Revive Our Hearts Radio

A Broken View of Fatherhood

Leslie Basham: Josh McDowell is known as an apologist, someone who intellectually defends the faith. But behind the intellect was a hurting, abused child who had an inaccurate view of God.

Josh McDowell: I could not perceive or understand a heavenly Father any different than my earthly father. I grew up believing fathers hurt.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, June 13.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I was delighted to learn, several weeks ago, that Josh McDowell was going to be in our neck of the woods, speaking at a banquet for our local pregnancy care center. When I heard that news, I said, “We’ve got to get Josh into our studio and give him a chance to connect with our Revive Our Hearts listeners.”

Thankfully, Josh—who’s just gotten off the road from a, did you say, twenty-four nation speaking tour?

Josh: Yes, a speaking tour in South America . . .

Nancy: . . . lasting several months, and now has made his way to southwestern Michigan. Josh, you’re from southern California, so to be in our thirty-four degree Michigan weather this morning was probably a little daunting for you.

Josh: Well, I took my Vitamin C this morning to make sure I won’t get sick.

Nancy: No South American weather up here.

Josh: Boy, that’s sure. It was hot and humid down there with no air conditioning.

Nancy: We’ve got natural “air conditioning” outdoors! Thank you so much for coming by to visit with our Revive Our Hearts listeners. I know that this conversation is going to be a great blessing to those who are listening!

Josh: I’d come all the way here just to see you again, Nancy, apart from radio.

Nancy: Thank you so much. You and Dottie have been long time friends of our family, the DeMoss family. We go back a long, long way. I know you knew and loved my dad, who’s been with the Lord now many years.

Josh: And your brother came to live with us for three months.

Nancy: That’s right. My brother, David, who is also now with the Lord, was so impacted by your life when he was a teenager. Thank you for the many, many ways that you’ve served the body of Christ over these years. I just want to say for those few of our listeners who may not be familiar with the name, Josh McDowell (I know most are) . . . I read somewhere that you’ve written over 130 books. That exhausts me just thinking about it.

Josh: It exhausts me, too, but I’m just grateful. I never dreamed I’d have one book out, let alone now I’ve written 148—a number of them still to be released. We all have our gifts.

Nancy: I can remember back when I was in late high school and during my college years, you came out with Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Now there’s a new re-release of that book.  I can remember, as a teenager, being so helped in how to defend my faith by that volume.

You’ve been known for making a reasonable defense for the faith, and you’ve helped a whole generation—a couple generations—be able to do that.

Josh: The whole background of Evidence That Demands a Verdict was to write a book against Christianity. I really believed at that time that Christians had two brains—one was lost and the other was out looking for it. I thought Christians were walking idiots, and so I set out to write that book to refute those students and professors in universities, intellectually, and I ended up trusting Christ as Savior and Lord. I spent thirteen years documenting why.

Nancy: And what a great resource that has been for those of us who want to be able to share our faith with others. As you think back to your early years (in fact, I learned last night that you grew up just about thirty minutes from where we’re sitting in this studio today—just down the road), as I think back to your childhood and teenage years, it was unthinkable that you would be writing books defending the faith, that you would be ministering as you have to millions of people around the world, preaching the gospel of Christ.

Because as you roll back the tape to those years ago, when you were growing up in Union City, Michigan, it wasn’t a pretty picture at all. There was a dysfunctional family, and life was chaos for you back in those years.

Josh: I’m a walking example that all things have become new, and old things will pass away. Growing up right near here, my father was the town alcoholic, the town drunk. I hardly knew my father sober until I was twenty years old. I’d go to high school and see my dad downtown in the gutter making a fool of himself. All my friends would make jokes about it, and they didn’t think it bothered me because I would laugh on the outside—but I was crying on the inside.

We lived on a farm—in fact the city limits went right up our driveway. I’d go out to the barn and I’d see my mother (whom I loved very much) lying in the gutter behind the cows. My father would yank a milk hose—the air pipe—off the milking machine to beat my mother to a bloody pulp until she was so weak and bloody she couldn’t stand and was just lying in the manure in the gutter behind the cows. I’d be kicking, beating my dad, and screaming, “When I’m strong enough I’ll kill you.”

We’d have guests come over . . . If anyone has an alcoholic parent, they know what I’m talking abou. You carry shame with you every day of your life, especially when friends would come over and your dad would be drunk (or, today, on drugs).

I used to go out to the barn, and he would be passed out there. I’d grab him around the neck or by the feet, and I’d drag him into a pen where the cows would have their calves and just drop him on the straw. I’d park the car up around behind the barn when friends would arrive, and say, “Well, he had to go away on an important call,” or something, to keep from being ashamed.

I’d go back out to the barn—it would take a while. He was a small man, I was just a little kid. I’d get him up against the boards in the pen. I’d put his arms through the boards, tie a rope around one wrist, put his other arm around the board and then tie a rope to his other wrist. Then I’d take another rope. I’d go around outside of the pen, and then I’d make a hangman’s noose around his neck. Then I would tighten it and put the rope around his feet.

As a little kid, I'd pull that rope I tight as I could until his head went backwards over that top board. Then I’d tighten it up and knot it. The first time I did that, I did it about six-thirty at night. I went back out about five-thirty the next morning . . . and I was so discouraged, Nancy, I was so disappointed. He was still alive. All I ever wanted as a kid was for my dad to quit hurting my mother, and I grew up with that guilt that it was my fault.

Now, it wasn’t. I had nothing to do with it, but I thought, If only I was strong enough, he couldn’t hurt my mother. So it placed a lot of bitterness, resentment, hatred into my life, which can literally destroy anyone. It destroyed much of my family. My older brother took my parents to a court of law and sued them for everything they had.

Can you imagine a son doing that to his parents, no matter what the parents did? One thing he got in the settlement of the lawsuit was a home my folks had built for workers on the farm. He announced to my parents he was going to move it. And for two weeks from that Saturday, I could not sleep. How are you going to move a big house like that?

I was eleven years old. All week I was so excited. That morning I got up and did my chores early, and I ran out the back of the house and looked up. The house was up on a knoll away from the main farmhouse. There were about thirty or forty people up there. I thought, Wow, this is going to be quite a party.

They were going to move this house, and they came up to see it. There were farmers and merchants. But you know what was key, Nancy? Many of them were parents of my friends, people’s houses where I stayed. So I ran up that hill. I was so excited, my adrenaline was pumping. I think sometimes my shoes didn’t even touch the grass. I got to the top, Nancy, and my world came crashing down.

I heard these farmers and merchants from Union City, Michigan, many parents of my friends, yelling the dirtiest, filthiest names at my parents and just laughing at them. I snapped. I can consciously remember running down the other side of the knoll just crying and screaming. I ran into the barn where there was a pretty good-sized room with three bins in it for shelled corn, oats, and wheat to grind up for cattle feed.

I ran up the six steps, turned around, closed the big door, put the arm latch down, knocked down the two boards holding up the blinders in the windows until it was pitch black. Then at eleven years old, I climbed up in that shelled corn bin and I buried myself in that corn up to my neck.

Nancy, that’s when I prayed to die. I felt like it wouldn’t matter to anyone if I lived or died. I was there for three hours and my parents never came looking for me. Here, in front of half the city and everything else, I ran away screaming and crying, and they never came looking for me.

Nancy: It was just the chaos and the conflict that you’d seen.

Josh: The way my brother and all of them were treating my parents, publicly . . .

Nancy: . . . was just humiliating.

Josh: Yes. About one o’clock that afternoon, I was so hungry and thirsty—eleven years old—I dug myself out of that corn, jumped out of the bin, and when I undid that iron latch and stood the door open, the sunlight hit me in the face and shocked me into reality.

At that moment, I damned my father, I cursed him. I damned God, and I cursed God for abandoning me in that corn bin. That left a profound impact on my life, to where in my adult life I became a rescuer. Most adult children of alcoholics become rescuers. I couldn’t say “no.”

Dottie, my wife, thought I was one of the most compassionate people in the world, when really, I was one of the most compulsive people in the world. I had to say “yes” to everyone, or I wasn’t a loving person. If I didn’t say “yes” to my sister who was being hurt, everything else, then I wasn’t a loving person.

And then, add on top of that, Nancy, up until four-and-a-half years ago, I never shared this publicly. I believe I dealt with it, but I didn’t think it was anyone’s business, until the Lord showed me I needed to share it. I flew home and shared it with Dottie. From six to thirteen years of age, for seven years, every week, I was homosexually raped three to four times a week, and my parents wouldn’t stop it.

Nancy: And it was someone whom your family trusted.

Josh: When I was six years old, he was hired to be a cook and a housekeeper. It started at six years old. Whenever my mother would go downtown or they’d go away for the weekend, my mother would always make me stand in front of him, and then in front of him say, “Now you obey Wayne. You do everything he tells you to do. If you’re disobedient, you’re going to get a thrashing when I get home.”

He would always throw that up to me. So what do you do at six years old? You do what Wayne Bailey tells you. At nine years old, I got up the courage to tell my mom, and she wouldn’t believe me. She made me go out in the backyard where we had a big willow tree, break off a willow branch, take my shirt off, and then she whipped me for lying.

Nancy, that was probably the most terrifying, fearful day in my life. I had enough sense to know that what was being done to me was evil—and there was nothing I could do about it. My parents wouldn’t do anything about it. I still have that—not just the memory—I still have the emotion of the fear of that day.

Finally, thank God, at thirteen years of age, I was tossing hay bales on the farm, and I was playing football, and I became fairly strong. My mother had gone downtown. This man approached me. I spun around, put my hands around his throat, pushed him against the wall and said, “If you ever touch me again, I’ll kill you.”  And I would have. I would have been sent up for life (today you wouldn’t be).

He never touched me again. I’ll never forget when he left, my mom and dad were saying, “Why did he leave? I wonder why he left?” I was just sitting there saying, “Why don’t you believe me?” Two attitudes came out of that before I ever trusted Christ. I found out later they were so healthy and very unusual for someone who’s been sexually abused or homosexually raped.

One, I never looked at myself as a victim. I think you can only become a victim if you allow somebody to make you a victim. I was determined—I would not allow him to make me a victim.

Nancy: Even at that age . . .

Josh: I was fifteen years old, and I wasn’t a believer. Secondly, I made the decision to never look at myself as damaged goods. Now, it had to be the Holy Spirit, before I even came to Christ, because those two decisions are two of the biggest decisions you can make when you’ve been sexually abused.

Most people believe they’re a victim, and as a result they’ll never get healthy. Secondly, they believe they’re damaged goods, so they become very, very promiscuous sexually, because, “Why wait? There’s nothing here. I’m ruined.” I’m so thankful someone introduced me to Jesus Christ.

Nancy: Even with not considering yourself a victim and not considering yourself damaged goods, had you not come to faith in Christ, there still would have been that deep-rooted hatred and anger and that would have destroyed your life.

Josh: Yes, and the resentment. I grew up so hating my dad, and then having been sexually abused. I had a lot of resentment, bitterness, and hate in my life. Most people think that the biggest barrier I had was intellectual, because of all the books I’ve written. I did have an intellectual problem, but that wasn’t my greatest problem.

I’m sure, Nancy, you can understand this. My greatest problem was the image of my dad. In the Scriptures God says, “You look at me altogether as you look at yourselves.” If there’s any one thing I’ve portrayed upon the image of my heavenly Father, it’s the image of my earthly father.

When Christians would say to me, “You’ve got a Father in heaven who loves you,” (because they knew my earthly father), that didn’t bring joy to me. That caused pain. The reason is, I did not have the emotional maturity, the faith, the experience to understand that my heavenly Father can be different from my earthly father. I could not understand a heavenly Father any different than my earthly father. I grew up believing that fathers hurt.

Nancy: And so many women listening to this discussion can relate to those feelings. We do project the view we’ve had of men on to God and feel like He can’t be trusted.

Josh: And men do that. That was my greatest barrier. Now, the intellectual aspect . . . when I set out to refute Christianity, I think I did it out of anger toward God. I believed God abandoned me in that corn bin. But, if I hadn’t have done that, I’m not sure I would have come to Christ with the way I think and the mind that God has given me.

If I hadn’t come to the conclusion that the Bible is true, intellectually, and that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, I don’t think I would have ever been able to see beyond the earthly father to the heavenly Father. So I had an intellectual issue with the Scriptures and Christ, and I had an emotional issue with the fatherhood of God and my own personal father.

Nancy: This is when you were a college student. You actually met some Christian students who God used to challenge you to investigate the claims of Christ.

Josh: That is so key, Nancy. During this whole struggle, I saw a small group—maybe eight students and two professors at Kellogg College in Battle Creek, Michigan—and their lives were different. They seemed to have a genuine love and concern for each other. What I noticed was, they seemed to have that same love and concern for those outside their group.

Nancy: And you were one of the ones who were mocking them, right?

Josh: That’s right. Oh, I mocked them. I put them down, but I wanted what they had. So finally, one day we were sitting in the student union—six of the students and two of the professors—and the conversation got to God. I looked over at this young lady and I said, “What changed your lives? Why are you so different from the other students and professors on campus?”

She looked back at me with a little smile—which was irritating—and just said two words that I never thought I’d ever hear at a university, “Jesus Christ.”

I said, “Oh, for God’s sake, don’t give me that garbage. I’m fed up with religion, the church, the Bible, Christianity, and Christians.” I wanted nothing to do with it.

All I knew, she either had a lot of courage or a lot of convictions. She shot back at me, with everyone sitting around, (she didn’t smile this time), and said, “Mister, we didn’t say God, the Bible, Christianity or church or Christians. We said, the person of Jesus Christ.”

I apologized to her, because my mother had not raised me to be rude, and I’d really been rude. But as soon as I apologized, Nancy, I added a disclaimer. I said, “I want you to understand something. I want nothing to do with the church or with Christianity or Christians and all.” And that’s when they challenged me to intellectually examine it, which I thought was an absolute joke.

I thought if a Christian had a brain, they’d die in isolation. I just figured they were intellectual morons. You know why? Every Christian I talked to could tell me what they believed, but they couldn’t give me any intelligent reason why they believed it.

That’s like a lot of Christians today. They can tell me what they believe, but they can’t give me any intelligent reasons why they believe it. So I just mocked and laughed at them. And they kept irritating me. Now, what they were doing was totally appropriate. I was the problem.

Nancy, when I walked out of that corn bin, I stuffed that anger and bitterness down into my life. I know people seventy years old who have done that and not dealt with it. You never respond right. It robs you of the joy in your life. So when they said, “Jesus Christ,” it was like a volcano had erupted in my life. All that bitter hatred came to the forefront.

They made me so mad. Now, understand, what they were doing was totally acceptable. I was the problem. So I said, “Okay, I’ll accept your challenge.” But I didn’t do it to prove anything, I did it to refute them—to write Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

In the process, I traveled throughout the United States, took time off from the university, traveled through England, Germany, France, Switzerland, gathering evidence to refute those students and professors at the university. I returned to London, England for three days before coming home.

I was in a small museum library, and I leaned back in my chair, cupped my hands behind my head, and right in front of everyone—which was probably only about three people—I said, “It’s true! It’s true! It’s true!”

What I was referencing was the New Testament . . . nothing about God . . . I had not arrived at that position. But intellectually, what I concluded was that I could hold the New Testament in my hands and say there are two things true about it: “What I have is what was written down, and what was written down was true . . . Jesus had said this and done this.”

I hadn’t concluded that what Jesus had said was true, I had concluded it was true that He said it, and true that He had done it. And in that process, I returned to the university. Finally, one night I couldn’t sleep. I just said, “God, if you’re God and Christ is Your Son, and if He died on the cross for me, and if You can come into my life and change me from the inside out, then I accept you as my Savior and Lord. Forgive me.”

Nothing happened overnight, but Nancy, within about six months to a year-and-a-half, my entire life was changed.

Nancy: We’re going to pick up with what some of those changes were when we come back tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts, because you really were a new creation in Christ, and the whole course of your life was about to change. God was going to set you free from the bitterness, the anger, the busted relationships, the dysfunction that had become so much a part of the fabric of your life.

It was truly Jesus Christ who was the one who was going to make that difference.

Leslie: Josh McDowell has been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. We’ve seen how a bitter, angry, hurt child can be transformed through a relationship with Jesus. Josh’s story is dramatic, and I hope you’ll get a fuller treatment of it. We’d like to send you the book he wrote about his childhood called Undaunted.

Nancy, why should our listeners read this book?

Nancy: Well, for one thing, Leslie, it’s a riveting story. Even more importantly, I think this book and Josh’s story help to put painful, difficult, uncomfortable situations in our life into perspective. When we’re tempted to complain about some of the issues we’re walking through, I think it helps to think about someone like Josh McDowell and the intense pain and suffering he went through as a child and young man, and then how God has redeemed that situation.

So it’s a book that gives hope that God is in control; that He’s a redeeming God; that He can take the broken pieces of our lives and turn them into something beautiful—something that reflects God’s glory. God surely has done that with Josh McDowell, as you think about the millions of people who have been reached around the world through this man’s ministry. What Satan intended for evil has actually been turned into something of great beauty and great good, for God’s glory.

We’ll be glad to send you the book Undaunted by Josh McDowell when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. When you call to make your gift, just ask for the book by Josh McDowell. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or you can visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com. You can make your donation there, and be sure to let us know you’d like a copy of Josh McDowell’s story.

Maybe you were listening to Josh tell this incredible story, and you’ve been thinking, Someone should make a movie about this. Well, they have. It’s a dramatic story, and it’s really well done. The central theme of Josh’s life comes through in this movie . . . the theme of forgiveness and healing that are available through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Like the book, the movie is called Undaunted, and you can order the DVD at ReviveOurHearts.com.

When Josh came to Christ, he still carried a lot of the hurt from the horrible abuse that he had suffered. As a new believer in Jesus, he had to make a decision: “Am I going to forgive those who’ve sinned against me, in the way that Jesus had forgiven me?”

He tells that story tomorrow, so please be sure to be back with us for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, is an outreach of Life Action Ministries. 

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.

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