Charles Templeton
An Anecdotal Memoir

Foreword

Chapters
Beginnings
Sports
Evangelism:
Toronto
Graham
Princeton
TV:
CBS & CTV
The CTV
Toronto Star
Politics:
Begin
Liberal Party
After
Maclean's
Inventing
Radio
Books
Etc. Etc.
Postscript


Charles Templeton Home

Jesus


Brad Templeton Home
Brad's Photo Pages

Brad's Panoramic Photos

RHF Home

   
 

Inside Evangelism - Princeton Theological & Beyond (Templeton Memoir)

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INSIDE EVANGELISM
Princeton Theological Seminary & Beyond

Connie asked, "Chuck, are you sure this is the way Dwight L. Moody* started?" 

I was on tiptoes on a chair hanging the paper drapes she and I had bought at Woolworth's in downtown Princeton. We were in the process of moving into "the Marrieds' Dorm" and she was seated on the side of the bed resting from her labours. There hadn't been all that much to move: the house we'd left in Toronto had been rented and furnished by the church, so we had few possessions.  Our students quarters comprised a sitting-room with furniture that had been used and abused by a long line of predecessors, but didn't include so much as a kettle or a hot-plate; plus a Littiputian bedroom with a double bed jammed into the far corner and hardly space for passage. The common bathrooms were at the far end of the hall.  

We were doing a bit of mutual commiserating, Connie with her invariable good humour. It had not been without a wrench that we had left family and friends and all our pleasant associations in Toronto. We were without any assurance of income. Evangelical were, quite properly, suspicious of my orthodoxy, and the old-line churches hadn't yet taken a reading. Any romantic notions I might have had about the superior charity of candidates for the Presbyterian ministry had been disabused earlier that day when I was invited to join a game of touch football between returning students and "the new guys". The word had been passed, "Get the Youth for Christer," and the game quickly became a contact sport. This was fine with me: I had played senior football and none of them had. When did jolt me was the fact that I had been judge a priori.  

I won't dwell on my three years at Princeton except to say that they were among the happiest in my life. I began the first semester filled with trepidation. I was thirty-three, ten years older than most of my fellows, and hadn't done any formal study in fifteen years. Would I be able to handle the discipline? Could I meet the requirements? First-year subjects included Greek, hermeneutics, exegesis, homiletics, church history and ecumenics. Happily, after the first term I found little difficulty. 

I was fascinated by the faculty, as diverse a mixture of insecure and eccentric characters as I had ever encountered. I became friends with a Scot who taught church history. He was a very short man with a large head and a bird's quick fidgetiness. He began class by waiting impatiently until the last student was in place. He would then say, "Promptness is the politeness of kings," and begin. I was invited often to his home, a one hundred-years-old, three-storey barn of a place with heaven knows how many rooms, in which he and his wife lived alone. He would offer a tiny glass of sherry or a cup of tea and reel off a series of witty and fascinating stories. He seemed addicted to light, and moved like the wind about the house on little short legs, turning on three- hundred-watt bulbs as he entered each room. He taught me the most valuable thing I learned at Princeton: "The world of learning isn't in the classroom; it's in the library."

There was a German who taught New Testament, a near genius in his field; but he spoke such gutteral English that he could barely be understood. There was a professor of Hebrew who lowered his face into his dog-eared and crumbling notes and read from them for forty minutes without a break, closing the book with a snap and leaving the room without a word. There was a teaching-fellow in introductory Greek who fancied himself a comic. He staudded his lectures with one-liners, but invariably got the timing wrong, as invariably drawing groans from his class. There was a Frechman, a theatrical sort, with a habit of shaking his great mane of grey hair, chin thrust out. Unfortunately in doing so, he would sometimes lose the thread of his discourse and needed to be reminded of what he'd been saying. As his name was Calliet, the students naturally nicknamed him, "Yippee-ay-oh." 

Albert Einstein lived in Princeton during the three years I was there, teaching at the Institute For Advanced Study. His home was three houses removed from the seminary campus so I saw him on the street many times. I saw him first one cold, bright fall  morning.  I was on my way into town and saw what I took to be an old bag-lady shuffling along the wide sidewalk in front of me. She was wearing a shapeless grey overcoat. Her trousers sagged over broken shoes. A wool toque was pulled low over her head, and from beneath it rusty platinum-coloured hair pushed out untidily. As I overtook her, she stopped, off the sidewalk, pulled off her hat and bowed in a courtly, old-world way. I was so taken aback at recognizing the great nuclear physicist that I hardly returned his ''Guten morgen.'' We often passed on the street, and he was unfailingly courteous. Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called “father of the atomic bomb,” was also a familiar sight. No one in the town appeared to pay either ot them particular attention and all wear careful not to intrude on their privacy.

Einstein was a sartorial spectacle. His unlaced shoes some- times flapped as he walked. He wore no socks. His baggy trousers were secured with a knotted rope. He usually wore thick   sweater over a flannel shirt and, in cooler weather, a woolen toque. When an interviewer asked why he wore no socks, he replied that socks got holes in them. When asked why he removed his hat in the rain, he said that it was easier to dry his hair than his hat.

In our first year at Princeton I had very little income (only occasionally serving as a supply preacher in small churches) and it was necessary for Connie to get a job - ''working on her P.H.T.degree'' (Putting Hubby Through), as the working wives of students called it. She was hired by the exclusive Chapin school, to teach English and music. One day. a child defended not doing her  homework by admitting she didn't understand how to multiply or  divide. Her exasperated teacher replied. ''Well, if you can't under-stand me, you'd better get Mr. Einstein to explain it to you. ''Being his neighbor, the child did just that. Einstein invited the child in and, lying on his stomach on the living-room floor, taught her her ''numbers.'' Afterwards, he signed the homework. Framed, it hangs in the school, a prized possession. 

I had gone to Princeton hoping to resolve some of the questions that were eroding my faith. Paramount among them was the question: Who was Jesus of Nazareth? Was he a moral and spiritual genius or was he, as the Christian church has always held,  ''very God of very God''?

The classroom work, especially a course in Christology, was useful, as were conversations with some of the professors, but more valuable was the library, where there were stacks or relevant material. For all that, I knew that faith is more a mater of the sprit than of the mind, and in my second year, in imitation of Mohandas Gandhi-who remains one of the formative influences on my life-I decided to fast each Wednesday, eating nothing and drinking only water. Seven nights a week, in all kinds of weather I went walking on the golf course between the seminary and the Institute for Advanced Study, not to pray so much as to articulate the almost intolerable yearning I was feeling, some-times simply focusing all my faculties on the infinite; straining to grasp what theologians like to call the ''mysterium tremendum.''

One night I went to the golf course rather late. I had attended a movie and something in the film had set to vibrating an obscure chord in my consciousness. Standing with my face to the heavens tears streaming, I heard dog bark of in the distance and, from somewhere, faintly. eerily, a baby crying. Suddenly I was caught up in a transport. It seemed that the whole of creation-trees, flowers, clouds, the skied, the very heavens, all of time and space and God Himself-was weeping. I knew somehow that they were weeping for mankind: for our obduracy, our hatreds, our ten thousand cruelties, our love of war and violence. And at the heart of this eternal sorrow I saw the shadow of a cross, with the silhouetted figure on it...weeping.

When I became conscious of my surroundings again, I was lying on the wet grass, convulsed by sobs. I had been outside myself and didn't know for how long. Later, I couldn't sleep and trembled as thought with a fever at the thought that I had caught a glimpse through the veil.

For the next few weeks I sought to repeat the experience. It never recurred. I recognized it to be a mystical experience, and in the library pored through books on the subject. The literature is not extensive but I learned that what had happened to me was not unusual: it has been a commonplace at various times in the history of the church. More important, I learned that it was of no special significance. Mystical experience has added no insight to our knowledge of God or to Christian doctrine. Indeed, the experience is not uniquely religious: the poet Henry Wadworth Longfellow could go into a transport at will merely by repeating his name aloud. 

Nevertheless, I continued fasting and my nightly hour on the golf course. During the day, I spent my spare time in the library or in conversation, questing, searching. The foundation of Christianity is the person of Jesus. If he was a man, however gifted, he could be no more than a superlative teacher and a soaring example.  If I was going to continue in the ministry, I would need to know that Jesus Christ was enough.

By the end of my third year at Princeton I had found a measure of certainty, not through enlightenment but through a conscious act of commitment. It was enough.

In my last two years in Princeton l acted as interim preacher, first at the Bala-Cynwood Presbyterian church in the Main line section of Philadelphia and, in 1951, at the Ewing Presbyterian church in Trenton, New Jersey. Ewing was an idyll. The old, ivy-covered stone church is on the outskirts of the city and is an historic parish. George Washington's army crossed the Delaware nearby and, in 1776, defeated the British on the site. The Church Cemetery is filled with the graves of British and American soldiers. Connie and I lived in the manse, a large, old-fashioned comfortable place surrounded by enormous oaks and elms and maples. In the spring, the walls and fences hung heavy with wisteria, great magnolia trees burgeoned with pink blooms and the lawn glowed with the mauve of a million violets.

As my final year ended, both the Presbyterian church and the National Council of the Churches of Christ approached me: the Presbyterians offered to ordain me and the National Council offered a job. I had already been ordained by the Church of the Nazarene; but that was not sufficient for the Presbyterians, who require that their clergy have a B.A. and a graduate theological degree. Princeton hadn't granted me a degree, since I didn't have the prerequisites, but the Philadelphia Presbytery moved to waive the academic-qualification rule. Shortly thereafter, Lafayette College conferred on me an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree-  "in recognition of his contribution to a balance intellectually sound and theogically based evangelism." 

The offer from the National Council surprised and pleased me.  The NCC represents most of the "standard-brand". "American churches: the Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and others. It had never had anyone on staff with responsibility for running evangelistic campaigns. Their offer to me was that I conduct, under their auspices, what they preferred to call "preaching missions." I accepted, specifying three conditions: that there be no interference in what I would say, that four months of each year be spent preaching in my native Canada, and that my remuneration be a salary of $150 per week.

I specified that I receive a salary in order to remove from my campaigns the scandal of what is called the "love offering."  Traditionally the evangelist is given all the money collected on the closing night of a campaign, when the largest crowd is in attendance, after a special plea is mad on his behalf. There might be anywhere between 5000 and 25000 people present on the final night, and the love offering has made many evangelists wealthy.  The practice has led to the saying: "The reverend is more interested in the dollar sign than in the than in the sign of cross." Connie's and my salary was fixed at$7500 dollars a year less than we might normally receive in a single two-week campaign. 

The announcement of the appointment made news. Time magazine carried a feature story and used the opportunity to shaft Billy Graham. He had just completed a campaign in Atlanta, and Time ran a picture of him. Over his shoulder was a mail-sack bulging with the love offering presented to him on closing night. Billy to his credit, immediately put himself on salary at $15000 a year.

There were many fundamental differences in Billy's and my campaigns. Billy is and "old-fashioned" evangelist with a heavy emphasis on the judgmental aspects of the gospel. He speaks much   about heaven and hell reward and punishments and ends each sermon with an appeal for converts to come forward. I seldom spoke about heaven never preached on hell, and eschewed the traditional: altar call." At the end of the sermon, deliberately avoiding any emotional pressure, I would announce that an after-service would be held for nay who wanted to make a commitment, and would dismiss the meeting. Those who wanted to remain had to move against the flow of the thousands leaving. Each night, hundreds chose to stay. 

There was another difference between Billy's any my campaigns south of the Mason-Dixon line; his were segregated, mine were not.

In my early years preaching in the southern United States- the 1930s and 1940s - I was shaken by the prejudice against blacks. In Paris, Kentucky, where I first encountered it (and did little about it) there were park benches in the town square with bold lettering:

CAUCASIANS ONLY
ETHIOPIANS KEEP OFF!

There were segregated drinking fountains and public urinals.  Restaurants and places of amusement were segregated, as were trains and buses. I hired a black teenager to wash, clean and wax my car. It took most of a steamingly hot day. When I asked him the charge, he wondered if two dollars would be too much. I paid him ten, less than it would have cost me in Toronto. When I mentioned it to the pastor of the church, he said crossly, "You've ruined that nigger."

I take pride in the fact that I conducted the first integrated public meeting south of the Mason-Dixon line. The year was 1953. A letter came from the Ministerial Association of Richmond, Virginia, inviting me to conduct a city-wide campaign.  Richmond is a lovely and cultivated city; during the American Civil War it was the capital of the Confederacy. I accepted immediately, making mention in my reply that the services would of course, have to be unsegregated.

There was an immediate response; the Ministerial Association very much regretted that this was impossible; the city by-laws forbade it. I replied, saying that, surely if they, the most prominent and influential clergymen in the city, were to ask that the by-law be set aside on this occasion they would not be refused. They responded that it was not possible to do this. I wrote that, under the circumstances, I would have to withdraw my acceptance.

Shortly thereafter I received a letter stating that, after pressure had been brought to bear, the city council had granted permission. 

On the opening night of the campaign the tension in the Agoga Temple was palpable. The ushers had been instructed not to show people to their seats but simply to hand them a songbook.  A few blacks arrived, and unsure of the situation, climbed the stairs to the balcony. I called the head usher and the chairman of the ministerial committee backstage. "Usher the people to their seats," I said, "Whites and blacks. Otherwise they will segregate themselves. "The head usher was not prepared to do this and was 311

But the battle was not yet won. Few black attended. I asked for a meeting of all the black clergy and their senior officials and specified that I be the only white man there. They filled the auditorium of one of the larger African Methodist churches.

I spoke bluntly. I reminded them that we had fought to have an integrated campaign and that an historic first had been achieved. "But now," I said, "after years of being segregated, you are segregating me. That's your right. If you are free to attend, you are also free to stay away. Now that the white man is prepared to say, after years of excluding you, 'Come on in,' it is perfectly reasonable and understandable if you say, 'Thanks, but no thanks.” But in doing so, realize that you are perpetuating the system you hate."

  

I then told them a story about Mohandas Gandhi. Addressing a meeting of blacks in South Africa, Gandhi had said, "One of our problems as coloured people is that we act as though we are a minority. The fact is, "he said," that the coloured peoples of the world are a great majority. When we use the terms 'whites' and 'coloured,' we demonstrate inferiority feelings. We should speak instead of coloured people and colourless people".

The church rocked with shouts of "Amen" and "Hallelujah!" When silence returned, I said, "As a member of a minority group, the colourless people of the world, I want to plead with you to help me in this campaign".

There was an immediate increase in the number of blacks in attendance. They sat in every part of the auditorium, sang in the choir, worked as ushers and as personal workers. There was not a single untoward incident.


Connie and I moved across the United States, conducting preaching missions. We began in Evansville, Indiana, where the largest auditorium in the city was filled on the opening Sunday night; fifteen days later, on the closing Sunday, we had to hold identical afternoon and evening services, and turned away hundreds from each. It was a similar story in Youngstown, Ohio. In Canton, Ohio, the crowds were even larger: the total attendance for the two weeks was 91,000. In each city the problem was the same-to find accommodation large enough to house the thousands who crowded at the doors.

I was experimenting with something new. In addition to the evening meetings, I conducted a noontime service, Monday through Friday, in the largest downtown movie theatre. The meeting ran from 12:10 to 12:50. There were no preliminaries; I would speak for thirty-five minutes on practical problems of ethics and human relationships. Business people at every level came from their offices, eating their lunch as they listened. Many had predicted failure: "people won't listen to a preacher for forty minutes on a weekday on their lunch hour. "But they did. Within two or three days, the theatre in each city would be filled, and the doors would have to be closed to meet fire regulations. I continued the practice through my years as an evangelist.

To Canton, Ohio, to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to Cincinnati, Ohio, to Mobile, Alabama, to Des Moines, lowa....

In Texas I saw something of the unique lifestyle of the state.

I was in Dallas to conduct Holy Week services at Highland park Presbyterian, a magnificent stone church in the wealthiest section of Dallas. The pastor of the church, Dr. William Elliott, Jr., invited me to play an early morning round of golf with him, and as we were returning to the clubhouse, a man in a golf cart hailed us and my partner went to talk to him. I saw paper change hands. Later, as we were having lunch in the clubhouse, the minister removed something from an envelope and passed it to me across the table. It was a cheque for one million dollars made out to the Highland Park Presbyterian church of Dallas.

The explanation was simple. The man who had stopped us on the golf course was a member of the church (I'd seen him each night at the meeting) and believed in "tithing" - giving 10 per cent of your harvest or your income to God. So, having just completed an oil deal in which he had made a profit ot ten million dollars, he gave one-tenth of it to the church.

More high-rolling, Texas-style:

I was invited to speak to the Dallas Millionaires Club, a luncheon club, where a condition of membership is a personal worth of more than a million dollars. The club was exclusively male and the members were all Texas-gregarious. Afterwards, my host, who was also a member of Highland Park, showed me about the downtown section of the city. At one point we entered an exclusive men's tailoring shop. I was introduced to the owner, who showed me some of his most luxurious fabrics. Before I quite knew what was happening, I found my measurements being taken. I asked what was happening. My host said in his best aw-shucks manner, "I thought maybe as a goin’ away present I'd like to give you half a dozen suits. "I thanked him but told him I couldn't accept such a gift. He reacted to my refusal with a bemused shrug.

But he wasn't through. Down the street he led me into a store specializing in Texas boots. "Now," he said, "I can figure why you won't take the suits, but surely there's nothin’ wrong with you takin' home a souvenir of Texas. "I agreed, and was fitted with a magnificent pair of ornamented Texas cowboy boots. He tried to put a ten-gallon Stetson on my head but I managed to limit him to the boots.

On the Monday morning he was with the group that came to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport to see me off. As we said our goodbyes, I saw the porter who was handling our bags put a new sixteen-millimetre Bolex movie camera and a matching RCA sound-projector aboard the plane.

Each year, I spent four months holding missions in Canada. On the closing night in Charlottetown, which then had a population of fourteen thousand, there were some six thousand either in the hockey arena or listening to loudspeakers in the streets. In the Sydney arena there were as many outside as within. In two weeks, ten thousand attended; the population was thirty thousand. The meeting in Fredericton was held in winter weather. The congregation huddled in coats and hats and scarves; one night I preached wearing a topcoat. Portable furnaces were rigged to push heat through vents cut in the arena walls. Regardless of the inconvenience, every seat was filled each night and the ice area was crammed with people huddled on improvised seating. In each city, all-time attendance records were set for any event, secular or religious.


Loss of Faith

I began to have a problem with my health. I was thirty-five and thought myself to be in perfect physical condition, but I began to suffer frequent pains in the chest. Oddly, the pain never troubled me while preaching, but mornings I would find myself short of breath, with a tightness in my chest and a numbness radiating to my forearms and hands. One morning in Cincinnati, I finally gave in and went to see a doctor. Every test was applied; there was no evidence of a problem with my heart.

But the symptoms didn't go away. Indeed, they were exacerbated by difficulties I was having with my faith. The old doubts were resurfacing. I would cover them over with prayer and activity but soon there would be a wisp of smoke and a flicker of flame and then a firestorm of doubt. I would banish them again only to have them return. Part of the problem was that there was no one to talk to: how does a man who, each night, tells five to ten thousand people how to find faith confess that he is struggling with his own?

Ironically, at the very moment I was trying to shore up my sagging faith, there was a sudden flurry of interest by the media in me and in my campaigns. Even as I wrestled with my doubts, I was reading about the certitude with which I preached. People who had found strength or faith in the services shook my hand and looked at me with shining eyes. Their gratitude added to my sense of unworthiness but there was nothing I could do about it. It was not that I disbelieved; it was simply that my mind was at war with my spirit.

Stories about my campaigns were appearing in every quarter. We were cutting a new trail through the tangled underbrush of mass evangelism and it was noted in magazine articles and in wide coverage in the newspapers. The Golbe and Mail Magazine, Maclean's, Time, the Chicago Sunday Tribune and others carried features. NBC invited me to do a series of four half-hour television programs from Chicago. In an article in American magazine entitled "Religion's Super Salesman," Edward Boyd Wrote:  

I have just seen the man who's giving religion a brand-new look; a young Canadian by the name of Charles B. Templeton. Passing up the old-style hellfire-and-damnation oratorical fireworks, he uses instead a persuasive, attractive approach that presents religion as a commodity as necessary to life as salt, and in the doing, has set a new standard for evangelism.     

Dispensing with such props as "the sawdust trail," "the mourner's bench," and other tricks from the old-time evangelist's repertoire, he is winning converts at an average of 150 a night, and - what is something new in modern evangelism - they stat converted. At a recent two week stay in Evansville, Indiana, for example, a count showed that Templeton had drawn a total attendance of 91,000 out of a population of 128,000. A survey taken six months later showed that church   attendance was 17 per cent higher than it had been before he'd come.

He is booked two years ahead, a situation that the biggest Broadway hit can't boast, and the demands for his service are ten times greater than can be met. Moreover, observers who have closely followed his progress say that Templeton has not   yet begun to hit his stride...

I read the article after a long night in which I had debated with myself whether I should quit the ministry.

The tempo of the work accelerated: in Winnipeg, we overflowed both sections of the Auditorium twice on the closing Sunday. In Calgary, the new Corral wasn't large enough. In Vancouver, Exhibition Stadium was jammed each night, as was the Grand theatre at noonday. At the closing, we overflowed the Stadium and the building next to it, with another fifteen hundred on the lawns outside. In Edmonton, neither the hockey arena nor the historic Macdonald church (at noon) were large enough, even through the campaign had been virtually boycotted by the Journal

On the closing night, having expressed my thank-yous, I added:

In the fifteen days we've been here, an unprecedented thing has happened. Your monopoly newspaper has not carried a single story on the campaign. I ask you: is it not news that, for    the past two weeks, the people of this community, of all churches and of none, have been flocking to this building for a series of religious services? Never in the history of your city    have so many people attended a similar event. And yet, the Journal, secure in its monopoly, has in its arbitrary and crotchety way, decided to take no notice of it. Leaving Edmonton   tonight, I leave you with one wish: that you get a second newspaper.

Six months later we were in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, for what would be the greatest meeting we had yet seen. The days were filled with excitement and enthusiasm, but my nights were bedevilled by fear, by sudden sweats and by a pounding of my heart that shook the bed. Mornings I endured the now familiar pains in my chest and arms. In desperation I sought out the man reputed to be the best coronary specialist in the state. He had attended the campaign and took particular care in has examination.

I expected to hear the counsel I'd been given in Cincinnati: "Ease up. Take a vacation in the sun. Don't kill yourself." Instead, he said, "There is nothing wrong with your heart. Nothing. The pains you get - let me put it in layman's language - are the result of what I'll call heart spasm. But the trouble isn't in your heart, it's in your head. There is something in your life that is bothering you. Some conflict. Some unresolved problem. Whatever it is, deal with it. Otherwise, you will probably continue to suffer the symptoms you have described to me and will likely see other manifestations."   

I knew what the problem was but couldn't discuss it with him. It was my old nemesis - doubt. And the increasing success of our campaigns was exacerbating the difficulty. I realized that soon I would be unable to quit. I was becoming more skilled with time, and the evidence of it was in our services. On my feet, preaching, I would be carried on the tide of the moment (it has been said that everyone preaches to the right of his or her beliefs); afterwards, that certainty would pass and I would call myself a hypocrite.   

After the closing service - with what was described in the press as "the greatest crowd ever to gather in the history of Harrisburg" - Connie and I drove home to New York City. On the way, I told her part of the truth. "I've decided to leave evangelism. All I'm doing is skimming the surface. I deal in over-simplification. I feel like an ecclesiastical mountain goat; leaping from one peak to another and never getting down on the slopes or in the valleys where life is lived."

The Presbyterian Church USA had been pressing me to take over its Department of Evangelism, not to preach so much as to lead the denomination toward a program of responsible evangelism. I had rejected their overtures, but now I accepted and, as Director of Evangelism, took over a suite of offices at Presbyterian headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

For almost three years, I trained ministers and laymen, lectured in theological seminaries and universities, wrote two books and did a weekly television show on the CBS network. I continued to preach, but mostly on Sundays as a guest, most frequently at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian.

And I struggled with my faith.

It is an annual custom at Yale University to bring in a prominent preacher for a week of religious services. The guest speaks each weekday morning in chapel and makes himself available through the day for interviews with students. In the spring of 1956, I was invited. Each morning, I donned a black gown and my Doctor of Divinity hood to preach from the ornate pulpit. Students filled the pews, and stood in the aisles and doorways. I enjoyed myself: the audience was sharp and missed no nuance. The afternoon interviews were interesting.

The committee of students assigned to help me - most of them members of the Student Christian Movement-came to me late in the week in great excitement. The outstanding man in the senior class had asked for an appointment. He was an honours student in political science, captain of the Yale debating team and, since his sophomore year, had been quarterback of the football team. The students were excited because, should he declare him- self a Christian, his influence would be considerable. We met in the office assigned to me. I liked him immediately. As we began our discussion, he said, "Before we start, may we establish some ground rules? Otherwise we'll go around in circles."

"Of course," I said.

"Then let me suggest that, if at any time you say something I disagree with, I be permitted to interrupt you without seeming to be discourteous. My reason is this: if in making your argument you presume something I hold to be wrong and I let it pass – and you then go on to build on that position - it makes it difficult later on to take issue without going back to beginning. A lot of time  is wasted and a lot of confusion arises."

"I entirely agree," I said, "so long as the rule works both ways."

"Great," he said. "Now, let me tell you why I'm here. I guess the place to begin is to tell you that, although I was raised a Christian, it didn't take. If you ask me what I am today, I'd have to say I'm an atheist. I'm interested in religion but I don't find its propositions credible. I've read a lot and I've asked around but i haven't been able to get satisfactory answers to my questions I've been listening to you this week and you seem to come at the whole business differently. Tell me why I shouldn't be an atheist and I'll tell you why I should."

We talked for an hour, fencing at first, each of us trying to score debating points, then we grew serious. He was a resourceful debater, but it was not difficult to rebut his arguments; theology was my discipline and I'd heard most of the points he made dozens of times.

At the end of the allotted time, he rose to go. "I want to thank you," he said.  "You make a hell of a good case. I won't say you've convinced me, but at least what you say makes sense." He put out his hand. "Thanks again. I promise you I'll think about it."

When the door closed behind him, my first reaction was one of elation-I'd beaten the captain of the Yale debating team. I'd made my arguments with a facility acquired in hundreds of such confrontations - not least, in confrontations with myself. They were reasonable, intellectually respectable arguments, but arguments that no longer convinced me. In the heat of discussion I believed them, but now, alone, I knew that I had been role-playing.   

The elation was replaced by self-reproach. The student had seemed half convinced: he was searching for meaning in his life and it was entirely possible that he might go from our meeting to pray, perhaps even to commit himself. It was possible that he might do as I had done when I was about his age, as a result of which the entire direction of my life had been changed. What right did I have to meddle in his life?  What right did I have to stand before the student body or the thousands of people I had been preaching to nightly for years, using all my persuasive skills to win them to something I was no longer convinced of myself? It was a reprehensible thing to do and I must stop it.

Not long afterwards I gave up the ministry. The New York Presbytery, to which I belonged, urged me to reconsider and moved not to accept my resignation for a year. To add to the dilemma, representatives from the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian church approached me about becoming their senior minister. The weekly television show I was doing on the CBS network was renewed and I was asked to continue as host. It seemed that, having made the decision to go, I was being tempted to stay.

Then, suddenly, it was impossible to leave. Mother had been ill for months and now the word came that she was dying of cancer. I flew to Toronto. As I sat by her bed, shaken by the changes in her appearance and hearing her talk about how close she felt to God, I felt unworthy. Mother's faith was as natural as breathing. I knew that if I were to tell her that I was about to leave the ministry she would be crushed. She drew strength from the reports of my missions; she saved clippings and articles. If, in her declining months, she had known that her eldest son had turned form the God she so fervently worshipped, she might not have struggled as long as she did with the pain and the despair. In the end, I didn't have the courage to tell her the truth, and let her die ignorant of it.

Connie and I had agreed to divorce. It was an amiable, even an affectionate parting, and across the years we have remained friends. We hadn't been able to have children together and very much wanted them. We were both young enough to begin families, and in the years ahead, each of us would. Moreover, her faith remained strong and she wanted to continue to express it in the church. Our separating was an added sadness, I was losing a dear friend.

It seemed that all of life was showing me its nether side. My faith was gone, my marriage was dead, my mother was dying. I was cutting myself off from the hundreds of friends I had made during nineteen years in the church. I was abandoning people who looked to me, including thirty-six men and women who were in the ministry or on mission fields because of my work. I felt like a betrayer.

But there was no real choice. I could stay in the ministry, paper over my doubts and daily live a lie, or I could make the break. I packed my few possessions in a rented trailer and started on the road back to Toronto.


The Fate of Evangelism

I didn't realize it when I left the ministry in 1957, but itinerant mass evangelism was about to die, done in by television. The only survivor is Billy Graham, the last of the great evangelists.  

The mass evangelist was essentially an American phenomenon, although his progenitors can be traced to England. In the early eighteenth century, John Wesley and George Whitefield organized groups of itinerant preachers to carry the gospel throughout the British Isles. Almost simultaneously, the Great Awakening began in New England and soon the number of revivalists was legion. They multiplied in the austere soil of New England and in the Bible Belt of the South and proliferated as the population moved west.

A few rose from among the ruck, most of the eccentric, flamboyant characters who preached hellfire-and-damnation and "shook sinners over the middle kittles of hell." The most effective were Charles G. Finney, a New York lawyer, who eschewed emotionalism even as he engendered it, and that towering figure, Dwight L. Moody, a Boston shoe salesman who, with little education and no artifice, spoke to enormous audiences in the United States and Britain over a period of twenty-five years. Later and more notorious were Billy Sunday, a converted major-league baseball player, and the Canadian-born Aimee Semple McPherson, the first internationally known faith healer.

I knew many itinerant evangelists in my years in the ministry. They were as varied as other people. Among them were rogues and saints, charlatans and do-gooders. Most were simple men; strong on passion and deficient in education. Some were selfless, avoiding "worldliness" and wealth with a zeal that approached masochism. Others were dominated by avarice, consumed by pried and sexually randy. There were few outright Elmer Gantrys.

In his circumscribed world, the mass evangelist was a celebrity. In smaller communities, the annual revival meeting he conducted was the event of the year. His coming was advertised in the newspapers and proclaimed on banners and signs. During a campaign he was housed, fed, transported and feted. He was commonly praised as a great preacher- and some could indeed "bring the heavens down" - but was usually little more than a leather-lunge exhorter whose yellowed and spittle-stained sermon notes had been preached from hundreds of times. Compared for his work, receiving a love offering rather than a salary. Some grew expert at increasing the take and provided envelopes for the collection, the face of each bearing a blank cheque made out to the evangelist and lacking only the amount and a signature.   

You can catch something of the ambience of an old-fashioned revival meeting in a Billy Graham crusade. In its time, there was nothing like it. The atmosphere at the "meeting" vibrated with a special kind of excitement - an emotional compost of curiosity, anticipation, reverence, aspiration and latent guilt feelings. The sceptics were there with the zealots. Entire families assembled, from octogenarians to nursing infants. Some went to learn, others to confirm their biases. The sick went in hope of touching the hem of the garment, the weary and heavy laden in hope of finding rest.

Lives were changed - let it not be denied-some so radically as to seem new. Marriages were repaired or shattered. An alcoholic might come to sobriety. The young might have their feet set on paths of service that would lead them to the ends of the earth or might be saddled with a guilt that would weigh on them to the end of their days. But these were the exceptions; most of the time all that happened was that indifferent church-goers got a booster-shot.

When the magic left town, the prosaic moved to retake the lot ground. Studies showed that a year later little had changed. Vows were forgotten. Few were added to the church rolls. For most, the light burned lower and for some the darkness was deeper. Often, in the aftermath, congregations fell into schism as the newly anointed insisted that everyone march to their drummer's beat. In the end, things were better, things were worse, things were much the same.

Today, the itinerant evangelist is gone. In his place we have the television evangelist. Nor is he merely new; he has a new message. His gospel is a pious pablum offered in a form that renders the teachings of Jesus unrecognizable; part superstition, part pious claptrap and as unlike New Testament Christianity as a newspaper horoscope. Jesus said, "Take up your cross," and promised persecution and ostracism. The man of God in the $500 suit says, "only belive," and promises that God will make life easy.

The electronic evangelist bears little resemblance to his pre-television predecessors. Because Christians will no longer attend church weeknights, his sanctuary is your TV set. His pulpit is a television screen. Your pew is the easy chair in your living room. You make contact by putting your hands on the set while the frequency-modulated voice of the two-dimensional man of God offers forgiveness of sins, answers to prayers, instant happiness, financial security and miracles of instant healing that would astound the Mayo Clinic.

The itinerant evangelist pounded the pulpit and shouted himself hoarse; the electronic evangelist seldom raises his voice. In lieu of sermons he delivers brief chats, and wouldn't preach at all, but sit behind a Johnny Carson desk and ramble on about God in a manner that reduces the mysterium tremendum to little more than a Mr. Fixit in the sky. Prayer is a chummy conversation conducted in terms of buddy-buddy intimacy in which the evangelist informs the deity about what's going on in this wicked old world and presents a shopping list. The hymns tend to be trendy, mostly country and western - God's-country and western, of course.

Television Christianity is an undemanding faith; a media postacy that tells listeners that, to become a Christian, all they have to do is "believe." Standards of membership are so low that some so-called "television ministries" are prepared to enroll as a believer anyone willing to say no more than, "Thank God it quit raining."

In one particular area, however, the traditional evangelist has been surpassed by his electronic successor - in taking and offering. The former made a plea, said a prayer and passed the plate. The latter offers "free gifts" and flashes a mailing address on the screen. The respondent is automatically enrolled as a full-fledged member in good standing of a mailing list, and immediately becomes the recipient of computer-personalized mail surpassing in its volume and entreaties the most energetic of book clubs. These mailings are the television equivalent of the collection plate, which, having been passed, is passed forever and ever, Amen.

The offerings, mulcted mostly from the poor, the elderly and lonely women, amount to millions of dollars annually. Few of these dollars are used to give succour to the needy, to put food in empty bellies or to help the helpless and dispossessed. Seldom is any of the money returned to the community from which it came. Most of it is used to provide generous salaries and expensive perks, to buy more broadcast time, to build larger broadcast studios, to modernize the mailing system and to prepetuate the evangelist's name in a variety of institutions.

There are, among the host of television evangelists, exceptions to those I have described, but they are a minority and most of these preach a bastardized version of the gospel. Some are not content merely to build their "ministry," but lust for temporal power. Jesus rejected a move to make him king ("My kingdom is not of this world") but the minority that presumptuously describes itself as the "Moral Majority" covets power, political power, here and now. They seek to influence presidents.  They pressure legislators. And if they can't achieve their goals through intimidation, they have made it clear they will themselves seek to ascend to the seats of the mighty.

These are dangerous men, for they are intolerant of those who don't accept their premises. They claim to get their orders from God; thus, to oppose them is to oppose Him.  They do not believe in freedom and, were they in positions of power, would undoubtedly forbid others the right to follow their convictions. History bears record that the church in power tends to be a tyrannizing institution.

I have had some experience with evangelists.  Most of them, although not all, are relatively ignorant men with narrow minds and narrow interests. They know almost nothing of the human psyche and little of the effects of guilt on the human spirit. But that doesn't deter most of these self-appointed spokesmen for the Almighty.  They are like the old-fashioned medicine men; they live off people’s fears. They are quacks practicing spiritual medicine without a licence, offering remedies they neither understand nor have bothered to examine. They are not evil men in the usual sense, not men of ill-will, not malicious - indeed, they may be eminently personable - but in their zeal to "do good" they often do great and lasting harm. They exploit guilt and fear. They warp the mind. They may sometimes do good - at least temporarily - but it usually happens by chance. On balance, I think the contemporary television evangelist is deleterious to society.


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