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Honest account of one man's loss of faith...
on July 24, 2013
The opening part of the book was the most poignant, in which the late Charles Templeton honestly recounts the diverging paths that he and Billy Graham - both friends, colleagues, and gifted evangelists in 1940's North America - went on after a mutual crisis of faith instigated by Templeton's questioning of the historicity of the opening chapters of Genesis, and eventual exposure to the results of 'higher criticism' at Princeton Theological Seminary. Templeton eventually renounced the Christian faith, whereas Graham resolved to believe the Bible as the Word of God and authoritatively preach it as such. It's the stuff of legend.
I have to chuckle, because at my home church Billy Graham is regarded as something of a liberal - but that's another story!
After the autobiographical section, Templeton embarks on a treatment of the Bible itself, and comes to predominantly negative conclusions concerning its ongoing relevancy at the end of the 20th Century (the book was written in 1996).
Let me first of all say that I appreciate the author's integrity, and even though I myself am a believer there was much to learn from his story - especially considering how high profile an evangelist he once was, as well as his two decades as a Christian minister. I'm sure he's right in his assertion that most pastors preach to the 'right' of what they themselves believe. That's because within fundamentalism there is a tendency for the ears of those in the pews to prick up at the slightest perceived heresy from the pulpit. Guarding doctrine is paramount, to the extent that there is no intellectual freedom for the preacher to deviate from traditional interpretations of any given text. I know this because I also move in these circles. The pastor is bound by his congregation. A number of evangelical pastors these days are closet Annihilationists - and even Universalists - but there's absolutely no chance that they could publicly explore such themes due to the expectations of those within their congregations. (Robin Parry, although not a pastor, still had to write his book, "The Evangelical Universalist", under the pseudonym 'Gregory MacDonald'.)
There are a number of statements from the book that are either careless or erroneous. The famous "no other name under heaven by which we must be saved" quote comes not from Paul to the Ephesians, but from Peter in the Book of Acts! After Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, they were hardly "on their own", as the Genesis narrative itself makes clear. Templeton objects that if God so loved the world why did he only reveal himself to tiny Israel? He overlooks the glorious testimony throughout Scripture that through Israel all nations would be blessed. Those who died outside of Israel without hearing about the coming Christ are hardly condemned of necessity to an endless hell, as Templeton suggests. For one thing, Paul asserts in Acts 17:30 that God overlooked the times of ignorance! The earliest of the New Testament books, Thessalonians, was certainly not written around A.D. 62. 1 Thessalonians was written around a decade earlier than that. Templeton asserts that there is no reference to Christ in the Old Testament, "not even during the difficult years when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness." Perhaps Templeton was somewhat rusty in his scriptural knowledge by the time he wrote the book, but here's 1 Corinthians 10:1-4:
"For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ."
All in all though an informative book. It's sad that Templeton could not embrace a less rigid interpretation of the texts that troubled him, and continue in the Christian faith. But he can't be faulted for his integrity. I personally find so much in Scripture that resonates and speaks to me as the Word of God that, no matter how troubling certain passages might be, the Bible simply doesn't read as merely the word of man. This reviewer could never come to the conclusions that Templeton did and maintain his own integrity.