Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

April 10, 2010

Is God Dead?

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

In an early 1965 edition of Time magazine, there was an article by Thomas J.J. Altizer about the death of God.  Dr. Altizer was a professor at Emory University.  Such an article was disturbing to the administration and faculty of Emory, but they did not censure Altizer because of academic freedom.

However, being concerned about how such radical theology would characterize the university,  a recruitment program was launched to bring very conservative students to the graduate school.  Of the three particularly sought, I had the privilege to be one of them.  I was 31 years of age and had several years of pastoral experience, plus several years at very conservative theological schools. 

As our family relocated, and I entered Candler School of Theology at Emory in the spring of 1966, the nation was stunned with the Easter edition of Time which featured a cover with bold red letters on a plain black background with the question, “Is God Dead?” 

This Easter edition featured Altizer’s religious views.  Put simply, Altizer said when Jesus died on the cross, God died.  He explained that God created this world . . . became a man in the person of Christ . . . Christ died on the cross . . . and then the full spirit of God was poured into this world. Thus God ceased to exist. This was the death of God.  This proclamation gave Emory a name as a bastion of theological liberalism.  And as one in the midst of this issue, I must acknowledge that many professors bought into this theology. 

As  one who was grounded in conservative theology, both academically and by experience, many discussions in classes called me to speak biblical truths.  I did not seek to interpret Altizer or debate.  I stood on different grounds.  I am a biblicist . . . and the Bible teaches the timelessness of God.  I must admit there were times that I wanted to shout the verse, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”  (Psalm 14:1)  But I sought to be calm and show grace.  As an older student, and one who had served churches as a pastor, my faith and commitment to the Word of God was unshakable.  I sought to be an encouragement to younger students who found themselves confused by the debate.

Altizer tried to wiggle often about his position.  He claimed he was simply misunderstood. But he was wrong in his understanding of the Bible and the presence and power of God.  He was not the first to take this position in theology, however.  It had been around for many years, with Nietzche a century earlier.  And this radical theology is still around, just not as blatant.  The Deist says God started it all. He simply wound up the universe like a clock, and then sits back to let it run down without any intervention from Him.  Others are saying God does exist, but only in all of us. Both these expressions are violating the revelation given us through Scripture.

Let me be emphatic.  God is alive.  He is active in the world today.  My best counter in those days at Emory was a quote from Billy Graham when asked about God being dead.  He replied, “God can’t be dead.  I just talked with Him this morning!”

This issue pushed Emory from being an obscure Methodist school to a prestigious research university.  Unfortunately, it so penetrated the school of theology that liberalism continues to prevail.  Altizer left the university a few months after I graduated.  He continues today to claim he is misunderstood.

A final thought.  This world is so dependent on a living God that if He ceased to exist, the universe would crumble.  God is immortal!  There is no existence of anything apart from a living God.  And this God of everything can be known through His Son, Jesus Christ.

“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world,  from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”  (Psalm 90:2)  “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  (1 Timothy 1:17)  “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal . . . .”  (1 Timothy 6:15,16)

Lawson

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