Charles Templeton. While he is little-known now, there was a time not too long ago when the evangelist was a household name in Canada, a powerful preacher on a par with his friend Billy Graham. In the late 1940s and ’50s, his crusades attracted tens of thousands of people across Canada and the United States, and his rallies in places such as Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Chicago’s Soldier Field and the Rose Bowl in California were phenomenally successful. My pastor father once contacted him to speak at our Salvation Army church. Hundreds packed the church that evening, soaking up his every word. In the course of two decades, thousands became Christians because of him.
Then one day, he renounced his faith, explaining that he’d realized everything he’d preached for more than two decades was a lie. It was a shocking announcement, especially for those who had come to faith through his ministry.
Templeton eventually became a well-known journalist and broadcaster, executive managing editor of the Toronto Star, and then editor-in-chief of Maclean’s. As well, he authored 12 books in 51 editions and 11 languages.
In the late 1990s, a friend lent me Templeton’s Farewell to God, which explained why he had rejected the Christian faith. Now a Salvation Army pastor myself, I was greatly disturbed by it. That this man could write a book renouncing God in such a public and demeaning way—and make lots of money from it—troubled me deeply, and I decided to try and contact him.
Templeton lived in Toronto, so he was easy to look up in the telephone directory. He was surprised by my call but was more than willing to chat as he greatly respected The Salvation Army. Interestingly, he thought I was calling because I was wavering in my faith now that I had read his book, and was intrigued when I replied that his book actually strengthened my belief in God, because I knew the spiritual life was all about faith.
In the course of the conversation, he told me that every Good Friday, he would go to his study to meditate upon Jesus—His goodness, His selflessness, His humanity—for three hours. How many Christians meditate upon Christ for three hours? I asked myself. I knew then that there was still something there—deep down.
Before that first conversation was over, he asked me to send him some of my writing. I cautioned him that it was all Christian-based. He replied that it didn’t matter. He wanted to see what I was writing about and promised to call me back with his “comments.”
This was the beginning of a five-year friendship conducted primarily over the phone. Every couple of months or so, he would call out of the blue. They were fascinating conversations. We’d update one another on our families and talk about the events of the day, but we always ended up talking about matters of faith.
Once, he asked me if I was “brainwashing” my four teenaged children.
“No,” I replied. “Their dad and I try to influence them by example.”
“Do you think they’ll end up being Christians like you?” he pressed.
“I don’t know but I pray that they will be,” I replied. “In the end, they have a choice.”
After a few years, Templeton became sick and had to be placed in an assisted-living facility. By then, I was living in Montreal. His wife phoned and asked that if I was ever in Toronto, would I go and see him. I did. It was then that he gave me my own autographed copy of Farewell to God. It is a book with which I profoundly disagree, and yet I still treasure it.
One night that June, I was watching the nightly news when I saw a report that Charles Templeton had died. The next morning, his wife, Madeleine, called and asked me to attend his wake.
When I arrived to pay my respects in my Salvation Army uniform, a journalist colleague of his confronted me with a gruff, “What’s the Sally Ann doing here?”
Before I could stammer a reply, his wife interjected with, “You leave her be. She was a friend of Charles and he would have wanted her to be here.”
With that, the man retreated and left us alone. After I expressed my sympathies, she thanked me for coming, and told me about his last words: “Madeleine, do you see them? Do you hear them? The angels! They’re calling my name! I’m going home!”
“What do you make of that, Bev?” she asked me.
“I really believed he finally made peace, in his own very private way, with God—and that he was going home to be with Jesus,” I replied. I told her that Charles was going to be one of the first people I would look for when I got to Heaven.
Templeton and I could not have been more different in life, yet we each had an influence on the other. I greatly respected his intellect and breadth of knowledge, and I’ve tried to become a better writer thanks to his example. I pray I’ve succeeded. And I’d like to think that I helped him—in my own small way—find some of the faith he thought he’d abandoned forever.
Writer In Residence: “Charles Templeton will be one of the first people I look for when I get to Heaven,” says Salvation Army Major Beverly Ivany, who currently is the author of the Words of Life series of daily devotionals