a small group of people around there—about 30, 40 people. They were farmers and merchants from around Union City, Michigan. This was key, now—many of them were parents of my friends—that I went to their homes, played, everything. I thought: “Wow! This is going to be quite a party.” I figured they couldn’t believe you could move a house like this and came out to see it. It didn’t take me long to realize that’s not why they were there. 

My brother, who was very popular—involved in agricultural stuff, 4-H, everything like that. So, he went around and got these farmers and merchants—parents of my friends—to come out that Saturday to stand in opposition to my parents. I didn’t know that. So, here I am—I’m 11 years old; and my heart is pumping. My adrenaline is flowing. I’m running up this hill. I think sometimes my feet didn’t even hit the ground I was so excited. I got to the top of the hill, and my world came crashing down.

I heard these farmers, these merchants, calling my parents the dirtiest, filthiest names—throwing my dad, pushing him onto the ground because he’d been drinking and pretty well drunk—and heard my brother say some of the nastiest things in front of all—everybody was laughing. I cracked. I ran down the other side of the hill, went into the barn, where there was a room—it was a small room—but there were three bins in there for wheat, oats, and shelled corn to grind up for cattle feed. I closed the big door, put the iron latch down, locked it, and took the two blinders out of the windows—boards holding it up—until it was pitch black. Eleven years old—I climbed up into that shelled corn bin, and I buried myself into that corn up to my neck. That’s when I prayed to die.

I literally felt—it wouldn’t matter to anyone if I lived or died because I was there for three hours. My parents never came looking for me. I mean, I can’t imagine—here, in front of everyone—I break down crying, screaming, ran down in front of 30, 40 people—my own parents—and nobody came looking for me. About one o’clock that afternoon, I was so hungry and thirsty. I dug myself out of the corn. I jumped out of the bin. When I opened that door and the sunlight hit me in the face, it shocked me into reality. That’s when I damned my dad—I cursed him. And I damned God and cursed Him for abandoning me in the corn bin. From that day on, I cursed God.

I mean, if anyone said they were a Christian, they didn’t want to say it around me because I became very cynical—I became very—because I was hurt, and I—and what happened was I stuffed a lot of that bitterness—anger—down into my life.

Well, at the university, I saw a small group of people; and their lives were different. They really were. The biggest thing I noticed was they seemed to not only love and care for each other, but they loved and cared for people outside their group. Well, I thought that was weird; but I wanted it. So, I made friends with them. I asked them, “What changed your life?” This young lady looked at me with a little smile and just said, “Jesus Christ.” Well, that was it. That triggered. It was like a volcano went off. I think all that anger just came out. I mean, I lashed them with my tongue. Well, right there, they stood up to me. There were two professors, six/seven students; and they challenged me to intellectually examine it, which I thought was a joke. But what they were doing was totally appropriate. I was the problem.

So, I accepted their challenge to refute them—to make a joke of them. I left the school—travelled throughout the United States, England, Germany, France, and Switzerland—gathering evidence to write Evidence That Demands a Verdict against Christianity. I had returned to London, England. It was a Friday night about 6/6:30. I was in a small museum library, looking at some manuscripts—now, I couldn’t read Greek or Hebrew. So, I always got experts there to explain what they are and everything and the significance of them. I sat down in the library, leaned back in my chair, and right out loud, in front of everyone—which was probably three people—I said: “It’s true! It’s true! It’s true!”

I returned to the university. I couldn’t sleep. On December 19th, at 9:30 at night—8:30 at night—I put to the test—I just said, “God, if You’re God and if Christ is Your Son—if You can do in my life what You promised You could do in the Scriptures, then, I want to accept You as my Savior and Lord if You can forgive me.” Nothing happened. I didn’t sprout wings. Nothing emotional or anything; but in about six months, my entire life was changed.

One of the biggest was towards my father. I drove to Battle Creek, Michigan, to a diner. I went there to tell my dad how much I hated him—as a new Christian, even—how I never wanted to see him again. We sat there. He was with his girlfriend because my mother had died. I just started to tell him—and out of my mouth came—it’s like it just happened today—out of my mouth came, “Dad, I love you.” Oh, my gosh! I really don’t know who was most surprised—him hearing it or me saying it—but it changed me.

All of a sudden—I can’t—I wasn’t used to that. I was used to hating those I wanted to hate and loving those I wanted to love. I never had the compassion to love those I chose to hate—and without any willing towards it. That’s when I knew it was true. I knew something had happened in my life. I ended up bringing my dad to Christ. He died because three-fourths of his stomach had to be removed. He’s entire liver was destroyed—everything through 30 years of drinking—but in that 30-month period, scores of people put their faith in Christ because of the changed life of the town drunk.

But I want to make a statement here that could be misunderstood. So, if it is misunderstood, ask me the right questions. I needed more than Jesus. Now, most people think that’s heresy. I think it’s totally biblical. I needed the body of Christ. Much of Christ’s healing in my life came through others ministering to me. Now, when it comes to my salvation—whole basis—all I need is Jesus—but from there, everything after that, I need the body of Christ.

Bob: You call it the body of Christ. It’s Jesus working through—

Josh: That’s right!

Bob: —community.

Josh: It’s Christ working through others. Almost all the changes that I came to know about—Jesus in my life, everything—came through others ministering to me.

Bob: Where would you be at—70 years old, today—if there had been no encounter with Jesus—do you think?

Josh: I would have probably been in politics—and, I think, maybe fairly successful.

Bob: You think you’d have been married to one woman for—

Josh: Oh, no; absolutely no. I’ll tell you this. Boy, you talk about needing the body of Christ. Dottie—we’re 42 years married. I never knew, Bob, a woman could love a man as much as Dottie loves me. I’ve never seen any Hollywood movie or anything—I tell people, “Dottie has changed my life more than Jesus.” Now, I know it was Jesus through Dottie.

Bob: Right.

Josh: But if you just looked at it, I am so humbled to be married to her.

Bob: Yes.

Josh: She came from an excellent family, and she loved me. She was patient with me—accepting of me. She ministered truth to me. She’d lived the truth out in our marriage, our love—everything. And then, with Paul and Leslie Lewis, Jim and Vivian Simpson, and Leslie’s parents, Dick and Charlotte Day—whom you know—

Dennis: Right.

Josh: —and the man who led me to Christ—without them, I wouldn’t be here! They loved me. I learned—I saw what a marriage could be like. I saw what a healthy man could be like. I saw what it meant to be a father—to relate to your children. I could have read all that; but if I hadn’t seen it, it wouldn’t have caught.

Bob: You’ve ministered to a lot of young men who have gotten engaged in the homosexual lifestyle. You’ve heard them tell about stories, in their childhood, that sound like stories in your childhood.

Josh: Oh, many.

Bob: Do you think that could have been the trajectory your life would have taken?

Josh: Yes, it could have because so many that have come to me who have—especially, seen the movie and all—have said, “Something similar like that happened to me,” “…happened to me,” “…happened to me,” “…happened to me.”

Dennis: Right. Josh, I want to go back to your comment about needing someone more than Jesus Christ. You know, the Bible begins with a story of God, Himself, declaring to Adam, “It’s not good that you be alone.” So, you’re in good company in agreeing that, as human beings, we need more than just a relationship with God in person. He made a helpmate—in your case, Dottie—to come alongside you and be the arms of Christ—at points—physically, to you and, emotionally, to you.

I want to go back to the time when you had the car wreck, though. You were taken home in an ambulance, more than 120 miles, back to your house. You had an encounter with your father, where he ultimately trusted Christ. Share that story because, to me, that just brings us full circle around this whole family story of yours and what Christ did in your life—Who ultimately touched your dad.

Josh: When I was a senior at Wheaton College, I’d only been there a year-and-a-half because my first two years they wouldn’t have accepted me. I was in a very serious car accident, where a man—drunk, doing about 50 miles an hour—hit me, where I was stopped at a train—came within 12 inches of hitting the train, myself—it was moving. They took me home in an ambulance after I was in the emergency section of the hospital for maybe six/seven days.

They called my dad. He had been drinking. So, he thought I was dying. I wasn’t. I was just hurting a lot. They strapped me in the bed with a board, where I couldn’t move. So, I’m strapped in bed. All I can do is look up. They had several nurses that were going to take turns for about a week to two weeks to take care of me because I couldn’t even wipe my own eyes.

So, I’m in bed, and my father came into the room. He first stood in the doorway, leaned against the door. I’ll never forget what he said, “Son, how can you love a father like me?” I said: “Dad, six months ago, I hated you. I despised you. I hated everything that you stood for;” but I said, “Dad, I’ve come to know one thing—that God became man. His name is Jesus, and He’s passionate about a relationship with you.” My father turned around and walked out.

I thought: “Shwew! I guess I blew that one.” About 45 minutes later, he came back in—maybe 45, I don’t know. It was just a long time. He came back in. He paced back and forth for a little bit. Then, he sat down on the bed. He said, “Son, if God can do in my life what I’ve seen Him do in yours, I’m going to give Him the opportunity.” Oh, my gosh! Guys, you talk about joy! Most people don’t have that much joy in a lifetime than I had in one moment.

I’ll never forget the prayer that he prayed. At best, I can recall is he said: “God, if You’re God and Jesus is Your Son and if He died on the cross for me and can forgive me”—now, this is interesting—what he asked forgiveness for—“if He can forgive me for what I’ve done to my family and if You can do in my life what I’ve seen You do in the life of my son, then, I want to accept You into my life as Savior and Lord.” Whew! In about six months to a year/a year-and-a-half, the entire life of my dad was changed. It was incredible.

Dennis: So much so many people in the community came to faith because—

Josh: I would say—in the community and going out about 100 miles—upwards of possibly a hundred people came to Christ because of the town drunk. It all started in that diner when I went to tell him I hated him; and I said, “Dad, I love you.” I just thank God now! I mean, how He can change our words, and change our heart and all. That’s how my dad ended up coming to Christ.

We really became close for a while, but he died like 14 months later. That ticked me off because it was like being rejected again. See, I thought he drank because I wasn’t a son worth having a relationship with. Then, I thought he died because I wasn’t worth living for. And nah—I had nothing to do with that.

Bob: Right.

Josh: And now, I understand that; but at the time, emotionally, I was hurt that he didn’t stay alive because I just started to have a dad. I tell my kids, “Kids, the kind of father you’ve had and the marvelous family that we have—a lot of that came out of about 14 months of knowing what it meant to have a daddy.” I keep thinking, “What if I’d known him like that my whole life?”

Dennis: Josh, I’m listening to your story—and I’m thinking there has to be a listener who may be a skeptic—who, perhaps, they’re angry with God like you were—and they are in need forgiveness. They know what they’ve done. They don’t think God can forgive them. They don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ and are not really committed to following Him. Take their hand in yours, and introduce them, and put that hand in the hand of their Heavenly Father.

Josh: What I would say is I can truly identify with what you are going through.  I know one thing: God became man. His name is Jesus, and He is passionate about a relationship with you. And I would say, “Do you realize that God loves you so much that if you were the only person alive, Jesus still would die for you?” It’s not a religion—it’s a relationship. I would share what I prayed to know Christ—when finally—intellectually, I became convinced it is true and how, emotionally, I came to know that a Heavenly Father is different than an earthly father. I said the biggest step is your decision. You have to make it. If God can’t forgive you, He can’t forgive anyone.

It says, “Christ died for all of our sins,” and He says, “I’ll put them far away—as the east is from the west.” Thank God, He didn’t say, “North and south,” because you can measure north to south—North Pole/South Pole. You only go north so long; then, you’re going south. There’s no East and West Poles. You can’t measure east to west. He says, “I’ll put your sins as far away as the east is from the west.” God has promised to forgive you.

And right now, I just say to you: “Commit your will to Christ. Ask Him to forgive you, by faith—even though you don’t feel it—He has promised it.” Challenge Him at His promise:

God, I need You. God, I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and that You love me. Right now, I ask You to forgive me. You’ve promised that if I confess my sins that You will cleanse me from all unrighteousness. So, I confess my sins to You—not because of anything that I have done—but because of what Jesus did on the cross.

And right now, I obey the Scriptures where it says, “But to as many as received Him, to them give You the right to become a child of God,” I receive You into my life as Savior and Lord. Take over the throne of my life. Change me from the inside out. Thank You that I can trust You.

If you just prayed that prayer, find a believer—somebody who is a follower of Jesus—and share it with them. What I would suggest—you ask them how they came to know Christ. That will begin a relationship that can heal you and see you grow in this newly-found relationship with God.

Dennis: And where Christ goes—and shows up in a person’s life—He changes things.

Josh: That’s right.

Dennis: You have just begun a transformational journey that will last a lifetime. There will be plenty of work for Him to do in your life and on your life; but it is the journey of a lifetime.

Bob: If you go to our website,, you’ll see a link there—in the center of the page—that says, “Two Ways to Live”. If you click on that link, it will take you to a place on the web where you can find out more about what it means to follow Jesus—to make that the way you’re going to live rather than to live for yourself. Again, go to and click the link that says, “Two Ways to Live”, to find out more about what it means to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

And while you are on our website, at, look for information about the book and the DVD that tells Josh McDowell’s story. The book is called Undaunted. That’s also the name of the movie that has been made of Josh’s life—that is now available on DVD. This may be something you’d like to share with the youth group at church or something your family would want to view together.

Again, go to for more information about the book and DVD—Undaunted—that tell the story of the life of Josh McDowell—that we’ve been hearing this week. You can also call us if you need more information or if you’d like to have these resources sent to you. Our toll-free number is 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”—1-800-FL-TODAY. Give us a call, and we’ll get what you need sent out to you.

You know, we want to say a quick word of thanks today to those of you who make the ministry of FamilyLife Today possible—those of you who support this ministry with financial contributions that cover the costs of producing and syndicating this daily radio program. And just as we have heard Josh share a compelling story about how God showed up in his life, we have available, this week, a CD that we’d like to send to those of you who can help support this ministry. It’s another compelling story of God showing up. It’s the story of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. Their real life story was made into a Hollywood movie called The Vow; but I have to tell you their story is a better story than the one Hollywood turned out.

When you make a donation, online, at, this week, click the button that says, “I CARE”, when you go to our website. Make an online donation—we’ll send you the audio CD of our conversation with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone, and just ask for the CD with the Carpenters. We’re happy to send that to you. Once again, thank you so much for your partnership with us, here, at FamilyLife Today.

And we hope you can be back with us tomorrow when Josh is going to share the concluding chapter in the story he’s been sharing this week. I say that—but, actually, later this week, we’re going to turn the tables and get Josh’s wife, Dottie, in here and have her tell a little bit about what it was like to meet and fall in love with and marry Josh McDowell.

So, this is kind of all Josh—all the time, here, on FamilyLife Today this week. But be sure to be back with us tomorrow as we hear Part Three of Josh McDowell’s story of growing up and coming to faith. I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

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