The name Billy Graham is known throughout the world. A man of great integrity and credibility who has impacted millions of people with his preaching and faith in God. He has reached more people for Jesus Christ than any other individual. He has had an enormous impact for the Christian faith, and is now an old man with declining health.
But there is another name which was as well-known as Billy Graham, but with a different end. And I’m referring to Charles Templeton who was a close friend and colleague of Billy Graham’s in the 1940s and 50s especially when they travelled together preaching the Bible and telling thousands of people about eternal life. They were household names in America and Canada.
Templeton and Billy Graham were two of three men who founded in 1945 the international Youth for Christ organisation, which had an enormous impact on the lives of many young people. In fact, many people believed Templeton would succeed Billy Graham in his evangelical work. In the 1950s and 60s he preached to 30,000 people in large stadiums night after night. He loved the Bible and preached its message with sincerity and conviction. He was on his way to becoming the 20th century’s greatest evangelical preacher. Billy Graham said, “Chuck was the most brilliant, able man I’ve known. He was a true intellectual. He could do anything…He was a genius, I think.”
A Fateful Change of Direction
But something happened to Charles Templeton which changed his life forever. He died in 2001 an atheist and wrote a book in 1995 called Farewell to God in which he renounces his faith in Jesus Christ. It was a great disappointment to the church and people in the church who saw him as an evangelical leader. Then one day, a Christian author named Lee Strobel spent time interviewing him for a book he was writing called A Case for Faith and during the course of their conversation, Charles Templeton vigorously defended his unbelief of God and his rejection of the Bible. He was adamant it was all a mistake, and he had renounced his faith.
Then, Strobel directed Templeton’s attention to Christ. Templeton was an old man with Alzheimer’s disease, and knew his life was in its final stages. Strobel asked how would he now assessed Jesus at this stage of his life. Strobel says that, amazingly, Templeton’s “body language softened.” His voice took on a “melancholy and reflective tone.” And then, incredibly, he said:
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.
Mind you, he’s talking about the same Teacher who claimed to have existed eternally before Abraham was born (see John 8:58), who asserted his oneness of nature with God, the Father (John 10:30), and who allowed men to honour him as “Lord and God” (John 20:28). Which if these things were not true, would make Jesus of Nazareth the most preposterous and outrageous ‘con-man’ who ever walked the earth—thousands willingly went to their deaths, in the most horrible ways imaginable, confessing his deity.
Jesus, the Most Engaging Figure
But the interview continued and Strobel said in a quiet voice, “You sound like you really care about him.”
“Well, yes,” Templeton acknowledged, “he’s the most important thing in my life.” He stammered: “I…I…I adore him…Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus.” Strobel was stunned. He listened in shock. He says that Templeton’s voice began to crack. He then said, “I…miss…him!”
With that the old man burst into tears; with shaking frame, he wept bitterly. Finally, Templeton gained control of his emotions and wiped away the tears. “Enough of that,” he said, as he waved his hand, as if to suggest that there would be no more questions along that line.
When I read this, I felt very sad for a man who had once known the peace and companionship of Jesus Christ for himself, and had decided to deny him. This is a true story, and a tragic one at that.
Jesus of Nazareth is still the most eloquent and engaging figure of human history. We cannot ignore him or forget him. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:38, “The people God accepts will live because of their faith. Be He isn’t pleased with anyone who turns back”.
Yet what a remarkable reminder, that even an atheist could have a moment of clarity, to see just how wonderful Jesus truly is.