“The humble approach”
A review of Possibilities For Over One Hundredfold More Spiritual Information: The Humble Approach in Theology and Science, by Sir John Templeton,
Templeton Foundation Press. Philadelphia and London. 2000
Sir John Marks Templeton (1912–2008) is best known as the creator of the Templeton Growth Fund, an investment fund established in 1954, which made him a very wealthy man. Two years before his death in 2008, Templeton, who was born in Tennessee and later became a British citizen, found himself in 129th place on The Sunday Times’ “Rich List”.
But Templeton was not only an investor and a money-maker; he was also well-known as a philanthropist, through the work of his charitable organization, the Templeton Foundation. Established in 1987, the Templeton Foundation annually offers over $70 million in research grants each year. The foundation is currently headed by Templeton’s daughter, Heather Templeton Dill, and it is an important source of funding for a number of individuals and organizations, including the BioLogos Foundation and the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation.
One of the Templeton Foundation’s purposes is to advance what Templeton called “Humility-In-Theology”—“helping spiritual information to multiply over 100 fold about every two centuries, especially by encouraging people of all religions to become enthusiastic (rather than resistant) to new additional spiritual information, especially through science research, to supplement the wonderful ancient scriptures” (p.180).
“Humility” was an important word for Sir John Templeton, as can be seen from the title of this book, as well as throughout its pages. Templeton’s philosophy of humility, and the way it shaped his thinking and his philanthropic efforts, is central to his thinking. For example, Templeton writes,
“Although we seem to be the most sophisticated species at present on our planet, perhaps we should not think of our place as the end of cosmogenesis.” We must resist the pride that might tempt us to think that we are creation’s final goal, and seek to become “servants of creation or even helpers in divine creativity.” We may be “a new beginning, the first creatures in the history of life on earth to participate consciously in the ongoing creative process” (p. 41).
Templeton argues that theologians need to be “humble and open-minded”, and that most of the world’s religions exhibit a “tendency for dogma or hierarchy to stifle progress”. Humility should lead religious leaders to “re-form dogma in a more open-minded and inquiring way as a beginning point for continual improvements” (p. 41). Templeton claims not to want to quarrel with any theologian, and that we must “happily admit” that a particular theologian may be right.
“But,” he writes, “let us listen most carefully to any theologian who is humble enough to admit also that he may be wrong—or at least that the door to great insights by others is not closed” (p. 50).
The great problem, for Templeton, is egotism, which has led to many mistaken ideas throughout history—including the notions that the stars and the sun revolve around mankind, and that humanity is as old as the universe.
“Egotism is still our worst enemy … Only by being humble can we learn more,” Templeton writes (p. 59).
So where did this understanding of “humility” lead Sir John Templeton? Sadly, it led him to practically reject the Bible as the completed Word of God, his perfect self-revelation. The Bible, which Templeton includes as simply one of the “ancient scriptures” of all the world’s religions, was written in a different context than today. According to Templeton, we now know that the universe is much larger, much older, and far more complex than the ancients believed. And so we are confronted with a challenge:
“to enrich understanding and appreciation for the old with a welcoming of concepts and perspectives which may represent truly new insights and creative improvements, which can leverage the power of the past into a forward-looking adventure of learning more and more about the wonders of god and his purposes through ongoing creativity.” (pp. 47,48).
Since our understanding of the universe has been “vastly enlarged,” we should no longer be limited in our expression of spiritual truths to “obsolete words, limited concepts, and ancient thought patterns.” The tremendous development in human understanding, Templeton writes, allow us a “fuller and wider interpretation of divine revelation today” (p. 48).
Ideas have consequences. While Templeton was an elder in a Presbyterian congregation (Presbyterian Church—USA), and even sat on the Board of Princeton Theological Seminary, he did not “limit” himself to the doctrines of orthodox Christianity. His “humble approach” led him to declare,
“I have no quarrel with what I learned in the Presbyterian Church. I am still an enthusiastic Christian,” and then to ask, “But why shouldn’t I try to learn more? Why shouldn’t I go to Hindu services? Why shouldn’t I go to Muslim services? If you are not egotistical, you will welcome the opportunity to learn more.”1
The sad fact is, however much one claims to be “an enthusiastic Christian”, believing that the teachings of religions that deny Christ can be positively appropriated by a Christian makes one, for all intents and purposes, anything but.
And this unfortunate truth is also clearly revealed in Templeton’s book. While Templeton denied being a pantheist (one who believes that the universe is God, and God is the universe), his understanding of the nature of God can only be described as a form of panentheism, which declares that God and the universe are distinct, but that the world is ‘in’ God.
Traditional pantheism serves a useful purpose, in Templeton’s mind, but he admits that it is incompatible with the Christian understanding of God. And so he turns to the teaching of the Unity School of Christianity for his conception of God:
“God is also me: and I am a little part of him.” As little parts of God, “we may realize the mutual unity of god and his creation. We may conceive that our own divinity may arise from something more profound than merely being ‘god’s children’ or being ‘made in his image’” (p. 86; note that the use of the word “god” as written is in the original).
At this point, it must be said that, for all his self-proclaimed “humility”, Templeton’s foundational beliefs are, in Christian perspective, anything but humble; they are, in fact, blasphemous. True humility is expressed in Psalm 8:1,3:
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens … When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
True humility is expressed in humble submission to the Lord, the Creator, who has revealed himself clearly and completely in his Word—those “ancient Scriptures” which we humans have not outgrown, or surpassed, with all of our scientific understanding.
True humility is acknowledging our origins as the direct creation of God, acknowledging the reality of the Fall into sin, and its enduring impact on humanity and all of creation, God’s provision of a Way of salvation, and the fact that we can do nothing in ourselves to merit that salvation. We are created in God’s image. That image has been badly marred by sin. But in Christ, that image is being restored among God’s people.
True humility is submitting ourselves to Jesus Christ, who declared that He, and only He, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Templeton’s “humility” is, at bottom, and however unwittingly, the height of human arrogance and pride in disguise. In refusing to submit to God’s perfect Word, Templeton set a man on the throne in God’s place. And now, through the work of his foundation, Templeton’s utopian vision for human society, based in anything but the Word of God, is continuing to be spread.
Templeton foresaw a “glorious” future, and thanks to his great financial savvy, his legacy lives on. His foundation has $3 billion in its reserve fund, and that money is being spent to promote that legacy, with a very definite, and very long-term, goal in mind. Templeton’s vision of the future is summed up in two citations in his book. He first cites Marceline Bradford:
“ … Millions of intellectuals the world over have become disenchanted with backward-looking religious institutions … In order to recapture the great thinking minds of the world, the clergy must turn their heads 180 degrees from past to future. With feet planted squarely in the present and eyes directed to the future, leaders can find factual bases in science for viable, solid, dynamic doctrines. For science and rationality are enemies not of religion—only of dogmatism” (p. 47).
He cites Ralph Wendell Burhoe, who was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1980:
“ … At several points in the next few years and decades the traditional theological and religious communities will find the scientific revelations a gold mine, and … by early in the third millennium A.D. a fantastic revitalization and universalization of religion will sweep the world. The ecumenical power will come from a universalized and credible theology and related religious practices, not from the politics of dying institutions seeking strength in pooling their weaknesses. I cannot imagine a more important bonanza for theologians and the future of religion than the information lode revealed by the scientific community … It provides us with a clear connection between human values, including our highest religious values, and the cosmic scheme of things. My prophecy, then, is that God talk … will in the next century increasingly be fostered by the scientific community” (p. 103).
In the conclusion of his book, Templeton lists a number of the “founder’s favourite charities”, which also provides real insight into Templeton’s agenda. They include the promotion of education about free competition, entrepreneurship, and the enhancement of individual freedom and free markets; supporting research and publications in genetics; supporting education and other help in voluntary family planning; supporting character development research, and also:
“Supporting the publication and dissemination throughout the world of the religious teachings of the Unity School of Christianity … and of closely similar organizations, provided that major support for such organizations shall continue only so long as the Trustees of the Foundation … determine that such organizations adhere to the concepts of (i) usually pioneering in religion and theology with little restrictive creed, (ii) usually teaching that god may be all of reality and man only a tiny part of god and (iii) generally accentuating the positive ideas and attitudes and avoiding the negative” (p. 183).
Such were the goals of Sir John Marks Templeton, and such are the goals of his foundation. A serious examination of Templeton’s guiding philosophy, and the philosophy of the Templeton Foundation, in the light of Scriptural principles, should lead us to a sense of genuine concern about any organization that the foundation chooses to support financially, to question the ultimate motivation behind this support, and the fruits that this foundation is bearing in the numerous organizations that receive its funding.
‘The Humble Approach’ of Sir John Marks Templeton has absolutely nothing in common with the genuinely humble approach of the Lord Jesus Christ. His utopian vision has nothing in common with the eschatological vision of God’s Word.
My concluding thought is this: those who receive large amounts of financial support from the Templeton Foundation may do so “with no strings attached”, and perhaps some recipients may be unaware of the totality of the foundation’s founder’s spiritual vision. But could it be that they are unwitting victims of a larger, and more nefarious, agenda, which has at its base a desire to proclaim a different gospel, by denying the explicit teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and his exclusive claims?
This article was original published on creationwithoutcompromise.com. Published with permission.
CMI rarely publishes articles already published elsewhere, but sometimes we do when we believe that an article warrants wider exposure. This is one of those articles, as creation.com has lacked a review of John Templeton’s book and its implications for those organisations funded by the Templeton Foundation.
References and notes
- Cipolla, B. and Burke, D., Philanthropist Sir John Templeton Dies at 95, christianitytoday.com, July 2008. Return to text.