Jeff Lowder and the Purpose of ETDAV

Years ago, I presented here the results of an interview with Ron Lutjens, a member of the research team for the first volume of Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and asked him to comment on some of Jeff Lowder's charges concerning the intent, purpose, and use of ETDAV. After all, who should know better than someone who was involved in the project?

In Lowder's view, the answer appears to have been, not even someone involved in the project. Today, Lowder's response to this interview sounds no less petulant, and no less suggestive of begging for an exception to the general rule, than it did two years ago:

Now at face value, Holding's rebuttal is mistitled because Ron Lutjens is not Josh McDowell. We have yet to see an account of some interaction between Holding and McDowell, in which Holding asks if ETDAV is an apologetic, and McDowell states that it is not. And that type of interaction is exactly what we need but don't have, for as I will show below the User's Guide actually supports my contention that ETDAV is an apologetic.
McDowell only lists Lutjens as researching the "Historic Reliability of the Old Testament"; moreover, the only indication McDowell gives us as to the extent of Mr. Lutjen's (sic)involvement in the ETDAV project is that he "received credit" at his university. But what does that mean? Perhaps Mr. Lutjen (sic) ghostscripted the chapter for McDowell. Or maybe Mr. Lutjen (sic) supplied McDowell with some quotations that appear in ETDAV, and then Mr. Lutjen (sic) wrote an essay for a class on that. We don't know because ETDAV doesn't tell us. And in the absence of such background information, the relevance of Holding's interview of Lutjens is marginal at best.

Sure. Maybe Lutjens worked on ETDAV and had no idea what it was for. Maybe all he did was get donuts and coffee, or keep Josh's shoes shined, or sing "Wassail" at the ETDAV Christmas party. Keeping in mind that the issue is not whether ETDAV is or is not an apologetic, but to what depth it is an apologetic, there are only one of two possible responses to this kind of conspiracy-mongering.

One response is to throw your hands in the air and hope that civilization can survive another 50 or so years of Jeff Lowder. The other is to interview Josh McDowell and thereby once and for all banish the issue to the grave.

Lowder it seems was never very anxious to take this last step, but preferred to speculate on what McDowell was actually "thinking or intended". For my part -- I prefer to talk to the lead horse himself and get the dirt. So the day he rode into town, I was right on it.

On October 3, 1999, Josh McDowell put in an appreance at my local Big Baptist Church. You might think that getting to talk to him wouldn't be easy. Actually, it was easy. Several weeks before he arrived, I was assured that he often stopped on the floor of the churches he visited to give words of encouragement to passers-by. And so, armed with a copy both of my last essay ("Straight From the Horses' Mouth"), and Lowder's reply to that essay ("Re-defining Apologetics"), and a pen full of ink, I made an attempt to see the man who started it all.

Services ended not far after noon. I joined a small throng of people waiting to shake hands, get an autograph, or just plain talk. By the time my turn came, I had figured out a way to begin that might get McDowell's attention. After a perfunctory greeting, I offered this question:

"Does the name 'Jeffrey Jay Lowder' ring a bell to you?"

McDowell drew back slightly, scrunched his eyebrows deep in thought. He began to shake his head no, but said, "It seems familiar...something to do with jails, right?"

(You all know, by now, that I once worked for my state's prison system. McDowell seems to have heard of both Lowder and of my work responding to him, and since I had long ago sent McDowell's ministry some notice of my work and identity, it seems also that he somehow managed to mix Lowder and I together as one person.)

I took a moment or two to set all the names straight. McDowell nodded his understanding, and I asked him if I could ask him a few questions about ETDAV. His eyes lit up: By all means! After assuring him that I would take as little time as possible, I asked, "What was your purpose in writing ETDAV?"

Now I had actually planned to make a further clarification, but McDowell, as you know if you've seen him speak, is one big, raw bundle of energy. I didn't have time to clarify before he started answering. He wrote ETDAV, he said, for two reasons. The first was to help Christians understand what they believed, and why they believed it. The second reason was to give non-Christians a place to start looking into Christianity.

Sparked by this, I turned to asking about how specifically the book was to be used where believers and non-believers interacted. Recall in my earlier essay I said:

(ETDAV) is NOT an evangelistic tool to be rammed down someone's throat; it IS a support for Christians to do research, and McDowell gives three examples of students who tell how they used it: to prepare speeches (noted twice), and to use as documentation - and these are undoubtedly examples of how McDowell sees ETDAV being used! He gives NO example of his work used as a direct evangelistic tool or as a serious apologetic!

To this, Lowder replied with another rather excessive counter:

Of course, if any skeptic used an argument from silence as blatant as this one, they would promptly "be fed to the lions." Just because McDowell doesn't give any examples of his work being used "as a direct evangelistic tool or as a serious apologetic" doesn't mean he disapproved of such uses or even that he did not receive letters from students stating that is how they used his work. Holding should remember the reproach Miller gave to skeptics concerning arguments from silence: that perhaps the reason a certain detail is not related by a given writer is because it was "so widely known as to not need repeating." Vast multitudes of Evangelical Christians have been using ETDAV as an apologetic tool, so there would be no reason for McDowell to report that.

All right, let's break the "silence". I asked McDowell directly: "Are believers supposed to use ETDAV as a direct evangelistic tool?"

The answer McDowell gave was no -- ETDAV was not intended for that purpose, although he had written More Than A Carpenter to serve that kind of pupose, the way a tract might serve.

Even so, he added, more important than giving a person a book is sharing one's "personal testimony" with others -- i.e., explaining "what Christ has done in your life." "I never start with ETDAV," McDowell told me. "Nobody ever comes to the gospel because of evidence."

This of course agrees with what McDowell wrote in ETDAV:

These notes, used with a proper attitude, will help to motivate a person to consider Jesus Christ honestly and to get him back to the central and primary issue - the gospel (such as contained in the Four Spiritual Laws at the end of the book).
My philosophy has always been that after I share Christ with someone who has some honest doubts, I give him enough apologetics to answer his question or satisfy his curiosity and then turn the conversation back to his relationship with Christ. The presentation of evidence (apologetics) should never be a substitute for using the Word of God."

Lowder read this paragraph as saying that "McDowell thinks that his Evidences are good enough for witnessing. McDowell intends for these Evidences to be used to answer questions from skeptics to win them to Christ." He has read it wrong.

Whether he is correct or not in thinking so, McDowell does not use his evidences for witnessing, but in order to get back to witnessing; he does not think that answering questions will "win skeptics to Christ", because he does not believe that evidences lead anyone to Christ.

Let's realize the implications of this. If this is what McDowell thinks of ETDAV, then it in no wise could be called, as Lowder supposes, a "self-sufficient" apologetic. By this explanation, no apologetic could ever be sufficient, much less self-sufficient, for the purpose of evangelizing. Lowder has merely, once again, assumed to know the mind of Josh McDowell, and has interpreted all that McDowell says in light of those false perceptions. The word from the lead horse is in direct contradiction to what Lowder has said, and in agreement with what I have said. (When I advised McDowell of Lowder's personal propensity to speak as though he knew what McDowell was "thinking" or "seemed to be doing," McDowell rolled his eyes skyward and shook his head. His simple, flat response: "He doesn't know what I'm thinking.")

Now we'll break from the chat with McDowell for a moment to bring up a few more of Lowder's conclusions about ETDAV that didn't require comment from McDowell. To begin, Lowder quoted ETDAV:

Anyone who shares his faith regularly soon learns that certain questions about Christianity surface over and over again. With a little basic preparation on these questions, any regularly witnessing Christian can answer 90 percent of them.

And thereafter concluded:

What should Christians use to prepare for these questions? ETDAV. How effective is it? They will be able to answer "90 percent" of the questions they encounter. Thus, ETDAV is clearly intended to be a powerful apologetic and not a mere "starting point."

So the conclusion is: If ETDAV answers 90% of the questions, it must be a "powerful apologetic."

Let's defuse this by asking the question: Of what sort will be the "90% of the questions" the average Christian will encounter? Are most non-believers responding to witnessing attempts by asking about the criterion of dissimilarity, or about the relation of the Qumran texts to the Gospel of John?

Of course not. The questions they ask are usually very simple. They will want to know if Jesus is mentioned in any secular histories; once told that (for example) he is mentioned by Tacitus, most will be satisfied and drop the matter. ETDAV only answers 90% of the questions because only 10% of the questions asked on the average when ETDAV was written are actually difficult. (McDowell even today is fond of quoting percentages like this. Today I think he might want to revise that number from 90/10 to 75/25.)

Lowder's argument here involves a serious category error: When it is said that McDowell "considers ETDAV to be quite self-sufficient," it is true only in the context of the assumption that the average believer isn't going to get hard questions. (What that says about our level of intellect in society, I will leave for the reader to deduce. And I'll add here that Vol. 2 of ETDAV, unlike Vol. 1, does fall closer to being a truly "self-sufficient" apologetic.)

Later, Lowder offers this ETDAV sample:

Another idea: One Florida pastor annually advertises a "Skeptics Night," when he tackles every question thrown at him from the floor. His preparation for the event was a major undertaking, but any pastor using Evidence 1 and 2 could dramatically cut the preparation time -- and it definitely gets people out for an evangelistic impact.

He comments:

Thus, we have a clear example of the User's Guide giving examples of how to use ETDAV as a fully-functional apologetic. The Florida pastor had been hosting his "Skeptics Night" without using ETDAV. That's why we read that it was a "major undertaking." But with ETDAV at his fingertips, he can do the same thing but "dramatically cut the preparation time."..
This "idea" also refutes two of Holding's other contentions. First, it refutes Holding's claim that "It (ETDAV) is NOT an evangelistic tool to be rammed down someone's throat." By preparing with ETDAV, the pastor is creating that "evangelistic impact." And second, it refutes Holding's claim that McDowell "gives NO example of his work used as a direct evangelistic tool or as a serious apologetic!" The above anecdote about the Florida pastor is an example of ETDAV being used as both a "direct evangelistic tool" and "as a serious apologetic."

Yet another category error is clear here. It is not ETDAV that is "being used as both a 'direct evangelistic tool' and 'as a serious apologetic.' " It is the Skeptic's Night promotion that is being used as a "direct evangelistic tool" and having "evangelistic impact", with or without ETDAV. It is both volumes 1 and 2 (the latter, which is a much more serious apologetic) that are used. Vol. 1 is for the easy questions (90%); Vol. 2 is for more detailed questions.

Either way, there is nothing here to suggest that the volume of our concern (#1) is a "serious apologetic" in the sense of being self-sufficient. Indeed, it is clear from McDowell's comments that apologetics to him is, to put it crudely, not much more than an attention-getter.

A final issue concerned the actual title, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Was it a publisher's selling choice, as I suggested, or was it as Lowder thought, a way of implying that McDowell thought he had done enough to "demand" a verdict in his favor?

It turns out that Lowder and I are both wrong on this one. McDowell indicated that the title was inspired by the title of another book he had seen, A Book That Demands a Verdict, which was a book about the Bible (I have confirmed that it exists; it was written in the late 1940s). In other words, the source of the title choice was neither a hard-selling publisher nor a desire to indicate commitment, but an act of McDowell's whimsy. He liked the way it sounded ("Wow!" was the exact word he used, in his usual parlance), so he just made a little change and used it.

I now close with a few more words from advice earlier offered to Lowder:

I have suggested to Mr. Lowder that ETDAV should be used as a framework - in short, in a "mirror image" manner of the way it is supposed to be used by Christians. Simply bring up the data by McDowell; then, bring up relevant arguments from other sources as desired, and reach a conclusion. What I propose here amounts to a simple terminological shift: Thus, the following paragraphs in Jury Chapter 5, concerning Suetonius:
McDowell seems to think that `Chrestus' refers to Jesus. However, even if he is correct in citing this passage as independent confirmation of Jesus, his failure to acknowledge, much less refute, the opposing viewpoint is simply poor scholarship.
However, there are good reasons to believe that `Chrestus' does not refer to Jesus of Nazareth. The word `Chrestus' "permits no certain identification of an historical individual;" McDowell's assumption that `Chrestus' alludes to Jesus of Nazareth reveals an unhistorical bias.[118]...
...would simply be rewritten thus:
McDowell cites the reference to `Chrestus' as referring to Jesus. However, there are good reasons to believe that `Chrestus' does not refer to Jesus of Nazareth. The word `Chrestus' "permits no certain identification of an historical individual."[118]...
Here, then, there is no presumption as to what McDowell is "thinking;" there is no slur upon his scholarship, and the ultimate purpose of ETDAV is justly recognized. This is really all that I say is needed to make Jury a "guided" rather than a "misguided" project.

Since this was first done years ago, the above paragraph was removed from Lowder's material, but I wish to stress this point nevertheless. Since the original publication of this report, some new uploads have been made to that project, and to some extent it seems that my "advice" is being taken.

Nevertheless, as I did predict, The Jury Is In has now become, with the publication of the new ETDAV, an anachronism; though not as serious an anachronism as it might have been.

One final aside, as I edit this article in June 2009. The Secular Web had always been quite vehement in their protests against my refusal to link to their material. And yet, in Lowder's response as it is now posted, their links to my material are actually long-dead links to a URL I abandoned more than 7 years ago.

It seems the Secular Web's demand for links isn't quite consistent with their practice.