Where do former evangelicals go to when they want to leave America’s bible belt? They go to Canada.
At least some do. When former evangelicals are looking to re-invent themselves, Canada might be perceived as the land of tolerance. Being a former evangelical doesn’t have the same cultural baggage as it does in the United States.
From Billy Graham’s Platform
One of the most culturally influential men in Canada’s modern history was a former evangelical. In fact, being a former evangelical strengthened his credentials as a thought leader in Canada.
The person I’m talking about wasn’t a nobody. He led evangelistic crusades before crowds of thousands. Yet to the surprise of many, he became a former evangelical.
His name was Charles Templeton.
Who was his co-leader? It was none other than Billy Graham.
The Reinvention of a Former Evangelical
Reading the 1958 Macleans article titled, Nothing Succeeds Like Charles Templeton, we learn how this celebrity pastor became a former evangelical.
Templeton’s deconversion came when he began to doubt the deity of Jesus Christ. Like all such stories of leaving the Christian faith (what the Scriptures describe as apostasy), the intellectual arguments are not the whole story.
Templeton’s marriage ended at the same time as his evangelical faith. We do not know the details about the marriage. But normally, when one covenant is broken, it becomes easy to break others.
Templeton retreated to a cottage on Georgian Bay and when he emerged he had a portfolio of screenplays.
So began the reinvention of Charles Templeton.
The Success of The Former Evangelical
Two screenplays were immediately bought by CBC and he went on to be a TV interviewer, politician, and later working for the centres of thought leadership in Canada from Macleans to CTV. His career expanded into various other television, radio and print outlets as he shaped the opinions of Canadians.
Templeton had succeeded in societal terms. He had reinvented himself after the collapse of his marriage, faith and career. He used his natural abilities to become an influencer who could combine just enough spirituality in his visual journalism to provide a depth which his colleagues lacked.
Being able to say that he had tried evangelicalism and moved on gave him an air of sophistication which distinguished him. He had journeyed. He had evolved. And like John Clare put it in his 1958 article, ‘[n]othing succeeds like Charles Templeton’.
In the face of all this success stands the enduring question of Jesus who said, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
A New Reinvention in Canada
Anyone following the saga of another celebrity pastor, who ended his marriage and his Christian faith, cannot help but see the parallels. Josh Harris has moved on from a bible-belt platform which was expansive like Templeton’s. They both were religious celebrities in their young adulthood. Their marriages ended at the same time as their rejection of the gospel. They both left Christian faith to become public storytellers. And they both found this reinvention in Canada.
The part that is less appreciated is how such reinventions end. Lee Strobel’s interview with Charles Templeton, journalist to journalist, has a telling moment when Strobel asked about Jesus. Templeton replied: he is the most important human being who has ever existed… ‘I . . . miss . . . him!”
Templeton’s estrangement from Jesus Christ, having rejected what was confessed by the Christian tradition through the centuries, left him spiritually alone, without the Saviour. Such is the case for all who reject the true Jesus, confessed through the ages.
Canada may be seen as a land of tolerant sophistication, yet it is filled with many lonely, spiritually estranged people who do not know God. That is the end of reinventions to which Canada, sadly has had its arms wide open.
Pray for Canada
Pray for Canada that instead of being the place for ex-evangelicals to recreate themselves, it can be a place filled with winsome churches heralding the kingship of the Son of God. Pray that Canada would not be a land of false civil religion or the religion of false civility.
But instead, that the lost may be truly found, and that reinventions would give way to new repentance. Pray that true conversion would make all reinventions dull in comparison to the vividness of being a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).