Is Man His Own God? -- By: John Warwick Montgomery

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 12:2 (Spring 1969)
Article: Is Man His Own God?
Author: John Warwick Montgomery


Is Man His Own God?*

John Warwick Montgomery, Ph.D.

*Dr. Montgomery of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School presented this essay at DePaul University, Chicago, February 5, 1969, in debate with humanist Julian J. Steen, dean of the Chicago School for Adults. The debate was sponsored by DePaul’s theology department; Professor Robert Campbell, O.P., served as moderator. This same essay was also presented at Harvard University on February 14, 1969 as one of a series of “Christian Contemporary Thought Lectures.”

Currently making the rounds on American college campuses is the question, “How are you going to recognize God when you get to heaven?” Answer: “By the big ‘G’ on his sweatshirt.” This litany has more metaphysical profundity than meets the eye, for it reflects the contemporary philosophical dilemma as to the meaningfulness of God-language-a dilemma to which we shall be addressing ourselves shortly. But it is essential to make one basic point at the very outset: in the philosophy of life of every person without exception, someone or something is invested with the sweatshirt lettered “G.” There are no atheists; everyone has his god. In the language of Paul Tillich (who was ironically called an atheist by some of his less perceptive critics), all of us have our “ultimate concerns,” and the sad thing is that so few of them are truly ultimate or worthy of worship. As one of William James’ “twice-born” (having come to Christian belief as an adult), I am especially concerned that idols be properly identified and the true owner of the cosmic sweatshirt wear it. As a modest contribution to that end, we shall first consider how much ultimacy ought to be attributed to three prominent alternatives to biblical theism, and then devote ourselves to the crucial arguments in behalf of the Christian view of God.

The Unreality Of Major Non-Theistic Positions

Pantheism a la Spinoza

I recall but one occasion when my old Greek professor at Cornell was drawn into a religious discussion, and-in a state of obvious discomfort-he defended his unorthodoxy somewhat as follows: “But do not conclude that I am an atheist. Far from it. For me the universe as a whole, with all its mystery, is God, and I reverence it.” This viewpoint (which can, of course, be stated in many different ways) has perhaps best been set forth and defended by Spinoza. In Part One of his Ethics, the philosopher endeavors to show that the universe is a single, all-embracing unity and that that unity is God. This is proved by the fact that the universe obviously consists of some thing-Spinoza calls it Substance-and this Substance “is in itself and is conceived through itself”; now since God is properly defined as “a being absolutely infinite’ and Substance i...

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