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“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

reviewed by 

Published: 29 June 2017 (GMT+10)

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.

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.

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).
Businessman and philanthropist, the late Sir John Marks Templeton.

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.

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:

In refusing to submit to God’s perfect Word, Templeton set a man on the throne in God’s place.
“…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

  1. Cipolla, B. and Burke, D., Philanthropist Sir John Templeton Dies at 95, christianitytoday.com, July 2008. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Terry W.
If Templeton were the only "Christian" who believed in this version of humility, how much better the world would be! I have a lot of technical knowledge and so often work at the improvement of procedures and techniques in what I do, especially when it is in service to a church organization. From experience, I can become quite certain what works best in certain circumstances, for example camera settings for a studio/stage/camera/lighting combination. I also believe the Bible. So, I humbly seek the desired result through experiment and experience and stick with it once found. Then I encounter "Christians" of authority, but not humble deliberate practice, trying to teach me wrong things in the same art and then calling me arrogant when I explain to them that they are wrong and why. It is especially frustrating when it comes up with respect to the Bible or practices directly informed by the Bible. It has nothing to say about cameras and lighting, but the Bible does talk about forgiveness, marriage, raising children and dealing with rebellious behaviour. I have been called arrogant by "Christians" who were simply wrong on all of these topics. The reason I'm right and they have no argument better than to call me arrogant, is because I'm humble, knowing above all my knowledge (described by many friends as great), that my measure of knowledge against the whole is nil: I know nothing.
Michael T.
Templeton: "So, that's what God says then. I'll take the 'humble' approach, and wait to see what the devil says as well".
Phil K.
Why do those who seek to obfuscate and water down the word of God lecture us about being proud and closed-minded?

In my mind, open-minded means that you consider all options before choosing the best one. And defending that choice is principled. Apparently, in Mr. Templeton's mind, not agreeing with him makes you closed-minded while agreeing with him makes you open-minded.

"True humility is expressed in humble submission to the Lord, the Creator" How true!
Dan M.
The main problem with the visions of Templeton and Bradford is that they put science on God's throne and therefore science becomes an impostor and usurper. How can a method born from Gods metaphysical process of reason replace Him? Aside from empirical science which is observable, testable and falsifiable there is much deception and omission in the secular scientific community as it applies to origins (evolution). We Christians have a written account of God’s creation and it fits very well from what we know so far. Then Templeton identifies Christianity with dogmatism but humanistic materialists are the most dogmatic of all and will punish, if you don’t conform (sounds like the inquisition). So if your starting assumption is false, full of deception and dogmatic, how can one arrive at the truth? You can’t observe or test the past because only God can observe the past through His omnipotence. On the other hand we continually find that the scriptures are spot-on in all areas of science and have a wonderful track record of accuracy (especially archaeology).
Let God be true but every man a liar! Rom 3:4
God forgive us our stiff necked stubbornness!
Bill P.
This article saddens me, because I understand what these institutions who receive this money are teaching. Their ideas have infected many in my family and because of this I have not seen many of them for decades and it is because of my faith in Christ Jesus. I have not forgotten them and pray for them motivated by the love I have from them from our youth. What's even more sad is to see this teaching by these institutions has come into the church. What ever happened to using The Word of God (in truth) when ever debates about the world and scripture reared their ugly head. I have learned from scripture (led by God's Holy Spirit) that there is an answer for every question having to do w/the history of this world (along w/all the proof covering the entire surface of the earth and in the heavens), using The Lord's word as a starting point and then looking at the evidence for it in the natural world. Doing this and in that order has put me in our of The Creator, The True and Living God. Also just when I think I can't be awed any more HE reveals something else that causes me to be even more humble towards HIM, and I love it. Truly who are we that HE is even mindful of us. It blows me away That The Lord God full of power, glory, mercy, grace, and so much more willingly made Himself a servant to all mankind, I say again that fact overwhelms me. The knowledge of that is worth more than all the wealth contained in this world. I'd rather be the poorest man on the face of this earth trusting in HIM, than own the whole world and not know HIM. The world can keep it's wealth, by God's Grace I own the most precious thing a man can own, THE WORD OF GOD
Mel F.
A number of churches and church related organisations are being funded directly by the Templeton foundation or through one or other of its subsidiaries, such as Scientists in congregations. I wonder if Messy church is fully aware that their recent source of funding to 'do' Messy science is coming from this evolutionary inspired organisation, or if they really care? We must pray that all organisations fully understand that if they link themselves to the Templeton foundation that they are proclaiming evolution over God's Creation.
Dean R.
The 60's & 70's & liberal theology. It reminds me of the free mason movement, flower power & ancient Israel that often fell for alluring but false gods.

A recurring pattern that reflects the spiritual battle bigger than Greek proportion & pythagoras square.

There has never been a time when the church has not been under attack from falsehood & controversey as the NT letters point out.

And so the materialist mind set makes egotistical metaphysical calls in the name of humility & many dont see the differences for what they are.

Humble faith is what Jesus (the way, the truth & the life. John 14:6) proclaimed.

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