A Skeptic Reflects upon Jesus Christ
There was a time when Charles Templeton was one of the most popular sectarian evangelists in the nation. He was a bosom buddy of Billy Graham. They were, at times, preaching team-mates.
During the 1950s and ’60s, Templeton preached to crowds of 10,000 to 30,000 nightly. He packed stadiums and thrilled audiences with his proclamation of “the gospel of Christ” — as he believed it to be from his misguided denominational vantage point.
Along the way, however, gnawing doubts began to work on his mind. He started questioning the reliability of the Bible. He whole-heartedly swallowed the Darwinian view of evolutionary history.
He later confessed that he “always doubted the Genesis account of creation,” and he secretly rejected the biblical teaching of final punishment for the disobedient.
Unquestionably, he labored for years under the burden of a progressively hardening heart. He was hypocrisy personified.
Finally, he could bear it no longer. He cut loose from it all. To use his own words, he bade “farewell to God.”
In 1996, Charles Templeton published his book, the title of which expresses the sentiment just stated. Farewell to God — My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith sets forth the rationale the former evangelist believed invalidates the credibility of the Bible in general and Christianity in particular.
I owned a copy of Templeton’s book for several years and surveyed its contents. There is absolutely nothing new in his arguments. They reflect the same old, hackneyed quibbles that infidelity has paraded under the guise of “intellectualism” for centuries. In fact, Templeton’s presentation is far less formidable than that of the more erudite skeptics.
But it is not the purpose of this article to review Mr. Templeton’s arguments — as fascinating as that would be. Rather, this piece provides a footnote on this terribly sad story.
Lee Strobel’s Templeton Interview
Lee Strobel studied law at Yale and was the former legal editor for the Chicago Tribune. Having been an atheist at one time, Strobel has combined his legal and investigative skills in producing a couple of valuable books which argue for the divine origin of the Christian movement.
One of his books contains a section that dramatically engaged my attention, especially in light of its reference to Charles Templeton.
In doing research for The Case For Faith, Strobel sought out and was granted an interview with Templeton in his penthouse apartment on the twenty-fifth floor of a high rise in Toronto, Canada.
During the course of their conversation, Charles Templeton vigorously defended his disavowal of God and his rejection of the Bible. There was no apparent chink in the armor of his calloused soul.
Then, Strobel directed the old gentleman’s attention to Christ. How would he now assess Jesus at this stage of his life?
Strobel says that, amazingly, Templeton’s “body language softened.” His voice took on a “melancholy and reflective tone.” And then, incredibly, he said:
“He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my reading. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world.”
Mind you, he’s talking about the same Teacher who claimed to have existed eternally before Abraham was born (Jn. 8:58), who asserted his oneness of nature with God, the Father (Jn. 10:30), and who allowed men to honor him as “Lord and God” (Jn. 20:28).
If these things were not true, that would make Jesus of Nazareth the most preposterous and outrageous con-man who ever walked the earth. Thousands happily went to their deaths, in the most horrible ways imaginable, confessing his deity.
But the interview continued.
Strobel quietly commented: “You sound like you really care about him.”
“Well, yes,” Templeton acknowledged, “he’s the most important thing in my life.”
He stammered: “I . . . I . . . I adore him . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus.”
Strobel was stunned. He listened in shock. He says that Templeton’s voice began to crack. He then said, “I . . . miss . . . him!”
With that, the old man burst into tears. With a shaking frame, he wept bitterly.
Finally, Templeton gained control of his emotions and wiped away the tears.
“Enough of that,” he said, as he waved his hand as if to suggest that there would be no more questions along that line.
Sad, sad indeed!
The precious Lord Jesus cannot be so easily dismissed from the mind of one who has had more than a passing acquaintance with him. One may dispute with Christ, reject him, curse him in one breath and praise him in another. But he is there!
Twenty centuries have faded into silence. And yet, Jesus of Nazareth is still the most eloquent and engaging figure of human history. His “ghost” haunts even the dark souls of some who profess no faith in the reality that he is the Son of God.
Charles Templeton’s final days were spent in decline due to Alzheimer’s. He passed from this life on June 7, 2001, at the age of 85.
- Strobel, Lee. 2000. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
- Templeton, Charles. 1996. Farewell to God — My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart, Inc.