Charles Templeton: newspaper editor, evangelist, broadcaster, inventor, agnostic, politician. But hold the phone: both evangelist and agnostic?! How is that possible?
In 1946 Charles Templeton was an up-and-coming pastor and world-wide preacher. He and Billy Graham were best friends, traveling together, rooming together, and preaching to thousands. Preaching on alternating nights during crusades, together they saw many come to Christ.
But two years later things changed drastically. Doubts about Christianity took over, and Templeton began to turn away from God. Later in life he would entitle his memoir, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. His book sought to explain not only his own disbelief, but to undermine others’ faith as well.
Lee Strobel, in the first chapter of his book, A Case for Faith, recounts a conversation with Templeton near the end of life. Regarding Jesus, Templeton said, “He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. He had the greatest compassion of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus.” Unfortunately, for Templeton, Jesus was not God, because Templeton could not be sure God exists.
Is Charles Templeton unique? Actually, the landscape of Christian history is dotted with people who have turned away from the faith. And based on what John says, the early church was not immune to the problem. The possibility is confronted in the book of Hebrews (for example, 6:4-6), and it’s a key part of John’s argument in his letters. Take heed!
Actually, this is a very uncomfortable idea. We don’t like to think about it. Were these castaways never Christians to begin with, even though they thought they were and even were instrumental in others becoming Christians? (Wrestling with that question will have to wait for another time.)
The reality is, Satan is lurking, looking for any opening to undermine any person’s faith, maybe teenagers especially, but all the way up to senior adults. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re young or old, into the milk of the Word or the meat of the Word. Apparently any of us have the potential to turn away from God.
What do we do? Actually there are lots of things we can and should do. The starting point is recognizing the real possibility of falling off the cliff of faith; we won’t want to get too close to that brink lest we do fall. We’ll want to pray and ask for God’s protection from the evil one. We’ll want to immerse ourselves in the truths of God’s Word. And we’d be wise to have friends around us who also are keeping their distance from the cliff of disaster.
In other words, if we’re serious about not losing our faith, we’ll take all the proactive steps we can to avoid crashing and burning. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2)