Canada – a country known for its multiculturalism, liberalism, open-mindedness, tolerance, and etiquette. A country large in land mass, but small in population which prides itself on apologizing, friendliness, and warmth. Yet despite these stereotypical clichés of the Canadian mindset, this country once held one of the world’s most influential evangelists – Charles Templeton.
Templeton was born in 1915 and as a young man became a prominent evangelist and the forerunner (and mentor) to the late Billy Graham. He was an avid preacher, evangelist, and revivalist. It was often said that he was a man whom God had anointed and placed His hand upon. Through Templeton’s charisma and passion, church attendance in North America skyrocketed and thousands came to an understanding of salvation found only in Christ.
Yet, something drastic happened. In 1957 at the age of 42 (and less than 20 years after he entered the ministry), Templeton chose to renounce everything he once stood for. He said that he no longer believed in the infallibility of Scripture – in fact he did not believe in Scripture at all. It is almost entirely normal for every believer to have a moment of doubt at least once in their faith journey, but for Templeton this moment was ongoing. It was not just a few days or even months full of pondering and questions, it was not a year full of disillusionment and bewilderment in which he eventually saw God’s Hand coming through, it was a complete reorientation of his life, his theology, his philosophy, and his passion. The water of evangelism had completely dried up from Templeton’s soul, the fire that once burned so brightly smothered from a slow flame into ashes. Eventually, Templeton wrote a book that now has been widely circulated entitled “Farewell to God.” Templeton, a scholar and very well-educated, reasoned out his viewpoints academically and rigorously. He blamed his newfound lack of faith on science and religion not being compatible. He had serious issues with many questionable Bible verses. But was his intellect alone what truly led him to abandon the God he once loved and aimed to serve? Or was there a deeper reason that never really became public knowledge and which he never allowed to surface?
The story of Templeton has often been used as a wonderful case study among theologians debating the possibility of predestination. Myriad questions abound from his life, ministry, and then gradual departure from the faith. Questions such as: Was Templeton really saved? Did he lose his salvation? And what then happens to those who were saved under his ministry?
Shockingly, statistics show that even when Templeton himself departed from the faith, very few of those who were part of his evangelistic crusades recanted. In fact, while perhaps a few of them were troubled, it did not seem to shake their general understanding and awareness of Scriptures in any major way.
This is a topic that I have often considered and then come back to. I consider myself a Calvinist, but yet, I am not entirely in-line with the traditional views of predestination. I have read many articles and books on this topic, but despite its general tendency to divide and disturb, I truly believe this is one area in which we will never fully receive an answer this side of heaven. Yet, here is my best attempt at summarizing how I generally feel about the question of whether one can lose their salvation:
When I lived in Edinburgh, I attended an evangelical church that stated if one “lost their salvation” they were never truly a Christian to begin with. In this case, Templeton was never really a believer. Yes, he might have said all the right things and paid lip-service to God, but he never truly had Christ in his life. If he did, he wouldn’t have walked away.
I don’t like this mindset because to me it is too clear cut and I don’t think salvation ever works that easily. Firstly, we have no right to choose who is in and who’s out. We don’t get to decide who truly is a believer and who isn’t – that’s only up to Christ. My pastor recently told me that when she conducts funerals she will always refrain from saying “This person was such a Godly [wo]man”. There may be some people out there who are living a “picture-perfect” life. Their marriages, families, and professions seem to show that they are Godly examples, but we don’t know what they are doing behind closed doors. We don’t know what kind of lives they are leading when no one is looking or what kind of secret addictions they may be harbouring. On the other hand, someone could be seriously struggling in their faith, but trying to get by and do the best they can. In the end of the day, we can’t tell someone’s moral and spiritual status simply by what we have in front of us.
Secondly, in Templeton’s case, the real reason for his departure to the Christian faith was a lot more personal. Oftentimes, the arguments that people present have to do with intellect and knowledge. They struggle with religion and science meshing together, they see inconsistencies, but in many cases, the real reason why someone departs from the faith is a lot deeper. When I was in seminary one of my professors said that Templeton really lost his faith when his daughter passed away. He found this extremely difficult to reconcile and this led to his anger and frustration. There might have been lingering doubts prior to that, but this was the “jumping off place.” We don’t really know what happened to Templeton when he made this bold declaration and didn’t back down, but I think my professor had a point. Perhaps when Templeton gets to heaven, all of this will be worked out. Perhaps when he meets Christ face-to-face his crisis of faith will be resolved. We can only hope.
When meeting someone who has walked away from the faith due to personal or family crisis, our first reaction should not be to theologize about whether they were legitimately a Christian or not, it should be to show compassion. Throughout Scripture, we meet characters like David (he was known as “a man after God’s own heart”) and yet he freely spoke about anger and injustice. We meet men like Job who in the heat of fury challenge God, but then when God shows up, humbly submit to Him. Life can throw some very difficult and challenging times at anyone and we should not forget that there are real people involved in real faith struggles. Stories like Templeton should not just be used as case studies. We should not strip these stories of the full weight and impact they had on the individual’s life.
So, is it possible to lose salvation? No, but it is entirely possible to walk away from it. Salvation is a gift that is offered to us and will never be revoked. But we can choose how to honour that gift. For example, if someone gives you a prized item for your birthday or Christmas, chances are they will not take it back. But you can choose to use that gift on a daily basis so that it benefits you and brings joy to others around you, or you can simply hide it in a closet and forget all about it. In either case, you will still have the gift, but in the first instance you will be able to get a lot more use out of it and it will be more meaningful. Our sole aim in life should not be theorizing about others’ salvation, but working out our own with “fear and trembling.” We can’t choose how others will use and accept the gift they’ve been given, but we can choose what to do with our gift. Let’s tear the wrapping paper off, fling the box lid open, take out the gift, and show it off to all those we meet!
I first wrote an article about Templeton back in May 2016. However, I recently decided to re-visit the issue and write a more up-dated version. You can read the original here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/templeton-testimonies-and-traps-is-it-possible-to-lose-your-salvation/