Josh McDowell is a well known Christan author and speaker. His credentials are endless, but he is mostly known for his bestseller More Than a Carpenter. In this new project, the film Undaunted, McDowell takes viewers on a very personal journey back to Union City, Michigan. It is here in his hometown, on his family’s farm, that we begin to see the beginnings of a life that many would say is extraordinary. Yet, McDowell’s beginnings are not as humble as one might imagine. An overweight mother who came to Josh’s football games and stayed in the car, unable to sit in the bleachers. An alcoholic father who, when drunk, would beat his mother, leaving her on the ground unable to get herself up. A farm aid who sexually abused McDowell. A troubled childhood, to say the least.
Part documentary, part narrative, the film retraces McDowell’s childhood, teen, and college years; his journey from declaring no faith, to wondering about faith, to claiming faith. McDowell himself is the host and storyteller, walking the viewer not only through the narrative, but through the fields, barns, and streets of his early life. Why such a film? McDowell uses his own life story as an object lesson.
At the conclusion of the film he offers the source of spiritual pardon for those whose lives are broken or who feel like failures. In this way it rings memories of the Billy Graham specials, where at the conclusion of the film/special Graham would share how you too can become a Christian. Yet, this evangelism technique is only used at the end of the film. The rest of the film is like an Oprah special. It’s real life and real emotions. McDowell is honest and vulnerable, as if to say, “This is what happened to me. If it has happened to you, you can rise above it.”
As a child, after a very troubling ordeal over property between his drunk father and his older brother, young Josh runs off full of shame. In the barn’s silo, Josh throws and kicks hay around and curses at God. It is there he damns God and gives up on the notion that there is a God. And so he goes all through high school with this mindset. It is during college when he challenges the “foolish thinking” of a group of Christians at lunch, that he himself is challenged. This sparks a trip to Europe and her libraries researching to prove that this Jesus Christ character is a fake.
McDowell’s doubts and questions led him to search for answers. Though the answers he found were not quite the answers he was expecting to find, it is in the searching that McDowell discovers Christ. McDowell’s actions become a model for other young people struggling with belief and proof. It is later in his college years that a sermon preached at the college’s chapel changed McDowell’s life. “Who will go?” the chapel preacher asked. McDowell’s response? Again, not what we might expect. He ran out of the chapel. He tells the viewer, there was no way that God could use him because of his failures and brokenness.
Of course, we know what happened after that. McDowell became a well known Christian speaker and author. McDowell uses his own life as an illustration that your brokenness can be transformed into fruitfulness. Though we run from God’s call in our lives, if we trust and believe in a God who can heal all our broken pieces, we can be transformed.