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A conversation with Sean McDowell - S10.E10

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WORLD Radio - A conversation with Sean McDowell - S10.E10

A gracious, kind, understanding first approach to apologetics


Sean McDowell Handout

I’m Warren Smith, and today you’ll be listening in on my conversation with author, speaker, and Christian apologist Sean McDowell. His new book is A Rebel’s Manifesto: Choosing Truth, Real Justice, and Love Amid the Noise of Today’s World.

SEAN MCDOWELL, GUEST: We need apologetics. We always have. And we need people to debate. We need all sorts of tools. But as a whole, as culture shifted, there's such a need right now for a gracious, kind, understanding first approach. That's why I try to do apologetics the way that I do.

At first glance, Sean McDowell’s new book, A Rebel’s Manifesto, doesn’t seem all that rebellious to me. It’s a book that advocates standing for what’s right, developing the disciplines to become a good person, loving your neighbor, and thinking Christianly.

But then I remembered George Orwell’s famous line: “Speaking the truth in a time of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.”

And when I remembered that line, the title of Sean’s new book started to make sense.

Sean McDowell is a popular youth speaker, and this book is written for young people, but what I found helpful about the book was its short, sharp, satisfying discussions of such tough topics as homosexuality, pornography, abortion, immigration, guns and violence, the environment, and other hot-button issues. I read these chapters strengthened in my own convictions, and better equipped to share them with others.

That Sean McDowell is able to take tough concepts and make them understandable without “dumbing them down” is not surprising. He’s the son of Josh McDowell, whose books on apologetics such as More Than A Carpenter and Evidence That Demands A Verdict were instrumental in the growth of the field of Christian apologetics. Sean has built on that legacy, earning two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in apologetics and worldview studies, and he’s the author or editor of 18 books in his own right, including a book with Colson Center President John Stonestreet called Same Sex Marriage.

Sean McDowell had this conversation with me from his home in southern California.

WS: Sean, welcome to the program. It's, it's great to see you. It's been a while. We are often seeing each other at Summit Ministries or other places where we're speaking, but, man, it feels like that season has, if not ended at least changed, right?

SM: Well, everything pre-COVID feels like a different world. So it's been way too long, but really, really fun to connect.

WS: Well, Sean, my first question about your new book A Rebel's Manifesto is, a little context for the question maybe, might be an order. You've written a lot of books. They've been pretty successful. Therefore, you could probably write whatever you wanted and find some publisher that would be willing to publish it. Why this book? Why now?

SM: Well, this book is actually an update of the very first book that I wrote in 2005, called Ethix, eth-i-x. And that was a book, the first book I wrote, I was like, I want to write something to help students. And I needed to find something I was trained and equipped in: philosophy and theology. I was teaching high school, so I felt like I could write a student book. And I came up with 10 chapters and talked about some of the hot ethical issues of that day, whether it was abortion, war, homosexuality, et cetera. Well, 15 years out, that book did really well. I was pleased with it. It did about 40,000 copies for students, which blew me away Warren. And I was just, I was happy to that. And I started to think it'd be great to update this. But wow, culture has totally changed. Even in simple things, like the length of the chapters are going to need to change for students to read them. The topics that are covered, how I covered them. I mean, in 15 years, that was basically pre social media, pre COVID, pre Trump, millennials, not Gen Zers. I mean, in that 15 years to me, because I'm 45, you know, to others, that might feel like a long period of time, that just feels like the world has changed radically since that time.

WS: Well, you know, the Bible says there's nothing new under the sun, of course, but I think you're right, you know. I mean, I look at 2007, 2008, that kind of timeframe as being, you know, historians will have to parse this, you know, and I'm sure they will better than me. But it really feels like something changed in our culture around that time. That was, as you said, social media. I mean, the iPhone was introduced in 2007. I think it was right about then that Twitter came online, and Facebook and a lot of, you know, that stuff. Plus, we had a financial crisis in 2007, 2008, as well, which I think, I think that affected people emotionally. I think it affected the way they related to economics and politics and to each other. So yeah, 10 chapters. Now in this new book, what 25 chapters or something like that?

SM: Yeah, about there's actually 30 chapters, but 25 about on the different topics.

WS: I've seen you do this live, so I was especially fascinated, whenever you referred to it early in the book. You do an atheist encounter. First of all, describe for our listeners, what the atheist encounter is and why you wanted to use that, I guess you could say, technique, that is a part of your speaking engagements in this book.

SM: Warren, I think I've done this probably hundreds of times over the past 12 to 15 years. Youth groups. I've done at universities, conferences, Christian schools, where I show up, and they know I'm a Christian, typically, and I put on glasses and say, I'm going to become an atheist. I'm going to make some atheist arguments and take questions from the audience and do my best to respond as an atheist might. Well, typically 20-25 minutes into this when I give smarter responses, sometimes more testy than people will expect, they start to realize, “Gosh, I don't really know what I believe and why.” And oftentimes, what happens is people get defensive. Sometimes people get angry. And they just really treat me in a, sometimes a dehumanizing, just rude, unloving fashion. And I've done this with parents. I've done this with pastors a few times. And the whole purpose is, I step out of character, and I asked two questions. I say, “Okay, number one, how did you treat your atheist guest?” And Warren, looks on their faces are often like, oh my goodness, I did not treat you with kindness and patience and gentleness and self control. And then second, I say, “How ready were you with an answer for the challenges that I brought?” You know, sometimes I'll say rate it on a scale from one to 10. And as a whole, it does such a better job of getting people motivated because it's one thing for me to stand up there and say, defend the faith, be ready with an answer. But when people sometimes feel a little bit embarrassed, and my goal is not to overly embarrass anybody, but I want them to feel it a little bit, when they realize, gosh, I don't have an answer for contradictions in the Bible, or why God allows evil or the claim that the Trinity is contradictory, and frankly, I didn't treat you very kindly - it motivates people to defend the faith. But also, more importantly, do it with love. So I haven't found anything. I've done youth groups of 12 students, and I was in the Philippines at a church with 8,000 people, I did the atheist roleplay, which I think was probably too many. I was like, wow, there's a lot of people here. But it just makes people get it and understand how important it is that we know what we believe and communicate it kindly to others.

WS: Well, you know, one of the things, I've seen you do that live a couple of times, by the way, Sean, and I've always thought, wow, that's really a clever way to get into things. Because not only, you're often not going to get people to want to learn new things until they realize that there's something that they don't know. That you actually have something that they need. And this is, that's a sort of a brilliant way of doing that. But the other thing that I like about it is that you're an apologist. Your dad, Josh McDowell, one of the godfathers of, you know, what are the OGs of the modern apologetics movement. And, and yet, one of the things that I was, that I always loved about your dad and that I love about you as well is that you realize that the point of apologetics is not to win arguments, but to win people. And that tone matters. Kindness matters. Listening to them matters. Truly understanding their objections rather than just rehearsing in your brain, you know, the, the short, sharp answer you're gonna give them whenever they're through talking matters. And so I really liked that about what you did. And it seems to be that that's kind of the point of your book as well. Am I getting that right?

SM: That's exactly right. Now, I'm guessing this might be true for you, Warren. A lot of people that know me, when they pick it up, they go, A Rebel's Manifesto. I'm not sure the idea of a rebel, when I think of that, Sean pops into my mind. Like there's kind of a disjunct. They're like, wait a minute, you don't strike me as the rebel. Well, partly what I'm doing is trying to recast what it means to be a rebel. So I was reading an article this week, actually an academic article, talking about how rock music back in the ‘50s was rebelling against certain ideas, sometimes certain racial ideas in the ‘50s, in the ‘60s; against certain ideas of family and the institution. In the ‘70s, against war. Punk rock in the ‘80s. Rock and roll captured fighting against the system and injustice. And as I was thinking about this book, I started thinking, “Gosh, what does it mean to be a rebel today?” Because most people cancel and demonize, are uncharitable and move in this tribalistic direction. It's actually the rebel who says, “You know what, I want to hear you out. I want to be charitable towards you. I want to listen before I speak. If you say something offensive, you know what? I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt. And I'm not going to cancel you.” There's something about the Christian faith that is uniquely rebellious today. Jesus was willing to die on the cross, rather than use all the power he had, as the creator of the universe, lay down his life at the hands of the Roman Empire. He did that not because he was weak. He did that because he was powerful. And he was rebelling against the expectations. The expectation of the Roman Empire, and also the expectation of the religious leaders. So this book is a call for a generation to be rebels, to be contrarians, but in a different way than people have often been contrarians in the past.

WS: Sean, that's one of the things that, I don't know, maybe the Lord's teaching me, is that there is a certain power in love. There's no question about it. But real love is being willing to sacrifice yourself for another. And it seems to me that that too often, that we Christians have confused power with godliness. God is powerful. There's power in love. Therefore, having power must be the goal. But it's really not. Love is the goal, isn't it?

SM: I think that's right. You know, just this morning I was teaching the story of the prodigal son, and to group high school students. And this father, it says, the young man said, give me my inheritance now. And all it says is the father divided up his wealth and gave it to him. I see students, I said, what does this tell us about the Father? And instantly students said, he's weak. And I challenged them. I said, I think you've got it exactly backwards. This father gave it up and allowed himself to be wounded, out of power and out of love, knowing that this son needed to make some mistakes, realize his mistakes, and then come back, he could experience grace. I think we have it backwards. That is, ironically, the power of the Christian story, that you're not canceled because of a tweet you've done or something you said. There is grace for you. And there's such a strength in self restraint today. Such a strength with leading with charity. People aren't doing that. I mean, just just this past week, Warren, I interviewed a guy who describes himself as an atheist, New York media elite. Basically holds all the positions that you and I don't hold. But he grew up in Greenwich. And he told me, he goes, Sean 40 percent of the men I knew in my life were gay. I didn't know a single evangelical Christian. His perception of Christians is fighting the culture war, stealing his rights, characterizing him as the enemy. And frankly, yes, some of that perception is presented by the media. But there's a lot of truth in that. So we just had a conversation. I just wanted to hear his story, reach out and learn. Show kindness to him. Find common ground. And what's amazing, he said, you know, at the end, I'd like to flip the script and ask you questions, just to help the media and his peers. He writes at the New Yorker, New York Times. I want to help them better understand Christians and be sympathetic towards Christianity. Like stepping aside from the culture wars, listening, showing love and finding common ground. I think we can do that without compromising what is true. And frankly, the Scriptures are full of passages like Romans 2:4, that it's your kindness that leads to repentance.

WS: Yeah, well, what a good word that is. And, you know, I love that that love is even in the title of your book, choosing, A Rebel's Manifesto. The subtitle is, Choosing truth, real justice, and love amid the noise of today's world. That, you know, I've been thinking for a long time. And again, I was raised on your dad's work. In fact, I heard your dad speak in a church a week long, I got a week long dose of your dad when I was about 18 or 19 years old, and a freshman at the University of Georgia. And that was the beginning of my relationship with your dad probably 45 years ago. And of course, we've, you know, reconnected since then. So I was pretty well, you know, immersed in the apologetics world for a number of years and still am. I still love apologetics and think that it is so important. But at some point, I made a pivot or a light bulb went off for me that was expressed at least in part on what I said just a few moments ago. That we're, the purpose of apologetics is not to win arguments, but to win people. And I would maybe even go one step further. That apologetics rightly understood, and rightly wielded, if you will, rightly used, is just a tool to help us love well. And if we're not using it as a way to love God and love our neighbors better, then I'm not sure it has much value.

SM: And brother, you are preaching to the choir. I am on board 100%. And since you mentioned my Dad, let me give a little context that might help some people who haven't seen him 40 some years ago. One of the things about my dad is he is confident and he is bold. He'll use a metaphor of like, “I'm gonna attack hell with a squirt gun.” And some of that comes out of the brokenness in his past. And some of that just comes out of his personality. Well, what culture needed in the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s and ‘90s was somebody to stand up and say, I'm gonna go after these faulty ideas. Let's debate. Let's stand on the free speech platform and not back down. That's exactly what we needed. And I really believe God wired my dad for that moment to stand up. Because I have some people that literally a guy said, and he's like, I wish your dad would just nuance things and listen more. And I'm like, okay, he's human, but think about where he cut his teeth in the ‘60s and ‘70s. If you say I'm gonna listen to you, you were thrown off stage. Like that's just not where culture was at. But culture has shifted. Now everybody has a platform. It's an angry, divided culture where everybody's trying to shock more than everybody else to get views and to get clicks. Now, I think what stands out as a whole, and I do believe my dad is one of the most gracious, kind people that I know, but a voice of like, softness, a voice of kindness, a voice tethered to just grace actually stands out, in a way this bold, strong Christian voice did in different generations. So we need apologetics. We always have. And we need people to debate. We need all sorts of tools. But as a whole, as culture shifted, there's such a need right now for a gracious, kind, understanding first approach. That's why I try to do apologetics the way that I do.

WS: Yeah, yeah. Well, I appreciate that very much. Hey, Sean we're not going to be able to dig into I think, what'd you say? Thirty total chapters, 24 issues, right? But there are a few that I would like to maybe pause on, you know, during our conversation today. And one of them is loneliness. You've got a whole section on relationships. And in that section, you talk about loneliness, bullying, suicide and, and other things. But, was that chapter in the original book? I read the original book when it came out, but I don't have a copy of it now, and I can't remember. Was loneliness in that first chapter, in that original version of the book, rather?

SM: I'm actually looking at this section because I divided it up into sections, and I called it relationships. And I had loneliness, bullying, suicide as the first three in that section. None of those were in there. Now, I talk a little bit about, at the beginning, just loneliness and the need for relationships. But I think that has skyrocketed in particular tied to what you mentioned before in the early to mid 2000s with smartphones. Now, I'm not against smartphones. I mean, I love my smartphone. I have it here. But it certainly has changed the way we communicate, especially during the COVID pandemic. Thank God for Zoom, but you can only stare at a screen so much. There's something about presence. And we've seen mental health just skyrocket. It was already hockey sticking before COVID across demographics, although it affected girls, typically more than guys. And so loneliness and suicide and anxiety are now some of the most common questions I get asked. And I put it in here because they're not just emotional issues. We need to think biblically about them. We need to think Christianly about them, and bring Christian ideas to approach issues like loneliness. And that's what we often don't do.

WS: Well, your answer confirmed what I must, frankly, admit would have been a guess. And that is that those issues, those topics were not in the early book, but of course it is now. And, and that leads me to observe that it's, I mean, how ironic that is, right? I mean, you know, these smartphones that you and I've just been talking about, and I know, we're having this call via Zoom, they couldn't see both of us hold up our smartphones. Right? You know, these phones are supposed to connect us. These technologies are supposed to bring us together. And yet, in fact, the reality is that they don't. They do tend to separate us. They do tend to make us lonely. And and again, I, you know, I think what you said is just so important. I mean, you know, God came to earth. The incarnation is not an incidental Christian doctrine, right? I mean, it's an essential Christian doctrine. And I think in some ways, that's really what we're missing. And I think that's part of what you get at here in your book is that we just need to, you know, we need to show up in other people's lives. We need to have real friends, not Facebook friends. We need to have, you know, real relationships in our lives. Am I getting you right in that?

SM: That's exactly right. And because I use a smartphone, and my kids have smartphones, and this is truly a smartphone generation, I'm not going to dog on smartphones. Number one, that's just not going to be effective. And number two, I'm not even sure that's true. But I lay out a few things. For example, I say the smartphone is not the problem in itself. It's like because there's a number of car crashes every year, doesn't make cars the problem. But we got to think about how we drive and use them wisely. I think the same with a smartphone. So I'll walk through five different ways that smartphones, just trying to get students to affect, to think through how it could affect them. So for example, I'll just give you a couple of them. Smartphones shape how we process truth. How so? Well, now that there's endless information just one click away, that anybody can say, it starts to make us wonder, “Is there such a thing as truth? Can we know truth? How do I know truth and apply it to my life?” It creates such a sense of skepticism, just because of the availability and ubiquity of information. That's one way smartphones affect us that in some ways we don't even think about.

I would also argue that it affects us spiritually. I mean, a smartphone, especially social media, and again, I love social media. But it's all about the individual projecting themselves to the world, your wonderful life, this envious life, getting hits and getting views and getting clicks, motivates us. And I've been telling my students, I'm like, look, when you get a video, and it goes viral, there's like, you know, chemicals going off in your brain that feel good, that are tied to certain addictions that we can have, whether it's sexual addictions, or drug addictions. These are good chemicals in the human body, but when they get abused and create addiction… So my point to students is like, not that having a video go viral is bad. But you think about how it affects you, and how it wires your brain. And then it starts encouraging you to say, I'm going to do more videos like that about myself to get more hits. And it's like chasing your tail. It focuses on ourselves, rather than loving God and loving others. So again, a smartphone is not bad. But I'm just trying to give a tool in this book to parents and students to be more thoughtful and reflective about how they use smartphones, about how smartphones affect them spiritually, emotionally, physically, and relationally.

WS: Yeah, well, that's a good word. You know, Sean, I heard something some years ago, and I may have heard it from you. I cannot remember where I heard it. But I'm pretty sure it was at Summit Ministries, and it might have been in one of your speeches, because I've heard you speak there several times. And, yeah, but the saying was this: don't compare your life to other people's lives on social media and on Facebook. That there's such an artificial, you know, we, this, this generation, talks about authenticity, and talks about being real and talks about genuineness. And yet, one of the things that social media encourages is a certain fakeness. We look at other people's lives on social media, and we know the reality of our own lives. And it contributes to that loneliness, and that sense of isolation that we feel.

SM: I think you're right about that. Recently, I guess it's been a few years now, I was having my high school students journal. And I asked them, I said, “I just want you to write down for a couple minutes and think. Why do you think we spend so much time distracting ourselves on smartphones?” And most kids had pretty thoughtless responses, like, Oh, I'm bored or whatever. And this one girl wrote something, she was a high school freshman, I'll never forget it. She said, “I keep myself busy and distracted, because I'm lonely. And I don't want to stop and feel the loneliness that's in my heart.” Fifteen year old girl. Now that doesn't make a smartphone bad. But what happens is we feel loneliness, which is a sign to build healthy, good relationships. And now a smartphone enables us anytime, anywhere, anyhow, to scroll through endless TikTok videos, watch endless Netflix videos or Disney Plus, and just constantly distract ourselves and never deal with the heart of the issue. So yeah. And what drives that is what you said, is that we're always comparing ourselves to others. Now, I may or may not have said that. But growing up with a father, Josh McDowell, people have always compared me. I mean, still to this day, people say things like, “Hey, you're as good as your dad at speaking or you're almost as good.” Like people just can't help making these comparisons, right? And I'm, I'm 46. So I can tell you, I'm about 98-99% over it. But I'm still human. But a long time ago, I gave up trying to sell more books than my dad, trying to be as famous as him. Like those things don't matter. It's when I was able to say you know what, God has wired me a certain way. And all I want to do is be faithful to what God has given me. I'm not trying to be the next Josh McDowell. I just want to be Sean McDowell. There's something freeing about that that all of us have to wrestle with that kind of comparison in different ways. And as being 46 and more mature, I'd like to think, than my high school self, these voices come speaking through social media all the time trying to compare us to others. And we have to ground that. We have to resist that. We have to pray through that. And if it comes to the point where it's really affecting us negatively, we gotta be willing to get off social media.

WS: Yeah, yeah, that is just such a good word, Sean. I really appreciate. Almost called you Josh, right? I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I didn't. No, that was such a such a good word. You know, as I said, a few moments ago, Sean, we're not going to be able to talk about every issue that is in your book. But I did want to, you know, talk about guns and violence, which is one of the chapters that you have later in the book. I mean, as you and I are having this conversation, you know, we're just days away from the Uvalde school shooting where so many, you know, just really sweet, precious kids and a teacher, two teachers were killed. And, you know, this, this kind of thing just keeps showing up in our lives. And that chapter on guns and violence, I'm, I'm wondering a couple of things. Number one, would you write it differently now? Would you write it differently today than you did, I mean, than you did originally? Number two, I am both a theological conservative, but also, you know, politically conservative as well. I'm a, when it comes to the Constitution, I'm a constructionist. I believe in the Second Amendment. And I think it's an important part of the Constitution. And yet, when, when events like this happen, or even when events between events, I wonder, hey, maybe maybe there are some solutions that we can figure out together as a country. And I'm wondering what you think about that.

SM: That approach is exactly what I try to take in this chapter. I mean, you got to keep in mind, it's 1500 words per chapter, four to five pages for students. So I'm not trying to settle the gun debate. I'm trying to give students some tools to approach the issue theologically, practically, and then help guide them to think Christianly about gun violence. So for example, I walk through three bad arguments about gun violence. And one is like violence never fixes anything. Well, that's not true. It fixed and helped end slavery. It fixed and helped end the Holocaust. So that's not true. We also hear people say guns don't kill people, people do. Well, people kill others with guns. And arguably, guns can allow in many cases to kill more people. So it's a false dichotomy. No law can prevent all gun violence. Well, that's true. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't have some reasonable laws that prevent some gun violence. So I think what happens is this becomes political. On day one of this tragedy, which by the way, I mean, maybe it's because I'm from Texas, or I have a third grader. I mean, this one just, man alive, it hit me hard, Warren. I seriously can't shake it. But I hear both sides, often giving simplistic responses and trying to make political gain out of this, rather than just saying what laws actually work. I mean, I'm in favor of the right to own guns, but we got to have limits somewhere. You and I both agree that citizens shouldn't have tanks, right? I mean, so let's just…so much of the appeal of this book is just to try to say what actually works? How do we think about this Christianly? What are some reasonable steps we could all take to minimize gun violence? And I think what's hard about this is a lot of people look at this terrible violence, and we want an answer. We want to be able to fix it, because we want to control things. And there is no law that's going to fix everything. It's not. We're a broken, broken people. But we can come up with some reasonable laws and reasonable steps that we can all agree on. And I think the fact that the people from the left and the right make this such a political issue and are not willing to look at the facts is problematic all around.

WS: Yeah, I was, I was grateful that you quoted Martin Luther King in that chapter on gun violence. Where, I'm going to, I'm doing the quote from memory, but it was some something along the lines of, you know, a law can't make someone love me or can't make someone not hate me, but it can keep him from lynching me. And so, you know, you're right, we can't change people's hearts. But laws, you know, are designed so that we can live peaceably together. Laws, people say that you can't legislate morality. But our mutual friend Frank Turric, along with Norman Geisler, wrote a book called Legislating Morality, which basically makes the point that all law, laws against theft, laws against murder. There's an element of morality in our lawmaking. And that, I think that's why Christians should be engaged in that process. That we can't elevate politics and lawmaking to the level of idolatry. But we can and should be actively involved because we bring the true truth. We bring biblical truth to that conversation. And it seems like that's what you're trying to do in that chapter.

SM: Yeah, that's right. And I actually include a chapter on politics, which I had some hesitancy on because I am not a political commentator. I have never once endorsed or critiqued a candidate from either side. Because I'm an apologist, and I'm an evangelist, and I'm a professor. That's just not my lane. I don't want to close doors from people all over the political spectrum. So when I approach this chapter on politics, I just try to help Christian kids think through certain issues they might not be aware of. For example, things like my identity is first in Christ, not in a political party, Libertarian, Democrat, Republican.

Second, all parties, Republican, Democrats have certain principles and values that generally guide their approach to policy. What are those values? What are those principles behind it? Are they rooted in Scripture? Why or why not? We don't ask those kinds of questions. And then just simple points, like: good intentions are not enough to get good results. This is true for gun violence, right? You can put all the laws in the book with the best intentions. But if they don't work, what's the point? We see this with socialism. Socialism is motivated in many cases by good intentions. But it doesn't line up with a a Biblical view, which is the true view, that we are selfish by our nature, we are broken. And Scripture says we're corrupted. So because of that, socialism doesn't have an accurate diagnosis of human nature, it has failed miserably everywhere, and harmed people. So that's what I'm trying to do with politics is just take a step back. I'm not promoting one party over the other, although I certainly have political beliefs. I just want Christian kids to think through what is the purpose of politics? What are the worldview issues behind it? How do I think about this Christianly?

WS: Sean, we're gonna run out of time here pretty quickly. But I've got a few questions, kind of a lightning round I'm about to go through with you, if you don't mind. Ask some questions. One is what was the hardest? You got, you got chapters on a lot of crazy, not crazy - controversial stuff. We've already mentioned a few of them. But you got a chapter on pornography. You got a chapter on suicide. You've got a chapter on the environment, transgender ideology, and so on. What was the hardest one for you to write?

SM: I would probably say two. One, the chapter on suicide because I just felt woefully inadequate to speak into this. I don't think I've ever had a suicidal thought in my life. And this is such a pressing issue. So I reached out to a number of people to give their help and guidance on that one. On sexuality, I've spoken on LGBTQ. I've spoken on pornography. But I include a chapter in particular, I mean I talk about topics of like sex abuse, and that is so fresh today in so many ways. And I've also seen my father experience some serious sexual abuse. And so I looked at that, I was like, wow, I gotta get this right. And I also just felt like, I need to get some help writing this. So that was a tough one. The chapter on artificial intelligence was tough, but for a different reason. In my mind, I'm like, how do I even make this interesting and relevant to students? So chapters are just tough for different reasons, I guess.

WS: Yeah. Yeah. And I guess another question. We've already mentioned your dad, Josh McDowell, several times, but he's kind of been hovering over our conversation to a certain extent. But I wanted to ask, you know, I've talked to a lot of sons of famous people. Barnabas Piper, the son of John Piper. I interviewed, interestingly, within the past year, I've interviewed both Dallas Jenkins and Jerry Jenkins on, for this very podcast. And you know that, so a number of, and I always ask them this question: Was being the son, and you've already answered it partly, but I want you to say more about it if you're willing. Was being the son of Josh McDowell a blessing or a burden, or both?

SM: It was an absolute blessing. Now, are there times that it felt like a burden? Of course, there were times that it felt like a burden. It's not either/or. But the older I get ,Warren, I'm telling you, I would not trade my life for anybody's. There were times my dad was gone, maybe half the time growing up, and I missed him. And I remember having thoughts and times, like, I wish I just had a normal childhood and my dad coached baseball. The older I get, I'm like, wow, we went to Cuba and Russia and met these people and saw him debate. Like, I had these life experiences that I just appreciate more and more as I get older. And to be honest with you, God's given me a significant platform. But even this past week, I was telling my wife, somebody's like, hey, I used to track your dad, and I saw your name, so I saw what you're doing and love it and invited you to speak at their church. And I thought, you know what, if I wasn't the son of Josh McDowell, who knows if they would have invited me. So it's just thoughts like that, that hopefully humble me. Thankful for the opportunity that I have. And I can tell you my dad's human, but he's the real deal. He is the same on stage and off stage. And he's my hero, hands down.

WS: Yeah. Well, as I said, I've known your dad for a long time. And I thoroughly concur with that assessment. He has just been such a blessing to my life, both from a distance and now up close as a friend. So I appreciate that good word very much. So finally, Sean, how do you want this book to be used? I mean, do you think it'll mostly be read by kids or mostly read by parents or grandparents, and as a tool for helping them communicate with their kids?

SM: Well, when I wrote the first version of this, like I said, I made it 10 chapters, because I was like, books have 10 chapters; I was not any more thoughtful than that. But then as I started to update this one, and my other book, Chasing Love, which was also for students, I started thinking, wait a minute, I'm a parent. How can I actually use this either with my own kids, or in a classroom where I still teach a Bible class to high school students. That's where I thought, I'm gonna go shorter chapters, four to five pages, you can read in 10 to 12 minutes. And I've had parents do things like I did with my daughter. When the manuscript is out of my last book, I said, if you just read this, and then we go to coffee and talk about it, I'll go buy you a new pair of shoes. And she read the book. We went and we went to an outlet, she's like, I can get two for the price of one. And we had a long talk about these issues. I use it in my classroom. I've had a ton of parents say, like, 30 chapters. I've given people, like take the one month challenge. And each night, just take 10 minutes. And with your kid 12 and up, just read it together. Read it out loud, and just say, what do you think? Do you agree? Do you disagree? And don't lecture to your kids. Have a conversation with them. I've had other parents say like at the dinner table, you know, today would be a great day, just bring out the chapter on gun violence. I read it, maybe make a few of the points and say, how do we Christianly think about what happened at this school in Texas? I mean, this is what all the studies show, Warren, and you know this, going back to the ‘70s. The prime influence on the worldview of kids is not Hollywood. It's not the university. It's not the media. It's not the church. It's parents. And the prime ways we pass on our beliefs are by modeling, or in some cases, not modeling, and spiritual, meaningful conversations. So I do YouTube videos, and I do podcasts, and I write books, to be a tool that hopefully parents will use just to have conversations with their kids about these issues.

That brings to a close my conversation with Sean McDowell. Sean McDowell’s new book is “A Rebel’s Manifesto.” It’s available for pre-order now, though its official release date is July 5.

Listening In comes to you from WORLD News Group, and this program is just one of the many benefits that comes with a WORLD subscription. To find out more visit WNG.org/subscribe.

Also, a reminder that we have an extensive archive of more than 450 conversations with writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, politicians and pastors, news makers, and interesting people of all kinds. So if you’re new to the program, head over to the World News Group website and use the search engine to explore what we have there. Again, that’s WNG.org.

Tune in next week to hear my conversation with author and professor Father Robert Sirico. He is the founder of an influential think tank, The Acton Institute. And he has a new book: “The Economics of the Parables.” We’ll discuss this book, and his remarkable life, which includes a migration from being a gay activist early in his life, to becoming a Catholic priest and one of the most influential figures in the modern conservative movement.

The producer for today’s program is Leigh Jones. Johnny Franklin is the technical producer. And Paul Butler is executive producer for WORLD Radio. I’m your host, Warren Smith. And you’ve been Listening In….



WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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