Forty years ago, April 8, 1966 to be exact, the cover of Time magazine asked the following question in blood-red letters on a coffin-black background: “Is God Dead?” The death-of-God “theologians” claimed “that God is indeed absolutely dead” but proposed “to carry on and write a theology without theos, without God.” The article’s author claimed that these “Christian atheists” were “waking the churches to the brutal reality that the basic premise of faith—the existence of a God, who created the world and sustains it with his love—is now subject to profound attack.”[1] At the center of the controversy was Emory University’s Thomas J. J. Altizer, whose The Gospel of Christian Atheism put the movement on the map and in the media’s eye.

One would think that such a book with the provocative title would have impacted Emory’s Methodist supporters. On the contrary, Emory’s reputation was “boosted” by the controversy. Some claim that “Emory President Sanford Atwood’s defense of Altizer’s academic freedom changed the university’s image from that of a provincial Southern Methodist school to a first-class national institution.”[2] The Ford Foundation was impressed enough that it gave the school $6 million.

Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967) made the death of God controversy part of pop culture when in the film version (1968), on a visit to Dr. Saperstein’s office, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) flips through the “Is God Dead?” issue. The death of God came full circle in the occult. At the birth of Rosemary’s demon-seed baby, the coven of witches chants , “God is dead! God is dead and Satan lives! The year is One, the first year of our Lord! The year is One, God is done!” A chorus of voices declares in unison, “Hail, Satan!” “In Levin’s novel, though not in the film, the assembled guests are shouting their ave marias, ‘Hail Rosemary,’”[3] a satanic version of the Roman Catholic “Hail Mary”:

So part of the point of the film is to suggest the connection between the death of God and the emergence of the occult underground. Witchcraft, necromancy, astrology, the occult—all these have indeed risen rapidly to the surface in the past several years. The astrology columns are no longer the refuge of the lonely, poor, and troubled. They are of the first part of the daily paper our college students turn to today.[4]

We’ve moved from the death of God, to the occult, to a modern redefinition of Christianity. The new tactic is to transmogrify the Christian message in a way that turns it into an ancient story embellished with religious precepts and manufactured supernatural elements. The best example is Dan Brown’s mega-bestseller The Da Vinci Code. But there are others. For example, in the April 2006 issue of the Journal of Paleolimnology,[5] the authors of a scientific study claim that Jesus probably walked on ice and not water (Matt. 14:22–33). “The whole story,” they conclude, “may have originated in local ancient folklore which happened to be told best in the Christian Bible.”[6] Their anti-supernatural presuppositions force them to look beyond the irrational to the absurd to protect their materialistic worldview.

James Tabor, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, has written The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity. This is The Da Vinci Code on steroids. Tabor writes that “properly understood, it changes everything we thought we knew about Jesus, his mission, and his message.”[7] Of course it does, when it is “properly understood” using naturalistic presuppositions. Other than the ice-flow Jesus, the Gnosticism of Dan Brown and the NT redactionism of James Tabor are old arguments that have been dealt with in numerous evangelical works. Tabor even admits that his work is “imaginative,” but this doesn’t stop his dogmatism. What keeps NT mytho-history like that of Tabor alive and taken seriously? Ignorant reporters writing for magazines like Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & Report who know nothing about NT scholarship and equally ignorant readers, many of whom are Christians who have never had a course in apologetics. How do I know this? I get emails from them on a regular basis!


[1] “Toward a Hidden God,” Time (April 8, 1966), 82. [2] Gayle White, “The Wrath over God,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (April 10, 2006), C1. [3] John C. Cooper and Carl Skrade, Celluloid and Symbols (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1970), 73. [4] Cooper and Skrade, Celluloid and Symbols, 72–73. [5] Paleolimnology is the study of past freshwater, saline, and brackish environments.
[6] “Is there a paleolimnological explanation for ‘walking on water’ in the Sea of Galilee?,” Journal of Paleolimnology 35 (April 2006), 438:
[7] Quoted in Jay Tolson, “The Kingdom of Christ,” U.S. News & World Report (April 17, 2006), 50