Charles Templeton's "Farewell to God"

Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith begins by recounting a (revealing) conversation Strobel had with Templeton, which inspired Strobel to write his latest book in which he tackles (with proficiency, although you'll want to check Glenn Miller's articles if you need more detail) some of the very objections Templeton raises.

Not that Templeton has much to offer in the first place. This former cohort of Billy Graham turned apostate spends the overwhelming portion of this book a) listing "arguments by outrage" b) simply recounting something recorded in the Bible and merely commenting, in effect, "What intelligent person would believe this nonsense?" as if it were obviously nonsense. Critical analysis is in short supply; hard research more so. Even though Templeton says that he attended Princeton Theological Seminary, his arguments are overall on the level of a fundamentalist Bible college graduate.

Templeton calls himself an agnostic, regarding both theism and atheism as unverifiable assertions of faith (though don't expect any sort of analysis of the traditional arguments: cosmological, ontological, moral, etc.). His analysis of religious belief is that you believe a religion merely because you were raised to -- "Is it credible that, had you been born in Asia or Afghanistan...or elsewhere, you would believe what you do today?"(23)

Perhaps not, but what has this to do with anything? If I had been born in Cuba, I would have been brought up believing in Marxism; of what relevance is that to whether or not Marxism is true?

But to say any one religion is right, we are told, is "insufferable presumption."(27) This is better, we are to suppose, than a presumption that there couldn't ever be a right if merely listing them proves something other than the sheer hyper-inventiveness of men. It is said to be "common sense" [28] that the Creator would reveal himself worldwide, not only to "a tiny group of Mediterranean people" -- to which we reply, "Romans 1-2."

The preponderance of Templeton's book is a broad commentary on the Bible with little more than the standard objections we have seen from such quarters: Argument by outrage, argument by incredulity, there are 2 creation accounts in Genesis, "I'm mature now and Christians are not," ancient people were too ignorant or unsophisticated to do this or that, Yahweh was mean and why did he require such ridiculous laws (Templeton thinks it was a priestly-control thing), the gospels are pseudonymous and full of contradictions, miracles are impossible, what was Jesus doing before he was born (Templeton didn't learn about Wisdom theology while at Princeton?), the morals in the Bible are outdated because they don't stop people from breaking them (They never did; what moral code in history ever has?); the Trinity doesn't make sense; Jepthah's daughter, etc.

All of this might be worth some notice if Templeton had any inkling of what modern evangelical and Biblical scholarship has to offer, but you won't find as much as a footnote in this book. Templeton is still hanging on to the likes of Schillebeeckx when Schillebeeckx hasn't been relevant for decades.

The book closes with a series of standard "problem of evil" questions, such as, "When an earthquake in Turkey buries thousands alive, when a typhoon drowns 150,000 Pakistanis over a weekend, when a drought in Somalia kills thousands of men, woman and children by starvation, why does a loving God not do something to help the helpless?" [193]

God did do something -- He gave us the sense not to build our homes in earthquake- or typhoon-prone areas, or to make earthquake-resistant designs for buildings or create flood-prevention/control devices; He gave us the ability to grow more than enough food to feed people when drought strikes, but most of us are just too involved in our own sinful, petty concerns to take the needed steps. Are those Somalians starving for lack of food? There's plenty of food aid coming their way -- but it's being used by corrupt leaders to buy limousines, and we aren't doing a thing about it.

Templeton thinks that it's just the lack of rain that's the problem; he needs rather a broader view than the pictures he sees on the nightly news -- and that's really the problem he, and many critics of Christianity, have always had. They are too selfish and self-centered to think of anything beyond their immediate desires and sensations. And isn't that a familiar problem? "Eat this fruit -- you'll be as the gods."

We do recommend Farewell to God -- as a perfect "know thy enemy" book for the thinking Christian who wants to be able to defend their faith.