The slippery slide to unbelief
A famous evangelist goes from hope to hopelessness
During a speaking trip to England, Professor John Rendle-Short (Chairman emeritus, Creation Ministries International Australia) told a group of pastors that if they rejected a literal Genesis in favour of evolutionary ideas (or even just millions of years), this would put them on a slippery slide of unbelief.
The cover of Charles Templeton’ book Farewell to God.
If we re-interpret God’s Word in Genesis to fit man’s fallible opinion, then ultimately, it would only be consistent to apply this same hermeneutic (method of interpretation) elsewhere—even to Christ’s Resurrection.
After he had spoken, one pastor, who had been defending compromise positions in regard to Genesis, said to him, ‘I think I’m a long way down that slippery slide already.’
We see that ‘slippery slide’ illustrated more and more in Western culture. For instance, a 1999 newspaper report stated:
‘A growing number of liberal Christians and scholars do not believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.’1
But what could be the cause of such a slide into unbelief in a matter so vital and central to the Gospel, as the Resurrection? We suggest that one of the major reasons is that as people have compromised the book of Genesis with the idea of millions of years, and/or evolutionary concepts, increasing numbers have eventually consistently applied the same hermeneutic to the rest of the Bible.
This has led to a mythologizing of the Word of God, an undermining of its absolute authority, and eventually often leads to a rejection of the orthodox Christian message.
‘Progressive creationists’ like Dr Hugh Ross,2 who insist on interpreting Genesis in the light of man’s theories like the ‘big bang’, and the supposed ‘proof’ of an old earth (billions of years), insist that those who teach a young earth and literal Genesis 1–11 are the ones putting a stumbling block in the way of scientists and others accepting the Gospel message. However, time and time again, we have found that the opposite is true. Compromising Genesis with man’s ideas from outside of Scripture opens the door to this ‘slippery slide of unbelief’. It becomes a major stumbling block to people being receptive to God’s Word and the Gospel. Unbelievers are generally unimpressed when they see Christians clearly evading the obvious meaning of the beginning of their own book.
Following is the sad account of the life of a once prominent and successful evangelist, his slide into unbelief and his rejection of Christianity. In 1996, the book Farewell to God was published for all the world to see the author, Charles Templeton, claim:
‘I oppose the Christian Church because, for all the good it sometimes does, it presumes to speak in the name of God and to propound and advocate beliefs that are outdated, demonstrably untrue, and often, in their various manifestations, deleterious to individuals and to society.’3
As this story unfolds, you will see the devastating results of compromising man’s theories with God’s Word, beginning in Genesis.
Who is Charles Templeton? Fuelled by concern about the spiritual state of post-Depression youth, mass evangelism exploded onto the American scene in the 1940s. Thousands of young servicemen and civilians streamed to arenas to see the programs, which included preaching, music, and various acts.
One of the leaders in this movement was a young man from Canada, Charles Templeton, born in 1915. He was generally acknowledged to be the most versatile of the new young evangelists. Templeton soon rose to prominence, even surpassing another dynamic young preacher, Billy Graham. In 1946, he was listed among those best used of God by the National Association of Evangelicals.4
Evangelist Billy Graham pictured in 1966.
As the pastor of the rapidly growing Avenue Road Church in Toronto, which he had started with only his family and a few friends, Templeton also became one of three vice-presidents of the newly-formed Youth For Christ International organization in 1945. He then nominated his good friend, Billy Graham, to be field evangelist for the new ministry. Templeton, Graham, and a few others regularly spoke to thousands, winning many to Christ both in America and in Europe.
Newspapers and magazines carried reports of his meetings informing readers he was winning 150 converts a night. In Evansville, Indiana, the total attendance over the two week campaign was 91,000 out of a population of 128,000. Church attendance went up 17%.
However, despite his popularity and seeming success as an evangelist, all was not well with Charles Templeton. The more he read, the more he found he was beginning to question the essentials of the Christian faith, because he could no longer believe God’s Word beginning with Genesis.
In a conversation with Billy Graham concerning Templeton’s desire to attend Princeton Theological Seminary, Templeton stated:
‘But, Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world wasn’t created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s demonstrable fact.’5
Templeton warned Graham that it was ‘intellectual suicide’ to not question the Bible and to go on preaching God’s Word as authoritative.
With this background of doubt about God’s Word welling up inside, and lacking any type of formal education, he decided to pursue a degree in theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Resigning from the church he had pastored for several years, Templeton began, with special permission, his coursework at Princeton in 1948.
Rather than assuage his doubts by providing sound theological answers for the questions he had concerning the authority of the Bible, the historical veracity of Genesis and the deity of Christ, Princeton only served to increase his qualms. This is not surprising, considering the influences that had infiltrated Princeton through people like Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield concerning one’s approach to the Scripture in Genesis. For instance, Hodge, who accepted the millions of years and rejected literal creation-days, taught:
‘It is of course admitted that, taking this account [Genesis] by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word [day] in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts, [millions of years] and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other.’6
Warfield (1851–1921) went further and, unlike Hodge, even accepted Darwinism. Templeton, like generations of others, was taught at Princeton to reject parts of Genesis in favour of man’s beliefs concerning such things as billions of years.7
After graduating from Princeton, Templeton accepted a position with the National Council of Churches, conducting preaching missions across the United States and Canada. However, he faced increasing health problems, specifically frequent chest pains. He visited a specialist in Pennsylvania who encouraged him, after finding nothing wrong with his heart, to clear up the conflict in his life—namely the doubts he harboured about the authority of the Bible from which he so fervently preached to thousands each night.8
This reminds of another who suffered illness because of a great conflict in his life regarding teaching that undermined God’s Word. Charles Darwin, who started out in training to be an Anglican minister, ended up rejecting Christianity the more he believed in evolution. It has been said that inner conflict, because of knowing that evolution would wipe the idea of God from the minds of millions, contributed greatly to Darwin’s psychosomatic illness.9
Templeton’s struggles affected others, too. As Templeton wrestled with the ‘demonstrable fact’ of evolution which made it impossible for him to believe ‘the biblical account of creation’,10 he sought out his close friend, Billy Graham. This caused Graham as well to grapple with tough questions that shook the very roots of the faith he professed and preached daily—namely, ‘was the Bible completely true?’11
With ‘science’ pulling Templeton one way and the Bible seemingly pulling him in an altogether different direction, he resigned from his position with the National Council of Churches and took over the Department of Evangelism of the Presbyterian Church USA. At the same time, he hosted a CBS TV series, called Look Up and Live.
Finally, however, the doubts about everything he stood for became too great and he decided to leave the ministry.
In his autobiography, Farewell to God, Charles Templeton lists his ‘reasons for rejecting the Christian faith’. Most of these relate to the origins issue and thus the accuracy of the book of beginnings—Genesis [this Internet version of the Creation magazine article has hyperlinks added beneath each of Templeton’s points, which link to answers on this website to his ‘reasons’—Ed.]:
- Physicists who say ‘it took billions of years for the universe, our galaxy, our solar system, and our world to evolve to its present … form.’12
Evidence for ‘young’ age of the Earth/Universe
- Anthropologists who say that ‘our earlier ancestors did not suddenly appear fully formed, but were anthropoid creatures who lived on the earth millions of years ago.’13
- Geneticists who say it is ‘nonsense’ to believe that the ‘reason for all the crime, poverty, suffering, and general wickedness in the world’ is sin.13
The Fall Into Sin
- Geologists who say ‘there is no evidence whatsoever of a worldwide flood’ as told in Genesis.13
- The two ‘Creation stories … each differing from the other at almost every point.’14
Genesis 1 and 2: complementary not contradictory
- The ‘fables’ (in Genesis 1 and 2) which have ‘remained the grounds of Christian theology across the centuries.’15
The Necessity for believing in six literal days
- Noah and his family were too primitive to have built the Ark.16
See the book Noah’s Ark: a Feasibility Study, ch. 6: ‘Some factors in the construction of the Ark’
- All the animals could not possibly have fitted on the Ark.16
How did all the animals fit on Noah’s Ark?
- Where did the water come from for the Flood?17
See The Creation Answers Book, ch. 12: ‘Noah’s Flood—what about all that water?
- Those Christians who ‘reject any advance in science or learning that contradicts the Genesis account of the creation of the world, the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and God’s curse on the world and humankind … and who believe that the only deliverance from this curse and eventual banishment to an eternal hell is to be “born again”.’18
- The ‘grim and inescapable reality’ that ‘all life is predicated on death. Every carnivorous creature must kill and devour another creature. It has no option.’19
How did bad things come about?
Two notable observations on these ‘reasons’ for rejecting the Christian faith20 are:
1. Most of these supposed ‘facts of science’, and the questions concerning Genesis, are issues that have been around for a long time, and are questions that are still asked by many today. It’s obvious that much of the Church has not adequately addressed these issues. This means there are many more ‘Templetons’ out there at various stages on the slippery slide of unbelief, because the Church is not doing what it should have done for Templeton—‘ … be ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason of the hope in you, with meekness and fear’ (1 Peter 3:15).
It’s also interesting to note that [Creation Ministries International] has answers to all of these matters in its (recently updated) The Creation Answers Book,21 [as well as on this Web site, as shown—Ed.]. Answers are readily available—if only the Church would accept them and disseminate the information to their congregations.
2. Templeton, like Charles Darwin,22 had a big problem understanding how one could reconcile an earth full of death, disease, and suffering with the God of the Bible.
‘Why does God’s grand design require creatures with teeth designed to crush spines or rend flesh, claws fashioned to seize and tear, venom to paralyze, mouths to suck blood, coils to constrict and smother—even expandable jaws so that prey may be swallowed whole and alive? … Nature is in Tennyson’s vivid phrase, “red in tooth and claw,? and life is a carnival of blood.’23
Templeton then concludes:
‘How could a loving and omnipotent God create such horrors as we have been contemplating?’24
One can fully understand his dilemma, considering he was indoctrinated to believe the earth was billions of years old. Since the fossil record would therefore represent billions of years of earth history, he would have to believe that the same death, disease and suffering in the world around us has been going on for millions and millions of years, and cannot be the result of sin, the Fall and the Curse.
One wonders whether Templeton would ever have written his Farewell to God, had the Church in his day rejected the billions of years, shown the fallible nature of the dating methods, and taught clearly that there could be no death, disease and bloodshed before sin. What a difference there might have been in his life if he had understood that the world he was observing was not the world as God originally made it, but one which was now suffering the effects of sin, the Curse and the Flood.
Had the Church (and colleges like Princeton) not compromised the Word of God with man’s fallible teachings—one could only wonder about what such a powerful evangelist might have accomplished under the hand of the Almighty God.
Those in the Church who compromise with the idea of an old earth (billions of years) cause those they come in contact with to stumble as Templeton did. If the earth is billions of years old—there is no loving God as the Bible portrays! Templeton completed his slide to unbelief by stating that the ‘entire resurrection story is not credible.’25
It’s even sad to see Templeton’s old friend Billy Graham in essence spreading doubt concerning Genesis when he answers questions about dinosaurs by claiming:
‘ … the Bible does not specifically mention dinosaurs. The book of Job … does mention large creatures of Job’s time such as “the behemoth … whose tail sways like a cedar … This probably refers to the elephant or hippopotamus, however, since dinosaurs apparently died out long before God placed humans on the earth [emphasis ours].’26
So what is Charles Templeton doing today? Since leaving the ministry in 1957, Templeton has taken a prominent place in journalism. Among other things, he has been the executive managing editor of the Toronto Star, editor-in-chief of Maclean’s magazine, director of News and Public Affairs for the CTV television network, and is the author of twelve books.
He is using his influence in the secular media to spread his destructive message, attacking the infallible Word of God.
[Ed. note: Templeton died on 7 June 2001 aged 85, and sadly had suffered from Alzheimer’s towards the end. See Death of an apostate]
But we do believe he also has a message of truth for the Church today. He states:
‘A major factor in the dramatic decrease in attendance at church services around the world is undoubtedly the irrelevance of contemporary preaching.’27
Templeton is quite right—much of the teaching of the Church is irrelevant, as God’s Word has been relegated to merely a ‘religious’ book—a book of ‘stories’. Genesis is by and large not taught as history. The Church does not ‘connect’ the Bible to the real world, as scientists have supposedly shown it can’t be trusted in areas of biology, geology and astronomy. So when the Church tries to preach morality, the world (like Templeton) responds in a similar way to actor Bruce Willis from the Die Hard series:
‘ … with what we know about science, anyone who thinks at all probably doesn’t believe in fire and brimstone anymore. So organized religion has lost that voice to hold up their moral hand.’28
Templeton (unlike many Christian leaders in the Church today) is consistent. He recognizes that if you can’t trust the Bible in areas of science (geology, biology, astronomy, etc.), then you can’t trust it in areas of morality and salvation either. As Jesus said: ‘If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?’ (John 3:12). As more and more people in the compromising churches become consistent in how they approach the Bible, having accepted man’s teachings concerning millions of years, more will wake up one day and say with Charles Templeton:
‘Is it not foolish to close one’s eyes to the reality that much of the Christian faith is simply impossible to accept as fact?’29
‘[S]hould one continue to base one’s life on a system of belief that—for all its occasional wisdom and frequent beauty—is demonstrably untrue?’30
And the end result, the anti-gospel—the message of hopelessness for a dying world—the bottom of the ‘slippery slide’?
- ‘I believe that there is no supreme being with human attributes—no God in the biblical sense—but that all life is the result of timeless evolutionary forces … over millions of years.’31
- ‘I believe that, in common with all living creatures, we die and cease to exist as an entity.’32
[Ed. note: see also this review of Farewell To God on the Tekton Apologetics site, pointing out a number of other fallacies, for example: hand-wringing ‘arguments from outrage’, emotional appeals that amount to ‘no intelligent person would believe … ’, the genetic fallacy, chronological snobbery, etc. Templeton also ignores the answers evangelicals have already provided to many of the other ‘problems’ with the Christian faith, just as he did with the creation-related topics we answered above. One must wonder whether he truly wanted answers.]
What a contrast this is to the truth all people need to hear and believe:
Isaiah 40:28: ‘Have you not known? Have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not grow weak nor weary? There is no searching of His understanding.’
1 Peter 1:3–4: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has regenerated us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and unfading, reserved in Heaven for you. ’
References and notes
- Roanoke Times, April 4, 1999, p. A1. Return to text.
- Dr Ross heads Reasons to Believe in California, USA. He teaches the following: ‘big bang’; billions of years for the age of the earth/universe; death, disease and suffering existed in the animal world before sin; God created soulless ‘humanoids’ before Adam and Eve who did cave paintings and buried their dead but can’t have salvation; Noah’s Flood was just a local event—not global. See the Q&A: Compromise, Progressive Creationism and Q&A: Flood for detailed responses to progressive creationists. Return to text.
- Templeton, C., Farewell to God, McClelland & Stewart, Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, p. vii, 1996. Return to text.
- Martin, W., A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, NY, USA, p. 110, 1991. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 7. Return to text.
- Hodge, C., Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, pp. 570–571, 1997. Return to text.
- While Hodge and Warfield still defended biblical inerrancy, their successors were not so inconsistent. The next generation accepted not only Darwinism/millions of years, but questioned biblical authority outright. So conservatives like J. Gresham Machen broke away and founded Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. Princeton is itself an example of the slippery slope. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 12. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., Darwin’s Mystery Illness, Creation 17(4):28–30, 1995. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 7. Return to text.
- Graham, B., Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham, HarperCollins Publishers, NY, USA, p. 138, 1997. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 29. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 30. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 38. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 43. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 55. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 57. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 136. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 198. Return to text.
- Romans 1:18 ff. suggests that these are ultimately pseudo-intellectual smokescreens for a willing rejection of God. But that does not absolve us of our responsibility to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15). Return to text.
- Batten, D., Ed., Sarfati, J. and Wieland, C., The Creation Answers Book, Creation Ministries International, Queensland, Australia, 2006. Return to text.
- Desmond, A. and Moore, J., Darwin, Warner Books, Inc., NY, USA, pp. 293, 377, 1991. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, pp. 198–199. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 201. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 122. Return to text.
- Knoxville News Sentinel, April 1999. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 162. Return to text.
- USA Weekend, February 11–13, 2000, p. 7. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 229. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 218. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 232. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, p. 233. Return to text.