Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Documentary by Kipp Davis, “Josh McDowell: Manuscript Hunting and Mythmaking for Jesus”

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Tonight I watched Kipp Davis’ new documentary about one of the most influential apologists in the US: “Josh McDowell: Manuscript Hunting and Mythmaking for Jesus” live in a webinar organized by the Lying Pen project at UiA, Kristiansand. My co-blogger Peter Head was there too I noticed. There was an introduction by Kipp, and brief responses by Roberta Mazza and Dana Ryan Lande. I only heard Roberta’s and then had to go.

 If you want to watch the documentary, it was released simultaneously on YouTube. I think everyone ought to see it, but perhaps in particular those involved in Christian apologetics. I already lacked confidence in McDowell before watching the film, in particular after his wheelings and dealings with manuscripts, mummy masks and Palmolive (though I doubt he knew Carroll somehow faked these sessions), etc. But this documentary brings out a lot more about McDowell’s own “testimony” that is highly disturbing and tragic.

9 comments

  1. I was a bit disappointed that it didn't really look into the "manuscript hunting" aspect. I would have liked more information on that recent "activity" and whether JM was actually on the inside of what turned out to be a giant fraud, or whether he (like others) succumbed to the temptation to present himself as an insider to it.

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  2. Thank you for posting this Tommy. It was very interesting. I too wish more investigation into the level of McDowell's involvement had occurred.

    My general takeaway on the main thrust of the video (stated at the end) is this;

    Kipp's big point concerning the embellishments McDowell made to his personal story is that it proves what manuscript experts have known all along that manuscripts were embellished and changed over time. (I don't quite Kipp, only summarize).

    Yet, Kipp's own documentary video disproves the point he is making, that when a story becomes widely circulated, it becomes increasingly difficult to make macro level changes to this story and pass it along as truth within the community that is disseminating this same story.

    In this example of McDowell; if we use his YouTube videos and his books and other biographies as representatations of manuscripts, then the phenomenon that I argue in my own work is proven true, that once a community circulates a writing then macro-level changes to that text will become known within the community that is circulating that work.

    Kipp demonstrates this in this very video, the embellishments of McDowell have become exposed to the community that is "circulating" McDowells narrative.

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  3. The “embellishments” to JM’s conversion narrative seem pretty minor, and almost irrelevant compared to the bombshell that is dropped at the end through Musser’s (sympathetic) 1981 biography of JM and revelation that McDowell was a believer when he traveled in Europe. This renders the heart of the narrative—JM’s conversion in Europe after embarking on a mission to discredit Christianity—a complete fabrication. Yet, I find it hard to believe that McDowell would continue to propagate the narrative over the years if it had already been falsified by his own biographer. Something’s not right here.

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    1. Mvh, I agree that something is amiss here. Another thing that was glaringly lacking in this documentary was an interview with McDowell himself. These questions could have easily been directed at him. Perhaps he could explain. If he refused comment then that could be stated as well. A pillar of the American justice system is that the one accessed is given the opportunity to face their accuser and give a defense for themselves.

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    2. Mvh,

      I actually find that part believable.

      I'm no fan of JM. On matters like this, I'd award him 0 credibility. You could definiteyl consider me a critic of JM.

      Yet if I was going to critique JM, it would not be about that point of his faith journey.

      In my opinion, you cannot divide belief into an easy binary state of "believer" or "not believer" . Faith is a relationship that can take on all kinds of tones, intensities, or strength. To me it's very believable that JM could have had some previous faith experience, yet went to europe during a period of doubt and testing.

      Further, in these types of matters hindsight is often even better than 20/20. Often you can have an experience with your faith and not realise the full implications of that until much later. Real turning points are rarely recognised in the moment.

      For my own experience, I was a core part of a very mainstream, contemporary evangelical church. I ended up leaving that for a very traditional liturgical church. The experience that led to that change was actually, at the time, a very positive expression of that evangelical faith. Seeing it at the time it happened, most people would have seen it as a sign of a vibrant and healthy faith. Certainly it seemed that way to me at the time I experienced it. It was only in the years afterwords that I was able to see that experience as the beginning of the end.

      All that to say, given the muddied complexities of a life of faith, I find it entirely possible that JM can look back at his europe trip and see it as a time when he went to test or disprove faith, despite whatever church experience he had previously.

      Now, as for his apologetic claims, that's a different matter...

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    3. Fair point, Ryan. It would have been interesting if Kipp Davis had considered the matter from this perspective.

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    4. Kipp Davis has done a good job in looking into issues about details in the conversion account of JM but it really is only at a half-baked stage where Davis should not have gone public.

      There may be a combination of changing emphasis in JM's account over time and with different audiences as well as mis-remembering and mis-speaking (making a mistake in a speech of a detail, does JM correct himself in front of an audience and so loose the continuity of the delivery or does he risk that someone years later will make an accusation of lying). No evidence that Davis has sought clarification from JM before making accusations. No evidence that Davis has analysed JM's speeches to see if mis-remembering and mis-speaking is found elsewhere in non-biographical details .

      There may be errors in the 1981 biography. Davis assumes the biography is correct and the other sources where they conflict are incorrect and so evidence for lying. No mention by Davis of what efforts he has or has not taken to verify the details of the biography.

      Matthew Hamilton

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