This is the sad story of a man who left the faith and turned to atheism.
During the 1950s and ’60s, an evangelist by the name of Charles Templeton preached to large crowds. He was a close friend of Billy Graham and many believed he was a better preacher. Charles, however, was plagued with nagging doubts about the reliability of the Bible, specifically the Genesis account of creation.
Feeling unable to continue, Templeton made the sad decision to bid farewell to God.
Many years later, investigative reporter, Lee Strobel interviewed Charles Templeton. It is one of the most powerful interviews I have ever heard.
Although advanced in years, Templeton maintained his rejection of the Bible. But when Strobel asked a question about Jesus Christ, he noted a clear change in Templeton’s body language. With softened posture and a “melancholy and reflective tone,” Templeton spoke of Jesus with a deep admiration.
“He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my reading. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world.”
Strobel said: “You sound like you really care about him.” Templeton answered, “Well, yes, he’s the most important thing in my life.” Then, with a stammering voice, this seemingly hardened atheist said of Jesus: “I . . . I . . . I adore him . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus.”
Templeton’s voice began to crack with deep emotion and to the surprise of Stroble, through his tears, concerning Jesus, he said, “I miss him!” “I miss him very much.” After this startling emotional moment, Templeton snapped, “Enough of that!” as if to demand no more questions about Jesus.
Jesus cannot be easily dismissed and Templeton knew it. The gospel describes a moment when many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:66-68).
Jesus spoke the truth with authentic humility and love. He opposed the religious establishment and renounced its hypocrisy. He was a friend of sinners. In him, one finds all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). In Jesus, all the fullness of Deity resides in bodily form (Colossians 2:9).
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:4). ”… to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God” (John 1:12-13).
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
C. S. Lewis summarized the dilemma many face regarding Jesus Christ:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic –on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”