This month 50 years ago, in 1966, Time Magazine featured its cover-story entitled “Is God Dead?” The article was about the “Christian atheists,” such as Thomas J. J. Altizer, of the theology faculty at Emory, who argued that the traditional deity is no longer relevant to the modern age and that we need to find new modes of spirituality for a new era.
Leigh Eric Schmidt has written a perceptive article on the impact of that cover story and of the theological fad that it discussed. He says that it contributed to the rise of evangelicalism, as people sought a more robust understanding of God than was being taught in liberal seminaries. Mainline Protestantism once exerted genuine cultural leadership and the public was attentive to its theological scholarship. (Time also had cover stories on Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.) But Schmidt observes that the “Is God Dead?” story was mainline Protestantism’s last hurrah.
So, fifty years later, God is not dead. Altizer is not dead either, hanging on at 88. Time is also hanging on, despite big drops in circulation and the competition of the internet. Mainline liberal Protestantism has also been dwindling in numbers and relevance, though you wouldn’t know that from academic religion departments.
After the jump, though, I offer a passage from the Formula of Concord, Article VIII, on the person of Christ, which discusses the death of God in a completely different way. It takes up the controversy at the time of whether we can say that “God died on the Cross.” Zwingli and others said that only the human nature of Christ suffered and died, and that we cannot ascribe such limitations to God (scriptural language to the contrary being merely a figure of speech). But Luther insisted that because of the incarnation and the communication of the attributes of Christ’s two natures, it is true that the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, did suffer and die. Otherwise, another human death could not help us. We can indeed say that God died on the Cross. But then He rose again. [Read more…]