Is God Dead?
‘Many centuries ago, at the dawn of human history, a question was asked — the first to be recorded in Holy Writ — the first in the long story of man. That primeval question — “Hath God said?” — has kept recurring through the intervening ages right to modern times, to be joined at intervals by others. The most recent, and most blasphemous in the series, asked by the creature about the Creator — “Is God dead?” —has startled and stunned Christians and non-Christians alike. We may be sure that it has the same satanic origin as did that first question instilled in the minds of our first parents in Eden’s garden. Let us examine this so-called “New Radical Theology,” concocted by the puny, infinitesimal creature who announces the death of the Infinite, Almighty Creator. Such blasphemy scarcely merits our consideration, but we are confronted with it and have to answer the questions of our fellows who are “without hope and without God in the world.” Let us pray that our study may establish our faith in “the living God” and challenge our lives that we may more effectively make Him known.
Let us consider:
1. The Character of the New Radical Theology.
Who has enunciated this heresy? Whence has it emanated? Avowed atheists? Professed agnostics? Blatant infidels? So we might have anticipated. But no! Strange as it may seem, this “theology” has come out of “theological colleges,” devised by “divinity” professors, who call themselves “Christian atheists” (Paradox of paradoxes!). The names of the leaders and originators — Thomas J. Altizer, Professor of Bible and Religion at Emory University; Professor Wm. Hamilton, member of the faculty of Colgate - Rochester Divinity School; and Paul Van Buren of Temple University — are familiar to readers of popular periodicals which have, over the past year or so, aired their views.
What is the nature of this new philosophy? Here we face a difficulty — for the proponents of the “God is dead theology” (few though they are) are divided among themselves and contradict one another. With varying degrees of emphasis, they seem to assert, however, that the death of God is an event that has actually taken place. It is not simply that the God of our thinking has died and that we have to re-orientate our ideas of God. No! The death of God is a literal fact. Altizer, most emphatically, states this: “We shall understand the death of God as an historical event: God has died in our time, in our history, in our existence… . If God has truly died in our history, then he must be negated by the word of faith. It is the Christian who must murder God, or, rather, it is the Christian who must bury the decomposing God who continues to haunt our memory of things past.” Hamilton is only slightly less dogmatic: “What does it mean to say that God is dead? … It is really that we do not know, do not adore, do not possess, do not believe in God … God is dead. We are not talking about the absence of the experience of God, but about the experience of the absence of God… . Death of God is a public event in our history.” Nor is he perturbed by the discovery or sorrowful because of the bereavement: “However acute the experience of the death of God may be for us, however much silence and loneliness are entailed during our time of waiting for the absent God, we are not particularly cast down or perplexed by this.” (All quotations from “Radical Theology and the Death of God,” by Altizer and Hamilton, 1966).
Such statements from the pens of these “theologians” expose their blatant blasphemies. Yet, many of them profess to believe in Christ and present Him as the object of faith. Their philosophy has been summed up thus: “God is dead! Long live Jesus!” and “There is no God, and Jesus is His Son.” To what depths of absurdity man can descend!
Let us examine now:
2. The Causes of the New Radical Theology.
Why has this theory been propounded? What has motivated such blasphemies? Several reasons could be suggested:
a. As already indicated, the satanic origin of this modern lie about God is evident — it comes from the one whom our Lord described as “a liar, and the father of it,” who “abode not in the truth” (John 8:44). At the outset of human history, he questioned the revelation of the true God (Gen. 3:1); now, near its close, he denies the reality of the living God. Through the centuries, he has been the slanderer of God’s people to God (Job 1:11; 2:5) and of God to His people.
b. In the “new theology,” we can discern the influence of the secular age in which we live — with its humanistic philosophies. Man’s striking achievements, in technological and other spheres, have made him so self-sufficient and self-reliant that he has dispensed with God. Not only has he no time for God — he has no need for Him either. The “death of God theology” is the contemporary theology for the nineteen sixties, the religion of the “secular city,” in which the sacred is no longer held dear, and obsession with this world has shut out the other world. How easily does the world around us mould our thoughts and our lives! How necessary, therefore, the repeated warnings of Scripture: “Be not conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2); “Love not the world” (1 John 2:15)!
c. The “death of God theology” — or, to use a term coined for it, “Theothanatology” — has arisen out of the background of recent and contemporary theology — modernism, neoorthodoxy, existentialism. (All its proponents were profoundly influenced by neo-orthodoxy). In these schools, the authority and reliability of the Bible have been denied — and from there it is but a small step to discrediting the living God of Biblical revelation. Theologians have, for years, been endeavouring to destroy the great doctrines of the faith —the inspiration of Scriptures, Deity of Christ, His virgin birth, miraculous life, atoning death and physical resurrection. Is it so surprising, after all, that they add to all this the doctrine of God Himself?
d. Human egotism is strikingly evident in the announcements by which the “Theothanatologists” have startled an open-eared world. Their slogan — “God is Dead” — flames from journals and periodicals. Their names have suddenly risen from oblivion to world “renown.” By frequent changes of theological posture, they contrive to keep themselves in the headlines. As a publicity stunt, it has been an unqualified success!
e. Let us search our lives and see if we ourselves, believers in the living God, have not contributed, in some measure, to this blasphemous heresy. What evidence do our lives present of the reality of a God who is alive? Alas, have not many of us become a part of the secular age? Has not the materialism of our fellows made inroads into our lives too? If all God’s people of this generation had been truly manifesting the living God in their lives, could a “God is dead” philosophy have gained a hearing in our world?
We must now discuss
3. The Conflict of the New Radical Theology.
What is our attitude to this manmade “theology”? How do we answer the question it poses? Is God really dead? To ask the question is to answer it. The very idea is in conflict with:
a. Our traditional upbringing, beliefs and thinking. Our minds are appalled by the mere suggestion. Most of us have been brought up to believe in an eternal God. We do not readily welcome anything that so drastically challenges our traditions. It is sometimes necessary, however, to discard traditions. Let us be sure that our answers to the questions are based on a more solid foundation than our cherished traditions. But the new theology runs counter to:
b. The Word of God — the Holy Scriptures that declare that our God is “the eternal God” whose “everlasting arms” are underneath us (Deut. 33:27), and who is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 90:2). The New Testament seems to have anticipated the rise of this heresy, and describes the “only wise God” as not only “eternal” but “immortal” (1 Tim. 1:17), and reiterates that He “only hath immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). Fifteen times in the Old Testament, and 16 times in the New, He is referred to as the “living God.”
Moreover, the “death of God theology” is in conflict with:
c. The evidence in the world around us, which bears ample witness to a living Sovereign who guides and controls the universe, maintaining perfect harmony in the realm over which He reigns; and
d. The experience of believers all over the world — including ourselves. He is still the “great God of wonders,” performing His miracles in the lives of men who trust in Him. To say that He is dead is to ignore the countless times and ways in which He still responds to the prayers of His people and delivers those who call upon Him.
Finally we must give heed to:
4. The Challenge of the New Radical Theology.
God is able to work His sovereign purposes despite the errors and blasphemies to clarify truth and to glorify Himself. We may be sure that this is no exception. The heresy that God has died is a challenge to everyone who has “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9); to all who “trust in the living God” (1 Tim. 4:10); to every saint living in a secular world where God is deemed irrelevant and man all-important. We are challenged, first, to learn more about the living God — to have right thoughts about Him; to search the Scriptures to discover the true God as opposed to the false gods of popular opinion; and to commune with Him daily. Secondly, we should live as if He were alive; forsaking the idols of our business and pleasure, homes and cars, education and sport — and, having forsaken all, trusting Him wholly and serving Him only. Finally, we are challenged to communicate the living God to others who may be unconvinced as they have looked at our lives in the past — to make it clear to them that He lives in our lives, and to explain that they too can have a real experience of the living God through Christ who is THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE.