How Do We Make Theology Come Alive for Students?

How do we make theology engaging and interesting for students? While I certainly don’t claim to have it all figured out, and am always looking for some creative and new ideas, here are four lessons I have learned from roughly two decades of teaching and speaking to students on theological issues.

students theology

First, use stories. We all love stories. Students do too. As Jonathan Gottschall wrote in his excellent book The Storytelling Animal, “Human minds yield hopelessly to the suction of story. No matter how hard we concentrate, not matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds.” Jesus told stories for a few reasons. People remember them. We relate to them. And lessons are best learned through stories. Jesus was asked who qualifies as a neighbor, and he told the story of the Good Samaritan. He was asked how many times we should forgive people and he told the story of the Unmerciful Servant. Teach theological doctrines, but whenever possible, tell a story.

Second, use cultural examples. Students today are engrossed with the prevailing culture. The movies they watch, the music they listen to, and the technology they use are all influenced by our wider culture. Sometimes we need to critique culture and other times we need to show how Christ is within culture. But using cultural examples of theology not only makes theology interesting to students, it also helps them make connections from their theology to the “real” world. For instance, recently I was talking with my students about the biblical view of sex. And so I used an example from the movie Passengers, which I wrote about here.

Third, ask good questions. In my experience, good questions are far better than answers. As I wrote in a recent post, my teachers who asked me good questions had a far greater impact on my life than those who simply gave me answers. Isn’t that true for you too? Students today have access to endless information. Simply giving kids theological truths has some value, but far more important is helping kids think theologically. We simply can’t cover every conceivable theological issue in our classrooms, ministries, or conversations. But we can give students a template for how to think theologically. And even if we did cover every issue of today, new issues will inevitably arise. Thus, the most important educational task today is teaching students how to think, how to arrive at truth. And one of the best ways to do this is to ask good questions and guide students through how to discover reasonable answers.

Fourth, connect theology to practical life. According to the National Survey of Youth and Religion [1] students today tend to compartmentalize their spiritual faith. In other words, they tend to believe that science, math and history are matters of objective truth, but spiritual beliefs are merely a matter of preference that helps give their lives meaning. As a result, few students are able (or interested) to translate theology to their practical lives. In other words, few students can show how their beliefs about God practically shape how they live. If we don’t connect theology to how kids actually live, what’s the point? While there are many ways to do this (such as through stories, experiences, and personal examples), one simple step is to always ask, after teaching a theological truth: How should this affect the way we actually live?

Students need to see that believing God created the world should influence how we treat the environment. They need to connect belief in the resurrection to how we handle death. And they need to see how belief we are made in the image of God shapes the way we think about abortion, pornography, bullying, racism, eating disorders and many other issues. Theological teaching is not complete until students connect truth to their daily lives.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

[1] This study is admittedly dated. But my experience and subsequent research confirms that this point is still largely true among today’s youth.


Are Questions Better Than Answers? No Question About It!

Although it might surprise you, given that I grew up with a famous apologist father, my parents asked me more questions than they gave me answers. My parents did not want me to believe something simply on authority, but because I had good reasons for believing it was true. They certainly wanted me to become a Christian, but they were also deeply interested in helping me learn how to think critically for myself and to confidently arrive at truth.

questions better

Jesus also asked dozens of questions even though he knew the answers. Why? While there could be other reasons, it seems to me that he wanted to elicit faith in people and to help them arrive at a personal knowledge of the truth. When it comes to helping people arrive at a biblical worldview, Jesus knew questions were often far more powerful than statements. In fact, he knew the most important question of all is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

As I look back on my life, it was often the people who asked me the most timely and insightful questions who have had the greatest impact on my life. For instance, as a grad student in philosophy, I read a ton of books on postmodernism and, to be honest, was quite confused about the nature of truth. I remember thinking: How can I ever know the nature of truth if I can’t step outside my own perspective and examine it firsthand?

I asked for guidance from one of my philosophy teachers at Talbot, Dr. Garrett Deweese, and he simply asked me a question back: “Is it possible you’re confusing the metaphysical and epistemological issues related to truth? Ponder that for awhile and let me know what you think.” Boom! His question got me thinking on a whole new level and opened up clarification in my worldview between the nature of truth (metaphysics) and how we know truth (epistemology). This distinction continues to serve me well to this day.

The Question Explosion

Even though information is expanding rapidly, people are asking questions at an even greater rate. Every year humans ask the Internet 2 trillion questions. On average, American adults asked four questions per day online. But most of these questions are for a place to eat, sports facts, or how to fix something that is broken. Most are factual questions that have easy answers.

But there are other kinds of questions that lead to life change. What is the key to asking transformative questions? This is a question I have been thinking about for some time. Becoming a better question-asker is one of my ongoing goals as a teacher, parent, coach, apologist, and follower of Christ. If you want to genuinely influence other people, a key skill to develop is the art and science of asking good questions.

What Makes a Transformative Question?

I was recently reading The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. If you’re interested in future technological and cultural trends, this is a must-read book. Towards the end of the book Kelly has an entire chapter titled, “Questioning,” in which he talks about how culture is moving from the rigid order of hierarchy to a state of flux where new possibilities will be opened up for those who ask the right questions. Kelly got me thinking, “How can I be confident that I am asking the right questions?” How confident are you?

Kelly lists fourteen marks of a good question. Here is my top seven:

  1. A good question cannot be answered immediately.
  2. A good question challenges existing answers.
  3. A good question creates new territory of thinking.
  4. A good question is a probe, a what-if scenario.
  5. A good question cannot be predicted.
  6. A good question is one that generates many other good questions.
  7. A good question is what humans are for.

Take a minute and reflect on these points. End by asking yourself a few questions for reflection:

What is the most significant question someone has ever asked you? What made it so significant? What is the best question you have asked someone else? Do you tend to make statements or ask questions? Why? How can you become a better question-asker?

If you want to make a lasting difference in the lives of people, these are critical questions to ask.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Why Being “Blessed” is Better than Being “Happy”

Our culture is obsessed with happiness. From the movies we watch, the purchases we make, and our obsessive use of technology and social media, it is clear that many people today live for happiness.

You might be thinking, “So what? Isn’t happiness a good thing?” Well, that depends on what is meant by happiness. In his book Happiness is a Serious Problem, Dennis Prager argues that the common definition of happiness today is H = nF. In other words, happiness is equivalent to the number (n) of fun (F) experiences we can accumulate in a lifetime. The more fun experiences, the happier we are. To be happy is to feel good and have fun.

blessed better happy

Prager explains, “Most people believe that happiness and fun are virtually identical. Ask them, for example, to imagine a scene of happy people. Most people will immediately conjure up a picture of people having fun (e.g. laughing, playing games, drinking at a party).”[1]

Pleasure is certainly not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God designed us as embodied beings to experience remarkable pleasure. But can pleasure-seeking in itself ultimately bring a meaningful life?

The Futility of a Pleasure-Seeking Life

King Solomon, who had all the pleasures the world could possibly offer, wrote millennia ago about the emptiness that comes from seeking pleasure as the purpose of life:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine…till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life…So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem…And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, 9-11).

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman notes that there was a tenfold increase in depression among Baby Boomers over any previous generation. Why? According to his analysis, it is because Boomers were the first generation to focus on their own pleasure as the goal of life. According to Seligman, lasting happiness occurs when people outgrow their obsessive concern with personal feelings and live for something beyond themselves.

The paradox of happiness is that if we seek it, we won’t find it. True happiness comes when we stop focusing our own feelings, and lovingly seek the best for others. This is (partly) why Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Seek yourself first, and your life will be empty. Seek God first, and you will have a meaningful life filled with genuine happiness—whether you feel good or not.


The Bible has a different view of the goal of human life. Rather than living for happiness (understood as having certain feelings and experiences), Scripture teaches that the goal of life is to love God and love other people (Mark 12:28-34). When we do love God, and seek His glory, we are “blessed” regardless of how we feel.

Consider Psalms 1, which opens the book with these words: “Blessed is the man.” If you read Psalm 1 closely, you will notice that it is not about feelings, but about being right with God. The “blessed man” is not the one who has amassed endless material gain, has a fun job, has become a YouTube star, or accumulated endless fun experiences. Rather, the blessed man is the one who “delights in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” (v. 2).

The Psalmist compares the blessed man, who prospers in all he does, to a healthy tree, planted by streams of water (v. 3). But the wicked man is driven away by the wind and ultimately perishes (v. 4-5). In his commentary on Psalms, Willem VanGemeren explains what blessedness means in this passage:

The formula “Blessed is the man” evokes joy and gratitude, as man may live in fellowship with his God. Blessedness is not deserved; it is a gift of God. God declares sinners to be righteous and freely grants them newness of life in which he protects them from the full effects of the world under judgment (Gen 3:15–19). Outside of God’s blessing, man is “cursed” and ultimately leads a meaningless life (Eccl 1:2). The word “happy” is a good rendition of “blessed,” provided one keeps in mind that the condition of “bliss” is not merely a feeling. Even when the righteous do not feel happy, they are still considered “blessed” from God’s perspective. He bestows this gift on them. Neither negative feelings nor adverse conditions can take his blessing away.[2]


Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

[1] Dennis Prager, Happiness is a Serious Problem (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 44.

[2] Willem A. VanGemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; vol. 5; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 553.



The Story of Reality: Apologist Greg Koukl Discusses His New Book

Although I first heard of Greg Koukl as an undergrad at Biola University in the mid 90s, we became good friends in the early 2000s as students in the M.A. Philosophy program at Talbot. Greg is one of the leading apologists of our day and has had a huge impact on my personal and professional life.

He gave me the honor of endorsing his recent book The Story of Reality, and I can honestly say that it’s fantastic. In the words of Tim Challies:

“Koukl promises to tell the story of reality. He does, and he does it beautifully. You’ll benefit by reading his telling of how the world began, how it will end, and all the important stuff that happens in between.”

the story of reality

Greg was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his new book. Check out his answers and then think about getting a copy of The Story of Reality. It is perfect for a believer who wants to go deeper in his or her faith, a small group, or for a seeker genuinely exploring the Christian faith. Enjoy!

SEAN MCDOWELL: Greg, what motivated you, in particular, to write The Story of Reality?

GREG KOUKL: Two important things come to mind immediately. First, I wanted to offer a kind of primer on Christianity’s basics—each of the critical, essential elements at the very foundation of our worldview—the kinds of things that are so important, if you took any one out you wouldn’t have Christianity anymore, but something else.

But I didn’t want to write another theological textbook. Rather, I wanted to show how the important pieces fit together in a fascinating drama. I wanted to give a wide-angle view so Christians—and others—would never get lost in the details again.

Second, I wanted to continually press the point that what I describe in the book is not my personal spiritual fantasy, my religious wishful thinking, or my make-believe-to-make-me-feel-happy kind of story. The Story doesn’t start out “Once upon a time” for a reason. It doesn’t mean to be telling a fairy tale. Rather, I wanted the reader to understand that the things the Story describes actually exist and the events in the Story really happened (or, in some places, are yet to happen). It is an accounting of the way the world actually is.

Nowadays, people have a habit of relativizing religion, reducing it “your truth” versus “my truth” versus “their truth,” and that’s the end of it. But as I say in the book, “If the Story is not accurate to reality, it’s not any kind of truth at all. So it can never be ‘my truth’ or ‘your truth,’ even though we may believe it. It can only be our delusion or our mistake or our error, but it can never be our ‘truth.”” (32) I want people to see that Christianity claims to be true in the deep sense, and if it isn’t, then it solves nothing at all.

MCDOWELL: What was the writing process like for this book?

KOUKL: I wanted to engage my reader in a way that was memorable and accessible. The structure is simple. The book is built around five words that tell the most important details of Christian Story in the order they took place: God, man, Jesus, cross, and (the final) resurrection—beginning to end.

I also wanted the reader to enjoy the journey, so I adopted a storytelling “voice” for the narrative. I wanted anyone who picked up the book to feel I was talking directly with them, that I was personally walking them through the account of how the world began, how it ends, and everything important that happens in between.

MCDOWELL: What makes this book unique?

KOUKL: The Story of Reality is a kind of Mere Christianity for a new generation, if the comparison doesn’t seem to bold. It’s a wide-angle look at the Christian view of the world and the meaning of the drama of human history, in a voice that’s conversational and not religious, with what I call “soft apologetics” mixed in—thoughtful reflections that are friendly appeals to common-sense insights we all have about the world that point to the truthfulness of the Christian take on reality—without being overly argumentative.

I also wanted readers (especially Christian readers) to see that the two biggest objections to Christianity—the problem of evil and Jesus being the only way—are not the problems for us that people think they are, that a proper understanding of the Story shows how these two fit together perfectly, complementing each other in a remarkable way. One of our deepest concerns about the world is, “What went wrong?” The Story answers that question, and gives the singular solution, God’s rescuer. Indeed, the problem of evil is what our Story is all about—and the Story is not over yet.

MCDOWELL: You title the book The Story of Reality? I can imagine people thinking, “How arrogant. This guy thinks he has the corner on reality.” How would you respond?

KOUKL: This is a popular challenge nowadays, but it’s an odd one when you think about it. Everyone has their own take on reality, it seems, and everyone thinks his or her own view true, right? So I don’t see why I should be faulted for offering my perspective, especially when I’m careful to give my reasons for it. As I say in the book,

It has always struck me as odd when some have been faulted simply for thinking their views correct. They’ve even been labeled intolerant or bigoted for doing so. But what is the alternative? The person objecting thinks his own views correct as well, which is why he’s objecting. Both parties in the conversation think they’re right and the other wrong. Why, then, is only the religious person (usually) branded a bigot for doing so? (24)

MCDOWELL: How do you hope people will use, or benefit from, this book?

KOUKL: Every writer would like to say his book is for everybody, but in this case I think that’s not too far off.

Most Christians who have been around for a while have their Story in bits and pieces, but have never seen how powerful it really is when assembled as a whole. This book is for them. Many are young Christians just putting it all together for the first time, so this book is for them, too, to help them get a solid start. Some older Christians know the Story, but don’t know how to tell it succinctly and memorably for their congregations, their Bible study groups, their youth groups, or their own disciples. This book is for them, too.

On the other hand, many non-Christians don’t take the Story seriously because, for one, they’ve never seen how well it fits together and how it offers tremendous explanatory power regarding the world as we actually find it. That’s why every time I sat down to write, my chief thought was reaching out to the moderately-interested skeptic in a way that would not offend him with condescension and empty slogans, would hold his interest and get him thinking, and would help him see that a chief reason for taking the Christian Story seriously is that it simply is—as I often say—“the best explanation for the way things are.”

MCDOWELL: Any final thoughts?

KOUKL: I think The Story of Reality will help many readers understand Christianity in a way they never have before. They will see how it all fits together, how it resolves the problem of evil, and why God’s solution is the only solution. Even better, though, they’ll see why they can be confident that Christianity is actually “true Truth,” as Francis Schaeffer used to put it—that is, God really does exist, Heaven actually is real (along with Hell), Jesus really did exist and did the things the historical records—the Gospels—say He did, the resurrection of Christ really happened, and there really is hope each of us can count on for “the kind of perfect world our hearts have always longed for.” (83)

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Resources for Greater Impact

Story of Reality FINAL

The Story of Reality (Paperback)

Should Students Be Exposed to Evidence Against Christianity?

Sheltering students from beliefs contrary to Christianity is a big mistake. Let me say it again, to be sure it sinks in: Sheltering students from arguments for other religions, or against Christianity, is a bad strategy for developing them as disciples in the faith.

In his book You Lost Me, researcher David Kinnaman argues that “protecting” kids from opposing viewpoints is ultimately detrimental to their faith. Like “helicopter parents” who “hover” over their children to keep them from any conceivable danger, many young Christians feel that the church demonizes everything outside the church, fails to expose students to the complexities of the “real” world, and is too overprotective.

Overprotecting kids encourages them to wonder whether there actually are good arguments against the faith. And when they do encounter evidence against Christianity, which is inevitable today, many wonder—what else have you not told me? Are you too insecure in your own faith to speak truth? Overprotection undermines trust. And as a result, many kids disengage the church, as Kinnaman notes.

Evidence Against Christianity

Inoculation Theory

What can we do? There is something we can learn from inoculation theory, which says that people who are gradually exposed to opposing viewpoints are better prepared to answer such challenges in the long run. Like a vaccination, which exposes an individual to a milder version of a virus so he or she can develop immunity, exposing students to counterarguments helps them develop intellectual resistance to future, more persuasive ideas.

Consider a classic study by the late sociologist William J. McGuire. He took four separate groups of students and presented them with the counterintuitive idea that brushing your teeth is unhealthy. They each read a fabricated article, which was full of “scientific” arguments against the validity of brushing your teeth and then were assessed afterwards.

The first group was simply told that they would be given an article to read defending a particular viewpoint. The second group had their existing belief (that brushing your teeth is good) reinforced before reading the article. The third group was warned that they were about to read an article that would challenge their existing beliefs. The final group was presented with an abbreviated version of the argument as well as arguments against it. Which group had the most and least change?

Quite expectedly, group four (which received an advance summary and refutation of the article) had the least change in their beliefs. Unexpectedly, though, group two (who had their prior beliefs merely reinforced before reading the article) had the most change. This group was not only the most persuaded by the arguments against brushing your teeth, they also felt the most deceived when they were exposed to counterarguments against their prior beliefs.

How Does This Apply to Teaching Youth Today?

Here’s the bottom line: If we merely present students with the biblical position on an issue, without offering reasons for that view, as well as exposing them to counterarguments against it, we are setting them up for failure when they encounter thoughtful opposition. And we risk losing their trust.

But if we present them with the biblical view on an issue, and also expose them to counter perspectives in a fair and incremental manner, they will have a much better chance of hanging on to their faith when challenges arise.

There are many ways this can be done. As a part-time high school teacher, I aim to inoculate my students for the intellectual challenges they will inevitably face in college and beyond. They need to learn that Christians have nothing to fear engaging opposing viewpoints and that Christianity can hold its own in the arena of ideas.

Specifically, I have taken students through The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (after going through Christian Apologetics by Doug Groothuis). I regularly have them read articles from skeptics, watch videos that challenge their prior beliefs, and sometimes I bring in guests with opposing views. And thanks to the leadership of my friend Brett Kunkle, I annually take high school students on an apologetics mission trip to places like Berkeley, where they hear lectures from leading atheists and skeptics. In my experience, these types of activities serve to strengthen their faith.

If we want young people to have a vibrant and lasting faith, we must expose them to opposing viewpoints early in their intellectual development. And we must present those views fairly and accurately. This will help us gain credibility in the eyes of our students, and it will also help inoculate them from future, more articulate challenges.

If Christianity is really true, what are we afraid of?

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:


Resources for Greater Impact

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (Book)

Sin: The Forgotten Doctrine

Studies continually show that most Americans—including many Christians—have poor theology. There is a lot of confusion about the person of Christ, the nature of salvation, and the attributes of God.

And yet there is one particular doctrine that has pressing implications for so much of Christian theology, which in my experience, seems to have been forgotten in the church and the wider culture—the sinfulness of man. Do we really grasp how deeply human nature has been corrupted by sin? Failing to grasp the nuances and depth of human sinfulness has massive implications for one’s theology and for all of life.

Sin Doctrine

The consistent biblical teaching is that mankind is made in God’s image with inestimable worth, but has been deeply flawed by sin (Mark 7:21-23; John 2:24-25; Romans 3:9-20). How can I claim human sinfulness has been lost? Let me share two stories.

The Problem of Hell

Recently I was speaking at a youth group in southern California, not far from where I live. After the service, a college student, who described himself as a former Christian, wanted to discuss the “Problem of Hell.” We talked for nearly 45 minutes and he raised the standard objections against the justice of Hell: How could a loving God send someone to Hell? How can a finite sin warrant an eternal punishment? How can people enjoy Heaven knowing their loved ones are in Hell? I did my best to respond with both kindness and truth.

After our talk, it seemed that I had made almost no “dent” with his questions. He still thought God was a moral monster. And then it dawned on me: His problem was that he saw human being as basically good. If humans are basically good, and simply commit a few “sins” in their lifetime, as he believed, then Hell does seem like overkill. Moreover, Hell can only begin to make sense when we grasp the biblical view of mankind—that we are made in God’s image with infinite dignity, value, and worth, but our natures have been deeply corrupted because of sin. An unbiblical view of the nature of man was at the heart of his rejection of the faith.

Niceness vs. Goodness

Each year I take a group of high school students on an apologetics or worldview mission trip. The goal is to train our students how to lovingly defend their faith by having conversations and interactions with people who hold very different faiths. Inspired by my friend Brett Kunkle, we started taking teenagers on trips to Berkeley to interact with students at UC Berkeley and also with leading atheists and agnostics from the Bay area. Both students and parents loved the trips, and I never received any critical feedback about the nature of the trip.

But then we decided to take students to Salt Lake City to interact with Mormon students at BYU. While most students and parents were supportive, one girl who chose not to go on the trip made a statement that expressed the thinking of a number of people: “Why are we going to SLC to beat up on Mormons?” It was strange she talked about beating up anybody, because we are very relational and gracious in our approach on all our mission trips.

But it also puzzled me that she was particularly defensive about reaching out to members of the LDS Church. And then I put my finger on it—she had trouble reaching out to Mormons because they are such nice people.[1] And they are! I have many friends who are Mormons and they are remarkably nice and hard working.

But we must not confuse niceness with goodness. Jesus taught that no one is truly good. That’s right, no one (Luke 18:19). That includes you and me. And it includes people of every faith or no faith (Romans 3:23).

We can respond to our sinfulness in different ways. One way, like the prodigal son, is to indulge our passions and ignore restraint. Another way, like the older son in the same parable (Luke 15:11-32), is to try to earn our righteousness by doing good works and following the law. What is interesting about this parable is that both sons were separated from the father and failed to understand what he desired from them—the younger son who rebelled, and the older son who was dutiful.

The Offensiveness of Human Sinfulness

The doctrine of human sinfulness is offensive. No one likes being told that his or her own heart is fallen and in desperate need of transformation (myself included). We would much rather embrace the New Age idea that we are one with God. And yet the Christian story makes no sense without it. If humans were not “desperately wicked,” as the Bible teaches, then Hell would be total overkill. And there’s no need to reach out to people who are dutiful and nice.

But if human sinfulness is real, then the Christian story makes sense. We can at least begin to understand the reality of Hell and the need to reach all people with God’s grace. There are many doctrines we should be concerned about properly teaching the next generation. But in my experience, when people grasp their own sinfulness (and the converse, that God is holy), the rest begin to fall in place.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

[1] Which is doubly strange, since Mormons send out missionaries to knock on the doors of strangers to spread their version of the gospel. I don’t fault them for this. In fact, I respect their efforts.



A “Chance” Encounter with the Miraculous

Last week I had an experience I will remember for a long time. Since it was raining outside, we took my three kids and some of their cousins to Big Air Trampoline Park to get some of their energy out.

The place was packed full of young kids and their parents. While my kids were enjoying the trampolines, dodge ball, and the climbing wall, I found an open seat in the small café to edit some of the chapters for an update I am working on with my father for his classic book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

Encounter Miraculous

A middle-aged man plopped down right next to me and asked if he could join me to rest his back. “Sure, no problem,” I said. Then he noticed the book I was holding (which was Four Views on the Historical Adam), and asked if it was an apologetics book.

After I explained that it was primarily theological, but dealt with apologetic issues as well, he simply said, “Interesting, but I have no need for apologetics.” His comment piqued my interest, and so of course I asked why he didn’t personally need apologetics.

“Because I have seen God’s power so directly in my own life. Years ago my son was born with a genetic disorder, including a hole in his heart. The doctors said he would only live a couple weeks. Yet he stayed alive, even though the first few years of his life were incredibly tough. When he was three years old, I broke down and cried out to God for his healing. As soon as I was done praying, my soon looked up at me and said, ‘Don’t worry, daddy, Jesus has healed me.’ I took him to the doctor and he was in fact healed.”

As soon as he finished telling me this story, his son walked up, now eleven years old, and said hi. Here’s the bottom line: eleven years ago when his son was born the doctors said he only had a couple weeks to live, because of serious medical complications, but now he is a normal, healthy 6th grader. The father had no doubt that God healed his son. And he also shared how the experience deeply transformed him personally and helped restore his marriage and family.

We talked about the role of apologetics and how, when sharing this story, he is actually giving a kind of apologetic for the faith, which both encourages believers and challenges non-believers to consider the claims of Christ. The Bible does call us both to witness to what we have seen and to be ready with an answer when asked.[i]

But more importantly, do I believe this man and his story? Do you? After all, the man is a complete stranger to me, and you are reading it secondhand. How do I know he didn’t make it up? How do I know it wasn’t merely a coincidence or a misdiagnosis by the doctors?

Since I didn’t follow up and check all the details, I can’t further corroborate his story. And I fully admit that the evidence I am presenting in this blog is tentative. But I choose to believe him for four main reasons:

First, his younger daughter and wife were right there as he shared the story. Wouldn’t they correct him if he were simply making it up?

Second, as far as I could tell, he had nothing to gain from the story. He wasn’t writing a book for money or trying to get famous. In fact, he only opened up when I gently pressed him. He clearly enjoyed sharing the story, because it was so meaningful to him, but he was initially reluctant. He wasn’t looking for an audience to seemingly impress.

Third, I have heard many other stories like this before. When speaking at churches about the possibility of miracles, I often asked audiences to raise their hands if they have personally seen or experienced a miracle (And I always preface it by explaining that by “miracle,” I don’t mean a beautiful flower, the birth of a child, or happening to get the perfect parking spot when Christmas shopping). Every time I have done this, dozens of people raise their hands, and then I am flooded with miracle stories after the service.

Fourth, as Craig Keener reports in his massive, two-volume, academic study Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, miracles are not contrary to human experience. Hundreds of millions of living Christians believe they have personally experienced or seen the miraculous. This does not prove miracles happen, but it does show they cannot be so easily dismissed. And according to Keener, these are the kinds of miracle claims most frequently attested in the Gospels and Acts.

If you are a Christian and have experienced a miracle, please share it. Sure, some people may laugh or scoff, as they did with Jesus.[ii] But others will be encouraged, and some may even come to faith. If God has worked miraculously in your life, both Christians and non-Christians need to hear your story. And by doing so, you are giving one of the greatest apologetics for the faith. What are you waiting for?

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

[i] Interestingly, the Gospel of John records the testimony of the blind man who simply said, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25) And John also reports that the miracles of Jesus were written down as signs for future generations, who won’t see Jesus in the flesh, so they too can have a confident faith and eternal life: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

[ii] After all, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and the religious leaders wanted to arrest and kill him (John 11:45-57).



Top 10 Apologetics “Tips” of the Year

During 2016, I began tweeting an “Apologetics Tip of the Day.” Some have to do with apologetics content, while others are tips for doing apologetics more effectively. Many of these were taken from my book A New Kind of Apologist or simply my own experience. And of course, some generated much more interest than others. Here’s the top 10 “Apologetics Tips” from 2016 in descending order:

Apologetics Tips

10. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Remember, the Bible doesn’t approve of everything it records.

9. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Speak truth with gentleness. Avoid the temptation to compromise truth or speak harshly (Col. 4:6).

8. Apologetics Tip of the Day: You don’t have to have all the answers. Admit if you don’t know an answer, but then go find it.

7. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Don’t merely make the case that Christianity is true. Make the case that it is good and beautiful.

6. Apologetics Tip of the Day: We are called to make good arguments, but not be argumentative (1 Peter 3:15).

5. Apologetics Tip of the Day: You may disagree with others, but remember, people hold views for reasons they perceive as good.

4. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Approach others with the idea that you may have something to learn from them.

3. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Tolerance is no longer agreeing to disagree but the silencing of seemingly offensive views.

2. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Interpret your experience in light of Scripture, rather than Scripture in light of your experience.

1. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Make good arguments and defend truth, but remember, the deepest need of the human heart is for love.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:



What is the Best Evidence for Intelligent Design? Interview with Brian Johnson.

Last year, when I was speaking at a church in South Dakota for a Heroic Truth Event, I met Brian Johnson. He invited me on his Podcast, and we had a great conversation about “hot” cultural issues today.

Brian is one of the founders of South Dakota Apologetics, an organization dedicated to spreading the Gospel and helping fellow Christians better understand why they believe what they believe. Brian and his buddies at SDA actually offer their speaking services for free, so check ‘em out!

Brian is especially passionate about the evidence for intelligent design. Given his interest and expertise, I recent caught up with him and asked him some pressing questions about the evidence for intelligent design. Enjoy!

Evidence Intelligent Design

SEAN MCDOWELL: Are there any recent scientific advances that are changing what we know about the inner workings of the human body?

BRIAN JOHNSON: I think that accolade needs to go to the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953 by Crick and Watson. Once this was discovered it blew open the doors to a whole new world of biology. From that we have been able to begin to piece together an entirely new understanding of what it takes to make our bodies function. This has led to major advancements in medicine as well as many other disciplines. The discovery of DNA has also enabled us to build an incredibly strong case for Intelligent Design.

SEAN MCDOWELL: What got you interested in DNA as evidence for design? And why do you think this is such an important area for Christians, and in particular students, to understand?

BRIAN JOHNSON: I’ve always been interested in science and it was the scientific evidences for God that really started to convince me of His existence. As I started to look into the biological evidences I was awestruck at how obvious it was to make a design inference based on the inner workings of the cell. The molecular machines that are working inside each of our bodies at this moment scream of a designer.

If more Christians understood the beautiful structure of how the different processes within our bodies function I know it would not only strengthen their faith but would give them a much greater sense of just how amazing God’s creation really is. And this is certainly true for students who are often not exposed to the evidence for ID since our schools only teach Darwinian evolution.

SEAN MCDOWELL: Can you give a few specific examples of things in DNA that point to design?


The first argument for Intelligent Design is based on the information we find in the cell. The arrangements of the four nucleotides, ACTG, contain specified information and convey meaning for the production and arrangements of proteins. Stephen Meyer makes the case for this in his book Signature in the Cell.

The second is a process called DNA error correction (aka, DNA repair). This process is mind-boggling and is currently at work in your body as you read this. Your body is creating new DNA at this moment in a process known as DNA Replication. During this process the DNA double helix is split in two, kind of like a zipper on a coat. As you unzip your coat you then have two sides of that zipper. Now pretend that the ‘teeth’ of the zipper on one side of the coat are each represented by a nucleotide letter of either a, c, t, or g. During the replication process a brand new set of ‘teeth’ are joined to the existing set of ‘teeth’ much the same way as when you zip the coat up and the two set of ‘teeth’ are joined together to seal the coat. If during this process an incorrect nucleotide is put down an error correcting process catches the error, stops the process, plucks out the wrong nucleotide, inserts the correct nucleotide, and then allows the replication process to continue. Describing this process as mind-blowing is actually an understatement.

The third process is one that has just recently been discovered. It now appears that in addition to repair mechanisms DNA also contains proofreading processes as well that make sure the information that passes through it is as accurate as possible. This all happens where messenger RNA transcripts are translated into proteins. The complexity of these processes is simply inconceivable.

SEAN MCDOWELL: Isn’t Intelligent Design based on a “God of the gaps” fallacy?

BRIAN JOHNSON: The God of the gaps objection is a common one. But it is mistaken. Rather than arguing from gap in our knowledge (i.e., what we can’t explain), Intelligent Design reasons from what we do know about the world by considering all the evidence and making an “inference to the best explanation.” This is the exact same scientific method Darwin used in his theory of natural selection. If you want to disregard the method we just used to infer an Intelligent Designer as the cause for what we find in the genome, then you must also reject Darwin’s conclusion as well. The knife cuts both ways.

Do We Really Live In A “Post-Truth” World?

It’s official. The 2016 word of the year is “post-truth.” Last year it was an emoji. In 2014 the word was “vape.” And in 2013 it was “selfie.”

With the truth twisting, emotional appeals, and personal attacks that characterized this past election season, Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the word for 2016. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Post Truth

Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. While modern technology and social media certainly contribute to the phenomena of emphasizing style over substance—just read Amusing Ourselves to Deathtwo thoughts stood out to me when I first heard that “post-truth” was the word of the year.

First, the idea of changing, avoiding, or moving beyond truth is not new. Judges 17:6 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” In other words, there was no standard the people were accountable to, and so they decided for themselves what they believed was true. No doubt they followed their experience and feelings to determine what was right. And by doing so, they demonstrated a universal human proclivity—the denial of truth. Humans always have, and always will, find ways to avoid truth.

Second, we don’t really live in a post-truth world. In fact, a post-truth world is impossible. Not too long ago I was speaking at a youth event. Afterwards, a student came up to me and said, “You talked about truth a lot. What’s the big deal? Why is truth even important?” I looked at him and simply asked, “Do you want the true answer or the false answer?” He clearly valued truth, even though he didn’t realize it. The same is true for all of us.

We make daily decisions based on what we think is true—waking up at the right time, taking the correct medications, and choosing the right directions to get to work. Truth is inescapable.

Trying to ultimately deny truth is like pushing a beach ball under water. Push it down on one side, but then it pops up the other. Each time you push it down it comes back up. Its nature is to float to the surface, even when we try to submerge it.

Truth is the same way. We may live in a “post-truth” world, in which people make choices based on emotion and experience rather than objective fact, but the reality is, truth simply won’t disappear. Truth will keep popping to the surface and reminding us that it’s important.

Deep inside the human heart is the knowledge that we need truth to live a meaningful life. We know that truth matters. In fact, that’s why we’re so quick to correct those we feel are mistaken. We may choose experience and emotion over truth, but deep inside the human heart is an awareness that we should follow and believe what is true.

Let me know if you think I got something wrong in this post. But just realize that if you do, you’re making my point for me—Truth really does matter. And we ought to get our facts right, even if Oxford dubs “post-truth” the word of the year.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:


Resources for Greater Impact

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to be an ATHEIST (paperback)

Truth is a Person—Not Simply An Idea

Truth matters. And in our moments of honesty, we all know this. Minimally, we all live as if truth matters. It’s unavoidable.

Truth matters in religious matters too. All religions (including atheism) claim to present a true depiction of reality. And this includes Christianity. But there is a key fact that makes Christianity distinct from other world religions—Christianity does not present truth merely as an abstract idea, but as a person who can be known.

truth is a person

When Pilate questioned Jesus about truth nearly twenty centuries ago, he failed to realize something profound: truth was standing right in his presence. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Pilate was not just discussing truth in his Jerusalem palace that day; he was literally looking at it with his own two eyes. Truth was standing before him, clothed in human flesh! Jesus Christ, “who came from the Father full of grace and truth,” is the very embodiment and essence of absolute moral and spiritual truth itself (John 1:14, NIV).

Truth is much more than a mere abstract fact or concept; it is inescapably relational. Even more than that, truth is a person and this person is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus transcended the concept of truth by identifying himself as the truth. We cannot separate the idea of truth from the person of truth—Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus told Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:19). Rather than telling Peter merely to follow certain rules, obey certain commands, or live out certain teachings, Jesus’ final instruction to Peter was: “Follow me.” Jesus knew that Peter could only fully understand what it meant to know truth if he was first willing to follow Jesus with all his heart.

In the Christian worldview, truth can be personally known as well. In John 16:13-14, Jesus says:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Truth is so relational that it dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. Having truth ultimately means knowing Christ personally through his Spirit.

People in our world today desperately need to understand truth. But more importantly, they need a relational encounter with the Person of Truth. Our task is not merely to proclaim the abstract truths of Christianity with clarity and force, as important as this is. Our ultimate job is to proclaim the unique offer Christianity makes about intimately encountering the God of Truth (John 17:3). Framing our apologetics this way is not only true, it is much more attractive.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:


Resources for Greater Impact

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (Book)

America Desperately Needs Real Tolerance: A Lesson from Mike Pence

Our country is deeply divided. This, of course, is no secret. There are competing versions over how we need to proceed in terms of race, economics, moral issues and more.

Underlying many of these issues is a competing view of tolerance. As my father and I point out in our book The Beauty of Intolerance, tolerance no longer means what it used to mean. Classically, tolerance has meant recognizing and respecting others when you don’t share their beliefs, values, or practices. By this definition, tolerance assumes disagreement. Otherwise, what is there to tolerate? But according to a new view, tolerance means recognizing and respecting all views as being equal. And by this view, if you think your view is superior, then you’re a hateful, intolerant bigot.

tolerance mike pence

Two Competing Views of Tolerance

These two competing views of tolerance were on clear display this week. In response to the election of Donald Trump, designer Sophie Theallet called for the fashion industry to boycott Melania Trump. In defense of her views, Sophie posted a letter on Twitter that says her brand “stands against all discrimination and prejudice.” And then she says, “As one who celebrates and strives for diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles, I will not participate in dressing or associating in any way with the next First Lady.” And she called on the fashion industry to follow her lead.

The irony and contradiction is evident. If she really stands against “discrimination and prejudice,” then why prejudge and discriminate against Melania? If she really values “respect for all lifestyles,” then why not respect the future First Lady, especially since her husband received support from roughly half the country? Do their values matter? In reality, Theallet embraces a pseudo view of tolerance that claims to accept all lifestyles, but in practice, only accepts those who agree with her.

She certainly has the right to hold, defend, and proclaim this view. Even though I think she’s wrong, I fully support her right to run her business this way and to make her views public. People should have the right to run their businesses based upon their deepest moral convictions. But I do think she should stop pretending to value “diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles.” Clearly she doesn’t.

How Mike Pence Stole the Show

If you want to see real value for diversity, and a genuine model of tolerance, you will have to look to another story that has been trending this week: the Hamilton/Pence controversy.

Vice-President Elect Mike Pence took his family to see the play Hamilton. When he arrived many people booed him. How did he respond? “I nudged my kids and reminded them, that’s what freedom sounds like…I wasn’t offended by what was said,” said Pence in an interview on Fox News Sunday.

In other words, rather than getting defensive, angry or resorting to name-calling, Pence chose to find the good in people booing him, and he took the opportunity to teach his kids a valuable lesson: America is a great nation that allows people to disagree fervently. In fact, the value of freedom is greater than our own discomfort. By defending the right of people to boo him, Pence showed that he values freedom more deeply than his own feelings.

Part of what has made America great is that we are a nation of people with diverse views on a plethora of issues. Even though we may think others are deeply mistaken, we value the freedom of disagreement.

After the show, members of the cast personally addressed Pence and offered a criticism of his administration. On stage with his fellow actors, Brandon Victor Dixon read a statement directed at Pence:

We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values, and work on behalf of all of us.”

Again, how did Pence respond? Although his security detail rushed him out, Pence made sure to stop and hear the full statement. He valued their opinion and their right to hold it. And he had no ill words the next day. In fact, Pence praised the actors and mentioned how much he enjoyed the show. And he reiterated his commitment to work for all Americans. As a result, Dixon called his response “encouraging.”

Our country will be deeply divided for some time. How do we move forward as a nation? Pence gave us many lessons, but one stands out as critical for our nation at this point: choose to be gracious and kind towards others and genuinely listen to their concerns. Pence could have been critical, harsh, or defensive. But he took the high road. He chose to be civil and kind towards those who see the world differently. And it was noticed. Although it was small, he advanced the ball on bringing back civil discourse. Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come from people on all sides of the political spectrum.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:



How Should Christians Talk about Homosexuality?

Joe Dallas is one of the most articulate people who address homosexuality and the church. He is an author, blogger, and professional counselor. While I have been a fan of his writings for years, we sat down for coffee recently and got to connect in person. As a result, he gave me the opportunity to endorse his most recent book Speaking of Homosexuality. While there are some excellent books on the Bible and homosexuality, this book now stands out to me as one of the best. I highly recommend it for its content and gracious approach.

Dallas answered a few of my questions. Check out this interview, and if you enjoy it, consider getting a copy of his timely book.

Christians Homosexuality

SEAN MCDOWELL: You’ve written a number of books on how the church can address homosexuality. Why another book? What makes this one unique?

JOE DALLAS: I’ve had the pleasure of writing books for people who are affected in different ways by homosexuality – families with gay loved ones, for example, or individuals struggling with their own sexual feelings – but this time I’ve been able to write a book for the average Christian who wants to dialogue with gay or pro-gay people. So many of us know what we believe, but we’ve been unsure how to express those beliefs, or when it’s appropriate to express them, or how to express them without coming across like a bigot. That’s why I wrote Speaking of Homosexuality.

SEAN MCDOWELL: You have been writing on this subject for roughly two decades. How have you seen both the issues and manner of the debate change?

DALLAS: If you hold the Traditional view on homosexuality, you’re definitely on the defense now. Not too many years ago, the majority of Americans believed homosexual behavior was wrong. But today, the culture has come to believe that if you think homosexuality is a sin, then you’re the one with a problem. So when believers express the Biblical view on human sexuality, they make their apologia, or their “defense,” in the marketplace of ideas. That’s both exciting and unnerving.

MCDOWELL: The subtitle of your book is “Discussing the Issues with Kindness and Clarity.” What is it about homosexuality that requires both kindness and clarity? Do you think we need to address all moral issues in the same manner?

DALLAS: We seem to be forever swinging between the extremes of harshness and sloppy sentimentality. Kindness is required when you discuss this issue, because you can hardly convince people if you’re not showing them respect and even friendliness. But clarity is a crying need as well, because we can hardly win people to the truth if we’re not clearly explaining what the truth is. So both are needed when addressing this or any other moral subject. If I was into tattoos, which I’m definitely not, I’d put “Remember: Grace AND Truth” on everybody’s right arm.

MCDOWELL: Jen Hatmaker is a popular and influential Christian author. In fact, my wife has loved her books. Recently, in an interview with Religion News, she declared that same-sex relationships are holy. How do you process an announcement of this sort from such an influential figure?

DALLAS: I hate to say it, but “buckle up.” There will be plenty of influential Christian speakers, musicians, pastors, and leaders of all sorts announcing their epiphany from a traditional to a pro-gay view. Hatmaker’s the latest; she surely won’t be the last. It’s a symptom of the times. We mistakenly assume that if someone is a leader, she or he must be well grounded Biblically, but that’s hardly true. These days, if you’re articulate, empathetic, and personable, that alone can elevate you to a place of prominence in the church. So while I’m disappointed in Hatmaker, I’m more concerned about the church in general, and about how readily we accept people’s teachings without taking a Berean approach and checking what we hear from the individual against what we read in scripture.

MCDOWELL: Some people have claimed that within 10-15 years homosexuality will be as acceptable in the church as divorce, even though the Bible has strong teachings against divorce. What do you think? Any predictions as to where the issue is going over the next few years?

DALLAS: I agree with the prediction, although while those who make it tend to view it as a good development, I think it will be more proof of our general deterioration as a church and a culture. Where there’s doctrinal weakness, moral compromise is sure to follow. So I think we’ll see a growing acceptance of homosexuality within churches that claim a Biblical base, and we’ll see a broadening of our boundaries on other vital issues like the exclusive claims of Christ as being the only way to the Father, the existence of hell, and the sinful nature of man. Churches that stick to a truly Biblical world view are likely to face lawsuits, revocation of tax-exempt status, and eventual legal sanction for refusing the alter their teachings and in-house practices. Then again, since Jesus, Paul, and John in the Revelation foretold the downward spiral we’re experiencing, should it really be a surprise to us? But, praise God, there will always be people who’ll respond to truth, embrace and live it, and reap its benefits. So let’s keep our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith, and finish the race. It’s still on, and there’s still a prize to be won.

Sean McDowell, a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

What are the Best Questions for Meaningful Spiritual Conversations?

I love having conversations with people about spiritual matters. If we treat people with kindness, charity, and show a genuine interest in how they see the world, most people are open to discussing religious matters. In fact, in my experience, many people are eager for such conversations.

Spiritual Conversations

In his excellent book Generational IQ, Haydn Shaw explains how intellectual questions are back in the minds of younger generations today:

“One of the biggest challenges we have in responding is that Millennials are asking questions again. Generation Why? wants to know, ‘How do we know that?’ Three of the six reasons Barna Group gives in their book Churchless for why Millennial Christians are leaving their churches are intellectual: Christianity is too shallow, churches seem antagonistic to science, and the exclusivity of Christianity is a turnoff.[1]

Shaw is right—younger generations are interested in truth-related questions. In fact, they’re asking them. I have spiritual conversations with Millennials and young people from Generation Z all the time. But these generations are also less trustworthy and more skeptical than previous generations. They don’t accept simple answers. In many cases, simple answers are a turnoff. They are used to proclaiming their opinions through social media. And if they suspect you’re mistaken, they’ll simply Google a response. It’s not enough for them to be told, “That’s what the experts say.” They want evidence.

So how do we best engage this younger generation? The key is to ask authentic questions and be willing to listen. Authentic questions are different than leading questions. Leading questions aim to get a preset answer and to direct the conversation to a particular end. Authentic questions are meant to elicit genuine dialogue. And they only work if we are truly interested in hearing how others see the world.

Some people are better at asking authentic questions than others. It’s a skill that takes time to develop. I have worked at trying to become a better question-asker, and I am always looking for good tips and even particular questions that beneficially advance a conversation. My goal is not to be manipulative, but to genuinely spur people to think, and also to learn myself. After all, if I am wrong, shouldn’t I change my mind?

Here are ten questions you might find helpful to advance genuine spiritual conversations with those who do not share your faith. If you want to probe further for specific strategies to have meaningful spiritual conversations, check out the essay, “Christians in the Argument Culture: Apologetics as Conversation” in A New Kind of Apologist.

I offer these as the kinds of questions that have been helpful to me. I would encourage you to think of your own. If you come up with some good ones, please share them with me:

  • Do you have a background in religion? If so, what was it like?
  • Was there ever a time you believed in God? If so, why did you think it changed?
  • How important is spirituality to your life now?
  • If God exists, would it be important for you to get your life right with Him?
  • Do you put Jesus in the same category as other religious figures? Why or why not?
  • What do you understand the core of the Christian message to be? In other words, what is your understanding of the gospel?
  • Can you please tell me about the God you don’t believe in?
  • Are there any things that attract you to religion? And are there any things that turn you away?
  • What experiences have most shaped your spiritual life?
  • What would it take for you to believe in God in general and Christianity in particular?

The good news for these kinds of conversations is that you don’t have to have all the answers. That’s right. You don’t have to be an expert! You just need to be bold enough to ask the questions and care enough to listen. If you do, you might be amazed at the depth of conversation you can have with people who hold radically different views than your own.

Many people have never been asked these questions before. Simply raising these questions, and giving people genuine space to wrestle with them, can sometimes be transformative. And you might even be able to encourage people to consider the claims of Christ.

So what are you waiting for?

Sean McDowell, a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

[1] Haydn Shaw, Generational IQ: Christianity Isn’t Dying, Millennials Aren’t the Problem, And the Future Is Bright (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2015), 117.

Freedom or Tyranny: What Will America Choose?

America is deeply confused about freedom. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, America is the land of the free. If anyone understands freedom it’s us!” We are certainly a nation who has historically fought for freedom, and we do have greater freedoms than many nations in the world, but as R.R. Reno points out in his recent book Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, we have abandoned classical freedom and embraced a new understanding that will, in the end, bring tyranny.

Freedom or Tyranny

Historically, Americans pursued a freedom that was aimed at serving the higher good and void of government overreach. There was a sense of collective responsibility and solidarity. Our freedom came from God and was based upon aligning ourselves with nature. We certainly fell short as a nation in living this ideal (e.g., racism and eugenics), but it’s the freedom we valued in principle and fought for.

But today we are embracing an entirely new understanding of freedom. Moral relativists encourage young people to be nonjudgmental. Students are encouraged to accept all lifestyles as equal and not to judge others. The only “sin” is to consider one’s lifestyle superior to another. Moral relativists talk about freedom, but it’s not the kind of freedom that encourages courage, forbearance, and sacrifice but the freedom to define moral truth for oneself. In other words, to the moral relativist, freedom means having no moral constraints.

The new understanding of freedom can also be seen in our cultural trend towards individualism. In The Beauty of Intolerance, my father and I describe the trend this way: “Moral truth comes from the individual; it is subjective and situational. This truth is known through choosing to believe it and through personal experience.”[1] SCOTUS judge Anthony Kennedy famously expressed this individualistic view in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Such a view seems liberating, but unchecked by God, nature, and custom, it will only lead to tyranny. In fact, untethered by any restraints, freedom becomes merely about freedom itself rather than what is best for the collective good. Reno observes:

“In a society without clear sex roles, without taboos against cohabitation, illegitimacy, and divorce—which is to say, without powerful social norms governing individual behavior—governmental and quasi-governmental support (and therefore control) necessarily expand. The triumph of nonjudgmentalism has created a cultural vacuum. The void is now filled by laws, lawyers, and courts that adjudicate the conflicts that arise in the private lives of ordinary people. Moral deregulation brings a certain kind of freedom, but someone has to pick up the pieces. More often than not, that ‘someone’ is the government.”[2]

This is the weakness with libertarianism, which promises unfettered freedom. By redefining the family, a pre-political reality that governments are meant to recognize, the state has now become the source of our freedom. And if the government can redefine marriage, it can effectively redefine every other area of private life as well. Again, Reno explains:

“The redefinition of marriage by the state turned the most effective limitation of government power, the family, into a creature of government. It does not matter whether this government takeover of private life is the work of unelected representatives, unelected judges, or popular referendum. If government can define marriage and parenthood as it sees fit, the personal is the political, which is one of the definitions of tyranny.”

How far can our culture take this new understanding of freedom. And what’s next? There have been sympathetic movements in favor of incest, bestiality, and for the view that people should be able to understand themselves as dogs. If the individual really is supreme, and there is no objective moral truth binding on us all, then on what basis can we criticize such behavior as wrong? In fact, in our nonjudgmental culture, the only “sin” is not praising such behavior.

Reno raises an additional possibility I simply had not even considered before:

“If we really can live in a way free from our maleness and femaleness, then the horizon of our freedom is almost limitless. Why should my future be limited by my body’s subjection to disease and decay, any more than by my nature as male or female? I fully expect that within a few years academics will advance the view that mortality, like sex, is socially constructed. Such a view provides the anti-metaphysical foundation for a right to doctor-assisted suicide, euthanasia, and abortion. I can easily imagine the argument: There’s no such thing as death; it’s a construct imposed on us by traditional ways of thinking that sustain the interests of the powerful.”[3]

I fear he may be right.

In contrast, Reno argues that real freedom requires truth. We are most free, he claims, when we orient our lives around truth rather than seek godlike independence from all restraints: “Freedom comes when we bind ourselves to something worth serving…A culture of freedom requires legitimate authority. Freedom is fullest now when it serves truths freely held.”[4]

Our culture really is divided over its view of freedom. Will we embrace classical freedom rooted in custom, nature, and the divine? Or will we embrace a freedom untethered by any limits beyond the whims of the individual? It is not an overstatement to declare that the future of our nation depends upon what we choose.

Sean McDowell, a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Resources for Greater Impact

Legislating Morality (Video)



Legislating Morality (Book)


[1] Sean & Josh McDowell, The Beauty of Intolerance (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2016), 19.

[2] R.R. Reno, Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society (Washington DC: Regnery Faith, 2016), 127.

[3] Ibid., 19.

[4] Ibid., 35.


Is the Universe Full of “Wasted” Space?

Why did God make the universe so big? Why so much extra space if it’s just us? This is a question that both skeptics and believers have often asked, including myself. After all, why does there need to be a universe with some fifty billion trillion stars, which comprise merely one percent of the total mass?

Stephen Hawking raised this question years ago in his book A Brief History of Time. He suggested the vast size of our universe seems a waste. And Carl Sagan famously said, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” Sagan suggested its size is good reason to believe there are other life forms in the universe.

Universe Wasted Space

Whether or not life exists in other parts of the universe, it turns out that the size of the universe is carefully calibrated and necessary for life’s existence on planet Earth. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross explains this phenomenon in his recent book Improbable Planet. He writes:

However, ongoing research has given us good reasons—all relevant to life’s existence—for the massiveness of the cosmos. We need it for essential construction materials.

The initial mass density of matter’s building blocks—protons and neutrons (called baryons. collectively)—critically impacted what happened the first few minutes of the universe’s existence. That’s when hydrogen, the lightest element, fused into the next heavier elements, helium and lithium. The amount of helium and lithium produced at the time then determined how much planet-and life-building material (the elements essential for life) could be produced later on within the nuclear furnace of stars.

If the universe contained a slightly lower mass density of protons and neutrons, then nuclear fusion in stellar furnaces would have yielded no elements as heavy as carbon or heavier; if a slightly greater mass density, then stars burning would have yielded only elements as heavy as iron or heavier. Either way, the universe would have lacked the elements most critical for our planet and its life—carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and more. For life to be possible, the universe must be no more or less massive than it is.[1]

Simply put, given the laws of physics in our universe, we need a universe as massive as it is for the construction of the materials that make life possible on our planet. If the universe were much smaller or bigger, we would not exist.

It turns out the universe is not full of wasted space. In fact, if the universe were not this massive, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and the rest of us could never even have been here to reflect upon it. Thank God we live in such a big universe.

Sean McDowell, a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Resources for Greater Impact

IDHEFTBAA book standing w SHadowI Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (Paperback)

Cold Case Christianity Book angled pages

Cold-Case Christianity (Paperback)


[1] Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 24.

What Are the Two Most Important Christian Virtues Today?

What would you say are the most important virtues for Christians to cultivate today? Believe it or not, but this is a question I have been wrestling with for some time. This post is not meant to downplay any Christian virtue, or to claim that some are not needed. Christians are certainly called to be like Christ and to exemplify all the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-21). Rather, my goal is to ask what virtues are most critical today in light of our current cultural milieu.

I would welcome your thoughts and critique, but here is my conclusion (in advance): In light of our secular culture that increasingly considers classic Christian beliefs extreme, irrelevant, and sometimes even dangerous, the most pressing virtues for Christians to cultivate are courage and kindness.

Christian Virtues

The Case for Courage

Courage has arguably been cheapened in our culture. We think it’s courageous to speak out on a particular subject on Facebook. We think it’s courageous to tweet our support for a candidate or social cause. While these things are fine in themselves, and sometimes even helpful, Christians need to embrace a much more radical kind of courage—the kind of courage we see in Jesus, the apostles, and many other leaders throughout church history.

Consider the apostles of Jesus. They were threatened, imprisoned, jailed and even threatened with their lives. And yet on behalf of the apostles, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The apostles feared the judgment of God more than they feared the opinions of men. In fact, as I demonstrate in The Fate of the Apostles, they so deeply believed in the resurrection that they valued faithfulness to God above their own comfort. They were willing to sacrifice everything, including their own lives, rather than compromise their convictions.

While faithfulness to Jesus doesn’t presently cost Christians their lives in the West, the temperature is being turned up. And the cost is getting greater. If this story is correct, pastors may even be imprisoned for preaching biblical truth within the church.

I have no interest in overstating the cost of following Jesus in America today. After all, compared with much of the world, we still have remarkable freedoms. And my prayer is that we can maintain them. But it would be foolish to dismiss genuine threats to religious freedom and what they mean for individual Christians who are trying to faithfully live out their convictions in the private and public lives. I have personally met many Christians torn between their professions (bakers, photographers, pastors, etc.) who need to make a livelihood, but who also want to faithfully live out their deepest religious convictions.

Here are some questions we all need to consider: Will we stand courageously for our faith, like Daniel, even if it costs us our jobs, relationships, and freedoms? What are we doing now to cultivate courage, so if challenges come, we are ready to be faithful to Jesus?

The Case for Kindness

As important as courage is today, it is not enough. Courage must be balanced with kindness. Scripture is filled with commands for believers to be kind:

“Love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another” (Zechariah 7:9).

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

Christians are to be kind both to fellow Christians and to outsiders. Why are we to be kind? Simple: because God first demonstrated kindness to us. Ultimately, God’s kindness is what draws us to Him in repentance: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

Kindness is different than niceness. Kindness is not merely saying nice things to people, but exhibiting generosity and friendliness. Kindness involves being truly gracious with others, even if they hate us. Jesus demonstrated this kindness by asking God the Father to forgive the very people who were crucifying him. The kindness of Jesus drew the attention of those watching (Luke 23:26-48). And by God’s grace, our kindness might as well.

Sean McDowell, a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Sexual Morality In A Christless World

How would you make a case for Christian sexual morality in a secular setting? Specifically, what would you say if you were asked to speak on the Christian view of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in a university classroom? This is exactly the opportunity that motivated pastor Matthew Rueger to start researching and studying Christian sexuality in depth, and ultimately to write the book Sexual Morality in a Christless World.

Sexual Morality

Rueger begins the book by recognizing that the world has radically changed and that Christians increasingly find themselves being considered outcasts and radicals by the secular elite. In light of this reality, he asks a probing question: “Will we mirror the ancient Christians who were not afraid to stand out in the crowd and say, ‘Not for me?’ Are we willing to be ostracized, excluded, secretly derided, and maybe even openly mocked simply because we are Christians? We need to be; our children need to be.”

And yet Rueger rightly notes that for Christians—and in particular Christian students—to stand boldly for biblical morality, they need to first understand why it makes sense. It is critical to understand why God created sex to be experienced between one man and one woman for life, and why this model is still best for society today. This is the exact same approach John Stonestreet and I take in our book Same-Sex Marriage. In order for Christians to speak out confidently for a Christian ethic on marriage and sexuality, we must first understand why God designed sex to be between one man and one woman in a lifelong married relationship.

Sex in Ancient Rome

Ancient Roman sexuality was primarily tied to the idea of masculinity and the male’s need for domination. Thus it was permissible for men to have sex with his slaves, whether male or female. Rueger explains: “It was understood that he would be visiting prostitutes of either sex. A strong Roman male would have male lovers even while married to a woman. In the Roman mind, man was the conqueror who dominated on the battlefield as well as in the bedroom.”

And this domination often carried into sexual relationships between adult males and adolescent boys (pederasty). In the Roman mind, sex with boys was often viewed as intellectually superior and a purer form of love than sex with women.

While there are exceptions, women were often viewed as physically and mentally inferior to men. Their value was often tied to their ability to have children. In fact, in the primary creation story accepted in the classical world, which came from Greek mythology, woman was created as a punishment for man (the story of Pandora). This is radically different than the biblical view in which Eve is created as an equal companion to Adam (Genesis 2).

Sexual Exploits of the Caesars

In perhaps the most interesting section of the book, Rueger chronicles the sexual exploits of the Roman Caesars, who both reflected wider culture and helped advance its debauchery. There are stories of Augustus Caesar inviting senators to dinner, and then excusing himself to sleep with their wives. Tiberius practiced pedophilia and is said to have funded a special public office that concentrated on his sexual pleasures. Caligula lived in an incestuous relationship with his sisters. And Nero engaged in public cross-dressing, incest, rape, and other kinds of sexual assault.

It is important not to overstate the debauchery of ancient Rome. There were certainly many good people who resisted wider sexual norms. But citing such differences does reveal how radically countercultural Christian sexual morality was in the first century. And it also shows the courage of the first Christians who knowingly put themselves in harm’s way to advance the greater good in general, and the gospel in particular.

Secular Morality Today

Rueger speaks some chilling and prophetic words for Christians today: “Secular society is moving ever closer to Rome in its assessment of Christianity. The message of Christ is despised, and Christians are seen as bigoted and unloving. Christians today can learn from the Christians who lived in the Roman Empire of St. Paul’s day. The bubble of social acceptance for Christian morality has burst, and now we must be prepared to suffer. Those who speak God’s truth in love will be hated. They may even be prosecuted in some instances” (p. 41).

What I have discussed so far only takes us through the first two chapters in his book! Rueger also contrasts early Christian sexual morality with Jewish morality. He explores some of the key New Testament passages that lay the biblical foundation for sex and marriage, such as Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, 1 Peter 3:1, 7, and Matthew 19:4-6. And he also considers common objections against the biblical sexual ethic. In each case, he shows how Christian sexual morality both elevated women and cared for children, even though it was considered extreme at the time.

Overall, I found Sexual Morality in a Christless World to be insightful, timely, and challenging. Despite what we increasingly hear in our wider culture, the Christian ethic is both reasonable and good. And this is a truth we cannot hide, but must teach to our children and proclaim from the rooftops.

Sean McDowell, a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Resources for Greater Impact


Correct Not Politically Correct (Why Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone)


Download (PDF)

4PsNEWDVD4P’2 & 4Q’ (The Quick Case FOR Natural Marriage & AGAINST Same-Sex Marriage)

Download >> MP4


How Did Christianity Prevail in Ancient Rome and What Can We Learn from It?

What was unique about Christian practices and teachings in the first three centuries of the church? And how did such a minority faith—which was considered irrelevant, extreme, and at odd with the role “religion” is supposed to play in a pagan society—ultimately prevail? In his recent book Destroyer of the gods, New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado focuses on the first of these questions. But his book also has powerful implications for the second.

Christianity Prevail in Ancient Rome

Hurtado explains how Christianity was viewed by pagans in ancient Rome: “In the eyes of many of that time, early Christianity was odd, bizarre, and in some ways even dangerous. For one thing, it did not fit with what ‘religion’ was for people then. Indicative of this, Roman-era critics designated it as a perverse ‘superstition.’”[1]

Interestingly, this is not too dissimilar from charges that are increasingly being raised against Christians today who refuse to embrace the progressive sexual agenda.

Although Christians in the early church aimed to be good citizens, and to show due respect and care for both their neighbors and the State (as Christians do today), their beliefs in Jesus as the one true God put them at odds with the prevailing culture (as Christian beliefs and practices increasingly do in our secular culture today).

In fact, as Hurtado observes, Christian beliefs were even considered more problematic to Rome than Jewish beliefs. How so? While Jews also refused to honor pagan deities, there is little evidence Roman-era Jews aimed to persuade the masses to abandon their gods. And yet this is exactly what Christians did. In other words, Christians were often allowed to hold Christian beliefs in private, but should expect to sacrifice those beliefs when they enter the public arena. Sound familiar? Chuck Colson saw this coming years ago.

Roman authorities had little problem that Christians worshipped Jesus as God. Their problem, however, was that Christians refused to worship other deities. While Christians considered worshipping pagan deities idolatry, Romans considered such behavior defiance to the state. Jews were often excused since their behavior could be “chalked up” as a matter of national peculiarity. But Christians could not appeal to any such ethnic privilege. As a result of their refusal to worship the pagan deities, Christians experienced popular abuse, intellectual condemnation, and persecution on a local and (eventually) statewide level. And yet, amazingly, Christianity prevailed.

There are many factors that can help explain the growth of Christianity. But as Hurtado points out in Destroyer of the gods, Christian distinctives must be taken into consideration as a piece of the puzzle. Consider a few Christian distinctives, which are often taken for granted today:

  • When people worship God, Christians claimed they should withdraw from worshipping the gods of their families, cities, and peoples. The exclusivist stance of Christianity was so offensive that Christians were often labeled “atheists.”
  • Christians emphasized that there is one transcendent God who passionately loves his people and can be related to personally. Pagans often spoke of the love of gods toward humans in terms of philia, which indicates friendship. But Christians spoke of God with the Greek term agapē, which connotes a deep love and firm commitment to the one loved.
  • Christianity was a “bookish” religion. Like Jews, Christians read Scripture publicly, produced voluminous numbers of texts, and committed remarkable resources to copying and disseminating them widely. In fact, in their eagerness to disseminate Scripture, Christians were at the leading edge of book technology of the second and third centuries.
  • Christianity uniquely linked religious beliefs with ethical living. As a result, Christians were on the leading edge of overturning popular practices in ancient Rome such as infant exposure, gladiator battles, sexual abuse of children, and sexual perversity. Christians uniquely called men to the same kind of sexual loyalty demanded of women.
  • Christianity was uniquely diverse. In ancient Rome, there was social stratification between men and women, slaves and free, rich and poor. But Christians began with assemblies that were diverse in gender, age, and social status. Even the least important members of Roman society, such as women and slaves, were considered equal members in the church.

There are many other Christian distinctives in the first century, but if you want to read them, you’re going to have to check out Destroyer of the gods. If you are interested in comparative religion or the ancient roots of Christianity, and how this may apply to the Christian faith today, you will thoroughly enjoy the book.

In particular, there are two aspects that I most appreciated about Destroyer of the gods. First, Hurtado shows Christianity is not just like any other religion. There are unique beliefs and practices that we can proudly embrace as modern Christians. In an age when Christianity is often condemned as harmful and poisonous, Destroyer of the gods is a reminder that Christianity was on the positive edge of cultural change in ancient times.

Second, Christianity ultimately prevailed over the pagan culture that it was birthed in. Modern critics often claim that Christians are on the “wrong side of history” for not embracing modern sexual norms. Undoubtedly, these critics would make the same charge if they were writing in the first couple centuries of the church. And yet they could not have been more wrong. Christian teachings are not only true, but they are in the best interest of individuals, families, and the state.

Sean McDowell, a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Resources for Greater Impact


Standing in the Lion’s Den

[Video Download]

[DVD Set]


The Great Book of Romans

[Video Download]

[DVD Set]

[1] Larry Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), 2-3.

Allah or Jesus? Is God One? Interview with Nabeel Qureshi

Nabeel Qureshi is one of the leading apologists today on Islam. Raised in a devout Muslim home in the United States, Nabeel became a Christian in college. He records his faith journey in his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (2014). His second book, Answering Jihad, was written as his response to the “why” behind the recent jihadist terrorist attacks. His latest book, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam & Christianity, released in August 2016. It is an excellent book for Christians to better understand Islam and how to answer tough questions Muslims often raise, but also a great book to give to your Muslim friend.

Interview with Nabeel Qureshi

Along with his MD, Nabeel has three Master’s degrees, including an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University (where I teach). Coinciding with this latest book release, Nabeel was diagnosed with late stage stomach cancer. Nabeel answers a few questions related to his most recent book:

Q: Why did you write No God but One: Allah or Jesus?

A: My heart for this book really is to let the world know the reasons why we can be confident that the Christian faith is true, particularly to Muslims who might be seeking. Also, there are a lot of Christians who are considering Islam. They haven’t heard some of the things that are true about Islam. They’ve heard stories, they’ve heard notions, but they haven’t really studied the evidence or learned some of the darker issues. My book is designed to help people understand the strengths and weaknesses of Islam and Christianity. I believe my book shows that the Christian case is much stronger than the Muslim case.

Q: What is your hope for No God but One: Allah or Jesus?

A: My hope is ultimately that 100,000 Muslims would read No God but One and give their lives to the Lord. I know that’s quite a number, but that’s my prayer. There are millions of Muslims who are searching and considering whether or not Islam is true. Of course, what the Lord does with the book is ultimately what’s most important.

Q: How do you respond when a Muslim says there is nowhere in the Bible where Jesus claims to be God?

A. That’s one of the first questions Muslims very frequently ask. I would say you have to start with the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and then you can show how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in John 1:14. Someone will probably respond and say, “This isn’t Jesus speaking; this is John speaking.” We can respond by explaining that John was Jesus’ disciple. This is why it’s so important to understand the evidence for Islam and Christianity in contrast, because if you just compare one without understanding the other, it can be problematic. Muslims are very ready to tell you what Muhammad said. The problem is, we don’t have Muhammad saying anything. We have other people recording what he said, in the same way that we have John recording what Jesus said, or John recording things about Jesus.

If we can trust anything we know about Muhammad, we can trust that John the disciple wrote John’s Gospel. It’s having similar standards across the board. Of course, I’ve spoken to many Muslims, and the objection still comes up, “But these aren’t Jesus’ words.” Then you can point throughout the rest of the Gospel of John, where Jesus says in John 5, for example, “Honor Me like you honor God.” Let’s examine that statement. Could a prophet ever say, “Honor Me like you honor God?” Jesus says that He is the king of His own kingdom. Jesus also says, “Pray in My name when I am gone, and whatever you ask, I will give it to you.” That’s fascinating. Jesus isn’t even going to be on Earth, and He can hear you when you pray, and He can give you what you ask for?

In John 20:28, Thomas calls Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus affirms his exclamation, saying in essence, “Finally. You have believed. Blessed are those who haven’t seen and have believed.” Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus is God. Another approach that I often take is with the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 14:62, Jesus’s words [about being the Son of Man and sitting at God’s right hand] are a claim to be God. So when Muslims say, “Where did Jesus say, ‘I’m God?'” My response to them is often, “Did Jesus speak English?” They’ll say, “No.” I’ll say, “What language did He speak?” They’ll usually say “Hebrew” or “Aramaic” or “Greek.” However they respond, I’ll say, “Okay, so we need to understand that He’s speaking in the idiom of that language.”

In his time and language, when you say you are the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Father and coming with the clouds of heaven, as Jesus does in Mark 14:62, you’re claiming to be God. You can show that by turning to Daniel 7 and also Psalm 110:1. It’s important we know our Scriptures, and it’s important to be able to unpack for Muslims what Jesus is saying.

Q: How do you share the gospel with Muslim friends and neighbors without being too rude or insulting toward their faith?

A: Open your life to your Muslim friends, just like you would anyone else. Befriend them, and as you’re watching TV together or as you’re eating a meal together, or whatever things you would do with anybody else, be ready to talk about your faith. It’s not so much a matter of figuring out what to say, or having a script, as much as having the right attitude. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your Muslim neighbor as yourself. As you love your neighbor, love God. Let them see your love for God.

Let’s say you’re going through a difficult time or have heard some bad news, and you’re wrestling with that information. You can allow your neighbor to come into your life or knock on your neighbor’s door and say, “Hey, I just want to hang out.” Then, in the midst of your trouble, you can demonstrate your ongoing faith in Christ and what He has promised, that He will deliver, that He is our Savior, and that you trust in Him.

Let your Muslim neighbor, whom you love, see your love for God. If God has heard your prayers, then tell your Muslim neighbor that God has heard your prayers. In that, you witness to your neighbor through life. Of course, you might have some Muslim neighbors who are not from the same culture as you, and that can make interactions more complicated and tricky. I would learn as much as I could about how to welcome them from their own cultural idiom, so that you can be hospitable, so that you can host them, and in that context, love them.

Q: What should be our response to nominalism within American Christianity?

A: Nominal Christians are far more problematic than Islam. A lot of people ask, “Is atheism or Islam the most pressing concern we have as American Christians?” Neither. Apathetic Christians should be our most pressing concern.

Nominal Christianity gives the wrong message to most of the world. It makes people think Christianity is a faith that is lacking, a faith that produces lukewarm people. They don’t realize that Christianity infuses you with life. The gospel message allows you to truly live. It means living even though we die. We as Christians have to be lights. We have to be passionate for our God. We need to show the people around us—be they Christians, Muslims, or whoever—that the Christian faith is a passionate faith. It’s an all-or-nothing faith.

For example, look at Jesus’ teachings. He’s all in, and He says you can’t be halfway in. Take tithing, for example. In the Old Testament, tithing was clear; you give 10%. That’s a tithe. In the New Testament, are we told anywhere to give 10%? No. Some people may say, ” I don’t have to tithe as a Christian.” It’s the other way around. Jesus asks for absolutely everything, 100%. You don’t tithe as a Christian because you need give everything—your life, your clothes, your food. You trust Him with everything. That’s what it means to be a Christian. It’s all in. For the same reason, Jesus says not to worry about where you live, what you’ll eat, or what you’ll drink. You have to trust God. It’s 100% in.

Q: Is jihad a Quranic concept?

A: That’s very clear, yes. Surah 9 of the Quran is the best surah to reference because it’s the clearest on jihad. It’s also nearly the last surah written chronologically, almost like marching orders. Surah 9, verse 111 says very clearly that Allah has bought your persons and your property that you might slay in battle and be slain. Allah makes you a Muslim so you’ll fight in battle. That’s what surah 9, verse 111 of the Quran says.

Q: How do we respond to a Muslim who says Surah 9 does not apply to Muslims today?

A: That’s what my former sect of Islam used to say. They’d explain that surah 9 was contextual to a specific battle, and it doesn’t apply anymore.

The problem with that view is that it’s completely disconnected from the Islamic traditions. If you believe Muhammad is a prophet, you have to accept the Islamic traditions. There’s no other way to conclude Muhammad is a prophet, no historically consistent way to conclude it anyway, without following them. Within those very same traditions, surah 9 is the last major chapter of the Quran to be composed, and it was not limited to a specific context. It was the final marching orders for Muslims. To say that surah 9 doesn’t apply to Muslims anymore is an unhistorical or inconsistent way of interpreting the Islamic traditions.

Q: Do Muslims in general think critically about their faith, or is that a Western mindset?

A: There are two factors to consider. One would be West versus East, and the other would be educated versus non-educated. Critical thinking often comes with higher education. In the West, the focus on critical thinking seems to be a lot stronger than in the Middle East. I’m not saying Middle Easterners don’t think critically. Many do, and many are excellent critical thinkers, but the focus on authority in the Middle East is far stronger than the focus on truth in the West. In the West, we emphasize the individualism to arrive at truth however you arrive at it. Your truth is your truth. My truth is my truth. The relativism of truth has taken the matter a bit too far in the West. Whereas in the Middle East and in eastern areas of the world in general, honor comes from obeying authority or following lines of tradition, which means less critical thinking. It’s a natural outcome of following authority that questions are not as welcomed. You generally have to be either an educated Muslim or a Western Muslim to be a critical thinker about faith.

Q: In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, you described your initial encounter with Christian music as negative. Have you found any worship music you like?

A: Early in my Christian walk, it was shocking to see people singing and leading music up front on a stage. It seemed very irreverent. I was not used to any music in a mosque. I was not used to women standing at the front in a mosque. Since then, I must say that I draw closest to God during corporate times of worship, and I am talking about worship music in particular—hymns and modern worship songs. The church I attended in Atlanta, Georgia, for example, was Passion City Church, where Chris Tomlin was the worship leader. He left to go to Nashville, and then David Crowder was often the worship leader. I love worshiping with contemporary music.

Q: Is it fair to say that while Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, both faiths attempt to worship the same God, though obviously arriving at very different results?

A: In No God but One and also in Answering Jihad, I discuss that in one verse in the Quran, Muslims are told to say to Christians and Jews that we worship the same God as you do, yet throughout the rest of the Quran it’s very clear Islam rejects a Trinity. It rejects that Jesus is God and that God is a Father. If you believe Jesus is God, according to surah 5, verse 72, you will go to hell. How could it be that Muslims and Christians worship the same God if you will go to hell for worshiping the Christian God if you’re a Muslim? It goes further than that. The Christian God is triune, one being in three persons. The Muslim god is absolutely one, and there’s a doctrine within Islam called tawhid, which teaches not only is God absolutely one, but that his oneness is the most essential doctrine of Islam.

So Islam affirms as its most important doctrine an explicit rejection of the Trinity. This is not an incidental difference. It is intentionally antithetical, and that’s why I argue Muslims and Christians worship different gods.

Q: What is Islamophobia in your opinion?

A: There is a very real incidence of Islamophobia in the West. Some people see anything Muslim as dangerous or evil. At the same time, some things are called Islamophobia aren’t. For example, is discussing Muhammad’s violence Islamophobia? No. Is talking about the violence within Islam Islamophobia? No. Is saying that Islam misses the truth on some matters Islamophobia? No. In order to shut down conversation, people may say, “You’re being Islamophobic.” The word phobia can be used these days to shut down conversations. I don’t think that is an accurate use of the term “Islamophobia.”

Q: Do you think Muhammad knew or understood the Trinity? Did he receive wrong information about the Trinity?

A: In my honest opinion, I’m not sure we can know much of anything about Muhammad. All the Muslim records about Muhammad’s life are late, and they’re contradictory. They share information that is relatively unbelievable. They come from questionable sources. For example, if we try to corroborate some of the details we’re told in Islamic narratives, such as the simple fact that Muhammad was born in Mecca, there is no record of Mecca existing before the beginning of the eighth century. The Islamic narratives consistently claim he was born there, so the average Muslim will say, “Of course he was born in Mecca.” Yet there are no archaeological finds before the beginning of the eighth century within Mecca. According to the traditions, Mecca was a major trade city on multiple trade routes, yet merchants used to keep meticulous records of their trade routes, and Mecca isn’t found in any. How confident can we be that Muhammad was actually born in Mecca at the end of the sixth century? There’s no historical reason to be confident.

Or consider the term “Muslim” in the seventh century. According to Islamic narratives, Muslims conquered parts of Persia and Egypt, having been sent out by Muhammad’s teachings. Yet historically those Arabs who conquered Persia, Egypt, and Jerusalem never called themselves Muslims. They never used the term “Muslim.” They didn’t quote the Quran. Instead, they referred to themselves using other terms, “Sassinids,” for example. They’d also refer to themselves by their tribal names. All to say, when you attempt to corroborate early Islamic narratives with the hard evidence of archaeology, or numismatics, or trade routes, they don’t check out.

Getting back to the question, did Muhammad understand the Trinity? The Quran itself gets the Trinity wrong. The councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon had occurred hundreds of years before the Quran was composed, yet the Quran views the Trinity as Father, Son, and Wife. For instance, when Allah asks Jesus whether he told people to worship him and Mary alongside Allah, Jesus says no. That’s the Trinity the Quran assumes. Was there ever such a view of the Trinity? Sort of. The Barbelo Gnostics, from the end of the second century, are recorded to have worshiped Father, Son, and Mother, so Muhammad may have gotten some of his references about Christianity from Gnostics.

Q: In light of your health situation, do you have plans for another book?

A: I do. I’m working on my next book now. There are unknown factors that may affect when or how this book releases, but I’ve been working on it for some time. It’s entitled The Questions Muslims Ask and the Answers that Convert Them. It addresses 20 key questions, and it’s designed to help believers see the heart of Muslims and what captures their hearts as they’re coming to Christ. It should also be a good book to give to Muslim friends. I noticed with Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus that some Muslims disregarded my story because I grew up in a different sect than their one, assuming my story wouldn’t be relevant to them. This book will represent a vast array of Muslims, Shia, Sunni, Western, Eastern, nominal, and devout.

Sean McDowell, a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Prayer Request: We humbly ask all of our readers to take time and pray for our brother Nabeel Qureshi as he battles with cancer. Thank you and God bless.

Resources for Greater Impact:

No God but One BOOK Review CLEAR

No God but One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity

Answering_Islam DVD

Answering Islam

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[Mp3 Download]

Why Evolutionary “Just So” Stories Fail

During my graduate philosophy work at Talbot, I took an independent study on Darwinism and intelligent design. My guiding professor, Dr. Garry Deweese, had me read books on both sides of the debate, including Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett and The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.

Evolutionary Just So Stories

It was during this study that I began to understand the concept of a “just-so” story, and it has stuck with me ever since. Essentially, to save the Darwinian paradigm, Darwinists sometimes come up with logically possible, but evidentially unsubstantiated stories to account for some recalcitrant feature in the natural world (yes, Christian apologists can sometimes be accused of doing the same thing to explain apparent contradictions in the Bible. But that is a story for another time).

For instance, evolution has been used to explain why men (allegedly) prefer blondes to brunettes, why humans like to burn their mouths with hot chilies, and the origin of religion.

On a more serious (and common) note, many Darwinists aim to provide an evolutionary explanation for morality. As it is often claimed, morality is a tool for survival. After all, if we didn’t have principles such as faithfulness, promise keeping, and honesty, we couldn’t function as a society. Society would crumble if there were no moral code. A belief that there is a real right and wrong helps species survive and flourish.

Now, morality certainly could, at least in principle, provide an evolutionary advantage to a particular species. If a group of human beings, for instance, lacked any moral compass, they would arguably be less likely to survive than a tribe committed to courage, honesty, and chastity. But this possible explanation fails to explain how morality evolved in the first place. Rather than providing an actual mechanism for the evolution of morality, the evolutionist offers a benefit of evolution and then assumes his job is done.

But this misses the point. If Darwinists want to provide a successful mechanism that can account for the totality of life, they need to offer an explanation for how these features evolved in the first place. It is not enough for naturalists to begin with a certain feature of the world and explain its (supposed) evolutionary advantage. There is always some possible evolutionary story that can be spun to save the theory. For their views to have explanatory power, naturalists must first provide an explanation for how a given feature evolved in the first place.

In his excellent book The Experience of God, David Bentley Hart offers a helpful illustration for how naturalist just-so stories fail to explain key features in reality, such as consciousness:

If I should visit you at your home and discover that, rather than living in a house, you instead shelter under a large roof that simply hovers above the ground, apparently neither supported by nor suspended from anything else, and should ask you how this is possible, I should not feel at all satisfied if you were to answer, ‘It’s to keep the rain out’—not even if you were then helpfully elaborate upon this by observing that keeping the rain out is evolutionary advantageous.[i]

Hart is exactly right. Offering a positive benefit of why a hovering house protects from rain does not explain how such a feature originated. Similarly, explaining how consciousness benefits mankind does not to explain how consciousness first emerged. An explanation that merely explains why such a feature is beneficial leaves the mystery unexplained.

All evolutionary “just-so” stories are certainly not equal. Some are much more believable, natural, and evidentially supported than others. But many are simply outlandish. The key point is that, for Darwinism to be considered a successful worldview with explanatory power, it needs to explain some of the big features of reality, such as the origin of morality, consciousness, personhood, and free will. Unless it can successfully explain these features, Darwinism itself is merely a “just-so” story.

Sean McDowell, a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:


Resources for Greater Impact

Darwin Dilemma




I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be a Darwinist

[i] David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 205-206.