by John M. Frame
Associate Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology
Westminster Theological Seminary in California
[Article for Dictionary of Christian Theology, published by Inter-Varsity Press, edited by Sinclair Ferguson and David Wright.]
In the mid-1960s, counter-cultural radicalism was echoed in theology as a few thinkers adopted Nietzsche’s slogan, “God is dead.” Thomas J. J. Altizer argued that God had become fully human in Christ, so as to lose his divine attributes and therefore his divine existence (a sort of extreme kenoticism, q.v.). William Hamilton, with less claim to theological profundity, said that modern people were unable any more to believe in God, and the church ought, therefore, to seek to do without him as well. Paul Van Buren followed language philosophers in arguing that the concept of God was “cognitively meaningless,” since God’s existence and nature were not verifiable or falsifiable by the methods of science. (See article on language analysis).
The death of God theology was a minor movement (though it brought great notoriety, briefly, to its authors), but an instructive one. Instructive because it underscored the bankruptcy of the liberalism and neo-orthodoxy which has dominated theology in our century. Altizer’s extreme kenoticism had roots in Barth, and Hamilton’s talk about modern man recalls Bultmann. Tillich taught that one may find God by passionately embracing unbelief. (Bonhoffer’s “religionless Christianity” also influenced the movement, perhaps by the authors’ misuse of Bonhoffer.) If we agree (with liberalism and neo-orthodoxy) that God is too transcendent to be described in words, or too immanent for his acts to be distinguished from those of nature and man, then what do we have but a dead, or non-existent God?
Altizer, Thomas J. J., The Gospel of Christian Atheism (Phila., Westminster Press, 1966).
Altizer, T., and Hamilton, W., Radical Theology and the Death of God (N. Y., Bobbs Merrill, 1966).
Ice, J., and Carey, J., ed., The Death of God Debate (Phila., Westminster Press, 1967).
Montgomery, J.,The `Is God Dead?’ Controversy (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1966).
-,The Altizer-Montgomery Dialogue (Chicago, Inter-Varsity Press, 1967).
Van Til, C., Is God Dead? (Phila., Presbyterian and Reformed, 1966).