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A Tragic Farewell, Responding to the Naysayers – Part 1 of a three-part series
by Daryl E. Witmer
In this series, AIIA responds to three contemporary challenges leveled at the truth-claims of Christianity. This month we critique Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith, by Charles Templeton, ©1996 McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 0-7710-8422-6, 256 pp.
In recent years a notable number of books have been released by those who have decided to abandon the Christian faith. Some of these books (Losing Faith in Faith, ©1992, by Dan Barker) are fairly thoughtful, while others (Jesus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, ©1991, by Skip Porteous) tend to be more reactionary.
In 1996 Charles Templeton published Farewell to God and now -four years later- the book is still getting attention. In fact, a listing appears in the July 2000 issue of the Inside Borders book review magazine.
Templeton was once a close friend and colleague of international evangelist Billy Graham. In the early 1950s he was preaching nightly throughout North America to crowds of up to 30,000. But then, in 1957, he renounced his faith and resigned from the ministry. He has since lived in Toronto, working with various Canadian media and authoring twelve books.
The tone of Templeton’s Farewell to God is, with a few exceptions, anything but mean-spirited toward Christians and the Christian faith. In fact, the author often comes across as a rather warm and friendly man, simply committed to exploring and following the truth as he perceives it. “Not to do so,” he says, would be “to live a lie.”
And yet Templeton’s perception of Christian truth is exactly what makes his abandonment of the faith so lamentable. His perception of the truth has somehow, tragically, been distorted. His friendship with Billy Graham notwithstanding, one soon gets the impression that this man has never really met or dialogued with an intellectually sharp, knowledgeable, resourceful, evangelical believer. In one place he stereotypes all fundamentalist clergy as “unsophisticated” people who “accept without question the most outrageous concepts.”
Some of the issues that he raises are almost trivial (How was Noah’s ark ventilated?), or reflect real theological naivetÅ½ (Where was Jesus during Old Testament times?), but in the end – because he is dissatisfied with all of the answers that he’s evidently ever heard – he concludes that the only honest thing to do is to abandon the faith. Yet in doing so, Templeton ironically exchanges a faith system with some admittedly mysterious and difficult components for a worldview full of even more mystery, no real basis for purpose and meaning, and a whole host of contradictions.
For instance, in one place the author refers to Jesus as a “remarkable Palestinian teacher” whose teaching was “insightful.” But in what sense was it insightful, or in what sense should we “take [Jesus] seriously” if He was in fact a deceiver and a liar about the most basic claims He ever made – that He was God incarnate?
Early in his book Charles Templeton refers to a conversation that he once had with Billy Graham in which Graham told him that instead of continuing to endlessly question what the Bible says, he had decided to just accept it from that point on as God’s Word. Radically misconstruing the sense of Graham’s words, Templeton called his approach “intellectual suicide,” and now says that he feels “sorry” for Billy.
But again, how ironic. Billy Graham’s life and ministry has resulted in blessing, meaning, and comfort to countless numbers of people who have come to faith in Christ through his preaching. But whose life is better for having known Charles Templeton, or having read this book? And if (a la Pascal’s Wager) on the Day of Judgment there is no God – what has Billy Graham got to lose? But if it turns out there indeed is a God – then the very title of Templeton’s book may yet come back to haunt him for all of eternity.
“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”